JC / Railbird

Kentucky Confidential

KYC Wrap-Up

The Saturday after the Belmont Stakes, the last rewards packages promised Kentucky Confidential supporters on Kickstarter were mailed, putting an end to the Kentucky Derby site for this year. We were six weeks planning, two weeks running, and six weeks closing, and every stage offered a chance to try something new. Before I move on to the next thing, here are a few notes on our experiment in funding and publishing pop-up turf journalism:

Kickstarter. Along with seeking sponsors, we decided to use the start-up crowd-funding service Kickstarter to raise money for KYC, a move that turned out to be a great way to involve friends and supporters in the project from the start and an all-around interesting experience. It was also where we made our biggest mistake. Kickstarter recommends entering a funding total that is the absolute minimum necessary for success. We entered $13,000, or about 85% of our budget. Our error became apparent almost immediately, when sponsors and supporters who, for various reasons, preferred to back us by cash or check directly and not through Kickstarter, began to contribute, creating two funding streams that we had to find a way to combine without violating either the rules or spirit of Kickstarter, which doesn’t allow changing the funding goal after a campaign has started or offer a simple mechanism for adding outside monies. In the end, we entered the combined contributions of several supporters as one lump sum (all backers, however, were acknowledged individually on the site). The backer who ensured our success on Kickstarter wasn’t an individual making one large donation, as some speculated, but the backer who gave the $40 that brought us to our goal.

For a great analysis of using Kickstarter to fund a project, read Craig Mod’s Art Space Tokyo case study. We used Mod’s research to structure our support tiers, and found that backers at the $50 or higher levels — I’m writing here of just the contributors who directly gave through Kickstarter — were more than 50% of our supporters. Backers who gave outside Kickstarter — excluding sponsors — gave a minimum of $100, comprising the bulk of our funding. The take-away is that people will support projects to which they feel strongly connected, and at a level higher than might be anticipated.

Something Mod addresses only slightly, and which I spent much time thinking about, was how to convert goodwill into support — Kickstarter doesn’t provide stats on how often a page is visited or referral sources, making it difficult to track the most effective messaging or determine a conversion rate. Based on traffic from the KYC placeholder site, along with Facebook stats, I estimated we converted approximately 1.5% of visitors to the Kickstarter page into backers. At that rate, and at the average pledge of $77, we would have had to reach approximately 12,000 interested people to hit our funding goal fully through Kickstarter. If I were using the service for a new project, I would base the goal on the total number of potential supporters that would most likely be reached, as well as the project’s budget and additional funding sources. For KYC, a more suitable goal might have been in the $5,000-$7,500 range.

Amazon Web Services. Because KYC would be live for such a short period, I wanted to avoid any down time, whether due to a traffic spike or hosting issue. To make our WordPress installation as fast and redundant as possible, I installed the plugin W3 Total Cache, instead of the usual WP Super Cache, and enabled both page caching and database caching. I then added Amazon Simple Storage, using it as a CDN for images and files; we used Brightcove for videos. Total costs were less than $350, mostly for the videos, and considering that there was at least one Dreamhost outage during our run, which affected other sites on the server, but affected KYC only on the backend, the set-up turned out to be well worth the time and expense. Our page load time was also consistently snappy, with one exception — Typekit, a hosted web font service that I’m using on more projects, would sometimes pop in a second or so after the rest of a page on a first visit. It was a minor inconvenience.

Blurb. As a thank-you gift to backers giving more than $250, we published a keepsake KYC book (pictured above). Although I explored using a traditional printer, I knew print-on-demand would most likely be our most cost-effective choice because we were doing such a small quantity. The service we ended up using was Blurb, which recently added Mohawk premium papers as a printing option. We went with the ProLine Uncoated, a textured, creamy, matte paper that really showed the full-bleed photographs to good effect. Price per book was $41, but the quality surpassed my expectations.

Thanks to everyone who supported KYC. We had a great time, and I know my collaborator, John Scheinman, as well as several of our awesome contributors, are eager to come back next year for the entire Triple Crown season.

Note: I’ve temporarily turned off comments because of a spam surge.

You’ll Never Know

… if you don’t go. Claire Novak on Derby fever for Kentucky Confidential:

“I still get Derby fever; guilty as charged,” Wolf said. “If that horse had won the Blue Grass, we would be going to the Derby. He doesn’t have any distance limitations in his pedigree. You could ask what we were thinking to enter him in that race, but if you look at the sheets and past performances, he seemed to belong from a competitive standpoint. In hindsight, he didn’t keep up with those horses, but they’ll never jump up and show you if you don’t give them a chance.”

The Countdown

If you’ve been thinking of pledging Kentucky Confidential, now’s the time. We’re in the final hours of our Kickstarter campaign, which ends Wednesday.

As your local NPR voices say during a pledge drive, it doesn’t matter if you give. Really! It doesn’t. We’re going to be at Churchill Downs starting April 26, publishing daily through May 9, and we know you’re going to enjoy our content, which will be the kind of stuff that gets linked, tweeted, and talked about. Kickstarter may be an all-or-nothing deal — if we don’t meet our funding goal by the deadline, we won’t receive any of the pledges that have been made — but Kentucky Confidential isn’t. Thanks to our sponsors, the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and Woodford Reserve, as well as committed individual contributors, we’ll be in Louisville next week, bringing you stories from Derby history as well as the backstretch and parties.

