Saturday, April 3, 2010

Using Stock Photos for Listings

When I buy books, these are my two most important considerations.
  1. The picture shows the actual book for sale.

  2. The total price of the item including shipping is within what I am willing to pay.
The seller must meet my first expectation or else I will not consider buying the book. If I have any suspicion that the seller's picture is not of the book for sale, then I do not care about the price.

On a related topic, some sellers put their listings up without photos and then add the photos days later. I'm sure they have a reason, but they lose me and possibly many other prospective buyers. I am relying on eBay's newest first sort more than ever, and when these sellers do not have the photos up, I have no photos to view.

I am not interested in bookmarking their listings and checking back repeatedly to see if pictures are there. My searches are too cluttered for me to go back and check previously viewed listings again. If a lot has no photo, then I'm out of there.

The sellers should photograph their books before the books are listed, especially when the listing is a seven day auction. Why would a seller not have a photo up for the first day or two of a seven day auction?

To go back to the main point of this post, I will only buy a book if I am relatively certain that the photo is of the actual book up for sale. When you buy a book, don't you want to see the actual book up for sale? Do you want to see a photo of a similar book? I am often upgrading books in my collection, so the number one most important part of a listing is the photo. I don't care as much for what the seller states about the book, although I do read it to make sure the book does not have unacceptable flaws not seen in the photo. I want to see the book, and I want a good photo.

Whenever I find a listing for a book I wish to buy, I always take a look at the seller's other listings to see if the photos match in style. Most sellers have at least some variance in style, and a minor variance does not set off alarms. I look for sellers who use too many different styles. I also am concerned about sellers whose pictures look a little too similar to the photos of other sellers, if you know what I mean.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot photograph my books exactly like another seller does. My camera has its own unique quirks, just like anyone else's camera. My photos all come out looking a certain way. If some of my photos should suddenly look almost just like another seller's photos, you should get concerned about photo theft.

I am particularly concerned about this issue right now because I recently became aware that a few sellers of series books are not taking their own pictures. I have compared their photos to those of other sellers and have found the sources of many of the photos. Some of the photos can be found in the completed item searches. Other photos are from Google's image search.

The sellers who "borrow" images have at least half a dozen "photography styles." Their pictures have a multitude of different backgrounds such as tables, blankets, etc. The pictures are also of varying quality from high to low. Some of the pictures have no visible pixelation while other have obvious pixelation. Sellers who have a wide variety of photography styles with many different backgrounds and who have pictures of varying quality have taken images from other listings and from websites.

Those of you who have books up for sale really need to look at the photos of the books other people have up for sale on eBay and Bonanzle. Really, you need to check. You may not care that your photos are getting used, but I think you should at least be aware of it. I was surprised at how many different sellers' photos have been used. I am also surprised that as far as I can tell, none of my photos are being used.

13 comments:

beautifulshell said...

As a buyer, I would never ever want to bid on an auction that had a picture of a *different* book, but I don't mind buying books without photos. Almost everything I bid on on eBay has a photo, but I think that's more because almost everyone on eBay posts photos. Almost everything I buy on ABE does NOT have a photo, and that's okay with me, too. That Ruth Fielding book didn't have a photo; I was just buying it for the title and was pleasantly surprised when I went back and looked at the description. Then again, I probably have lower standards than most for condition; I usually just want a solid binding and no water damage to read.

Jennifer said...

While I prefer to buy books that have photos, I also do not mind buying books that are not pictured, so long as the books have adequate descriptions including any damage to the binding and/or dust jacket. They also need to be priced reasonably in order to make up for any variance in actual condition. I have bought a number of books on ABE without photos.

Most people assume when a photo is provided that it is the actual book up for sale, and I am quite frankly appalled that we have people... collectors mind you... using photos of similar books in their listings. Most importantly, these people do not state that they are using a stock photo.

I do not want to call out who is doing it, but I think it opens the door to potential problems with buyers because some of the photos are a bit off from what they should be picturing. Like, the seller has a book for sale that cannot possibly have the exact cover that is pictured. It is close, but not the same. I find that Nancy Drew collectors are particularly picky about their books, so it is unsettling to see Nancy Drew listings that have different books pictured.

Jennifer said...

I should also explain that the reason why the photos are so important to me is that I look for certain variations. It is not so much the condition but the actual characteristics of the book that are important to me.

