How to get reasonably-priced images for your book cover revisited

The situation I’m about to discuss has been happening for a while now, and I only eluded to it when I talked about where to get cover images in a former post. I saw it happening, I’m just not one to make predictions to anyone but myself and my closest friends so I’ve been waiting for things to finally cement.

Y’all out there might want to double check the licensing on the images you’re purchasing for download to use in your eBook cover.

A few months ago, only a couple of the stock image places were jumping to the catch on: the stock image business, especially for eBookcovers is booming, and people might be getting away with only paying $10 to cover their 20,000 word “book”. So I’ve watched the places, one by one, rephrase their licensing notices to explicitly state something along the lines of, “Creation of electronic goods for sale such as templates of web sites, business cards, brushes for graphic editors, etc.” is “forbidden” when purchasing a standard license (the cheap one) but will be okay with a more comprehensive license purchase: “Unlimited number of units when purchase EL4 and bigger” can run $40 or more.

One by one, stock image sites have caught up with the rest of us and essentially they have raised their prices. There are many stock places that haven’t caught on to the fever yet, but I check their bylines often to make sure all is well.

Now, don’t get me wrong: $40 is a lot better than paying, say, a couple of thousand like some commercial businesses do. But in my house, $40 buys groceries and a couple of blocks of gas. (But not Twinkies anymore. Have you seen how much those things run on eBay?)

Another interesting problem is that some of the sites, which I removed from our resource list, have “non-transferable” terms in their contract with you. What this means is if I buy the image for use on your book cover, you are not able to use it in any fashion. Only I can. Which is damn silly if you ask me. I understand why – to keep the image from being used more than the purchased amount – but it’s still silly. That is how folks like me conduct business.

So what does all this mean for you? It means that if you purchase that small cheap image license anyway you’re running the risk of someone calling you on it in the future. I don’t know how much of a risk but it’s a risk you shouldn’t take. It also means more of you should be providing your own images for cover-making, just to be on the safe side.

In most cases I personally don’t have to worry – I normally take several images and create an entire work of art that is legally considered an original work using materials. It’s what I prefer to do: it keeps my covers original  and me safe under the Fair Use Act. However, it also can run just as expensively as just purchasing a single image with an extended license. Although I have made personal note as of tonight that Shutterstock actually has it in their online contract that any original artwork by myself that uses their stock art is theirs, not mine, and governed under their licenses by-laws.

Guess who just landed at the bottom of my preferred resource list. 🙂

My solution? Well if you’re like me you’ll haunt the public domain stock image website more frequently.  As a matter of fact, tonight I’ll be reworking our resource list and information to reflect on this problem.

Another thing I recommend is when you use those public domain sites DONATE TO THEIR CAUSE! You don’t have to donate a lot, just care enough to be thankful for the efforts of others. Imagine how sad it will be for everyone if these public domain places close their doors, leaving us with the stock image websites as our own course of action. If you don’t think it can happen, think again. I myself had to close doors on a couple of things because readers felt obligated to get something for free and I just couldn’t carry the weight anymore. I wasn’t the first. I doubt I’ll be the last.

Be aware of how far “public domain” actually goes. I have had people come to me wanting me to strip images off of poster print websites because the image they were using is technically in the public domain. Be aware that if you’re stealing someone else’s hard work, whether they used a public domain work to start with or not, it’s still stealing. You also should find out if that painting by Van Gogh is indeed in the public domain – for the record it won’t be. Just because he’s been dead by longer than 75 years doesn’t mean someone didn’t pick up the copyright. They did.

Another way you can get around this problem is to take your own photographs. Or draw something yourself. One of my best covers was made with a single stock image and a background taken for me by the client.  But be aware that taking a magazine ad with that kissing couple and painting over their hair with acrylic paint does not constitute a new, original work of art and can still get you sued.

And ultimately if you do find nothing in the public domain or hate your photos, you need to be prepared to pay full price for that awesome picture. If you’re writing that next big novel, start saving for your cover now. If you’re finished with that novel, be ready to do what you have to do. Lawsuits are expensive – far far more expensive than $40.

Sadly I don’t have any better advice for you at this time. But I’m looking into it. Peace out, for now.