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CrowdSpring leverages weasel economics

Pay for creative work before it's done. Have artists do the work before they have a contract. Brilliant.

I saw CrowdSpring present at a recent Under the Radar conference I was moderating. I like the service a lot, because it simplifies the process of licensing creative works, and it levels the playing field so anyone can play. What it does, in a nutshell, is let people who need design work done put their requests up on the site. Then creatives compete for the jobs.

It sounds familiar, doesn't it -- like TaskMarket, Elance, and other task boards?

It's not. CrowdSpring has a radically different cashflow model. It works like this: If there's a job you want done -- say, the creation of a logo for your startup -- you post that on the site. And you pay CrowdSpring in advance, before any contractor has even seen at your req. Wait, it gets better.

ID8 needs a new logo. Can you do better than this?

The creatives who want to earn the fee don't go through the process of marketing themselves to you to earn the right to work on your project. Rather, they do the work up front, submitting their work, in public, to the job page that's on the site.

Once you pick the work you like, rights to it transfer to you and the artist gets paid.

Let's review: Clients pay for their work up front. Artists do the work before they have the contract. CrowdSpring collects the float.

It's the ultimate in weasel economics. But it works. Check out some of the closed jobs on the site - the quality of the work is quite good, there's a lot of variety to choose from, and customers are paying bargain prices.

I wouldn't recommend CrowdSpring for complex jobs or secret projects, but it's a good tool for simple creative tasks. And if you find a contractor you like on the system, you are of course free to hire them for a longer engagement.

I hope, but am not convinced, that CrowdSpring can stay as good as it is today. An existing and larger task market, like Elance, could add a CrowdSpring-like assignment option, giving designers and clients exposure to a larger selection of business partners. CrowdSpring does have two things going for it, though: First, a purity of purpose that shows itself in a simple and easy-to-use marketplace. And second, there are apparently people out there willing to do creative work based only for the hope of getting paid. I'm wondering now how many other new businesses can be built to leverage this desperation.