So... now I know. The first season of the Pastry Box project is not going to become a book. I thought it would be interesting to document this specific juncture of the project, what I feel, and how I have taken this—let's drop the bomb—failure.
Well, I feel kind of embarrassed, that's for sure, because I sent many emails to the Pastry Box guests, took up their time, and it was all for nothing. I guess I don't have to be, but I am. I'm disappointed, too: in all honesty, I thought the book would be funded in less than 48 hours. Really, I thought that's how things would turn out. I believed that reaching my goal would be easy not due to delusions of grandeur, but because at $35 a book I would have needed approximately 500 backers to get the project rolling, which is truly nothing compared to the traffic the website generates on a daily basis. About that, yes, I'm disappointed. But about the project not becoming a book, about the fact that the campaign failed to reach its goal, no, I don't feel bad. Oddly.
Here's why, I guess.
Failure is a great starting point. When you have already seen many different projects fail in your life, you come to understand that failure is a source of creativity. I'm not trying to present things in any way differently to how they truly are, and nor am I attempting to hide my disappointment behind some forced, faked optimism: failure is the impossibility of seeing your intentions become reality, and it's a very unpleasant outcome, especially since it usually means a lot of wasted time and energy. But when you look at it carefully, failure is also a very strong opportunity to find new and different ways to give those frustrated intentions a voice.
I realized the fundraising would not produce the desired result on the fourth day of the campaign. Many people had tweeted about the project, the Pastry Box project was receiving its usual fat load of traffic, and yet the number of people visiting Backified was very low. Extremely low. And I'm not talking about people landing on the campaign and bouncing back. And I'm not talking about people registering and then getting cold feet upon seeing that their credit card would be charged immediately (in Indiegogo fashion). I'm talking about simple, bare page loads: Backified has received very few visits. Unsurprisingly, the Pastry Box stats showed that only a handful of people clicked on the link to the campaign (which wasn't what you would call a discreet link).
So, what does this mean?
Simply that our users are not interested in having a book containing the texts published on the website. Please let me pompously quote what I said on that matter in a .net interview dedicated to the Pastry Box project:
If more than one of your users requests a feature then you should try to add that feature. If readers of The Pastry Box request a book, I want that feature to have a chance to be included in the project (...) The funding campaign is a question to our audience: is the website enough or would they like us to seal its content in a paper version? I think it's better to ask such questions through a full-fledged funding campaign rather than through a poll. At least you know where you stand. If it's a ‘yes’, then the feature will be included (we'll publish the book); if it's a ‘no’, then we'll stick to the digital version, which is quite awesome as it is. It's worth a try, anyway.
Well, my question got a kind reply: "Let's stick to the digital version." If I count the number of emails I received in 2012 about the Pastry Box becoming a book and the number of people who backed the project, there is almost a match. So, the readers who wanted the website to become a book did not represent a "silent mass". People are simply fine with the website as it is. The fact that the fundraising fell short of our goal in that regard isn't really even a failure. Indeed, the website has received rave reviews and the traffic is growing exponentially. So, the Pastry Box is what you would call a "successful" venture, and the fact that the campaign failed to achieve its goal isn't due to the project itself. Clearly, our users are not in need of a paper version of the Pastry Box project. Period.
Which leaves me with my motivations for turning the website into a book. Please let me quote myself a second time here:
Behind the idea of making The Pastry Box into a book lies a disturbing question: is the Internet ready to preserve content through time, through the ages? Unfortunately, the answer, at the moment, is ‘no’. (...) On a very personal level, I built The Pastry Box to be a legacy for the future, a door to a specific area of our day and age with a view to understanding it, dreaming about it, and reconstituting what it really is through details and anecdotes which, when put together, draw a precise, vivid landscape of an era, as opposed to the vague, always inaccurate myth coming times will retain. We can't risk letting that content disappear into the abyss of digital production.
Here's the big failure, the part of the whole thing that is so unpleasant, the part that hurts: I find myself with a publication which has a strong concept and great content, but whose form is a complete anti-pattern: how can you at once try to document a facet of your day and age to pass to future generations and accept that the result of this process a) lies in a single remote location (some server), b) is tied to a database that, by its nature, breaks content into smaller, often inconsistent pieces, and c) whose availability depends on one single person not forgetting to pay the hosting bills?
This is so wrong.
And... that's exactly where creativity sets in.
If content preservation is not going to be achieved through a book, it will be achieved through other means. Because, I mean, when you have already seen many different projects fail in your life, and you're still creating new stuff, you come to understand that there is a thing inside of you that doesn't take failure as an acceptable conclusion.
So, on the fourth day of the campaign, I started asking myself the following question: "Which means is going to seal the Pastry Box content more safely than just a bunch of web pages whose content is obscurely spread across a remotely hosted database?"
There is no perfect answer to that question—even a book wasn't a perfect answer—but I've already come up with a few ideas that have kept me very busy for the past few weeks. And I'm wondering why I didn't start with those ideas in the first place.
And, when you have already seen many different projects fail in your life, you come to understand that it's a damned good sign.
So, all in all, failure proves once again not to be a bad thing (although it is an utterly unpleasant experience). I wish the book had got funded, but it's more interesting that it hasn't. It forces me to open other doors, to find workarounds. To be more creative and get out of my comfort zone.
For keen ears, thuds are the sound of progress.