Crowdsourcing, another scam or a new paradigm?

Crowdsourcing – The Angry Mob. (Part 1.)

The outrage is real, the fear is palpable, professionals are “pissed off” they deeply resent the notion that their hard-won skills and talents are being commoditized and overtaken by amateurs,  prepared to work for pennies. Supposedly for future benefits like, greater exposure, more opportunity and hypothetically increased future value.                                               ( see article http://wp.me/pUO4x-1a)

The debate revolves around whether crowdsourcing constitutes, unfair or unethical competition? Most of us feel that it’s a  practice that undermines the value of professional work. Some are angry, some equally adamant that qualified professionals work will triumph and good clients will recognize skills value and continue to pay a premium for a professional designer. Not many creatives will publicly endorse it,  yet more than a few are clearly willing to participate.

In short… it’s a price vs value debate

All of these differing opinions have merit, but in the heat of acrimonious debate are more important issues being overlooked? Whatever your views, a lot of designers and creatives are  getting worried and thinking “Hells teeth…what now?”

More importantly, with little in the way of constructive debate or solutions offered up for consideration.  There is not a lot of direction  available. I make no claims that I can provide any simple solutions, however I do hope to try to shed some light on the matter and uncover some possible ways forward, in this multi part article. Your comments, ideas and insights are eagerly sought after and encouraged

Below are a number of variables that I think contribute to the problem:

The Internet:

Has levelled the playing field, removed barriers to entry, universal access to any one who chooses to engage. From the consumer perspective it is almost impossible to distinguish between the legitimate and the false.

Competition:

There is, has and always will be competitors that vie with one another for business. Competition is as good for our industry as it is for any other. It keeps us sharp and on our toes. What has changed is the number of competitors in the business and the type of competitor.

Software:

Software developers will continue to develop software that replicates or replaces the technical skills of the professional rendering the acquisition of these skills  largely redundant.

Market perceptions:

I’m not sure whether the market undervalues design work or whether we over value it? Most design work forms a part of the visual execution of a marketing communications strategy. The sharp end of  a marketing strategy is to achieve specific marketing goals. The value of our work (as defined by our clients) is not whether it meets some, vaguely defined standard of “good design”,  coolness or wins awards.

NO!  Good design value lies in the measure of its contribution, to achieving those marketing and strategic objectives…full stop.

The Crowdsourced Service Provider.

Now here is one of the two real villains in this scene.

Who is he? He’s a business man, he’s seen an opportunity in the marketplace (think unfulfilled need or demand)and he’s exploited it to the max for his own gain. Is he a designer? Maybe? Maybe not… it’s irrelevant.

Does this make him a villain? No. It makes him a good business man.

What makes his business work

Some of these conditions among others

  • There are more designers than there is work
  • Many designers are willing to work for much less than the average local fee
  • Most companies are happy to cut their advertising/marketing production overheads
  • Quality defined by the industry is subjective and often irrelevant to the objectives
  • He doesn’t need to know anything about design, or his customers marketing strategies. His clients will write the brief and make the final selection. (varies in some cases)
  • He doesn’t need to care if the designer started yesterday, last week or 10 years ago…he gets paid regardless of who wins the work.
  • His client doesn’t need to care either, nor does he need to care how much the designer earns, as long as they get a design that’s on brief at the lowest possible cost and they’re happy with it.

The above are not conditions that the crowdsource provider has created… they are prevailing conditions in the market place that he has taken advantage of. This does not make him a villain

So why is he threat?

OK.

Here is the real scary part.

Right at this present moment the man at Crowdsource Inc (fictional) knows and has access to more design talent than you or I and all the people we know put together.

He knows:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are
  • How much are they willing to work for
  • What kind of work they do and what they do best
  • Who’s hot and who’s not
  • Who gets the most work and who makes him the most money

He knows these people by the HUNDREDS.

Here’s what else he knows.

  • He knows, which companies are looking for cheaper design and advertising costs?
  • He knows, who their key marketing decision makers are, by name, address and number… he has lunch with them…often.
  • He knows, who has what work coming down the pipeline?
  • He knows, what their budgets are?
  • He knows and understands what they value in a designer? (price, style, quality, longevity, awards)

He knows these people by the HUNDREDS

Worse, he knows that he knows this and that you and I or very few other people do.

If he hasn’t already done so he is going to set himself up as a gatekeeper. In short…. him and a few of his cronies will effectively begin to control the supply and demand of graphic design and free lancing of any kind in the marketplace, be it design, photography, editing, copy writing etc. He is in the Know…he has access… this is a knowledge economy. It’s a no brainer!

Oh and to top it of… if he retains the rights to all work submitted whether awarded or not? He’s also sitting on a heap of design work he can change, flog or do what he likes with… for free.

Anyone out there still thinking this is a quality vs price design debate? Anybody still thinking the better designer will win? Someone still thinking this is a tempest in a teacup?

By the way! The second of the two villains in this piece is ourselves…Yes Us… we who are in the industry. For allowing it to happen, for allowing some total outsider to move in and  uncover and exploit the opportunities that were right under our noses. For sitting on our hands and whistling in the dark …for continuing to be so foolish as to think that “ahhh it’ll never happen…it’ll all sort itself out…it’s a fad”.

Really?

I think it’s a paradigm shift and if we don’t start thinking about how we are going to turn this around to our benefit… we’ll be working as cashiers at the local grocery store.

As I implied at the beginning of this article I will be exploring some possible ways that we might compete effectively in this new marketplace. For the sake of brevity (this is already too long by far) I will stop here.

A clue to part 2 is…crowdsourcing is probably here to stay, we need to embrace it and find constructive ways to work with it.

Part 2. ” Crowdsourcing Embrace it or get Left Behind” will continue tomorrow.

Xross that Line.

Cheers Steven.

Image credits: http://www.freewebs.com/reechard/

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2 Responses to Crowdsourcing, another scam or a new paradigm?

  1. CF Solomon says:

    Thank you, Steven. A worthy and timely investigation. “Labor as a Service” and “distributed work force” are being bandied about in the tech world and amongst academics. I’ve been waiting for the “workers” to start paying attention and to recognize that this paradigm shift is equal to that of the Industrial revolution in the profound consequences for what it means to make a living and the quality of life available from one’s labor, intelligence and experience…

  2. Andrew says:

    @CF Solomon: No need to put ‘workers’ in scare-quotes; designers still fit Marx’s definition of working-class, those who must sell their labour-power.

    I worry though that designers and creatives will have a tougher time organizing than the factory workers they tend to look down upon (that’s the stereotype anyways, the pretentious designer), considering creative work is generally more atomized than factory work, not to mention that the energy put into separating creatives from other workers does not foster much in the way of solidarity.

    Interestingly, if you pursue these comparisons, designers who are willing to participate in crowdsourcing become basically analogous to scab-workers.

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