Please Sir, Can I Have Another
As anyone who has read my articles and posts on Crowdsourcing has likely noticed, I am fascinated by the notion, but tend to approach it with “eyes wide open”. While Crowdsourcing is exciting and inspiring, it also has its fair share of issues and drawbacks. And so, if I seem like I bounce back and forth between my enthusiasm and my concerns, I hope it is clear that I am not so much indecisive (well, it least not in this case) but simply more realistic than evangelical about the concept.
Which brings me to the concept of exploitation.
When claims of exploitation are brought up with regards to Crowdsourcing (and they are, frequently) often the counter argument is that because people willingly participate, there is no mistreatment. While “exploitation” is not exactly the word I would use, it is wrong to assume that because people contribute out of passion rather than necessity, this logically translates into balance and equity.
Here is how I would best illustrate this conundrum. Having worked as an actor, I know how often performers are expected to work for free or for very low rates, to “pay ones dues”, in assumption of future paid work (with the same company, once established), to gain exposure etc. (One might draw the parallel between this and interning – another concept I’m not in love with – but it is not an accurate comparison. While the low-to-non-existent pay scale is similar, the carrot is somewhat more accessible: There are, generally, more positions available after an internship – i.e. if 10 people are interns, the best or 2 might be eventually employed by the company. Not the same situation in film – in which future employment – regardless of hard work, ability or ambition – is, generally, a long-shot (companies may not gain funding, or may eventually disband and/or end up at different production companies). And, most frighteningly, there exists the assumption that there is often no need to pay people since there is always a pool of people vying for unpaid positions.
Many artistic fields have this issue – and so Web 2.0 has by no means “started the fire” – it is just brighter and spreads quicker. One more example: as a writer, I have been asked to produce articles at rates of 2 cents a word (80 articles would earn me my entire rent money, Yeee hah!) It may be absurd and unacceptable to me, but it is by no means rare.
“Climbling the ladder” is something most have to do – but the “low market value” is what Crowdsourcing companies and Crowdsourcers should be weary of.
“Climbing the ladder” is not the issue – having a ladder that is infinite is. “Paying dues” is often realistic, but paying forever is akin to extortion.
The critical problem exists when there is no end in sight to the game and a profession/skill-area assumes the low-no pay scale as a consistent form of compensation.
Many agree to accept low rates because at a certain point the rate becomes a market standard/industry expectation. And there comes a point where so many people are offering their work for free that the mindset for buyers becomes: “well, why would we bother to pay more if we don’t have to”.
Make no mistake that people who give into this system and offer their services for little in return are agreeing with it. They in are merely reflecting the low value placed on what they do.
Are they being exploited in the true definition of the word? Well, not exactly. They have a choice, certainly. But once the choice becomes “work or don’t work” – the “choice” becomes between the rock and the hard place.