November 7, 2019

Where are we now with on-demand apps for creatives?

While the growth of the gig economy has produced many platforms that connect clients with creatives, we’ve curiously only come so far for on-demand apps for creative industries. We take a look at what’s available currently and some possible reasons for why we’re just getting started.

The Rundown

Ian Burrell writes for The Drum how Stringr, the Uber-style news footage sourcing app, opened a UK office in May and has since recruited 7,000 new videographers to the platform.

Stringr is named for stringers, freelance journalists, photographers or videographers that contribute reporting, images or footage to news organizations and are paid individually by the piece that gets published. Here are some key points about Stringr from Burrell’s article:

  • How it works: Videographers get alerts to assignments through the app, should they accept, they get to the location, shoot the footage and upload it. Videographers get paid if and every time a client downloads the footage.
  • Feedback: Like with Uber drivers, Stringr videographers get ratings that factor into how assignments get distributed based on their skill (as judged by Stringr’s Curation Team composed of experienced journalists), proximity and current traffic conditions.
  • Reuters Connect: Stringr is integrated with Reuters Connect, which helps clients to source text, photo and video content from other media organizations including Reuters. It also provides bespoke video production for clients in partnership with video editing tool InVideo and Amper Music, which leverages AI to generate soundtracks (making them rights-free).
  • Reach: Stringr is currently in Los Angeles, New York and now the UK with the opening of its Notting Hill office in London. It has further plans to expand to France and Germany.

Hasn’t this been done before?

Not as much as we’d think. Searching for “The Uber of (insert creative skill or job here)” nets no small number of platforms in website form that promise to connect clients with a vast network of creative talent not unlike Fiverr. But in terms of the truly “on-demand” nature of smartphone apps, it seems fewer platforms have tried to bring the convenience and efficiency of Uber to the creative industry as opposed to other personal services like home maintenance, delivery, pet-sitting.

Unsurprisingly, going the extra step of developing an app on top of the back-end booking and order management system requires a great deal of resources, meaning there naturally needs to be a fair amount of demand to justify it. This list isn’t exhaustive but gives a cross-section of the type of on-demand platforms apps other than Stringr covering the creative industry:

  • Snappr: Australian startup that sources photographers (and another app jumping on the dropped ‘e’ naming trend) by the hour. Co-founders Ed Kearney and Matt Schiller expanded into the platform after working together on GownTown, their previous venture that acted as a ‘one-stop graduation shop’ selling gowns to graduating students.
  • GigTown: Founded by former president and vice chairman of Qualcomm Steve Altman and his son, GigTown connects musicians, event planners and venues. The app was started after the founders went through the troublesome process of sourcing a live band for a diabetes fundraiser.
  • Sofar Sounds: London-based Sofar Sounds differs in that it books and sells tickets to secret concerts around the world in hosted venues that include everything from retail stores to living rooms. The founding intention was to cut the bloat of most live-music events and increase intimacy between audiences and musicians. The typical format of a concert (branded as a “Sofar”) includes three diverse curated and no headliner.
  • JinzZy: This app, which serves India specifically, books live entertainers (specializing in characters like superheroes) within a window of anywhere from four hours to months in advance. Bookings range from the usual corporate and family events to campaigns and hospital visits.

The Pros and Cons

Looking at this very small cross section of on-demand apps covering creatives, we’ve come to a few broad conclusions about this diverse segment of the growing “gig” economy for the time being.

  • Connecting People: While every app is ostensibly founded with the goal of “connecting people” the smooth connection between client and service provider through Uber-like searching, quoting and booking systems makes that aspect especially smooth. But as Sofar would show, it’s not like Uber where you’ll hire and forget your driver (or delivery person if you got EATS). You have the potential to create longer-lasting and richer connections depending on the nature of the platform.  We’re also interested to see how future apps can have the potential for bringing people more in touch with their communities and surroundings.
  • Work for Free: Platforms like Fiverr get a particularly bad rap not just because of the race-to-the-bottom dynamic the bidding war encourages, but because it means a lot of spec work for free. Stringr has this dynamic too in the sense that you may work for that hour but not be paid for it (and the time geting to the location) if the client doesn’t want your footage.
  • Testing the Waters: With rates as low as $45 USD (with a quota of 60 shots) per hour, established photographers are unlikely to use Snappr. But for talented fresh-starters wanting to get their feet wet and earn something for their trouble, it can be a new avenue to explore.
  • Terms: Of the figures we could find, GigTown takes 13 percent per booking while Snappr takes 20 percent per booking, but it’s not just about the take-home pay but the entire workflow experience. Stringr pays the next day via PayPal, Snappr handles insuring photographers which can be harder for the individual and of course, some of the apps handle a part of the sourcing and negotiating phases. It all depends on if the exact package a platform offers is a good fit for the creative.
  • Drop Everything: the “drop everything and work for potential peanuts” scenarios that could have creatives tripping over themselves to compete for jobs and even produce work that might not be compensated with even a kill fee is a worst case scenario and we might decry the potential for devaluing creative services. But the reality is there will always be clients wanting to pay less and someone willing to work for that much.

The Takeaway

We’re still in largely uncharted territory with creative services in an on-demand format because the nature of that work is so specific with countless variables (and additional work to accomplish the finished product.

By comparison: if we’re ride-sharing, it involves the closest Uber of 3-4 service types getting you from point A to point B (or point C if you change your mind) within a reasonable amount of time. Even for all the bells, whistles and good conversation, those are all attempts to win your approval for that time you’re in the vehicle, which the driver is paid for. There will be idle time between passengers, to be sure, but we think it’s safe to assume it’s going to be less than the time between gigs for say, a photographer or live band.

It’s all about the packaged relationship between expectations, the work done and the compensation. The original goal for Fiverr founders Micha Kaufman and friend Shai Wininger was to give freelancers a way to slice their skills thin and sell them. Stringr might be the closest to on-demand we might get for now (because videographers go, shoot and upload, but the client does the editing) but the comprehensive nature of a lot of creative work makes it hard to carve a skillset so cleanly that it can be done on location. This is likely why most creative fields don’t do “on-demand” apps and are more represented on freelancing platforms instead.

Still, there is some veracity to the argument that the prices for creative work is in a race downhill, but there’s also a difference between a highly commoditized service provider and a creator who provides not only the requisite skill set and professionalism, but also a strong point-of-view and style.

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