I got all angry about Google’s Matt Cutts waxing poetic about Amazon Mechanical Turk as a form of sweatshop labor for linkbait. I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re not just interested in getting the written word on the cheap… they actual want professional artists to work for free! (Because Google really has to worry about their budget these days – they only reported a profit of nearly $1.5 billion in the first quarter of this year.)

The New York Times reported that Google has been courting professional artists to create skins for their Chrome browser. Sounds pretty cool, right? The problem is that the sole compensation they were offering is exposure. I’m hoping that exposure means more than a single mention of the artist’s name on the browser skin download page, but who knows?

Because, you know, they’re just artists. They just sit around and be creative all day. This is Google we’re talking about! Everyone should bow and scrape before them because everyone and their grandma uses Google to search the Web! Why should they have to pay artists money for their little doodles?

The sad part is that they did get some artists to work for them for free. Because, you know, they’ll get so much exposure to all of those people who use Google Chrome for their browser. Because those 500 people are totally going to hire  a professional artist based on the funky browser skins they may or may not download.

I wanted to equate this to freelance writers who accept ridiculously low wages for creating content. But then I realized that was a poor analogy. It’s far worse than that. It’s like every single one of us who has ever created any form of content online. Because we’re totally working for Google (and, to be fair, the other search engines) for free – because they all profit from scraping our content and putting so much of it on the SERPs that users don’t even have to click through to our sites anymore to get some of the information they want.

21 thoughts on “Google Wants Artists to Work for FREE”
  1. Ka-POW!

    Right between the eyes on this one. Exposure my hiney. Exposure? They have got to be kidding.

    I had no idea this whole thing of not paying creative freelancers was so pervasive. Ok, so now I’m madder than before.

    Is there a creative freelancer’s union?

    I’m mad.


  2. You severely underestimate the value of free and exposure. Look at all the bands that are struggling to get their music in the hands of people. Look at all the people working on open source software.

    heck, look at google chrome as the browser. Google gives it away for free, and there’s no direct revenue or payment brought in from the browser – but it still has plenty of value for the company.

    There’s a LOT more than 500 people who use chrome, and my guess is that some people will re-skin it purely for love of designing. You know, money isn’t the only reason to do something – many people do things out of passion and love of it. Designers, programmers, we all belong to that class of people.

    I’d be very sad to think that you only write for financial gain and not a love of writing. If so, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

    What I want to do > what I do well > what I get paid to do. It’s finding all 3 that makes an enjoyable job, but the first two are what makes an enjoyable life.

  3. One of my all time favorite sayings… “Art for art’s sake. Money for god’s sake!” I can’t pay my bills or feed my child on exposure alone. I can’t even pay for the materials to make my work on that theory. Pay me for my work!

    Oh…I know…I’m just a silly artist who must not love what I do if I do it for money….i.e. get paid…..SO…do you go to work each day, puttering around in your cubicle doing whatever it is that you do for free…? Solely for the sheer love of it?

    Didn’t think so.

    You missed the point.

    Same goes for Google.

  4. Lisa, you’re still off point.

    Google is getting the same benefit from this as the person who created it. Do you really think somebody’s decision to use chrome is going to be soley based around an artsy skin? I don’t.

    It’s just a neat customization. Remeber winamp MP3 player from before itunes? There’s tens of thousands of winamp skins that people made for free. why would they do it?

    hell, look at wordpress. There’s thousands upon thousands of free wordpress themes out there that people made for free. why would they do that?

    People like to create, so they create. People have side projects, and when I hire employees, I look for such side projects to see that they have some sort of passion about their work

    The whole above article sounds like a bitchy jealous rant by somebody who isn’t making enough money and can’t understand why people would do something for free.

  5. Oh, I forogt this point:

    “because they all profit from scraping our content and putting so much of it on the SERPs that users don’t even have to click through to our sites anymore to get some of the information they want.”

    You’d make a great newspaper executive!

    If you really feel that way, I suggest blocking all search engines with your robots.txt file. You’ll come crawling back to them shortly after.

  6. Ryan,

    I’m making a pretty good living for myself as a freelancer. But I’ve been down the road of taking the crap wage gigs that would supposedly help me build my resume, when really all they did was reinforce the fact that I was willing to work for crap wages.

