Last month, a curious website called Folder Market popped up with the tagline “Sell from your Dropbox.” Hawking products with names like “Creative Agency Research” ($20), “Style Guides” ($5), “Disposable Email Domains” (free), the online marketplace looks like a bootleg iTunes or app store—only instead of selling music and finished apps, it sells folders full of what some people might, on first glance, consider digital detritus.
True to its tagline, the products on Folder Market really do come from Dropbox. Anyone can connect their Dropbox account to the website, upload a folder of digital files, and assign it a value. The question is, will anyone buy what you’re selling?
This was the question Ben Pieratt was asking himself when he began thinking about Folder Market back in 2012. As the founder of the now defunct social marketplace Svpply, Pieratt has given a lot of thought to the power of a marketplace. Marketplaces, by their very nature, are revealing hubs of communal taste. By default, they’re also communities. It got him thinking: What would happen if everyone was able to upload the information they’d accumulated over the years; not just the finished product, but the process itself?
“Part of the reason digital files are so fascinating is because your computer is one of the most intimate places in your life”
Pieratt describes Folder Market as a digital flea market where anyone can upload anything they’ve ever made, whether it’s an unreleased album of harp concertos or sketches of a brand identity that never got the green light. In its early form, the marketplace is intended to be a creative hodgepodge—a clearing house of sorts for digital information that you might have never considered selling. “Part of the reason digital files are so fascinating is because your computer is one of the most intimate places in your life,” Pieratt explains. “Now there’s a place for [those files] in their native form.”
Pieratt and his Folder Market co-founder Cameron Koczon believe people are sitting on a wealth of untapped useful knowledge. Just think about what’s stashed on your desktop or in the depths of your Dropbox. Every creative process has its own form of byproduct that someone else would probably pay to see. Artists have sketches. Designers have style guides. Journalists have transcripts. Musicians have scrapped takes. These piecemeal bits of information are often kept private, as if to guard the illusion of effortless creative genius. Or they’re simply forgotten. Folder Market is predicated on the opposite; that these files should be public are valuable—or at least worth $5.
“It would be a win for the industry if people are more willing to learn from each other by exposing some of their failures or even just sketches”
“There’s information on everybody’s computers that has value,” says Koczon, whose digital design studio Fictive Kin designed the Folder Market website. “There are things that I’m certain are on a hard drive that are the byproduct of you becoming good at your work that are helpful and useful to people.”
Pieratt’s first upload is a folder called “Style Guides” that offers detailed decks on the identity work he’s done for companies like Electric Objects and Tradeasy for $5. You can download another folder, which includes the original pitch deck for Folder Market, for free. For Pieratt, Folder Market is more than a play at monetizing files that are collecting dust; it’s an opportunity to build collective wisdom by incentivizing people to reveal the parts of their creative work that usually remain hidden.
“Generally there’s a grumbling in the industry about a lack of transparency and exposure around things like, what do people’s invoices look like? What does their process of talking to clients look like? What do their sketches look like?” he says. Pieratt and Koczon imagine Folder Market could serve as a repository for shared information and examples, with the benefit of paying the people who created the information in the first place. “It would be a win for the industry if people are more willing to learn from each other by exposing some of their failures or even just sketches,” Pieratt says.
From that perspective, Folder Market is an ambitious concept masquerading as a simple website. It’s effectively creating a direct-to-consumer marketplace for digital information—an idea that’s potentially as big as the app store itself. Whether or not it works depends on ensuring the site doesn’t become a sales rack for whatever people have lying around in their Dropbox. It also requires retraining a generation of people to consider what they make—and the byproduct of what they make—as monetarily valuable. If nothing else it’s an interesting provocation around the power of sharing knowledge and the price tag we attach to it. Is your sketch, your notebook page, your invoice process worth $5? Does it justify a free download and the space it will consume on your laptop’s hard drive? The beauty of the market is that you’ll inevitably find out.