The Downside To Using Stock Images In Your Book Cover Design | Red Swallow Design

Most freelance book cover designers use stock images when creating a design.
What are stock images?
Stock images are photographs or illustrations that artists sell in return for a fee (one-off or ongoing, depending on the licensing). Not all designers are great photographers, and not all designers are great illustrators. So they instead purchase the licensing rights to use stock images. The most well known stock image agencies are Getty, Corbis, iStockPhoto, and Shutterstock.
The good thing about using a designer is because they produce such large volumes of work, they can usually purchase stock images at a discounted rate. But is stock imagery the best option?
It depends how the stock images are used.
Stock can be purchased by anyone who has the money. That means that the handsome cowboy on your romance novels book cover might also be on 5 other book cover designs. You should always get a guarantee from your designer that they will not reuse any stock images that have appeared in your design. This will reduce some of the problem. But this does not stop other freelance designers from using those exact same images.
Obviously, the best way to avoid this issue is to hire an artist who can create a 100% custom design (either by illustrating your cover from scratch, or taking their own photography). Understandably, not all authors can afford this option.But does this mean youre stuck with having an unoriginal cover design? Not necessarily. It depends on the skill of your designer.
Many stock images are very high quality. The photographers are skilled in use of lens filters, lighting and composition. The end result is an image that is of production quality without having to do anything. The problem? Many freelance designers are using these images as a short-cut in design. They do little more than add text. Admittedly, it takes some knowledge in design to make the text and image work together, but the result is a book cover that is essentially an unchanged stock image. A stock image that any other designer can also use in the same way.
Whats the result? Something like this:
Two different designers, one stock photo that hasnt been changed (beyond cropping it to standard book cover dimensions). Oh dear.
If you are buying a cheap book cover design, the chances of having the problem illustrated above is greater, because the designer simply cant afford to put in the extra effort required to make that stock truly unique.
A Useful Trick For Assessing The Uniqueness Of A Design
Theres a little-known function of Google Images that will help you determine the uniqueness of a designers book covers. You can test this technique on any image. Feel free to test it on the image above. Im using Google Chrome, so the steps may be slightly different if youre using a different browser.
1) Right-click on an image, and select copy image URL.
2) Go to Google Image Search.
3) Inside the search field (where youd normal type your search term), youll see a little icon of a camera. Click it. The Search By Image field will pop up.
4) With Paste In URL selected (its usually selected by default), click in the search field and hit Ctrl+V. This will paste the image URL you copied in step one. Hit Enter to search for that image.
Huzzah! What you just did was tell Google to find all other instances of that image online (that Google is aware of). What you should see is the exact image you searched for at the top of the list, followed by any other instances of that image.
If your designer used the stock images in a UNIQUE WAY, the only images that will show up is that designers cover (maybe they have that cover displayed in numerous portfolios online).
If your designer did very little to change the original stock images, you will see listings for stock image websites too. The image was so unoriginal that even GOOGLE could tell. Worst case scenario? Not only do you see listings for stock image websites, but you see other book cover designs or websites that have already used that exact same image.
This isnt a guaranteed method. Theres a chance the image has been used but Google cant find it. But Ive found that if you assess a number of different book covers from a designers portfolio, and virtually all of them are being pinged as unoriginal, theres a good chance that designer does little more than add text.
Here comes the question.
Are you okay with having a pretty- but unoriginal- design in return for a discounted price?
If youre really strapped for cash, getting a pretty but unoriginal design is much better than having an original but horrible design. But most authors would prefer to have their book covers look as original as possible, and for good reason. That means looking for designers who either use stock images in a unique way, or hiring artists whocreate your design from scratch.