Robert Place is a modern-day renaissance man. He is a respected Tarot scholar and published author, a multidisciplinary artist and a mystic dreamer. Robert has built his career over time, honing his skills for weaving his intuition with his intellect. He was a wonderful first interview for The Anatomy of a Crowdfunding Campaign series because he was both candid and articulate about what it took for him to run three extremely successful Indiegogo campaigns for the Tarot decks he has designed. He is currently in the final 4 days of his third campaign for The Burning Serpent Oracle, created with fellow Tarot maven Rachel Pollack. The deck looks magical, I have ordered one, and you can too here.
UPDATE: The campaign is complete, and they raised 286% percent of their goal, had 417 funders, and sold 472 decks! Way to GOOOOOOOO!
Robert came to the Tarot through a dream, and he has never left that fertile ground of artistic inspiration. In 1982 he awoke from a dream saying that he would receive an inheritance from an ancestor in England. The inheritance turned out to be the Tarot, and his life’s work became studying and creating out of this rich esoteric tradition. He has made The Alchemical Tarot, The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, The Tarot of the Saints, The Angels Tarot, The Buddha Tarot, and The Vampire Tarot. He has authored The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, which the American Library Association said may be the best book ever written on the subject. He regularly teaches around the world, has curated Tarot exhibits, and appeared in documentaries on the subject of divination.
His Tarot career began with his first deck, The Alchemical Tarot, which was published by Harper Collins in 1995, and took him eight years to complete. Having a major publisher for his first deck was a great boost for establishing his reputation worldwide. That edition went out of print, and was originally sold for about $35. Robert saw on eBay some years later that resale copies were going for over $2000, and realized there may be a good market for reprinting the deck. In 2007 he regained the rights to The Alchemical Tarot, and published another limited art edition that also went out of print.
A filmmaker friend in New York city told Robert about Indiegogo, and in 2011 he did his first campaign to raise the printing costs for the third edition of The Alchemical Tarot. This was how Robert entered the world of crowdfunding, and he is a shinning example of using the platform well. During our conversation Robert and I spoke about the ins and outs of crowdfunding, but also the larger questions about building an audience for your work. Exploring how one develops a sustainable career as an artist.
On his initial campaign for The Alchemical Tarot, he had a friend help him find the printers and set the project up, and when the next deck emerged he decided to gain more control and find his own resources for production. He has been very happy with this decision, and it has given him direct access to the level of quality and pricing he desires. As he says, he basically started his own publishing company because other than copy editing (which should always be outsourced. It is essential for a professional product, and we can get too close to our own material to see it clearly) he could do everything else needed. Original designs and text, graphics and marketing, research and interactions with the printer, shipping and receiving, networking and vending of the product at his workshops and conferences, and most valuably, he had already created a large audience for his work through years of producing quality materials.
Our friends and family can really be great guides in helping us realize our unique gifts, and his sister started him on Facebook in 2011. Since that time he has grown to use the site adeptly, with over 3000 Facebook friends, and now that Twitter allows image integration more easily he uses that to great benefit as well. He also uses the imaging power of Pinterest to share his work as it evolves. We have such a visual culture, and his images are so archetypal and beautiful that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Building a reputation can take time, and Robert used social media, his website, newsletters, and his email list to cultivate an audience for his second deck, The Sevenfold Mystery over the ten years it took to complete it. As he would design a new card, he would share information about its creation with the new image, drawing people into the process.
Fellow Tarot deck creators Joanna Powell Colbert and Lisa de St. Croix did the same thing as their own decks emerged, bringing the audience along for the journey. Using this method, by the time the projects are released, independent creators can sell an enormous amount of decks. Robert’s second campaign for The Sevenfold Mystery reached its goal in two days, and went on the receive 233% of the original aim.
For his third campaign, The Burning Serpent Oracle, Robert has teamed up with another powerhouse in the metaphysical world, Rachel Pollack. Rachel is also a renaissance woman, she is a published Tarot author and poet, artist and deck creator, teacher and Oracle. Bringing together these two solid reputations, with their years of investment in their shared communities, the campaign was destined to do well. Robert and Rachel reached their initial goal of $9000 in under 24 hours! As of this writing, they have sold over 400 Burning Serpent Oracle decks and books.
Robert points out that to do a campaign well, you must begin long before you go live on the platform. He and Rachel were directly building an audience for The Burning Serpent Oracle for over a year before they began, offering tantalizing tidbits and images to their loyal followings about a new project they were developing with Robert doing the images and Rachel writing the text. They received feedback from their audience along the way, and some of it turned out to be useful, motivating both an invested group of followers and positive changes in the deck.
