High Street vs. Supermarket? Picture fees and book cover design

Picture fees and book cover design by Mark Ecob.

For our weekly shop, we go to Asda. When we have people over, it’s a trip to the local butcher. It’s the same when I’m buying photos for my book designs. If a brief comes through the door asking for a gourmet response, I find a prime cut. If its a ready meal you’re after, off to the freezer section I go. But my problem isn’t that I want to save the high street, all Mary Portas-like. Actually, I think there’s plenty of room for everyone in the $3 billion dollar global stock image market, it’s more that I want people to be more realistic about quality and budget, but without compromising creativity.

At the start of a book cover design brief, and after discussing the creative part, I get to the practicalities. By asking questions like ‘how much is your budget?’ or ‘what’s your deadline?’, I can marry the two sides of a book cover job. Too often, I’ve seen people assess cost too late, when images may not be available, or they’re too expensive. When something looks like it’s going to get approved by your client, or there are a few options on the table, it doesn’t hurt to get some estimated numbers in, and the libraries are generally quick to get back to you. This especially applies to self publishers, where typically budgets are lower.

When they find out that the big’uns have budgets like my annual Council Tax bill, they’re gobsmacked when they want the same. A good designer will give you a rough idea of what you might want to spend to get the cover you want, and generally – money does buy quality. Savvy self publishers like Mark Dawson know that good design, illustration and photography are worth the cash. I know what you’re thinking, that all this practical stuff might affect the creative approach. It doesn’t. Every image search I do takes in a cross section of sources, in an effort to save money whilst guaranteeing quality. If I can find your perfect image for a fiver, I will, if its £500 – I’ll show you that too.

My work with Unbound is testament to that, producing award-winning book packaging on modest budgets. My raleigh cry is: Authors/commissioners: Adjust your expectations and listen to your designer. By and large, quality costs money. If not, you can change the brief to something that’ll say what you want without costing the earth. Be creative. Designers: Don’t wait for the client to fall. Get the information and warn them, balance the practical with the creative.

It’ll save you from doing those fifteen versions of the final product, when you’re only really being paid for three. Everyone: Speak to the image providers, they’re run by nice people who want to help get you a beautiful image on budget. Take advantage of the free picture research services on offer, and the fact that they’ll make it safe for you – don’t just use something off the shelf without a license.

The butcher might just come after you with a cleaver… At the end of the day, I will always go to where I know I can get the perfect results first, and then look around for alternatives. But even that line’s blurring, the ‘economy libraries’ are launching bespoke collections, the large libraries that used to hold monopolies are being challenged by smaller outfits, and Adobe Creative Tools allows you to buy an image automatically within the software we’re all working with.

So supermarkets are adapting to survive the economy boom, but there’s nothing quite like going down your local high street. It all depends on who’s coming for dinner.


Want to know more about Mark?   You can see his work here: www.mecob.co.uk