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Monday, November 20, 2006

They are competing for your ability to make a bad decision...

I once posted about the (bad) idea of a content contest. I referenced an article that proposed using a contest format to get plenty of content on the cheap. Basically, the webmaster/contest operator would ask for submissions from writers (to which s/he would acquire rights) and would then award the "winning writer" with a cash prize of some sort.

Let's say you run a contest--The World's Best Widget Article Competition.

You get 500 writers to send 500 articles. The grand prize is a whopping $500. You just acquired 500 pieces of content for a buck per unit. Nice way to trim expenses, huh? You are now the proud owner of 500 sparkling new widget articles for a fraction of the regular price!

The basic model proposed in the article didn't advocate an "entry fee," but I could see someone trying that stunt, too. The entry fees could offset the prize and maybe even leave a profit in the hands of the contest operator.

Basically, my point in that previous post was to demonstrate how dangling a prize in front of writers could be used to compel a slew of would-be winners to give up the goods for nothing. I didn't come right out and say it, but I was sure the implication of the post was clear--such contests would be a way to take advantage of writers.

So, why am I revisiting this topic again? Two reasons.

First, I received a comment to the original post from someone who was ready to participate if I ever started a contest like that. Apparently, I wasn't making my position clear.

Second, I received an email from an artist who mentioned an email making its way to those who work in the visual arts from an outfit that claims to be putting together a massive and very prestigious showing. There is no payment. The exhibition is "fully funded by artists." You get the idea. They are playing "let's get rich off of the desire of others to get noticed." It's not unlike the content contest model previously mentioned.

Here's my position. If it's a contest, skip it. If it's a contest that requires an entry fee, skip it and tell others to skip it, too. If it's a contest that gets full rights to your work in exchange for participation, skip it, tell others to skip it, and consider monkey-wrenching the scheme with a shout out from your blog or some other (legal) tactic.

People are competing for the opportunity to exploit the poor decision-making skills of artists. They've done this for years to wannabe poets and fiction authors. The day that someone tries to pull this off with freelance non-fiction writers is probably already upon us and if it isn't, it soon will be.

Don't pay to fund a prize scheme. Don't give up the rights or the potential revenue value of your creations in exchange for a shot at some grand prize that is probably already promised to the contest operator's alias in order to make it even more profitable.

I know there are thousands of supporters of these contests in poetry and fiction. Some people think it's a fine idea. I think it's the worst bet in the entrepreneurial casino. The odds favor the house so heavily that the risk analysis tilts in favor of avoiding the game altogether.

I believe these "contests" exploit the desire for more money, the longing for recognition and cater to the natural tendency to assume one's own work is flawless. They pick on writers at some of their weakest points.

Am I wrong? I suppose I could be. I guess there might be freelancers out there who are willing to give away their work in (far-fetched) hopes of hitting the jackpot. Actually, I don't have to guess because one of them said "count me in!" in response to my earlier post.

I decided to take a minute to run it by a friend of mine who just happens to be a very talented artist as well as being part of the online content field. Corena Golliver creates fantastic visual art and buys content for online interests by the bushel. Here's what she had to say about the aforementioned art exhibit and these contests in general:

"...as if we don't have enough incestuous spam spanking invading our email boxes daily, now the creeps have infested the very bones of creation and how we display our talents."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Anyway, if you can come up with some sort of rationale from a content producer's (or artist's) perspective that would justify participation in these things, I would love to hear it.