CrowdSPRING cattle call: “Work for FREE, suckers!”

February 15, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Freelancing 

freelance cattle callIf you’re a designer, you’ve probably heard of CrowdSPRING. If you’re a writer, you’re going to hear of them soon.

They’ve been around since 2008 and have billed themselves as a way for freelance designers to access a worldwide market, and an affordable way for small and medium-sized businesses to get logos and graphic design quickly and affordably. Now they’re expanding into freelance writing services.

Sounds great, right? That depends on your point of view.

From the point of view of hobbyists, stay-at-home-moms, out-of-work creatives, students, and desperate freelancers, CrowdSPRING probably sounds like a pretty good idea. From the point of view of a professional, the idea is pernicious and borderline unethical.

What CrowdSPRING is really doing is sounding a freelance cattle. They’re automating the spec work concept. They want to convince you to work for free … and like it!

Here’s how it works.

A business posts a project and the price they want to pay. Freelancers then submit “entries” for that project. CrowdSPRING promises the client at least 25 entries to choose from and boasts that the average project attracts over 100 entries. The client chooses a winner and the freelancer gets the “award,” while CrowdSPRING pockets 15%.

This is a great arrangement for the business. They get at least 25 freelancers to submit work, but they only have to pay for one. This is called “spec” work or work on speculation.

But for the freelancers, it’s not such a great deal. I looked at project and award statistics for the top 10 freelance designers (there were only 4 writing projects when I looked today). This top freelancer has received 944 awards out of 3,942 entries. That means this person has been paid for 1 of 4 projects since mid-2008.

So if this freelancer charges $25 an hour, the actual pay works out to $6.25 an hour. That’s less than minimum wage.

But it gets worse. In the top 10, one of the freelancers has received only 226 awards out of 2,643 entries. That’s 1 in 11. Using the same $25 an hour rate, this freelancer is earning $2.27 an hour. This is getting embarrassingly close to what some kids get for an allowance or a good report card.

And if you can believe it, one freelancer I saw has been paid for just 1 out of 311 projects. That’s so pitiful, I can’t even fathom the lack of self-respect and self-worth that would cause someone to do so much work for so little pay.

To be fair, CrowdSPRING is a solid business concept. It’s successful with over 50,000 freelancers around the world who participate  (though I wonder how many are in the U.S. vs. India or other low wage countries). And the fees for projects seem to be reasonable, if not lucrative. At least you don’t have the ridiculously low offers you find on some other freelance sites.

But you don’t get paid for all your work. You have to roll the dice and “win” the pay.

If you’re a professional, you don’t want to do spec work if you have any real experience or expertise. Spec work is the human version of a cattle call. You are asked to strut your stuff along with a herd of other freelancers and hope you are chosen.

What other professional does this? Doctors? Lawyers? Dentists? Airline pilots? Accountants? What would you think of a dentist who agreed to treat 25 patients and get paid for just one? You’d think he or she was desperate. Would you want to work with a desperate dentist?

For a professional freelancer, doing spec work perpetuates an unprofessional image, devalues your time and skill, and prevents you from reaching your full potential.

I’ve always turned away ad agencies and businesses who hold cattle calls for spec work. I refuse to work with CrowdSPRING or any similar operation. And if you seek to be a full-time professional copywriter, so should you.

CrowdSPRING will undoubtedly attract thousands of writers who don’t want to be a professional, don’t care about the profession of copywriting, and don’t realize they’re being taken advantage of. I hope you are not one of them.

You are not cattle. Ignore the freelance cattle call.

You’ll notice that I’m not giving you links for CrowdSPRING because I don’t want to promote their work-for-free concept. But I will give you links to two sites that agree with me that spec work is unprofessional:

Spec Watch


Both are focused on design, but are militantly against doing spec work of any kind.

Please spread the word. Share this article with every freelancer you know.

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Smart Comments

15 Comments on CrowdSPRING cattle call: “Work for FREE, suckers!”

  1. James Chartrand - Men with Pens on Feb 15th, 2010 9:15 am
  2. Yeah, I hear you on this. They contacted me this weekend to introduce themselves and say hi, hoping we’d be doing work with them.

    Uh, no. I don’t think so. Not even friggin’ close.
    .-= James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog … Are Your Clients Really Getting Your Best? =-.

  3. Dean Rieck on Feb 15th, 2010 9:34 am
  4. James:
    Yep. Someone contacted me too. And it pissed me off when I saw the website, thus the post.

  5. James Chartrand - Men with Pens on Feb 15th, 2010 9:44 am
  6. Heh. I sent them back a lovely email telling them what I thought… and quite politely, too.
    .-= James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog … Are Your Clients Really Getting Your Best? =-.

  7. Dean Rieck on Feb 15th, 2010 9:56 am
  8. James:
    Same here. I’m not sure why they thought more prominent writers would be interested. Perhaps they counted on positive press from blogs. Or could they be clever enough to know we’d trash them, while inadvertently publicizing them for the more desperate writers?

