29
Jun

Should you watermark your images?

Bookselling

Every now and then the discussion over whether or not you should watermark your images crops up (yes, we’re looking at you, Guy).

watermark your images of books

I’m more concerned about copyright infringement in the clouds

The idea that your pictures should be tagged seems to be gaining ground and the ability to add a watermark to your images is something that is slowly being incorporated into bookseller’s tools and CMSs.

As someone who had once made the decision to watermark my images and then subsequently abandoned the practice, I kept a keen eye on these discussions – though I rarely contributed.

This was because I had so many thoughts on the issue, they could only be done in long-form. So here it is…an analysis of whether or not you should watermark your images and the things you ought to bear in mind if you do…

Promotion

This was why I started watermarking my images, to promote my business. The trend in marketplaces is to minimise the presence and importance of booksellers, to reduce them to a field in a list of bibliographic data. By tagging your pictures you are putting yourself in front of buyers at a time when their interest has been piqued. It’s a way to claw back your identity at AbeBooks, Biblio and co. ( but not Amazon, try it there and you might find yourself on an unmarked CIA plane to Seattle.)

This all sounds good but it’s important to remember that how you watermark your images will effect how your are perceived.

I have seen examples with watermarks in awkward, blocky, low-resolution fonts, obscuring the book and even displaying the paranoia that someone will copy the picture. It’s not the best way to communicate your brand.

What you want to project is competence and confidence. Whether I achieved that is debatable but my approach was to use a simple modern font (in tune with our other branding), neutral tan colour and a semi-transparent black shadow so that the text would remain legible no matter the background. For the text itself I chose the website address. This seemed less intrusive, less redundant and more efficient, since getting customers to your website is one of the goals of such promotion.

how to watermark your images

This raises another important point… They have to be good pictures in the first place. Any image is useful to the buyer but when you attach your name to one, the image itself can effect the perception of your business. A fancy logo atop a poor image may indicate strange priorities.

Theft/Misuse

When we take a picture of a book we are doing work in order to achieve a sale. So if someone takes one of our pictures, they are exploiting our work in order to achieve a sale. Despite having sold a small number of books compared to most booksellers I too have found my pictures being reused, predominantly on eBay.

This can grate. Especially if you have invested money in photographic equipment. Furthermore it is misleading to buyers. People expect a custom image to be of the book they are buying, so not only have they have ripped you off, they’ve tricked a customer.

But how much should we care about any of this? Whilst it is true that someone has re-appropriated your work I have never seen an egregious misuse of my pictures. An eBayer onced used a composite image I’d made for the Heron Dickens. Maybe they did not have access to a camera and it wouldn’t be strange if the condition of their set was almost the same as mine, in which case not much harm was done. It helped buyers and the seller with no loss to myself.

I have yet to see an example of a bookseller at AbeBooks using another bookseller’s picture. I don’t know what the punishments are but I’m sure that they will exceed the small benefits. Similarly I have never seen an instance of a Megalister culling images from across the web and reusing them. If this sort of behavior were commonplace and without punishment then I could see the case for Watermarking your images but it isn’t.

Workflow and other issues

As mentioned, there are systems available that will allow you to automatically apply a watermark to an image. If you are working with a sufficiently advanced graphics program there will be probably be addons or macros that can help the process along.

I do a lot of manual work with my images: cropping, rotating, airbrushing anomalies in the edges of the light tent. As such it was very easy to CnP in my watermark and position it. I always felt that if you applied it automatically the watermark could obscure something in the image.

The problem here is that if you are a perfectionist but not particularly swift or savvy with your editing program, the process will become too lengthy to be worthwhile.

Space is another thing to consider. You may want to keep an unmarked version of an image; I have had frequent need of pristine images for my own website. If you have several tens of thousands of pictures, doubling that number may cause problems in terms of storage and management.

It’s not just you that may need an unmarked version of an image. AbeBooks frequently do promotions showcasing books from their listings. For practical and aesthetic reasons they will avoid any images bearing a tag. This may not be too large a concern though. Even if they cannot use your image for the promotion there’s probably others to choose from, it will still create interest in that book and send buyers your way in the end.

Conclusions

There are many compelling reasons to watermark your images if you can do it in a pleasing and effective way. So why did I stop? In short I did not think the benefits were sufficient to justify the time spent.

Only a miniscule fraction of, say, AbeBooks visitors will look at your pictures. Of them only a minority will choose to visit your website. And of them only a minority will buy something. If you only have a small stock of books then the number of AbeBooks visitors looking at your pictures is small and the chances they will find something else to buy from you are again reduced.

We also have the problem of data. We have no way of knowing how many AbeBooks customers are looking at your pictures. We have no way of knowing why people visiting my website wrote ‘AJ Scruffles’ into a search engine – and these days most browsers’ data is private, so we don’t even know what their search terms were.

It might be the case that having thousands of watermarked images at AbeBooks and co. does generate a significant amount of traffic but until someone does a controlled test (monitoring their traffic over a period when their images are watermarked and a period when they are not) we can’t know.

I also think that aesthetically I turned against the process. Few if any of the most attractive booksellers’ websites feature watermarking on the images. If you scroll down you can see a mixture of watermarked and non-watermarked thumbnails on this page of my site: http://www.aj-scruffles.co.uk/leather-books-special-editions/ . To my eyes the tiny unreadable text atop the images is rather ugly.