    Google can afford to give Chrome away for free because they brought in over a billion dollars in the last quarter. The artists they’re asking to work for free don’t have the same benefit.

    I’m doing pretty well for myself. I have clients who appreciate quality work. I do some guest posts for free for exposure. I don’t get paid for my own blog posts here… I don’t even run ads on this site. I do this because I’m passionate about what I write about.

    And I’m tired of watching freelancers get taken advantage of. It seems to be the rule more than the exception these days. And it sucks. Creative services have VALUE, and despite the fact that I enjoy my writing, it does pay my bills. It pays for my mortgage, my electricity, my car payments, my insurance, my family’s food and clothing, my son’s preschool tuition, and all of that other stuff that people actually have to pay for.

    Oh yeah, Kia? I’ve decided I don’t need to pay for my car loan this month. You’re passionate about making safe family vehicles, and I gave you some great exposure on Twitter and in blog posts elsewhere, so we’re cool, right? No, you want MONEY? Screw that, exposure should be enough! How about this? I’ll throw in a daily vlog of every trip I take in my Kia Sedona. It’ll be awesome.

    That sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?

  7. Someone has a lack of business acumen.

    You take the Chrome skins you’ve done, and make them part of your porfolio showing future potential clients that Google is in love with work you did. Good enough to be included in an important Google product.

    You’re taking your skills, Google’s name and your your small position within the Google-sphere and using that to promote yourself into something larger.

    Kind of like being a former Google Quality Rater and parlaying that into a perception that you are an authority on web quality.

    So there IS true potential for commercial gain in Google’s offer. You just have to be savvy enough to make the most of it.

  8. Ryan,

    About the scraping thing. I have no problem with being listed in the search engines. I do have a problem with how more and more of the content we all create gets excerpted and screenshotted (yeah, I verb my nouns) so that people don’t even have to visit my site to find an answer sometimes. The SERPs serve up the information, get the ad revenue for the ads they run, and I don’t even get a freaking pageview from the whole thing.

    I shouldn’t really talk in the first person about this. Most of the content I create isn’t easily excerpted. But for many other people, business owners, companies… their informational products aren’t even getting them the traffic they deserve, because the search engines are serving up such a large chunk of the content themselves in the SERPs and making it so that users never even have to leave the search engine. Not cool.

  9. Jeff,

    Again, yeah, there’s portfolio value in skinning Google Chrome. But just because it’s good for the portfolio doesn’t make the artists any less deserving of being paid. Yeah, my quality rater stint looks awesome on my portfolio… but that doesn’t mean I ever would have done it for free. I have a family to support.

  10. First, they are being paid exactly what they deserve because that was the terms they entered into the agreement under. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.

    Second, they absolutely can be paid if they’re clever enough to make the most of the opportunity Google gave them.

  11. There are a lot of struggling artist just coming out of college that are doing amazing work. They would love the chance to showcase their work for free. in fact most do in galleries that allow them.

    The big difference here is that Google was going after established artist that already draw an income from their work. If Google really wanted to give free exposure give it to those that need it, not the ones that already have an established career.

  12. Joe,

    That’s something I can get behind! Basically, Google was looking for “brand name” artists to do work for free. Showcasing upcoming talent as you described is laudable, but that totally wasn’t their intent. (See? I can use their terms against them!)

  13. Hey! It’s not like it’s forced labor, okay? God knows I have my own problems with some of Google’s practices, but this sure as heck ain’t one of them. I personally don’t know a single artist who wouldn’t jump on a chance like this like a duck on a june bug. And if the artist doesn’t want or need the exposure, then they are free to say no. Google will just move on to the next one – who will no doubt be thrilled.

    I don’t see this as exploitation in any way, shape or form.

  14. Yeah, and that’s the thing, they wanted “big name” artist, not “no nothing’s” that is the nature of the politics in the art world. But, Google fails to understand that “big names” cost “big dollars”.

  15. Nail ’em, sister! What has the world come to when Google won’t pay their contractors? Bunch of putzes. I’m moving my browser setting back to Yahoo! I won’t give them ANY of my business.

    Think we should start invoicing them for the “reuse” of our materials in their search results?

  16. Sitepoint have been doing this for years. Having a competition for logo designs and offering 50-100 dollars as a prize. Then offering their clients a choice of designs.
    Get wise!

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