DIY Culture Industry: Signifying Practices, Social Networks and Other Instrumentalizations of Everyday Art

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Paraphrasing Daren C. Brabham’s “Crowdsourcing,” Convergence 14 no. 1, 2008:

Coined by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson in the June 2006 issue of Wired, “crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This task is often undertaken by sole individuals. A prerequisite is the large network of potential laborers. It’s only crowdsourcing once a company takes that design, fabricates it in mass quantity and sells it.” Problems solved and products designed by the crowd become the property of companies who turn large profits off from this crowd labor. Threadless.com is a Chicago-based internet t-shirt company formed when Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart met through an online design forum; both entered into a t-shirt design competition and Nickell won. They formed skinnyCorp (“skinnyCorp creates communities”) and its flagship property, Threadless, in late 2000 when Nickell was only 20 and DeHart only 19 years old. As of June 2006, Threadless was selling 60,000 T-shirts a month, had a profit margin of 35% and was on track to gross $18 million for the year, all with fewer than 20 employees. Anyone with a valid email address may join the Threadless community free and vote on designs or submit them. To submit a design, community members download either an Adobe Flash or Adobe Photoshop template, follow the guidelines for image quality and number of colors, and upload their design back to Threadless. Designs are scored on a zero-to-five scale with an option to check an “I’d buy it!” box. Designs remain available for voting for two weeks, and the highest scoring designs are selected by Threadless staff to be printed and made available for sale on the website. In a typical week there are at least three new shirts for sale and at least one reprinted by overwhelming demand from the community. For designer shirts, they are priced affordably, at around $15, or $10 during their frequent sales, all due to the low cost of designing them. Winning designers receive $1,500 in cash and $500 worth of Threadless t-shirts and gift certificates. However, $2000 is a very low price for design services that yield such high profits. Threadless also boasts a street team (for promotional needs) and rewards its members with purchasing credits for referring sales by linking to the website or by submitting photos of themselves wearing Threadless shirts they own.”

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