The story, entitled “Crowdsourcing: Turning customers into creative directors”, details the novel approach to the furniture business that has been adopted by Made.com, an online-only furniture retailer whose product designs are provided by the public.
The BBC explains:
"Visitors to the website are encouraged to submit their designs. The best of these are worked up into prototypes, and posted on the website. Registered members of the Made.com community vote. The most popular pieces are then available for pre-order - made in China, shipped by container and delivered directly to buyers from the port."
It continues, noting that:
"The designers are paid nothing upfront - but receive 5% royalties on successful designs".
The article also considers the crowdsourcing efforts of Threadless, a t-shirt design company that operates along the same broad lines, and Fluevog, operator of an "open source footwear website" where, you’ve guessed it, visitors upload shoe designs for the community to vote on (the BBC notes that “Winning shoes are named after their creator, who also receives a free pair”).
The IPKat has a number of questions relating to this practice - not least: what about the rights? As far as he can see (admittedly it was a brief perusal), the only statement on the Made.com website (he’s not been sufficiently 'less busy' to have checked the others) that even vaguely acknowledges the existence of IP rights is the following:
"We are the owner or the licensee of all intellectual property rights in our website, and, save for our users content (where we are licensee), in the material published on it."
This seems unsatisfactory on a number of fronts - what happens to the business, for example, in the event that the licensor gets a better offer elsewhere? Moreover, what of the potential liabilities involved with accepting designs from the Crowd and then making (albeit abroad), importing, and selling articles made to those designs?
The BBC takes a slightly different angle in its analysis, quoting the views of Jaron Lanier, “a US computer scientist … and virtual reality pioneer”, who is reported as being concerned that: "by "mining" the crowd in this way, the wealth that results from the work done remains concentrated in the hands of the people who put out the call - ultimately endangering jobs and the economy." He also apparently believes that “crowdsourcing threatens creativity" [quite how is never really explained].
So what do our readers think? Is crowdsourcing viable?
The rise of crowdsourcing here