Monday, 25 May 2015

Stock Images - Control, Copies and Context


In today’s Irish Independent, there’s a small article about stock images. A family agreed to have their images taken and used by the photographer for stock in return for a free family photo-shoot.

Their image has then been (perfectly lawfully) licensed out, and used on a website for an Australian law firm, and by an Irish fertility company.

The latest sale, however, was a group called Children Deserve a Mother and a Father which campaigned unsuccessfully in the recent referendum on same-sex marriage.

All three of the above used the image legally. The couple signed a model release, and agreed to the sale of stock images using that image. They didn’t anticipate that would mean their images were used for political purposes with which they don’t agree.

This isn’t a new problem with stock images. If you want to sell images to specific individuals, then standard licences (as used by .e.g. Shutterstock) are not the way to protect those images (and actually, the copyright owner here is the photographer – who plainly did intend to sell licences on those terms as it’s part of their intellectual property portfolio, and they have every right to monetise it).


There’s are a couple of lessons here for authors.

Firstly, those people on your erotica cover? They might not be too happy with the way they’ve been depicted. A quick glance on Amazon reveals all sorts of, ahem, niche content. I can’t imagine that when a model posed for a provocative pouty photo that she contemplated she might be shown as a consort to a dinosaur on the cover of Dinosaur Orgies 4.

Secondly, unless you buy exclusive rights then you’ll probably find other people using the same images. That can and will dilute your branding – because whatever you’re using won’t be unique to you. It also takes a lot of control out of your hands as you could see ‘your’ stock image associated with a controversial brand or cause.

I’ve seen a few authors get more than a little upset when they’ve found books with similar images. There are a number of popular stock images that I’ve seen dozens of times, particularly on pre-made sites where the temptation may be to create the most popular cover templates, and the most popular images are one way of doing that.

So how do you get around it?

  • Option #1 – Modify your stock so it isn’t recognisable. Any designer worth hiring should be able to combine three or more stock images, and render them into a unique design. I don’t mean flipping the photo or tinting it with a new colour either.
  • Option #2 – Buy exclusive rights. Some stock image sites sell exclusive use licences (for a heck of a lot more than a non-exclusive licence). Read the terms carefully with these – as many are exclusive from now on, but many licences may already have been sold so you won’t have sole rights to the stock in that case.
  • Option #3 – Custom shoots. Either hire a photographer, or if you have the skillset and kit, create your own image that then belongs to you. This isn’t going to be cheap – especially if you want models, but if you’ve got a series to brand then having one shoot for all the poses you might need from a cover model can be pretty effective.
  • Option #4 – Custom illustrations. Have someone paint or draw your design from scratch. It’s not cheap, and it doesn’t suit all genres/ titles, but it will allow you to get exactly the image you want and ensure it’s completely unique.
  • Option #5 – Don’t use images. This is more common in non-fic, but textures, colours and fancy font-work can create a striking unique design without needing any photos (stock or otherwise).
And there we go, 5 ways to avoid the pitfalls of stock imagery. Remember that you’ll want to keep to genre conventions as far as possible – and the bestseller lists are the strongest clue as to what the current conventions are. There will be outliers who do their own thing successfully, but if you want to do the same you’ll need a substantial branding plan and plenty of existing readers to spread the word that this unique new concept means you.


PS - We'll be revealing the cover for the third DCI Morton novel exclusively on this blog on July 1st so keep your eyes peeled for that post.

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