  9. Niels Teunis on Feb 15th, 2010 12:02 pm
  10. Thank you so much for this. I am starting my writing business, read your blog for powerful learning, and I am horrified to see these kinds of websites operate. There are a few others out there, as you well know. The sheer glut of cheap writing explains the horrible writing that you see all around the web. You have to wonder what a business is thinking when they farm out their homepage text to a 15 dollar writer from who knows where. Thanks for this warning, I won’t have to waste my time finding this out for myself.
    .-= Niels Teunis’s last blog … A New Sense of Life’s Possibilities =-.

  11. Gary Smith on Feb 16th, 2010 6:51 am
  12. This is not the first website or business model I’ve seen that asks designers to grab for the brass ring in service to some “client”. And it’s sad. It perpetuates the stereotype of us as needy creatures scrambling for approval, and any nickel that hits the floor. It’s one reason I don’t miss working in big agencies. They were addicted to spec work. I never do it. And IMHO you should decline any prospect who expects it.

  13. Eric S. Mueller on Feb 19th, 2010 7:45 am
  14. I think I’ve heard of them before. I won’t be participating. I’m getting started as a freelance writer (I have yet to land my first client) and I wouldn’t work for them.

    I was looking at sub-$500 writing jobs on Elance the other day. I realized that I couldn’t do most of them without dragging down the entire profession with me. One even said they’re looking for a cheap writer.
    .-= Eric S. Mueller’s last blog … The Return of Micro-MAN-ager =-.

  15. Dean Rieck on Feb 19th, 2010 8:29 am
  16. Eric:
    Good for you. You haven’t even landed your first clients and already you’re acting like a pro. Really, I think it’s occasionally acceptable to do pro bono work to get a few projects and samples under your belt, but not with a “contest” outfit like CrowdSPRING. They simply go too far. And they set a bad precedent.

    [...] CROWDSpring Cattle Call: Work for Free Suckers! at ProCopy Tips [...]

  17. Kay H. on Jul 16th, 2010 9:18 pm
  18. Maybe you should revisit this. crowdSPRING has the new policy and now customers can claim a full refund, no questions asked, even after to collect all submissions and choose a winner. Refund means no designer gets paid at all, except a $100 consolation to one designer per refunded project.

  19. Dean Rieck on Jul 16th, 2010 9:36 pm
  20. Kay,
    Well, I’ve already trashed them, so I’m not sure what else I’d say. It’s all about getting free work out of freelancers.

    [...] in February, I warned you about CrowdSPRING, another in a long line of  “content mill” sites that professional writers should [...]

  21. Rick Cosaro on Jan 14th, 2011 12:38 pm
  22. As a professional designer I had never heard of CrowdSPRING, until they started to advertise on a Chicago radio station ( WBEZ ). After going to the CrowdSPRING, I realized they’re a content mill – pure scum bags.

    Anyway, I just wrote WBEZ ( ) telling them what I thought. If more people contacted them, perhaps they would pull the ad (though I doubt it).

  23. al on Jan 20th, 2011 2:57 pm
  24. No kidding! This is killing us pros. I’m off for my try out as a city bus driver! Been a design pro for years, but I can’t compete with Ranjit from Calcutta anymore. Hey, its the new world order. Get used to it!

  25. Shailesh K on Jul 8th, 2011 5:25 am
  26. I also work on crowdspring, but really I also did nt understand there what type of work the burer really needs, and why I did not win is really a big question, you can see the sony logo, vodafone and many other 3D look logos and those are compleytely goes in thrash, just I speak about yesterday that I uploaded an imade for first aid image I uploaded first 3 designs and sood no sooner I uploaded the reply came no thanks, but I still uploaded one more the forth logo and that also i got the answer no thanks, It really made me to think how I upload and quick comes reply nop thanks, atlease to think the view of art work need some times atleast 5 to 10 minutes, yaaa, but this thing happened second or third time, really now on I will not be placing more of my work but only once in a month or too, thats all, but I will continue with writting work on it, if luck come in my favour than its good or else its to message within few minutes, because we have good teachings, that we must respect others, and being Indian I do not wish to compete with any other country but I just wish to bring my skills to the world, my thoughts and my ideas of my work, and even in all my work, I had given my best but I still can and even I have thought mre better than best as excelect and top class logo designs, Yes you will know that why I have said this, and its true
    because I saw in some logo contest if you would have seen the images of my it was in begining with 3D look effect for 2D art work, and I want to speak of others art work, there were plane colour art work, that few other atrist had worked in the work in such a way that logo speaks much more than the only simple text work, also the colour were speaking good, but only simple and normal straight and easy font was used.
    Iand one more story, im2 what that logo was that I had made, but the buyer got vanished
    and few days back
    I saw that evermer was declared for 1500 but fefore 12 hours of the given time the buyer selected a design for 1300 what that was yar
    and what happened yesterday was astonishing, within 3 seconds or even in less time no thanks was the answer what a intresting story, happening in this world, sorry to write, but the truth I can see only, that I have said, my intention is not to hurt any one but it may happen that fake buyers are on site so it may be happening so if this is the matter than this site must make guarenty and demand money from buyer and and a guarenty lines from the buyer, resently they have said that they will pay 100 bucks for every contest but lets prove it with time.

    To this site I like to say that I want to work for logo designing work if any one needs my work than please contect me with comments proceed to my email, I can give the workout. just answer me plain colour, gradient, 2D or 3D look logo does the party needs
    thank you