Why eBook Covers Should Avoid Stock Photography

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Seemingly inexpensive, professionally produced and eye-catching, stock photography has been the saving grace of many a graphic design project. However, there are some very significant dangers to using it as an author.

Here’s why ebook covers should avoid stock photography.

Custom vs. Stock

As an ebook author, a custom photograph is one you’ll commission a photographer to produce to illustrate the cover of your book. Copyrighted, it will be yours exclusively. Any usage of that photograph without your permission is subject to either royalties or a cease and desist order. On the other hand, a stock image usually costs much less to get than you’ll pay a photographer to produce an exclusive one. However, stock photos are also designed to serve a wide variety of uses. They can also be licensed to many people simultaneously and you generally have no guarantee the image wasn’t used in another book before it graced yours.

The Clone Wars

As you might imagine, this can create problems in the marketplace. Unaware of the nature of stock photography, a buyer could wind up purchasing a book other than yours because they chose based on the photograph. Another problem is it could undermine the credibility of your work. Depending on which book a reader sees first, it could make you look like you stole another writer’s cover image. It could also make your book look like it came from a cookie-cutter factory.

Supplemental Usage Issues

Let’s say your book does well in ebooks online stores and gets optioned by a film producer who wants to turn it into a motion picture. This person likes your cover image so much, they decide to go with it for posters and other promotional materials for the film. Hope you bought a license for that too when you purchased the rights to use it on the cover of your book. In most cases, writers don’t think of these types of situations. Then, when they go back for a supplemental usage license the rights for that purpose aren’t available—or are prohibitively expensive. By the way, if you bought a license just for the cover of your book and you use the image on your website separately from the book, you could also run into licensing issues.

Licenses Can Be Revoked

As surreal as it might seem, most stock agencies reserve the right to revoke a license at any time. This means you can get a letter one day telling you your usage of the image must come to an end by a certain date. Meanwhile, you’ve invested in posters, T-shirts and online advertising—all featuring that picture. Sound farfetched? It happens. All you need is for some deep-pocketed entity to come along behind you willing to pay a lot more money for the exclusive rights to the image. If that happens, your affordable license could go swirling down the proverbial drain. Another licensing concern of which you need to be aware is the number of times you’ll be permitted to use an image. Some agreements limit you to 500,000 copies or less. If your book becomes a best seller, you’ll get in trouble with the photography agency as of copy 500,001.

As you can see, there are a number of concerns about which you need to be mindful. Yes, in most cases you will pay a photographer more to shoot an original photo than you will to license a pre-existing one. But as you can see, there are many reasons why ebook covers should avoid stock photography. Chief among them is the fact they can actually wind up being considerably costlier than first appearances would suggest.



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