iStockPhoto.com, Crowdsourcing, & Myopic Reasoning

iStockPhoto further devalues creativity by selling logos for bargain basement prices.

Getty Images's iStockPhoto.com is jumping headlong into crowdsourcing with its latest product offering ... selling stock logos. Not only do I believe this venture violates nearly every ethical practice professional designers abide by, but it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Getty Images doesn't give two hoots and a lump of Andres Serrano's Shit about the fact that they are systematically undermining the creative industry.

Creative professionals are under a daily assault from external sources attempting to devalue our work. We are constantly being told, often times by colleagues, that to compete in the "global marketplace" we have to provide our hard-earned skills and talents nearly free-of-charge. Spec "contests", work-for-hire agreements, and the RFP process devalue our profession even further by encouraging professional creatives to forgo their integrity in order to land "needed" work.  Now, a respected company is taking advantage of crowdsourcing and is legitimizing a creative outlet that, quite literally, devalues our profession with each and every sale.

In the end, yes, an easy argument can be made that having another company jump on the crowdsourcing bandwagon means little to "real" designers. I often hear designers make statements like "the people who will buy these logos are not your customers anyway"  or "why shouldn't a low-cost solution be available to people with low budgets?"

My answer to both these statements is simple.

Every time a designer lowers his prices to absurdly low levels to "compete" or a company like iStock decides to offer bargain-basement prices for products that we charge a fair-market price to create, it reinforces the perception that creative work is "easy" to produce and therefore not "worth" the price to hire a professional.  In the end, this hurts the entire industry from the independent web designer to the smallest studio to the most well-established agency.  Once an expectation has been set, trying to convince a buyer that your product and services provide more "value" and is therefore "worth the expense" is as pointless as arguing whether or not you need eggs to make an omelet.

No argument or defense of these practices will ever be able to counteract the negative effects of crowdsourcing and anyone willing to argue there are "levels" of buyers needs to wake up and smell the fire burning a hole in their cash account.  

And, by the way, those people, the one's who "are not your customers", talkto your customers.

If a competing designer is able to undercut my proposal by 10% and still offer the same quality of work,  that's competition.  But, if I lose a potential customer to a vendor who promised the same services for 75% less than I can deliver them, that is not competition.  That's desperation or a blatant snow job.

Competition can only be "competitive" when prices are competitive.

How many logos will a crowdsourcer have to sell to make a living wage?

Let's say for the sake of argument that the average "sale price" of logo on iStock is a generous $500, that means the designer will net $250 after iStock takes its cut.  The designer will have to sell 80 logos simply to make it to a poverty-line income of 20k. 80 logos may not sound like an unreasonable benchmark, except when you consider that most professional designers probably don't create more than a dozen successful logos per year ... and, they are not competing against hundreds or thousands of second-rate logo designs.  How in the world will a struggling crowdsourcer expect to sell enough logos to pay the bills?  It's clinically insane. The only beneficiary is iStockPhoto.

At 50% comission, iStockPhoto will become nothing more than a loan shark for designers.  I agree with the fine folks at No-Spec that Crowdsourcing is quickly becoming the scourge of our industry and don't think for a moment that the naivete of the designers who participate in this sham are not hurting your business.  If it all boils down to "marketing", who do you think is going to win?  The uber talented freelancer on a limited marketing budget or the company with millions of ad dollars to burn convincing would be clients that quality creative is cheap to produce?

One fact is inarguable, creatives, in general, are terrible businessmen and among the worst when it comes to protecting our own best interests.  Keep writing off all the iStocks as someone else's problem, excusing their clients as a "lower level" of buyer, working on "spec", making excuses for signing work-for-hire documents that strip your rights of copy, responding to an RFP, or blaming our issues on "ineffective marketing" and all you are doing is putting on blinders in an effort to avoid the bigger issues.  

 

There is not a single myopic issue that can be blamed for the problems we face as a community.  There is a litany of reasons why creative services are devalued and, in the end, we, the creative vendors, are the only ones to blame.  We are still allowing it to happen.