Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Microstock: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Microstock is a pretty new development in the design and stock photography world. It started a few years ago with iStockphoto, but has really taken off in the last year or two with iStock copycats popping up all over the place. I'll admit, I was one of the first to jump on the microstock bandwagon. It seemed the perfect solution for low-budget pro bono or agency work—or even client work that had 'no budget for photography'. Still, in the world of royalty free, you need to be careful, especially if that RF image is as cheap as microstock.

The perfect example recently came to my attention. The social networking site, Twitter, has a distinctive bird illustration on their homepage. It's come to feel like part of the Twitter identity. Unfortunately, it's also straight from iStockphoto and has been downloaded a few hundred times already. The illustration comes from an illustrator on iStockphoto who has a dozen or so of this same bird with varying backgrounds etc. Plus it's available as vector and editable, so the possibilities of variations on this bird are endless. The trouble is, anyone with $5 can buy one of these illustrations and use it however and wherever they please. And that's exactly what's already happening to Twitter's little bird.

I was alerted to this by a tweet suggesting a local orchestra needed some new creatives since the tweeter spotted a poster (on the right) advertising the orchestra's free summer concert series using the exact same bird and branch as Twitter's homepage. I doubt tweeter is familiar with microstock and I doubt the creatives who designed the poster are familiar with Twitter, but it's a great example of the dangers of using microstock too much or in the wrong situations. A short term poster is exactly the sort of thing most designers would use microstock for. Branding, or where it's used prominently enough to be confused with branding, definitely not. I can see why Twitter probably used the bird in the beginning, and as a designer, I have recommended iStock to some startups just getting their sites off the ground, but at this point Twitter needs to look a little further into the future. Sorry Twitter, but it's time to work directly with an illustrator, get exclusive rights and swap out that bird!


Anonymous said...

I think you're just mad that none of the examples you're showing use Filosofia Unicase. Just kidding, interesting subject and nice post.

microstockinsider said...

It is a danger to use microstock images to for any sort of identity because anyone can also download the images, but one tip I have is that because there are so many results when you search for something on a microstock site then click on some of the last results pages and work back, there are probably hundreds of good images that have very few downloads and hence are not in use by so many other people. The hits on the first pages probably have hundreds of downloads and run the risk of being seen along with your design.

Cory said...

As a microstock contributor, I had noticed this Twitter image too. The company seems to be using the image in a questionable way. At what point is it considered branding or a logo or a mascot?

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