I collect library bindings, and I only know that a listing contains a library binding that I need when I can see the actual picture of the book. I have seen many lots that mention that the books are library discards or have library bindings but no pictures. I usually do not bother to ask those sellers questions since they will have trouble explaining to me exactly what they have. I hit the back button and move on.

I also look for oddities that are interesting to me, and of course I need to see the picture of the actual book in order to determine whether the book is an oddity.

I hope others will give their opinions as well. Do you care whether the photos show the books you buy, or are you okay with similar books pictured? Last, are you okay with sellers who use your photos in their listings?

Be aware that several readers of this blog are some of the people whose photos are currently being used by other sellers.

Jennifer said...

I have an example from the past. Several years ago, I was looking at Nancy Drew books on eBay in search of hardcover library editions of #57 and up.

I clicked on a listing and saw one of them. I then quickly realized that the photo was my photo of one of the books from my website. Grr. The item specifics stated that the book was softcover, so the picture was not representative of the book offered. This sort of thing happens quite often. A number of sellers do not understand that no photo is often better than having the wrong photo.

Lian said...

I sold two books on Bonanzle to a customer and the transactions were great. She was very pleasant. She then upped the price and resold them on Bonanzle. She did reuse my original photos without asking my permission. It didn't bother me too much, but my pictures weren't that great, so I was surprised she wanted to use mine!

I have bought several books without pictures on Amazon. A great description is absolutely necessary and most of the time I have to request a more detailed description from the seller for rarely do the sellers provide enough information on Amazon.
The comment "great condition" just doesn't tell much. Ex-library? Dust jacket?

Jennifer said...

In the case that you mentioned, the seller should have asked for permission, but other than that, there was no problem. The pictures were of the actual books up for sale.

In most cases, sellers are simply taking another seller's picture of a different book and using it on their own listings. Another case that I recall had a listing in which a seller had taken someone's photo of the wraparound dust jacket of Hollow Oak and used it in a listing. Who knows whether the book was a picture cover or dust-jacketed edition? I cannot remember the details, but the seller could have ended up with a very unhappy buyer.

This happens all the time with the stock photos of the Applewood editions. A lot of sellers on eBay and Amazon have flashlight editions for sale yet use the stock photos of the Applewood editions.

Lauren said...

I also am concerned about sellers whose pictures look a little too similar to the photos of other sellers, if you know what I mean.

Ha, I remember selling a dj copy of The Puzzle in the Pond and propping the book against my blanket. Lo and behold, another seller put the same book up for auction and there was my blanket in the background of their photo! I reported it to ebay and they had to take it down.

Do you care whether the photos show the books you buy, or are you okay with similar books pictured?


I always want to see the actual photos, I won't buy anything with a stock photo.

The only exceptions to my photo rule are when I can discern what the books are and can tell that it's a good deal.

Regarding sellers using photos that aren't stock photos yet aren't ACTUAL photos, I had a really bad experience with this once.

The seller had a photo of a bunch of ND books with dust jackets and all throughout her description, she used "dust jackets" to describe what turned out to be picture covers.

I was furious when I received a box of PCs when I was expecting dust jacketed books. I contacted the seller who claimed ignorance of the difference between picture covers and dust jackets and refused to refund my money.

Unfortunately, in leaving her the scathing feedback she deserved, I forgot to click the "negative" button. Argh. So she has this terrible feedback comment that no one probably ever saw because I think most of us check for # of negs and then scroll thru the positives to see what the negatives say.

Jennifer said...

Your story about the photo showing books with dust jacket is exactly why using different photos is so dangerous.

I remembered another situation from a few years ago. I had just listed a complete set of Nancy Drew books and then within a few hours someone else listed a complete set of Nancy Drew books... and used the picture from my lot! The search results showed two complete sets of Nancy Drew books with the same picture! I was furious. The average buyer would have know way of knowing who had stolen the photo, so my auction was compromised by this happening.

I contacted the seller who had listed the books for a friend and said that the friend gave her the photo. She didn't believe me! She did contact her friend and discovered that the friend had lifted the photo off of eBay. Fortunately, she did change out her photo.

That's another reason why photo theft is such a big deal to me. It can potentially damage the seller who created the photo, depending upon how the photo is used. I was once accused of bootlegging DVDs because someone had taken a photo I created and used on the discs.

Paula said...

