Whoops! The Tale of an Amateur Creatives Quest for Cash

Last semester while abroad in Ireland there came a point when I was running low on cash. Since I was hesitant to ask my mom for money, I turned to Google for answers. What I found were a few freelance websites that I could do tasks for companies and other users in exchange for compensation. One of the sites that I joined was CrowdSpring. According to CrowdSpring, it is an, “online marketplace for crowdsourced creative services. Entrepreneurs, small businesses, startups, big brands and agencies who need custom logo design, website design, other graphic design, industrial design or copywriting post what they need, when they need it and how much they’ll pay. Once posted, creatives from around the world (over 100,000 for 200 countries) submit actual work. Buyers choose from among actual work (currently an average of more than 110 entries per project), not bids and proposals.”


Essentially CrowdSpring is a spec work site. Spec work, which is short for speculative work, refers to the practice of performing work for a client without pay with the hope that they will like it enough to purchase it. Therefore, the power is in the hand of the client.

The Book of Reddit 4So with an Adobe Suite year subscription that I had purchased for Web, Programming and Design and very basic, and I mean BASIC, skills in graphic design I joined. I only ever submitted one design to a user asking for a book cover design for his book, a how-to guide to Redditt. I submitted a few designs that took me only an hour to create, and hoped that mine would win the $50 that was being offered. During the course of the “competition” the user rated other designs and wrote feedback prompting me to change and resubmit new designs. After the deadline had passed and a few weeks went by I there was still no decision on which design would be chosen the contest was closed. I felt duped. The user had probably taken a screenshot of the design and made away with it without paying the artist for their work.


This is the problem with spec work. I had spent valuable time and effort working on something that I wasn’t even paid for. These users or “clients” could request changes, and redesigns all without any commitment to the designers. It wasn’t only happening to me. I am sure most of the other users had wasted time and effort on a number of contests. I also learned that the competition aspect of CrowdSpring is also quite fierce. You can submit a good original design that is then ripped off by other competitors.

As Ross points out, “The physical construction of the World Wide Web was itself a mammoth enterprise of free or under-compensated labor” (22). Without a doubt the World Wide Web has led to a range of opportunities for user participation in cultural production. However, outsourcing design work devalues design work done by professional designers. According to Ross, “These social networking sites are also sources of free or cut-price content- a clear threat to the livelihoods of professional creatives whose prices are driven down by, or who simply cannot compete with, the commercial mining of these burgeoning, discount alternatives” (22). Instead of going to professional graphic designers, these “clients” seek out users that are a mix of professional and amateur designers. This brings up promotes unethical practices such as plagiarism and under-payment. Graphic designers that participate in spec work are taking part in what Ross describes as “sacrificial labor.” They have insecure working conditions, increased individualization, low pay and the growing requirements.

While CrowdSpring gives amateur designers an opportunity to practice their skills and grow their portfolio, it shouldn’t be done through spec work. I learned my lesson the first time that I took part in CrowdSpring, and I doubt I will ever take part in it again. But I think that this is the problem for desperate artists who are in need of work. Participating in spec work is just another possibility for creatives to get paid while showing off  their work to clients. Therefore, while not the best option it can be an enticing one for the desperate creative.




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