Have you heard about Fiverr, “The place for people to share things they’re willing to do for $5”? If you’ve ever wondered what the five-dollar phrase “digital disintermediation” really means, Fiverr is a cyber bazaar full of answers.
“Disintermediation” is what happens whenever a buyer of something can transact directly with the seller of the thing, cutting out distributors, brokers, retailers, and other middlemen. Historically, digital technologies have been rough on intermediaries—just look at this list of occupations said to have been swept away by the “digital typhoon.” (It includes, we think erroneously, “Printing-press makers.”)
Fiverr is all about hooking up people like you and me with other people like you and me who have “gigs”—services or products—to sell for a five-spot. It’s simple. Find something you like, read the blurb, press the order button, and buy. You pay for the gig when the seller successfully delivers the goods. Fiverr keeps $1, turns $4 over to the seller, and updates his or her performance rating based on buyer feedback. (Read a more detailed description here.)
What kinds of gigs can you commission for $5 at Fiverr? A guy calling himself deepmalevoice will record a George W. Bush vocal impersonation for up to 100 words of text that you supply. If you like the French horn, caseyfriday will play the movie theme or song of your choice on that sonorous instrument. “I will do clear voice overs in my London Accent for $5,” offers londinium. Think of all the out-of-the-loop talent agents, concert promoters, and advertising agencies wailing and gnashing their teeth. You get the idea.
But if you’re in need of something a bit more practical—say, graphic communications services—on a $5 budget, Fiverr’s grab-bag might be a resource worth poking around in. That’s what makes it a valid if out-of-left-field commentary on what digitization has done, over time, to certain occupations and professions within the printing industry.
First off: nothing in Fiverr seems likely to threaten printers with disintermediation. After all, nobody gigging in the $5 range is likely to own a printing press. But when it comes to graphic design, photography, image editing, and basic prepress tasks, the site is one long catalog of disenfranchisement. It’s a somewhat jarring reminder of the extent to which universally available digital tools have de-professionalized work that, once upon a time, was obtainable only from specialists charging much, much more than a fin.
Try searching for “graphics” in the gig listings. You will get, among 8,523 offerings: “I will make an image of your label on any packaging for $5” (lampostjohny19). “I will design a cover for your book and will send you the hi res pic for $5” (vlanilla). “I will professionally edit one photo of your choice for $5” (mikaj115). “I will make a custom 3d box for your software for $5” (idascalu). And, one that probably says it all: “I will do any type of graphic editing for $5” (ladyluck7711, hopefully well named). The keywords “InDesign,” “Photoshop,” ”layout,” and “print” tell the same story when searched: one of skills democratized, traditional workflows unraveled, job boundaries eradicated, and procurement relationships forever changed.
In their way, these gigs at Fiverr are the cosmic aftermath—the residual radiation—of the cataclysm that obliterated trade typography shops, photo engravers, prepress service bureaus, and their personnel once desktop publishing tools began to replace the high-end solutions. On the other hand, the abundance of graphics-related Fiverr gigs partially explains why printers now can obtain files from their customers without the supply-chain complications and the delays that used to come with the territory in prepress. Today, there are simply a lot more people who are empowered to create the digital raw materials that printers work with, and they stopped needing middlemen a long time ago.
It could be objected that Fiverr sellers are amateurs and that the quality of their work is worth not a cent more than the small fee they charge. But, the quality of the work isn’t the issue. Not because quality doesn’t matter, but because in the context of Fiverr, “quality” is whatever buyer feedback says it is—the definition doesn’t come from trade customs, ISO protocols, or industry best practices. In Fiverr’s world, all of that has been disintermediated along with the professional job descriptions that used to apply.
Suggestion: spend some time investigating graphics at Fiverr, if only for an offbeat perspective on how radically our conception of the business of graphic communications has changed. Caution: if you stray off the topic of graphics, you may find browsing the other gigs an addictive time-waster.
It may occur to you to ask, “If people are willing to do all of this stuff for $5, what in heaven’s name would they do for $10?” Find out at Tenbux or, for those in the U.K., Ttenner. Got $25 to spend? goferr is the place to take that amount of leafy green.
If there are what-would-you-do-for-$X exchanges in higher denominations than that, we couldn’t find any.