I will only buy books on ebay that have a picture of the actual item. If I recognize a stock picture in the search results, I won't even look at the listing. I sometimes buy Applewood books on Amazon that are described as "Like New" without a picture of the actual item. But mistakes happen - once I received a flashlight PC Nancy Drew book instead of the Applewood Edition that was (stock) pictured/described. The seller gave me a full refund and told me to keep the book. I feel a picture is required from a collecting standpoint, because a book's condition is so very subjective, and I want to see the book to save time, effort, and money for both the seller and myself. It is such a hassle when there is a problem!

Once I had a friendly discussion with another collector who thought that some books I was selling were bargain priced, but I felt that the prices were fair for the current economy and current sales I had seen on ebay, and I left the prices unchanged. This person was upfront with me about buying the books from me to resell them (to test the market, so to speak). She asked my permission to use my photos of the books, and I was happy to oblige. This is the only time that I know of that my pictures have been used by another seller.

Lauren said...

Your story about the photo showing books with dust jacket is exactly why using different photos is so dangerous.

Well, in my case, I'm not entirely sure that the seller didn't do it on purpose. I found it really suspicious that she had this group of beautiful dust jacketed books and used dj throughout the description.

I misspoke though when I said she refused to refund my money, I went back to my feedback to verify and it seems that she offered a refund, but IIRC, I decided against it because she wouldn't pay for the shipping because she refused to acknowledge that her listing was misleading.

I think at the time, I decided that I'd rather keep SOMETHING (albeit the wrong something) rather than pay a decent sum to return this large lot of books, which would leave me completely in the hole for the transaction. I'd have to shell out money but I'd have no books to show for it.

I remembered another situation from a few years ago. I had just listed a complete set of Nancy Drew books and then within a few hours someone else listed a complete set of Nancy Drew books... and used the picture from my lot! The search results showed two complete sets of Nancy Drew books with the same picture! I was furious. The average buyer would have know way of knowing who had stolen the photo, so my auction was compromised by this happening.


Not to mention that your auctions are competing against one another so to have two identical photos makes it more likely that people might see the two listings as entirely equal and decide to bid on the other one if yours starts going too high. I say this with the impression that there are apparently a lot of people who don't bother too much with descriptions and go entirely on photos, (if my experience with buyers who ask questions about things that are VERY clearly spelled out in the description is any indication.)

Hannah Gruen said...

Your points are well taken, and speak to general ethics in the book transactions. A high ethical standard protects everyone, and should be aimed for.

However, you are quick to jump to conclusions. Variety in photo format and clarity does not necessarily pinpoint "borrowed" photos. While experimenting with photography, I've used discardable "cheapie" cameras and also my husband's good camera. I found that his camera produced wonderfully clear pictures, but only about half loaded, painfully slowly, those fine images onto my limited computer. So I went back to the cheapie discardable cameras, sacrificing quality for ease in loading, storing and retrieving the images.

I'll probably keep trying other photographic ways to keep the potential buyer informed, at least, of the type of art to expect on the cover, and to see whether it's a PC, soft cover or collectible dust-jacketed older printing that is up for sale.

I've used natural light (not always desirable because it also produces deep shadows, and, in my area, lots of wind - it's hard to keep the pages from fluttering outdoors where I live). I've also used various backdrops for indoor shot, some looking OK and some looking really amateurish. Anyone looking at my site might conclude that about twenty different photographers were at work. I don't expect to get this straight for a while, and continue to experiment.

Buying from another seller for resale doesn't bother me. That seller has a price in mind that he or she deems fair. This may or may not correspond to the market value, whether set by Farah, eBay average actual sales, or other yardsticks. This is a free country, and the new seller may well be able to get a better price either right after his purchase or after keeping a scarce book for a while and reselling much later (the book will get scarcer, since many of us are selling mostly out-of-print books). More power to a seller if he is able to resell a book he buys from me at a higher price!

Furthermore, when I sell a book, I implicitly sell the photo right to him as well, although I have never said in my descriptions: "You're welcome to the picture rights when you buy this book." I don't copyright my photographic images, and regard them as public images. And to be honest, I've borrowed images from the public images bins as a temporary measure while I am still experimenting and preparing my own lousy pictures to replace them.

Live and let live, unless somebody's actually breaking a law. High ethics is something to shoot for, but let's not come down so hard on photo variety.

Jennifer said...

You wrote, "Variety in photo format and clarity does not necessarily pinpoint 'borrowed' photos." I realize that, but I am not speaking of people who simply use a variety of methods. You can find at least four different types of photos in my own booth that I can think of offhand. I am able to tell the difference between people who use a variety of methods, and people who use other people's photos. I am not jumping to conclusions.

