Last week Business Week ran a story on crowdsourcing that should be required reading for anyone following the phenomenon closely. Earlier this month Getty Images, the behemoth of the stock photography industry and the owner of iStockPhoto, announced it would begin licensing photos found on Flickr.com. Now this is significant news in and of itself. It's crowdsourced photography taken to its logical conclusion. With iStock, the contributors might be amateurs (and some 96 percent of them are), but they are shooting images with the market in mind. When Getty licenses an image from Flickr, they are effectively dipping straight into that seemingly bottomless well of our visual collective conscious. (For some specs on the deal, see Thomas Hawk.)
While last week's Bizweek story used the Flickr deal as a peg, the writer, John Tozzi, used it as a platform to explore a much more important issue: The extent to which crowdsourcing is hurting professional designers. This year at least three companies—99designs, crowdSPRING, and Pixish—that allow people to shop out design gigs to the lowest bidder have emerged. (Update: crowdSPRING employs a different model. Clients post a creative brief and the amount they're willing to pay; if the price is right, designers submit ideas in response. See Angeline's comment, below, for more detail.) Professional designers, like professional photographers before them, have reacted with understandable consternation. When Derek Powazek (the founder of the excellent JPG Magazine, and as such a pioneer in community-based photography projects)
launched Pixish, his boards were inundated with outraged designers. From Tozzi's Bizweek piece:
Powazek says that within days of the site's launch in February, posters on blogs and forums said Pixish would "destroy the design industry." He has little sympathy for his critics: "If a three-day-old site can destroy the graphic design industry, then it deserves to be destroyed," he says. But to placate them, he posted an extended response on the site and banned logo designs from the permitted assignments.
Powazek argues that the people posting jobs on his site, who generally offer rewards of $100 or less, aren't the same customers that use graphic design shops. Sites like Pixish give talented hobbyists ways to build their portfolios and get exposure, he adds. Professionals scapegoat microstock sites and crowdsourced design services instead of examining why their own businesses are struggling, Powazek contends. "This isn't Flickr's fault. It's yours," he adds.
The experience of stock photography would argue otherwise. While iStockPhoto and the other microstock sites have unquestionably opened up new markets, they've also taken over old ones at the expense of many professionals. Which brings me to the question of the day:
Will professional Graphic Designers see its revenues erode as a result of crowdsourcing?
Update: Tony adds these links in the comments below, but I wanted to bring them up into the post proper because the forum threads therein are as substantive and edifying as they are contentious.