In certain cases, using stock photos for book covers can be problematic. Though it's far less costly than hiring a freelance artist to design an original cover, there are obvious downsides, so let's get them out of the way. First, anyone can license the same stock photo for their own purposes, so your selection may appear on another book, or in an ad campaign for a totally different industry. Furthermore, the image can be used to advertise a product that you'd rather not be associated with.
Understand the License Agreement
Before committing to a particular stock photo, make sure to read the fine print for your license. Some stock photo services reserve the right to revoke your license at any point, just in case they need to remove the content from their archive, or run into a dispute with the photographer. If that happens, you'll be forced to stop selling any books with the stock cover, and replace them with an alternative image.
Consider the Target Audience
Next, you should select a stock photo that isn't too cliché, while still appealing to your target market. For example, if you're writing a dystopian sci-fi novel, it's better to select a photo that conveys a futuristic world, instead of picking a generic image of robots. The blander your photo, the more likely it will be used for a dozen other book covers.
Customize the Photo
Huge publishers like Penguin even use stock photos for book covers, but to differentiate their product, they will tweak the image with new graphics, compelling text, and other visual effects. Likewise, if you find a stock photo that suits your narrative and target audience, you should customize it.
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