The pathway to creating this new deck was a mix of the intuitive with the intellect, he and Rachel both organically coming up with a series of compelling images they thought would be a wonderful Oracle deck. As the project evolved, through their presences in the Tarot world they saw that the French oracular card system Lenormand was having a resurgence, and recognized that the images they had brought forth so far fit perfectly into that system. Part of the success of any product is to respond to the market, and Robert and Rachel were able to tap into another dedicated divination card audience through connecting with both the Tarot and Lenormand tribes. This latest campaign has been a rousing success, and I cannot wait to see what they both do next.
Robert’s 3 Keys to Success
- Build a reputation
- Make good connections
- Get people excited
None of these things happen overnight, and a solid career is built over time. Implicit in Robert’s list is to do good work. Even though technology has given us access to so many more tools for creative projects, one still has to do the same work we did before, parts of it are just easier now. Robert also suggests taking account of what resources and connections you have built up over time, and using them well.
The Nuts & Bolts of the Campaigns
- The Alchemical Tarot
It ran from August 7th, 2011 to October 5th, 2011.
Initial goal was $5000, it raised $12,490-250% of the original target.
192 people contributed, with 185 decks sold, 47 accompanying books, 83 gyclee prints of his artwork, and one 1 hour Tarot reading with Robert. The largest perk level was $40 for the deck alone at 107 chosen.
- Tarot of Sevenfold Mystery
It ran from August 29th, 2012 to November 30th, 2012.
Initial goal was $6000, it raised $14,001-233% of the targeted amount.
249 people contributed to his second campaign, with the largest perk point being The Sevenfold deck, at $40 with 151 chosen. Overall 261 decks were sold, including The Sevenfold, The Alchemical Tarot, and one Sevenfold art edition at $600. 20 gyclee prints were sold, and 67 books-either Alchemy and the Tarot or The Fools Journey were chosen. No readings were taken this round.
- The Burning Serpent Oracle (with Rachel Pollack)
It ran from February 26th, 2014 to April 24th, 2014.
FINAL NUMBERS: Their initial goal was $9,000, and they raised $25,764-286% of their original target!!!! They had a total of 417 funders, and 472 decks total sold. outstanding!
As of Tuesday, April 15th, it has raised $22,224, well over its original goal of $9000. 354 people have contributed with 407 Burning Serpent decks and books having been chosen, with a quarter of those as international orders with the brilliant move of making separate perk levels with international shipping. The largest perk point is $47 for a deck and book shipped within the US at 211 chosen. 17 prints have sold, 1 single card, 2 mugs, and 7 divination readings with Rachel Pollack, and one story crafted by Rachel from cards chosen from the deck for the contributor.
Robert chose Indiegogo as his platform because his friend had suggested it, it had the option for both Paypal and credit card payments, and they had flexible funding. Flexible funding means the creator keeps all funds raised even if they do not reach their goal (with higher fees paid if the goal is not reached), compared to the other common option being an all or nothing model. In his campaigns Robert also assured contributors that even if he did not reach his goal he would still print a smaller edition and pitch in the extra money needed to fulfill all the perks.
Robert has not done videos for any of his campaigns, saying the products are 2-dimensional, so he doesn’t feel it is necessary. I would have to agree with him, he has done extremely well without the supposed essential personalized video. The campaigns do have a lot of images for that visual element though.
He also reminds us to take into account the costs of shipping and manufacturing the perks, as well as fees to both the platform and payment methods in calculating your campaign goal.
Thanks Robert for being a wonderful example of using crowdfunding with integrity and grace. I look forward to using your wisdom in my own campaign to print 1000 of my Oracle of Initiation decks Tarot-sized at an accessible price launching May 20th, 2014 on Indiegogo. And on my Oracle’s deck’s 8th anniversary this April 6th, Rachel gave congratulations, saying on Facebook about the Oracle:
“Mellissae Lucia’s amazing Oracle of Initiation deck consists of intense shamanic photographs, self-portraits done in a kind of trance state. It’s one of a tiny handful of decks I keep in my bedroom, for late night inspiration.”
Rachel Pollack-The Shinning Tribe Tarot
Next up in The Anatomy of a Crowdfunding Campaign from the Beginning series: Viability & then an interview with Tarot de St. Croix creator Lisa de St. Croix and her own successful Indiegogo campaign.
The Oracle of Initiation new Tarot-Sized edition at $44 Indiegogo Campaign is live now, 5-20-14 to 6-21-14. That an $11 savings off the retail price after the campaign with shipping!