From photos to logos. The race to the bottom continues as iStock announces new stock logo plans..

In an announcement that took some in the design industry by surprise, iStockphoto today announced that they were planning to roll out some sort of stock logo service, presumably after the New Year. Shortly after the news hit Twitter (and after receiving an e-mail from David Airey about the plan) I received my own e-mail from the popular stock photo and artwork service.

“We’re excited to announce a whole new product coming to the iStock collection in just a few months: logo designs. Our clients will be able to download a unique logo to brand their business or organization right here at iStock from designers like you.”

Glad they’re excited and all, but by their very nature, “stock logos” aren’t unique because they’re used by multiple parties.

As a designer, you’ve probably created hundreds of different logos over the course of your career and we’re offering you an outlet to start selling new logos to the world’s largest community of creative buyers.

Well, they’re not “new” logos. They’re rejected logos from old projects.

“If you create one of the first 10,000 approved logo designs for iStockphoto by January 1, 2010, we’ll pay you $5 per approved logo and another $5 if we reach 10,000 approved logos by that date.”

Five bucks you say? That sounds swell.

“So fire up Illustrator to create some amazing logos or dust off all those much-loved logos that never made it past the third round with a client.”

Much-loved? You mean unloved. Though if you want to do some design stuff for us for free, then have at it.

We will begin taking applications from potential iStock logo designers soon. There will be a Logo Training Manual made available before we begin accepting files.”

A logo training manual? Can’t wait to take a peek at that. istockphoto-logo Other than the amazingly low come-hither “bonus” of $5 a pop (the overall royalty rate will be 50% of selling price, at least for the introductory rollout,) can’t say I’m terribly surprised. iStock have made a fairly successful enterprise out of selling all manner of stock art and illustrations, and logos could be considered a fairly natural extension. Nothing new either – stock and template logo services have been around for years with some success (Pixel Logo and Brandstack to name just two.) Hell, we’ve even tinkered around with selling stock logos and graphics odds-& ends since 2000 (with varying degrees of success.) I think it’s the size of iStock that has designers in an up-roar, most notably on Twitter. The announcement is probably tied to an earlier, much less noticed announcement last week in which iStock made this dramatic “promise:”

“Files purchased and used in accordance with the iStock license, will not breach any trademark, copyright or other intellectual property rights or rights of privacy. We’re calling it the iStock Legal Guarantee and if a customer does get a claim, iStock will cover the customer’s legal costs and direct damages to a combined total of $10,000. Here’s the best part: it’s on us. Starting Wednesday, every iStockphoto file automatically comes with a free Legal Guarantee.”

Not an easy guarantee for iStock to make, especially when they’re on the hook for 10 grand when things go awry. It is, however, the ONLY way that they could start selling off-the-rack logos to customers who’ll ostensibly be trying to trademark some of the designs as their own. At the time I thought that iStock were going to get a lot more aggressive in policing their material (especially on design contest and crowdsourcing sites where submissions of stock artwork to projects remains at an astonishing level.)

Guess we now know why.

What does it mean?

I don’t see this as being a terribly big deal on the front end – clients aren’t about to pony up a large amount of money for what is, in reality, glorified clip art (flash generated stock logo generator gizmos like Logomaker, Logo Snap and LogoYes have been plying their goods for some time now.) There will be probably be a lot of hand-wringing over the next couple of days among designers, especially among those, like our shop who have marketed themselves as specialists. Granted, it might seem like yet another assault on the graphic design industry, still trying to come to terms with the increasing impact of spec work and design crowdsourcing. And iStock are a very large company, with a established footprint in the stock art segment of the industry. However, at the end of the day, companies and businesses who appreciate the value of a decent brand will still be looking for a custom treatment, rather than some stock logo that’s sat on a website for months (and will undoubtedly be purloined several times over).

“It’s an unfortunate, but predictable, aspect of a design business model where the emphasis (and only profitability for the designer) is to create a large number of logos, in the shortest amount of time possible.”

And that, is where the issue really lies. I predict there will be massive copyright problems as would-be designers, eager for quickly produced logos, scour the internet for material to, ahm, be “inspired” by. And in a little bit of karmic schadenfreude, logo design contests and crowdsourcing sites will be ground zero for a lot of “inspiration” for stock logos to upload. It’s an unfortunate, but predictable, aspect of a design business model where the emphasis (and only profitability for the designer) is to create a large number of logos, in the shortest amount of time possible.

Copying issues notwithstanding, and without the benefit of an accurate crystal ball, I don’t really know what impact this iStock logo deal will have on the industry at large. But I do have a feeling it will make a few copyright and trademark lawyers a lot of dough.

So what you think – Harbinger of doom, or today’s “who gives a toss”?

Comments are open if you so wish.