It would seem that the squabble has ignited the design community against the barbarians at their gate. And that would seem to bode ill for the future health of the spec sites, right?

Don’t count on it. A similar debate was taking place in the stock photography world when we published “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” in that bygone era of June 2006. The fact this debate has been largely settled — in favor of the barbarians — speaks volumes about where graphic design, and, for better or worse, most other creative fields, are heading.

I made this explicit comparison on my blog last August. The demand for low-end design has ballooned in recent years alongside the profusion of start-ups and small businesses. Conveniently enough, so has the supply of what we might call “low-end designers” (amateurs, recent grads and the like). According to Forbes there are 80,000 freelance designers in the United States alone. Most of these are, proverbially speaking, waiting tables. When someone matches demand and supply, well that’s kismet!

IStockphoto and other so-called “microstock” agencies capitalized on a similar disparity. The result was the total disruption of the $2 billion stock photo industry. IStock is now the third-largest purveyor of stock images, and 96 percent of its “workforce” is comprised of amateurs. In my book on crowdsourcing, I posed the question of whether stock photography was an isolated case, or just the canary in the coal mine. It was an open question as of April 2008 when I submitted the final changes to my galleys. Now it ain’t.

Which creative market will be the next victim?

Conversely, unique/handmade stuff is booming on asf.