Crowdsourced video content: A new spin on working for free.

Making video on spec.

I received a personalized email asking me to participate in making a fully produced broadcast spot for an olive oil company based out of California. It of course sounded to good to be true and it was obvious this was another crowdsourcing venture like ‘Poptent’ because they used the word, ‘contest’ to describe it. Jobs don’t simply fall into people’s lap like this, at least for me they don’t. Crowdsourcing video production companies like ‘Poptent’ have been sprouting up like weeds in the past couple of years because the internet has provided a way of exploiting the huge amount of talent out there willing to work for free. If you have not heard of companies like Poptent and Zooppa, the business model operates by crowdsourcing talent and getting people to make speculative work with the slim chance of winning different amounts of prize money. To say this approach is controversial is putting it mildly. In my opinion, it’s downright exploitive. And let me be clear. This is not about making a pitch or treatment for the work, but rather what is expected is a fully polished and produced product that you pay for with no guarantee of wining. The audacity is unbelievable yet they get away with this because contests like this sell “publicity value” as some sort of compensation for losing. Well guess what?

“There is no Publicity value”.

In the creative service industries there is a notion that ideas and services are free, or should be. This is because too many people want into the business and will offer their services for discount or for nothing in hopes of gaining some publicity value. Doing this does little to dispel the myth and only perpetuates the thinking that creative services hold little value. The truth is there is no publicity value in working for free. Creative businesses are indeed attractive professions because they can be lucrative and no one is out digging muddy ditches. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with ditch digging; it’s an essential service for maintaining our gas lines, water mains, hydro and cable and we could not go without it for a day but how many people would line up and dig for free? I suspect very few; digging ditches just isn’t as glamorous as making videos. I’ve also wondered how many architects would offer to redesign my home for free for the chance of winning my contract? Architects are a creative profession but we don’t expect them to design our homes or buildings for free. Video production should be no different, but the problem quite simply boils down to an imbalance of supply and demand, where the supply of services (both good and bad) always exceeds current demand. Today the barrier to entry is exceedingly low. Get a DSLR and Final Cut Pro and your half way in the game. Knowing this, the crowdsourcing video companies can exploit this perpetual imbalance because they know there is people a 1000 deep only too willing to go along with it so they can build their reels. In the long term though, most production companies and independents will tire and won’t bother submitting a second or third entry simply because it’s too much work and the only guarantee in the end is a huge loss of time and personal wealth. Who’s next in line? Rinse and repeat. Take a look at the video below and see the best rant ever by writer, Harlan Ellison and his opinion on publicity value. He puts it so much better than me but he is a writer after all. I replied to the original email from Zooppa with a link to this video but I didn’t receive a reply.

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