Has Social Media Cheapened Creative Talent?

pulpfictionOne of the basic concepts in social media and online networking and marketing is about giving, yet there seems to be a lot more taking going on lately. Although I agree that the participation in the social web absolutely needs to have that element of helpfulness, it doesn’t mean that professional creative services should be expected to be given away for free or for a few bucks. Here are a few recent scenarios that have come to my attention:

In various LinkedIn discussion groups:
Someone asking for “suggestions” for a new tag line for their company.
Someone asking for “suggestions” for re-branding of a web domain.
Someone asking for the best solutions to market their brand.

Craig’s List:
Someone asking for product designs on spec: Create it, design it, give it to us and if we like it, we’ll pay you.

A prominent children’s brand looking for a product designer to work unpaid for 3 months which “may lead to a paid position.”

Numerous online news or information sites:
Writers provide free content or content for a few bucks an article in exchange for “exposure.”

Online printers:
Offering a free clip art logo with every printing job.

These are just a few of the myriad of examples of businesses looking for and/or taking free or nearly free, design, marketing or content to build their own businesses. There’s nothing wrong with helping people, offering advice and yes, sometimes offering limited services for free or at a discount, but there seems to be a disconnect somewhere that discounts talent and quality which, in turn, devalues and cheapens creative work.

A good example here is the case of the online printing service offering a free clip art logo with every printing job. This company is not a graphic design house, they are a printing house. A more appropriate offer might be to giveaway an extra few pieces of whatever is being printed. Giveaway the printing, not low level clip art logos. Yes it’s a logo, and yes, the customer might need a logo, but it’s not doing the customer any favors by offering them a logo that looks like it was designed by a 5th grader. There actually is no value in doing that, because even if their customer doesn’t realize the low quality, the marketplace probably will, and a poor unprofessional image will be projected.

It seems that it’s becoming a common practice to not only ask for, but expect creative work for free or virtually free. There is that old saying that “you get what you pay for.” This isn’t to say necessarily that the more expensive something is the better, but it’s safe to say that most professional quality work is not going to be found for free. The problem here lies in when businesses don’t see or know the difference between professional quality work and low level work that appears to fill a particular need at a particular time for a bargain or lower than bargain price. Is it really still true that content and quality is king or is a bargain the new reigning ruler? Is this a larger cultural question? Let me know what you think…

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4 comments so far. Leave a comment.

  1. TerryR

    wrote on November 20, 2009 at 9:47 am

    “…The problem here lies in when businesses don’t see or know the difference between professional quality work and low level work…”

    Cheryl,this one statement is the crux and cornerstone of the problem. It is not new, and has been a continuing struggle in not only my own career, but pops up in discussions with copywriters, marketers, photographers, designers, illustrators and all the “content providers” I’ve known, (there’s a nice devaluing phrase!) And the problem always seems to be exacerbated during rough economic downturns.

    There are those who “see” the value of well thought out creative, and those who don’t >> right brain vs. left brain–it will never go away. After all this time, I really don’t know how to combat it but to give up and go do crafts in my garage!!

  2. Cheryl Andonian aka Momblebee

    wrote on November 20, 2009 at 10:15 am

    I know exactly how you feel. It is a right brain, left brain thing. You see or you don’t, simple as that. I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s like one of those tone deaf people auditioning for American Idol really thinking and believing that they sound just like Whitney Houston. They just can’t HEAR the difference. But don’t go ordering your glue gun bag of popsicle sticks just yet. There is a market for quality creative work, it just takes more work to find it. You may not be able to convert the ones who cannot see, but if the talent is there, it won’t take much to convince those that can see…just gotta find them.

  3. Jim O'Connor

    wrote on January 22, 2010 at 3:12 am

    You’ve identified a real problem and I agree with all that’s been said by you and other contributors.
    I’ve been encouraged to bid for work on sites like elance and peoplebythehour. Never got one project. As you say, people want to pay peanuts – but they get monkeys!
    Actually, I don’t think it’s a problem (it’s only a problem if you chase this kind of work, then agree to do it).
    The best strategy is to concentrate on producing quality work, but for people who appreciate the value of it. Finding those people is not always easy, but you need to have the self belief and discipline to politely pass up “offers” from people who will suck your brains out for nothing!
    It’s not always easy to spot these mental vampires – around my way (south west England)there are some quite well respected design agencies who are good at asking “favours” that are never repaid.
    Also, I guess social media make it easier for these guys to land on the unsuspecting.
    As I said on your amazing linked in discussion (does an idea have value?) there are those who have ideas (and value them) and those who don’t have ideas (and don’t value them). I think that is just a fact of life, and it isn’t going to change. The only thing we have control over is ourselves!

  4. Cheryl Andonian aka Momblebee

    wrote on January 22, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Thanks for adding your thoughts on the subject. I agree with you…I guess one thing I do fear is that these sites like elance and guru.com are beginning to set a new standard based on price. They reach the global market and I have concern that creative providers in developing countries (ones that actually do have skills and talent), can work for much less than those of us who live and work in industrialized countries. So it may not be just about low end talent at all, it might be that a very talented writer in India can afford to write for a significantly lower fee than I can. Is creative talent going the way of manufacturing?

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