I’ve noticed a phenomenon in crowdsourcing that has plagued many a campaign. Spec work is its name, and after seeing it so often I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts on the matter.
To start off, spec (speculative) work is any work where you are expected to put forth a commitment to your time and resources without the guarantee of getting paid. A good example of this is the contest model of crowdsourcing, where several hundred teams of creatives may put forward a product only to have one of them selected to receive payment.
I’ll admit, it seems bad. For an amateur artist, time and resources may be in short supply. To lend them out without the guarantee of compensation may be too risky for some. I myself see it as falling under the “Incentive” tenet of crowdsourcing, so let me see if I can’t justify it a bit.
The thing I feel drives a lot of people to spec work is that for them, it’s not primarily about the money. Much spec work is done by non-professionals who are simply looking for an opportunity to hone their craft. After all, spec work is almost always voluntary. Who else would sign up but people passionate enough about their work to do it potentially for free? A lot of contest-model sites embrace this notion, offering their members educational materials or access to other members for learning purposes. Money is a bonus, but simply a secondary concern.
There is something else I didn’t realize until I spoke to a friend of mine who had entered a shady poetry contest in his formative years. He didn’t find out it was a scam until later, and although he was disappointed, he was still glad that he had gotten the chance to show off his work. He told me that the “spec work” aspect of it didn’t bother him so much; almost all artists start out doing entirely spec work to help them make a name for themselves. It’s part of the game, he told me, and I happen to agree. If you’re trying to get by on creative talent, it’s practically accepted that getting paid for it is not going to happen right away.
So we have the amateur and part-time creatives finding things to enjoy about the spec work model. That leaves the full-timers, the creative professionals, a group I could definitely see having a problem with the concept because they’re accustomed to guaranteed payment for their efforts. But as I mentioned, spec work is both voluntary and primarily not about the money. Full-timers would be wise to mostly avoid the spec work market, leaving it to the amateurs and part-timers. This ensures that companies will still turn to professionals for their highest-quality creative needs.
Voila, spec work in a nutshell. If you’re a non-pro, spec work is a great way to hone your craft and get your name up. If you’re a pro, it’s probably not what you’re looking for. Overall, I’m a fan of the idea; after all, spec work forms the basis of a ton of creative crowdsourcing efforts. What’s your experience with spec work been like? Enchant us with your tale in the comments.