Creators beware: Contesting to fail
The new big thing in Furry Fandom is contests! Yes, now you can enter into a contest to win a paid commission. All you have to do is submit a piece of art, of the finest quality you can make, to specification and for free to the person running the contest… see the flaw yet?
To those of you who've not worked it out: yes, this is what we call a "scam".
Updated with some probability theory showing the scammy nature of these contests.
The guy running the contest gets a whole load of "to specification" artwork, and only has to pay for one, but keeps all of them. The clever ones even put in the small print that all rights to submissions are transferred to them. The really abusive ones never pay out at all, with their winner being a friend or a sock-puppet. Sometimes they're run by people who just don't get that it's not okay to trick people into giving you stuff for free.
This is nothing new, and has been going on in other fandoms for as long as people thought they could take advantage of others, or felt they deserved things for free. Other variants include "Your submission could be included in a High Quality Full Colour Art-Book, retailing for $18.99." where every submission wins, and the books are then sold to the "Lucky" winners.
Some people do try to defend these contests, with the following arguments…
"These contests provide exposure for the people who enter."
They're probably the least effective way to gain exposure. What exposure is gained will be that from people who look at the other entries – which may not be possible in closed submissions – and from whatever use the winning entry sees, which may be very limited indeed.
"People should be allowed to give their work away for free if they want."
Sure, I'm not going to make the Pixel-Stained Technopeasant argument. If you want to willingly give away your work, that's fine. But that's different to using the promise of a "win" to get people to do work for free, particularly if you give exact specifications for what you want. People have the right to distribute their work how they want, but taking advantage by subtly coercing them into handing over stuff for free is unethical.
"No one gets hurt, it's just for fun."
People can spend hours, even days of hard work on their submission – and can then be crushed when they realise they've been taken for a sucker. That sounds like harm to me.
Sadly, it's hard to prevent these abusive "contests". But it is possible to get the message out to creators to beware of being scammed into providing their work for free.
UPDATE: A Little Mathmatics
I didn't go into this because I thought it was obvious, but comments below have shown otherwise.
The bulk of the scam nature of this comes because it's a trick to obscure the probabilities of winning, and the "average return". This induces people into entering, because human nature is to over-inflate the chances of success. Scams almost always depend on people volunteering themselves into these situations, so explaining 'the rules' is still scam like behaviour if it's impossible to identify the actual chances of winning.
Here's an example. The Contest is set up with the normal kind of rules, and there is even a sample art showing the previous winner. An Artist sees this, and has produced similar or greater quality work that has sold for $30. The prize in the contest is a $120, quadruple that of her normal commission! So the Artist enters...
Good deal? No. The contest has obscured the chances of winning, by not having a cap on entry or any information on how many people are expected to enter, that obscures any information on 'the average rate of return' which is the prize averaged out and weighted to probability of success. In this case, it only requires more than four other people of similar ability to the artist to enter the contest, for the average rate of return to drop below $30.
People are hard wired to over-estimate their own chances, and underestimate the amount of competition. So these contests take advantage of basic aspects of human nature to trick people into taking a bad deal that looks like a good one.