Several months ago, I had emailed one of our important editorial clients when I saw a full-page stock illustration grace the page of their magazine. I could not believe it and asked for a full explanation (nicely of course) I was told that they were in a hurry and did not have a lot of money. The Ad confessed that he did not like using stock illustrations, but used it anyway. This is a client that we regularly work for and they had not used any stock in the past. Was this a new trend for him? Would he consult stock houses in future? I sure hope not.
I know this subject has been discussed over and over again. I have been an advocate against selling work to big stock houses and royalty free companies for years now, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, but the more we talk, blog, discuss this serious problem the better. I recently opened the latest issues of Communication Arts, Applied Arts, HOW and several other industry rags, only to find pages and pages of adverts for stock photography and also stock illustration. This was definitely not the case a year ago. Stock photography has been slowly taking over for years now, but I believe its just a matter of time before stock illustration does the same thing with regards to commissioned work.
To solve this terrible problem takes a very simple solution and that is for illustrators to stop selling their work to them! If they don’t have any illustrations to put up on their royalty free CDs’ or on their stock sites, then they won’t have anything to sell. I know that many illustrators just figure that “what the hell”, they have tons of illustrations that they could capitalize on instead of letting them gather dust. Well that is the problem! Illustrators need to understand that you shouldn’t devalue your work just because it’s not in use. Now I am not totally against trying to re-sell work to make a couple bucks. I’m just very opposed to people selling their work to monster stock houses or royalty free companies that in turn sell the work over and over again for a fraction of what they are worth, killing the industry in the process. Also the big stock companies regularly buy out the smaller stock houses, so that needs to be taken into consideration even if an illustrator thinks they’re helping out a small or independent stock house by supporting and selling to them instead. Their work will probably end up on one of the larger sites at some point in the future.
I believe there is a value in re-selling work and encourage you to do so, but charge accordingly, retain your rights and make sure the client know the usage terms. If you’re the one re-selling work or your rep or agent is doing it on your behalf, you can at least have some control of who buys it. As an industry we need to stick together and campaign to bring awareness to this philosophy and in the future if there is going to be a future for this business we need to fight to defend the value of our trade. Stock houses and royalty free companies could not exist without us, but if the current trend continues we will not be able to survive without them.
Many people may argue that stock illustration will never replace commissioned work and I sure hope that they’re right, but I am definitely concerned with what has happened in the stock photography market will happen in stock illustration business and that is the quality of work has got really good. We use to think of stock photography as being inferior in quality, but that is not the case anymore. Did you know that the stock houses now hired top creative directors from around the world to produce photo shoots for the sole purpose of using the produce for stock? Stock photography is now quite amazing, award winning in fact. It was actually a “stock” shot that won in this years Communication Arts’ Photography Annual. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see that happen with illustration?