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When recent graduates accept this type of employment, the opportunity is called internship.
When adults --"experienced hires"-- accept this type of employment, the opportunity is called spec and one of the oldest bait-and-switch manuevers in every business.
In either case, the hiring authority who solicits free labor is an asshole, regardless of any quantitative analysis of cyclical stressors one employs to exculpate exploitation of people desperate to earn a wage.
re: "...anyone can make media now. Which is true, but hardly anyone can make media and get paid for it - unless they create a feudal-enclosure and try to monetise it."
Automation "democratizes" "media" quantity and quality by eliminating (or rationalizing) the vagary of "value added" by labor in production processes. The "feudal-enclosure" to which you may have alluded is supply of and demand for package software operators by corporate publishers, advertisers included. And advertisers' limits on "media placement" expenses --online and offline broadcast or print-- is really what drives agency growth (employment and billings), as you, I'm sure discovered in your exposé of hiring practices at boutiques and conglomerates.
Pervasive "creativity" is not a perequisite of revenue generation.
ISVs "monetize" demand for package software competences --e.g. auto-focus, "plug-in" interoperability, keyboard short-cuts, typing speed, derivatives volume-- by continuous sales of operating licenses to continuously obsolescent package software.
Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
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