By Katharine Mieszkowski: Google has apparently peeved some commercial illustrators by inviting them to donate their work to the multibillion-dollar company. The nut of the controversy: the search giant has asked dozens of prominent illustrators to contribute designs to be featured on its new Web browser, while offering the artists lots of exposure, but no cash in return.
"You'd think that if anyone can afford to pay artists and designers, it would be a company that is making millions of dollars," said Joe Ciardiello, whose drawing frequently appears on the cover of the New York Times Book review, according to the New York Times.
Yet the Google contretemps is bubbling up at a time when illustrators are seeing the market for original illustrations decline, because of the recession and the struggles of print media. Plus, a lot of Web sites use cheap, stock illustrations, instead of commissioning originals.
"There's a lot of concern that newspapers and all of print is becoming a bit of an endangered species," Brian Stauffer, a Miami illustrator whose work has appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, told the Times. "When a company like Google comes out very publicly and expects that the market would just give them free artwork, it sets a very dangerous precedent."
Exposure or cash?
The illustrators' dilemma probably sounds familiar to many news organizations. They're simultaneously hungry for the traffic Google sends them and resentful of seeing their work featured on Google News without payment. But commissioning original illustrations to Google's own specs without paying a dime goes a step further than mere linking.
For instance, it's hard to imagine a company as powerful as Google asking freelance journalists to cover a specific story in exchange for the exposure of being featured on their site. Still, all freelance writers today face a micro version of that conundrum as they try to figure out what to blog or tweet for free, what to try to sell to a news organization and what doing the former does to the price they can charge for the latter.