It is said that everyone has a price. In a challenging economy – one suffering under the yoke of President Obama’s hostility to capitalism and free enterprise – this has never been more true. The United States is mired in an economic malaise – a crisis of national morale, collective self-image and financial realities that feels like the Carter years. As Democrats agitate for more spending, ordinary men and women scrape and scrimp and save.
As we struggle financially, the wages for which we are willing to toil decrease. For more Americans than ever before, their price is a mere $5. I should know; I’m one of them.
The website is called “Fiverr.” It is an online marketplace where those who sign up answer the question, “What would you do for five dollars?” Those who sign up explain what goods or services they are willing to offer for five bucks. Customers choose from among these, provide special instructions if needed, and then pay their “fiver,” which is held by the Fiverr website until the job is successfully completed. If the job is canceled or the seller does not deliver on time, customers may have their funds returned to them. The website gets one dollar of every successfully completed five-dollar gig, which is how it stays in business.
The success of the site has spawned a number of similar sites, like Outsourcerr (which bills itself as a “Fiverr alternative”), TenBux (where everything is 5 or 10 dollars; the basic concept is identical to Fiverr’s), Telegigz (“Gigs through telecommunication,” where the prices offered and paid vary more widely), and Jobs for 10 (an “online micro jobs site” offering 5-, 10- and 20-dollar tasks).
Fiverr has been profiled in several different publications. Jackie Loohauis-Bennett at JSOnline described it as a great way to get some “quick help on a small project.” Leena Rao at TechCrunch raved that the site is “kind of brilliant and also entertaining.” Lifehacker correctly pointed out that the idea is both simple and clever, while the Wall Street Journal’s online blog declared Fiverr the result of mixing “unemployment, frugal consumers and Internet boredom.” Curious, I decided I wanted to experience the site from the inside, to see what all the fuss was about.
First, I forked over my own five bucks – and then again – to see what buying a “gig” from a Fiverr seller was like. (Fiverr has its own jargon; the jobs offered and bought are all “gigs.”) One Fiverr seller said she would broadcast the message of my choice to her 400,000 Twitter followers. I paid my money, waited for proof of the sent message (which was offered promptly) … and nothing happened. Not a single new follower or inquiry resulted from the attempt to promote my websites and Twitter account. Disappointed, I went back to the Fiverr gigs listing.
Finding an attractive Canadian model to advertise my website was easy enough, even if the soundtrack of her voice didn’t quite mate up with her moving lips. Hiring a fellow who says he’ll dress up as Monty Python’s Black Knight to do much the same thing proved more difficult. My Black Knight waited until the last day of his stipulated five-day turnaround to inform me that he would not be able to deliver the job on time. I accepted his suggestion of a mutual cancellation, and my money was returned to me.
As a buyer, I was missing out on half of the Fiverr experience, so I created a profile and began offering some of the freelance work I do – specifically, voice-over, voice acting and video testimonial work. To my surprise, gigs and inquiries began coming in with little or no effort on my part, sometimes to the tune of two and three a day. What I quickly discovered, however, was that people wanted more and more work for that five dollars (four, after the website got its cut). If I spent 20 minutes shooting and uploading a video or recording a voice-over, I was essentially making a wage of $1.60 per hour.
Some of the inquiries I received were outlandish. One independent filmmaking outfit based in London wanted to know if I would be willing to come into their studio to do voice-over work. Another guy wanted me to approach a random stranger on the street and have myself filmed screaming out a word or phrase of the buyer’s choosing. (I could not help but think that was a “gig” that could get me stabbed.) Still another seller sent me a script to read that was nearly 200 pages long, written in broken, at times phonetic English that defied interpretation. I did get simple jobs for pleasant clients, and even some repeat business. My little Fiverr balance started to grow. But something was nagging at me.
Five dollars isn’t very much money. Yet as I whittled away at my Fiverr gigs, I realized I was expending much time and effort for a pittance. If I was willing to do that, what would those who were using Fiverr as their only source of income feel about the tasks offered?
Are we becoming a nation of webcam prostitutes and flash mobs, court jesters and glorified street mimes, who will perform stupid human tricks on command for only five bucks each? Have we been transformed from Internet surfers into Internet serfs? What request is too demeaning, what suggestion beneath us? I found, as I considered the revenue waiting to clear in my Fiverr account, that I was having difficulty answering those questions.
Will I continue with Fiverr? Yes, because I enjoy the chance and the challenge to do voice acting, narration and on-camera work I might not consider doing otherwise. Having some extra pocket money doesn’t hurt, either; in only two weeks with Fiverr I made enough cash to buy a tank of gas. Still, while my Fiverr experience has been overwhelmingly positive, I am still troubled.
I cannot help thinking I am now a five-dollar whore.