But even if we don’t need you to support us, we’d love it if you did. Every dollar raised for Kentucky Confidential goes directly toward covering the costs of producing and publishing original turf journalism. Your contribution will come back to you in the form of stories that surprise and entertain, and handicapping analysis that gives you a fresh look at the past performances.

If you haven’t already, please pledge. We’ll reward your support.

4/21/11 Update: Our Kickstarter campaign successfully ended yesterday. We’re funded! Our thanks to all our contributors and sponsors.

Only Five Four Days Left

… to help support Kentucky Confidential, a shiny new website dedicated to capturing the essence of the Kentucky Derby in words, photos, and video.

Why support KYC?

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most heavily covered events in horse racing, but rare is the news outlet that treats it as one of the greatest storytelling platforms in American sports.

That’s how Kentucky Confidential will cover the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

What you’ll get:

True (and not-necessarily true) stories from the backstretch
Tall tales and little-known historical marvels from the Derby’s rich past
Kinky stats and contrarian handicapping
Straight-shooting, expert contender profiles and news
Lures and snares of Louisville nightlife and bourbon culture
Video from one of the underground’s best filmmakers

And that’s not all! If you back KYC, you’ll get goodies such as a Jeff Krulik Derby DVD or the chance to submit questions to Derby connections.

If you need another reason:

“… the opportunity is there to create something new. People who think race writing is a dying art, this is your opportunity to support it.”

We begin publishing April 26, and we’ll continue through May 9, running features and stories from writers such as Pete Denk, Claire Novak, Brendan O’Meara, and John Scheinman, illustrated by photos from Scott Serio.

We’ll be at Churchill in 11 10 days, and we’d love it if you joined us.

Who’s Your DMB?

Bill Christine:

DMB is shorthand for Derby Must Bet — a horse you feel compelled to play in the Kentucky Derby — not because he’s the best horse, or even the favorite, but a horse who has a good chance, may have been overlooked, and is someone you’ve been following for so long that you’d flagellate yourself if he happened to win. DMB is only half of the acronym. In toto, it’s DMBNMW — Derby Must Bet No Matter What. You don’t get a DMB every year. Just enough to keep you in sackcloth and ashes.

My first was Gayego, who won the 2008 Arkansas Derby but not much respect, going to post in the Kentucky Derby at 18-1 and finishing seventeenth. I’m hoping for better from my DMB this year, Jaycito. He’s been on my watch list since his debut; I’ve been waiting for him to win again since the Norfolk.

A little KYC news: We’re thrilled that Brown-Forman, maker of Woodford Reserve, has signed on to sponsor the “Bourbon Underworld” column, joining the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in supporting Kentucky Confidential. You can also back the best independent Derby coverage you’ll find anywhere.

2:55 PM Addendum: Darn it! Tweets Ray Paulick, “Foot abscess may keep Jaycito out of Santa Anita Derby. Trainer Bob Baffert to decide in a.m., but looking at Lexington Stakes on April 23.” [Jaycito’s officially scratched.]

Friday Notes

As Ed DeRosa writes today in a piece about the importance of sanctuaries such as Old Friends, Joe Drape’s reporting on TRF has made the discussion about providing for racehoses when their careers end more public. It also seems to have made the conversation more urgent. The situations aren’t quite analogous, but there’s something reminiscent of the safety debate that followed Eight Belles’ death in the fresh attention on the retirement and rescue issue, a sense that racing has to come up with a solution to a problem that hasn’t been neglected — the work of hundreds of organizations attests to that — but is complex and will probably take collective action to solve. “The only chance that something good can come out of this mess is if this turns out to be a watershed moment in horse racing,” writes Bill Finley. He’s right.

Prepping for the Florida Derby, Dialed In worked four furlongs in :47.55 at Palm Meadows yesterday. Trainer Nick Zito, who said the colt “bounced” in his last race, “caught the final eighth in :11 flat.” Handicapper Mike Maloney calls Zito’s prospect one of three likely Kentucky Derby winners. “If he shows a decent finish in the FL Derby, even if not winning, I think he will be fine.”

Tomorrow is Dubai World Cup day, and Raceday 360 has an overview of every race. I wrote about the UAE Derby, a weak renewal this year, for the HRF Derby Prep alert, and only glancingly mentioned the remarkable entry of two Aidan O’Brien trained starters in the race, the first in six years. Like last year, I assumed that this year no UAE Derby finisher was likely for the Kentucky Derby — Sheikh Mohammed seems have given up on that path for Godolphin 3-year-olds after the disappointments of Regal Ransom and Desert Party in 2009 — but Alan Shuback proposes Coolmore could be using the race as a Derby prep for Master of Hounds or Alexander Pope. “It would be a large irony, indeed, if Magnier & Co. pulled a Kentucky Derby runner out of the UAE Derby hat in Sheikh Mohammed’s backyard.”

Sweet Ducky, recently sold and transferred to trainer Herman Brown, is apparently possible for Churchill Downs, though, if he runs big in the UAE Derby. “It would be tough to turn it down if he runs a great race.” That would certainly be an interesting move, considering the colt’s new ownership. Would Kentucky license Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, called by the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, “a Stalin of our times“?

Black Caviar made it 11-for-11 in the William Reid Stakes.

Thanks to Pull the Pocket and The Knight Sky for posting about Kentucky Confidential. Have you pledged? We hope you’ll consider it.