Monday, June 13, 2011

Marketing Monday: Crowdsourcing a Work of Art?

This first entry in the Marketing Monday series is more about the marketplace than it is about the marketing activity. Specifically, I want to talk about the subject of Crowdsourcing, the new trend of the 21st century.

This concept is new to me--well, sort of new. I've been out of the web development and graphic design business, thankfully, since 1999 after nearly a decade of running my own business. I hated doing battle daily with these sorts of methods to leech me dry of free labor. I didn't mind showing a client what I had in mind, what I could do, some kind of "proof of concept" or sample that would convince them to hire me. I did mind, however, when a client was simply looking to get something for free. This happened about 10% of the time and I ran away from those clients as quickly as I could. So this new trend--new since 1999 when I left the realm of business owner--of "crowdsourcing" graphics design and its implications to me, as a "self-employed" novelist piqued my curiosity.

It started when I saw an interesting article by a member of a LinkedIn group I've joined. She explains:
Crowdsourcing means getting a whole lot of people to work on a project or solve a problem, usually over the Internet. Sometimes this is a volunteer effort where people are working for the betterment of Mankind, which is the case with SETI@Home and Project Gutenberg. But sometimes, as in the graphics design world, crowdsourcing is synonymous with doing work "on spec." Essentially, a designer is asked to come up with a few ideas for the client’s review before being hired. In other words, working for free.
For some reason, many clients don’t see spec work as a problem because they want to see the product before they pay for it. As I said, I never had a problem offering "proof of concept" work. However, graphic design crowdsourcing sites--such as, CrowdSpring or 99Designs--follow the business model of creating a competition out of every design project. Not everybody can win the contract, but loads of people can spend hours trying.  Hours of uncompensated labor.

So how does this apply to me (or you), as a "self-employed" writer of fiction? Crowdsourcing design services in the graphics world sets a precedent, building a mindset out there that free work is okay to expect--demand, even! Worse, it's lowering the value of artistic creativity and artistic effort.

I'm already a starving artiste, quite literally starving at times when I have to choose between food versus gasoline so I can drive to work and earn the rent on the roof over my head. I don't need new trends in other creative fields to lower the value of art any further. These days, consumerism isn't really focused on the quality of art, but rather on how much this retailer can undercut that retailer on pricing. And can anyone beat Amazon's price-matching. Not to mention stolen works being auctioned on eBay. From pirated music and movies to free "writing on spec," the marketplace is expecting more and willing to pay less for it.

I love to write and will continue to write, but the massive explosion onto the eBook market of low-quality, self-published works going out for 99 cents or free is making it difficult--for me, for my readers, for everyone. Having so free works out there which may or may not be worth what you pay for them, makes it difficult to avoid the crowdsourcing mindset. If this goes on-- (as Robert A. Heinlein once wrote) an eBook author won't be able to survive.

To separate myself from the masses of self-published authors in the eBook market (in addition to having a high-quality body of work), I'll need validation from a traditional publisher. I'd intended to pursue traditional publishing for my Romantic Suspense work anyway, but it would've been nice to self-publish my Science Fiction works. I have the Phoenician Series (Raif's Story is Book 0 of that 5-book series, possibly whittled down to 4 books by the time I'm done) and a few odds and ends novellas I'd wanted to expand and self-publish.

Because I have to work at an outside job for a living, I can only write one or two days a week--if that!--so by the time I get some of it done (YEARS from now), the landscape of the marketplace will have changed again, probably not for the better. So says Sarah, the Cynical Webbiegrrl.

Let it be written, but let it not be done.

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