Those doing desktop publishing may view royalty-free artwork as a boon for business and a cost-saving tool but not everyone is so happy about the surge in popularity and availability of such images. Some artists feel that the only ones benefitting from the growth in the royalty-free industry are the big stock houses distributing the art. The artists themselves are left with unrealistic or one-sided contracts and low commissions.
As part of its Campaign for Illustration, the Graphic Artists Guild launched a campaign against royalty-free art. It wants to persuade its members not to sell to companies that distribute royalty-free illustrations and stock photography. The aim is to break the vicious circle whereby a lower demand for custom illustration-for-hire leads artists to sell their work for use in a royalty-free collection thereby keeping the demand for custom artwork low.
Illustrator Ken Dubrowski penned a Proposal to the Trade Publications (no longer online), such as Print, How Communication Arts, and Step by Step Graphics asking for help from these publications in educating their audience about the effects of stock art on the industry and the creative professionals behind that art. In part, the proposal asks for more editorial coverage of the "detrimental effects stock houses and royalty free publishers are having on the careers of illustrators."
Is royalty-free art evil? Not necessarily so. However, as long as creative professionals continue to accept the terms established by the royalty-free stock illustration distributors, the illustration market as a whole suffers. Part of the work of the Graphic Artists Guild includes educating artists in alternatives to traditional stock art distribution, how to analyze contracts and educating end users to the benefits of custom illustration work.
If you agree that artists are getting a bad deal in the current royalty-free feeding frenzy, you can do your part to counteract the trend. Analyze your own use of royalty-free images. Is it the best tool for the job? Educate your clients in the benefits of using custom illustration or rights-protected images. Buy stock images direct from the artist.
There are parallels between the illustration-for-hire vs. royalty-free market and the graphic design vs. desktop publishing business. Illustration-for-hire and graphic design are how things were done in the past. Royalty-free and desktop publishing increasingly represent the present. What is needed is a middle ground. A new way of working that combines the best of each world. What is the answer? You tell me. Discuss the current state of design and illustration in our forum.
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