I know that certain sellers use other sellers’ photos because some of their photos are 100% identical to other sellers’ photos down to the number of pixels in the image. I cannot duplicate another seller’s photos exactly including the file size unless I copy them to my computer.

I know that some sellers use other people's photos because I can find the photos elsewhere on the web such as on people's websites. I have had my own photos taken from my website and used in listings. I am not jumping to conclusions when my own photos are in people's listings.

In one case, a seller is using an image that cannot possibly be of the book for sale because the "book" pictured has something about it that the actual book cannot possibly have. I cannot really give you an explanation of exactly what I mean without outing the seller.

I have given you clues on how to tell whether you should be concerned about a seller’s photos. Primarily, it is not that different methods are used, but that many of the seller's photos look precisely like another seller's photos.

You stated: "I'll probably keep trying other photographic ways to keep the potential buyer informed, at least, of the type of art to expect on the cover, and to see whether it's a PC, soft cover or collectible dust-jacketed older printing that is up for sale." Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this sounds like you are using photos that are not of the actual books for sale.

This is what my real problem is: Sellers who use borrowed photos and do not inform the buyers of this fact. I assume that you inform your buyers that you are using stock photos; if so, that's great! They need to know. However, there is another potential problem.

Many buyers do not read the descriptions. This is why using a stock photo of a similar book is dangerous. Perhaps you have had no problems so far, but you might run into problems in the future.

You stated, "Furthermore, when I sell a book, I implicitly sell the photo right to him as well, although I have never said in my descriptions." If that is how you feel, that is fine. If you have read the other comments that were made, you should understand that many of us do not feel that way.

As a seller, I do not give permission for my buyers to use my photos to sell their books. I should not have to watermark my photos to prevent this from occurring, and I should not have to state it in my description. It is more generally understood that a seller's photos should not be used without citing the original source. This goes for use of all images or text. People should not use something without citing the source.

I do not feel that it is okay for buyers to take their sellers’ photos and reuse them without explicit stated permission. However, it is fine if the buyer has permission. I am aware that some sellers who use other sellers’ photos do in fact have permission. I am not passing judgement (yes I prefer the British spelling) on those sellers since I have no way of knowing whether they have permission to reuse the photos.

(to be continued)

Jennifer said...

(continued from previous comment)

You stated, "I don't copyright my photographic images, and regard them as public images." That is how you feel, but that is most certainly not how the rest of us feel. Most sellers do not like their photos used on other seller's listings. I had someone tell me privately that they feel odd that their photos are in someone else's listings. I think they would rather not have had the photos borrowed.

Most people are too polite to complain, but it does bother them. It bothers me when text from my listings or from my website is lifted and placed word-for-word in other sellers' listings. I only say something when I think it may damage my reputation or impact my listings in a negative fashion. I would rather keep the peace. Even though I rarely say anything, I usually do not like it. I just wish they would reword it, which is what people are supposed to do when they use a source.

Just about all of us buy to resell to some extent. I like buying large lots on eBay to get cheap books for my booth on Bonanzle. I am not aware that I said that there was anything wrong with it. If I did, please point out my statements so that I can clarify my meaning. I am sometimes guilty of making a statement and not realizing that it might be construed in a completely different fashion.

I do think it is a shame that so many good listings on eBay go only to resellers and never to people who need them. If the people who need them would bid just a little higher, they could get the books for so much less than when they buy the books at marked-up prices.

People buy from me to resell. The only thing I don't like about it is when someone buys something, puts it back up for sale as RARE, doesn't mention a few important flaws, and then gets a really high price. I am thinking of a certain book from a few years ago in which the buyer did not mention a piece missing from the jacket that was not visible in the photo. Regardless of what I thought, the buyer had a right to do that, and I didn't say anything to him about it.

You wrote, "Live and let live, unless somebody's actually breaking a law." Actually, image theft in some cases is breaking the copyright laws.

I appreciate that you gave your point of view without bashing me. Thank you for being polite. I also hope that you take my response as polite.

My concern is as a prospective buyer, and I am also concerned about other buyers. I need to see the actual books that are up for sale, and I am always concerned when the photos are not of the actual books. I realize that some sellers have a legitimate reason for what they do, but it still bothers me greatly when the actual books up for sale are not the ones shown.