Contributed by Melissa Kojima
If you don't know what spec work is, it's time to tell you not to accept it as an artist, illustrator or other creative worker. If you go to Craig's List and search the art and media job section, you may run into a lot of these spec work jobs. Usually, the client wants you to do some sort of creative work for "credits" or for a possible percentage of the revenue if the project is published or makes any money. In short, they want you to do work for nothing. Basically, it's work that is "speculated" to have an income in the future. Sounds bad, doesn't it?
Believe it or not, there are many examples of spec work. When a client asks for "samples" or a "test" before they decide to hire you (your portfolio should be enough of a sample), this is an example of spec work. Moreover, many contests which ask for logos and shirt designs are also spec work. This practice which is becoming very popular is called, "Crowdsourcing". You do all this work and chances are that you'll get nothing for it. Not to mention, these carry into the "work for hire" practice which you should also say no to as a creative worker. This is when you forfeit all your rights to a piece of creative work to the client or employer. You don't get any credits. You also don't get to put that work in your portfolio as an example of what you can do.
Yes, these are things we need to be aware of in our industry. Educate yourself and your client if they ask you to work this way. It's demanding respect for your creative work. You did your best work and you deserve to be rewarded for it.
I mention this because I just ran into another client who wanted me to do spec work for them. They were courting me for over a month, telling me they love my art and would like to use it for their new clothing company. I said that was great and told them to send me a contract so I could look it over and see what I thought. Yesterday, we finally had the long awaited "money and contract" talk. They told me once again what they'd like me to do. I told them once again that I'd like to see a contract before I did any work. They still insisted that they would give me a contract after I gave them samples of work. I explained to them that working like that is spec work. I don't do "tests" or "sketches" before I know the specifics of how they are going to be used or what price I'm going to be paid. Their response was that it doesn't work that way in their business. I told them if that was the case I couldn't work for them.
I'm sure it sounds like a sad ending. And I guess that's the way it will be until some clients understand the value of the work. And who will teach them? We, the artists, illustrators and creative workers must demand respect for our work. If we don't know the value of it, neither will they.