When I wrote an article about the potential for abuse from kickstarter projects, this is what I meant:
The website http://www.gawker.com released a bombshell article last night that revealed that one of their reporters had met with a guy who had a video of the mayor of Toronto smoking crack and hanging out with known drug dealers (one of which, the man pictured on the left in the picture above) was later killed in a gang related shootout. Yeah, I would say this is kind of a big story. The mayor is also a conservative, and who doesn’t love a conservative being outed as a hypocrite? Well, besides conservatives I mean. What is different about this story is that Gawker has turned to YOU (me?), yes YOU! to fund the purchase of this video for a hefty price of $200,000 dollars because, well they don’t want to pay for it, that’s why.
I didn’t think my prediction of a dystopian future where crowdsourcing would be used to squeeze even more pennies out of the public would take the form of a video of the Toronto Mayor smoking crack, that was a curveball, but it was essentially this form of “crowdsourcing” that I felt was troubling, and only going to get worse.
As Ben Cohen, a writer from The Daily Banter, wisely points out:
The crowdfunding site Indigogo has the power to help many a worthwhile project, and it’s highly debatable whether this is one of them. Gawker, which is worth in excess of $300 million, is basically asking the public to pay for something it will profit from. They’re obviously calculating that the virality of the video won’t make them $200,000 in ad revenue, so they’re asking their readers to foot the bill. I’m all up for reader funded journalism, but it has to beactual journalism not just slapping a video up of something controversial. If Gawker wanted $200,000 to do a series of in depth pieces on crack use in Toronto, then sure. But this is just a cheap move to get people to pay for stuff they should be buying themselves.
Again, I think that things like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are wonderful tools, and have managed to help jumpstart (even KICKstart) the careers of some wonderfully talented people who otherwise would still be working a 9-5 job somewhere in the Midwest. The premise is sound, but like other great premises, we can’t ignore that flaws that open it up to exploitation by the powerful (ahem, capitalism anyone?).
Zach Braff is rich, powerful and knows people. He has EVERYTHING going for him. His kickstarter was successful entirely because he is already rich, powerful and knows people (or in this case, people know him). That isn’t to say his movie isn’t worthy of being made, I’ll plop down 10 bucks for ticket when it comes out, but he is stealing the spotlight from many other, lesser known, equally valid projects on Kickstarter when he puts his stuff on there. And that kind of defeats the whole purpose of Kickstarter.
The Gawker “crack video” is the same kind of problem. The website doesn’t want to foot its own bill, and it is banking (literally) on the fact that it no longer has to. Ah, the beauty of crowdsourcing. Even better, as Gawker is learning as we speak, even if the video never gets fully funded and the world is deprived of seeing another conservative “family values” politician behaving despicably, the website is getting a TON of free publicity from this whole thing. Based on it’s front page cover and its virility online I’m willing to bet the article just discussing the crack video is Gawker’s most viewed page this week. Not bad for not paying a single penny.
It’s unfortunate that we are seeing this shift of power back to the few, and that’s really what this is all about, let’s not kid ourselves. Crowdsourcing as an idea is brilliant in its effectiveness and also admirable in its execution. The internet is at its best when its fostering a sense of communal goals and effort, a truly Marxian paradise where every one chips in and we all reap the shared benefits. But what companies are learning is that people are willing to do this for next to nothing and their work can be just as good as the people on payroll can manage and, because they have lost their souls somewhere around the time they were promoted to middle management, they see potential dollar signs and little risk. It’s not asking too much to expect a website like Gawker to pay for a video that they want, they can afford, and they will benefit from. It’s not too much to expect Zach Braff to fund his own project by the traditional channels. And if you are intent on crowdsourcing, it’s not too much to demand that there should be a proportional benefit to the crowd itself.
- Is Kickstarter a rip off? (jamesonstarship.wordpress.com)
- Toronto Mayor faces drug video claim (bbc.co.uk)
- Has Kickstarter Lost Its Way? (resourcemagonline.com)