Editor’s Pick
JUNE 15, 2009 2:02PM

Illustrators say no to free work for Google

Rate: 9 Flag

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.

Your tags:

Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
First, no harm in asking, eh? Second, this comes off more as matter of personal pride in one's work than an actual fear that Google's offers will drive down the price of their work; there's enough external factors that will do that without Google offering huge exposure sans compensation. Google's iGoogle backgrounds have hundreds of variations, which were also done with no payment, so the premise is exists. In fact, this doesn't seem that different than a company creating a commercial soliciting a band for background music. Band gets exposure, company gets music. If you don't like it, don't do it. And it seems like they aren't.
eek. yes, I could see that being a problem :( I bet real reporters just love bloggers.
Did you see this post by BBD? seems the same for photographers also
I can see the illustrators' point. They produce a valid product, so why should a company that can afford to pay them, try to get their product for free.

But unfortunately, that's what companies do. Internships - where college kids desperate for experience and exposure agree to work for free - are another example of this.

Companies know that there are some students who won't work for free and Google knows that there are some artists who won't give their work away for free. But as long as there are some who will, the system works for them.

But - aha! The PR "black eye" is the wild card here. They probably didn't even think about the possibility of a public backlash. But if the negative publicity can gain some steam, you can bet they'll change their approach quickly and offer to pay the artists (and probably explain that it was all a big misunderstanding to begin with).
I'm not confident the PR will damage Google in any way. There doesn't seem to be much regard these days -- at least monetarily -- for creators of any kind, especially in the "old media" sense. It sucks.
Thank you for writing this. It's a complicated issue which has plenty of trickle down effects that those outside the business wouldn't think of. Last year I had 6 lawsuits that dealt with this very thing. I'd do a cartoon about this and post it here but I'd just be a hypocrite then.
Maybe Microsoft should try to hijack this with a covert "Switch to Bing" campaign!
This is perhaps one of the challenges of the future of journalism: How will reporters and photographers and cartoonists be paid?

In my former corner of the newspaper world, making money from the paper's web site was an ongoing struggle. Maybe when all print editions go the way of the dinosaur, things will change, but for now, it's a difficult necessity to deliver news on two platforms in two different ways in an atmosphere of people giving up their paid subscriptions to read the content online.

While the future of electronic journalism seems exciting, a lot of what we're getting excited about is produced by “citizen journalists” with cell phones and laptops in the heat of the story. These aren't people who are trained journalists, or who will make a living off reporting. Maybe this is the future of journalism, but I've always thought the best of what outlets offered are the follow-ups to breaking news stories, indepth features and investigative pieces, work that requires both knowledge and contacts.

The link Kerry Lauerman provided in the previous post about AP and the investigative journalism organizations was interesting. This might provide a model, but AP is struggling, too. In these days of cutting costs, its services are one of the things that can be either cut back or eliminated. Gannett, the company from which I was laid off, is providing more of its own national stuff. It's even offering completed national and world pages to its papers, supplanting any need for AP.

Since there isn't a newspaper or wire service around that can deliver content as quickly as the Internet, the question to me is whether there is a future at all for trained journalists, or will we have to depend on people with cell phones and laptops to provide us the information we need to make decisions about our lives.

I guess I am both excited about the future and totally confused. And I'd like to be paid for the work I do.
i think the reliance on paid content has crippled our political speech.

seriously, bill o'reilly is a hack who just spouts garbage. but he sells advertising, and that's why he's on the air. and millions of people listen to him, and some of them have guns.

frankly, as a nonentity, i'm tickled when anyone shows any interest in my work. it's wonderful to see something you've made proliferating over the tubes. i can understand the illustrators refusing, but i don't understand why they're so offended. the market is changing and they're foolish if they think they can just will their old careers to persist the way they're used to.

anyway, google is run by commies. that's why i like them so much.