The buzz in the design world for the last week was all about iStockphoto's announcement about starting to offer logo designs on their site. The design community is divided on the development. I've posted about iStockphoto.com before, discussing the positives and negatives of a site like theirs. Overall, I'm a fan of iStockphoto and frequently use them for certain design aspects. For example, the appearance of iStockphoto has made very visually heavy and layered designs less expensive to produce, opening the doors for experimentation and offering more options to those very low budget clients. The topic of my original post on iStock centers around Twitter’s use of an iStock image as a central design on their site—invariably associating it with their brand. This is a problem since anyone could purchase and rightfully use that illustration for a mere $10. Not good for a brand.
So it's a very interesting development that iStockphoto is venturing into the stock logo realm. . iStock’s logo set up will be different in that each logo is only allowed to be sold once, not many multiple times like their royalty free photo library. The idea of an online source for cheap logos isn't new. There are sites that offer inexpensive logos around on the web, Logoworks, for example, offers logo designs for flat fees with X number of revisions included and X number of different designs and designers assigned to the project. But sites like these are mostly frowned upon by the design community because they’re 'cheapening' logo design. There's a bit of an argument to both sides of this issue, however. There are many small business owners and startups that need a good looking logo, but have little money to spend on it. I'm asked about it all the time, “Where can I get a logo and what would it cost?” The answers aren't always so simple. I've done freelance for friends and family that I charge dirt cheap for, but I've also worked on logos within my agency that cost thousands of dollars. It all depends.
The iStock setup is for logo design is when submitting an accepted design you get $5. If they hit 10,000 logos by January 1, 2010, you get another $5. From what I gather, this is only while they're building their initial database of logo designs, I don't know that the $5 'deal' continues after January 1, 2010. After that, your logo is priced somewhere between 100 and 750 credits, which is set by iStock with a recommended price point from the designer. Depending on how you buy your iStock credits, that means a price range between $95 and $900. iStock says it "...will pay a base royalty rate of 50% per logo design for the first 6 months. We’ll give advanced notice for the rate going forward after that." Hmm. So what's 50%? How do they figure out the cost of the credits when they vary from $.95 to $1.50 per credit? It raises a couple questions. And then that's only for the first 6 months. If you don't sell you're logo by then, who knows what the designer’s payment is. 10% of the royalty rate? 5%? Who knows?
There's a lot of debate in the design world about 'cheapening' our craft through cheap alternatives like iStockphoto. Years ago, it was one of a kind with maybe one or two copycats. Since then, they've been purchased by Getty Images and many other traditional stock photo sites are starting to offer their own 'value' stock photos. It seems the thirst for cheap photography and illustration has caught on. The thing is, cheap online logo design places already exist online (e.g. Logoworks) and iStockphoto’s prices for logos isn’t vastly different from the prices offered at their competitors. Logoworks will give you six original logo concepts with three different designers and unlimited logo revisions for $399. iStock’s cheapest logos will be $100, assuming you bought thousands of dollars of credits from them in bulk. So their price is competitive, but you’re also getting a prepackaged logo rather than a custom one.
My biggest problem with this set up is the pre-conceiving of logos. Logoworks, while dirt cheap, is at least attempting to give the client a customized logo for their business. Granted, I’m not at all familiar with their work, so maybe they’re stuff is horrible and cheesy, but at least it has the guise of trying to give you a logo for your specific business. iStock’s set up is odd. They want designers to upload icons and logo marks that are preconceived and thereby completely ignoring the very important role of typography in a logo mark. For one thing they’re requiring the logo designer to have rights to the font they use in the logo mark – all well and good for legal reasons – except that font is not uploaded with the logo when submitted. They want it outlined. Well, you can’t edit outlined type, so are they going back to the designer to set the purchasing company’s name in the logo? Is the client putting their own name in? How? Are they then purchasing the font? But even that has issues. I worked on logos where suddenly the name I’m working with changes and it can make big problems for the design. Say there’s a logo mark of a tree with some sample text with a company name surrounding it. The difference in how that logo will look with the name ‘ABC Trees’ and the name ‘Amanda’s Lawn Care & Garden Design Center’ is huge. There’s also the limitation that absolutely none of these logos with play off of the typography and the word, which is often one of the best ways to create a unique logo. Paul Rand’s logo for Morningstar would be a completely different animal if it just had a rising sun just set next to the type.But maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges. Afterall, Paul Rand is a logo genius and and the clients shopping there are probably not willing to ante up the money for that quality of a logo either. So if we’re talking about the difference between a small business designing their own logo in Microsoft Word or purchasing a logo from iStockphoto the latter is probably better. I think there will be some very well crafted logo marks submitted to iStockphoto for this new direction of theirs, and I do think it will help some businesses get something decent to put on their business cards, but for the vast majority of businesses, this ‘resource’ would be a poor direction to go. I guess we will see how this new initiative goes. What do you think?