Don’t Ask; Sell

Crowdsourcing troubles me. I have a hard time separating it from begging. And I wonder, is it a veneer of anonymity that gives crowdsourcing a social palatability that begging doesn’t have?

It’s not that I don’t support the idea of supporting talent–it is, after all a time-honored social system—patronage. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a product of patronage, as is Michaelangelo’s David. Today, we enjoy so many great works of creativity because the artist had a patron who supported him or her. But how crowdsourcing differs from patronage is in the product–there has to be one. If there isn’t, an ethical principle is being polluted.

That ethical principle is why, traditionally, Girl Scouts have sold cookies and people have held bake sales and spaghetti suppers to raise money for their cause. They do this because they intrinsically understand that there needs to be an exchange of power.

My father once told me a story. Many years ago, when he was doing some repairs on his sailboat in Bermuda, two young Bermudians came up to him and asked him for money. He knew how he looked to them—white American with a sailboat; must be rich. But coming from a place of having earned the money through sacrifice and hard work to be in a position of being able to repair his sailboat in Bermuda, he didn’t give them money, instead he told them: “Never ask for money, always offer something for sale.” With his words, he was reminding them of the importance of their own self-respect. The kids went away and a few hours later came back with a bead necklace. My father bought it. The balance of power and therefore self-respect was maintained on both sides.

The ease of internet anonymity may be tempting to some, but the price is self-respect. Don’t ask; sell.

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Ask; Sell

  1. I’ve been in the process of begging for blurbs for my forthcoming novel, and have felt this unhappy balance. I guess what I could give in exchange was a small picture of what their work meant to me, albeit with a consciousness that I’d never sent a wholly “oh wow, thank you!” before. Still, I think the token mattered. One writer emailed back that she simply didn’t have time, but it pained her in my case as most who requested blurbs hadn’t read her books. People, yikes (but okay I’m not totally surprised). And there is the hope that they will enjoy reading what I spent a long time writing, and that someday I’ll remember this and possibly give someone else a hand. But the asking is unsettling,

  2. Thoughtful comments, Jeannine. I think that asking for blurbs, but with the stated perception that you are asking that person because you value what they themselves have written is not only an equal exchange, but a valuable one for both parties.

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