I’m excited to invite Nash Mascaro, Sales Director at Arcangel Images, to continue our interview series. Nash will provide valuable insight into the book cover niche market and share tips for potential and existing contributors on creating work that has the three key elements of quality, saleability, and relevance, in order for them to eventually be licensed worldwide. So, let’s get started!
Recap on interviews with talented Arcangel Contributors
Before we get started, I would like to recap on the existing series with talented Arcangel Contributors, including: Abigail Miles, KeremGo3D, Jelena Petrovic, George Cairns, Yours truly Alexandre Rotenberg, Vanessa Skotnitsky and Ruben Ramos. Here’s a slideshow highlighting some of their work:
Looking for more artists!
I would love to get more interviews from other talented book-cover contributors from Arcangel and elsewhere, so if you’re reading this and you’re interested in this opportunity, please reach out. Now onto the interview.
Please tell us about your day-to-day activities as the Sales Director at Arcangel
I’m fortunate enough to be able to work closely with everyone in the business on both a strategic and creative level. We have a solid team internally and we’re constantly looking at ways to improve what we do for our clients as well as contributors.
As you would imagine, there’s a lot of analysis and planning but I’m also involved in lots of exciting projects with both clients and artists. I’m very passionate about what I do and what Arcangel represents, so regardless of how many hours I put in, it’s never just work.
Even though Arcangel have been around for two decades, the total collection has deliberately remained under 1m assets with heavy curating to ensure quality standards at maintained. How difficult has it been to maintain such high standards? (Shutterstock, which was also founded in 2003, has bloated to some 350 million images in comparison – a bit of apples and oranges comparison, of course)
Every business out there has its place, each with their own markets and end goals but yes you’re right, we are very different [from Shutterstock] and I think that’s clear to see. In terms of numbers, it’s less about keeping under a certain figure and more about curating the very best work in the industry.
There is nothing more rewarding for me personally, than working with talented, motivated individuals and seeing beautiful work come in. The numbers take care of themselves through a very tight curation process. Michael Mascaro, the Founder of the business, has always been about quality, saleability and relevance and that is at the core of everything we do.
Many contributors are unsure whether to apply to be Arcangel or Trevillion contributors, with some trying out for both. What would you say is the main difference between Arcangel and what is assumed to be your main competitor, Trevillion?
It’s not for me to talk about other businesses but what I can say is that I can’t be negative about anyone, competition or not, that uphold the ethos of quality. In terms of who to choose, that is of course, up to the individual.
We have artists that work only with us and some that are shared. There are of course benefits to those that are exclusive to Arcangel. That doesn’t mean though that shared contributors are at a disadvantage.
What I will say is this, we want to promote the very best an individual has to offer. Building a personal brand, name awareness and a quality portfolio is not easy and it takes time, so that’s something to consider when making a choice. Clients like to know where to go to find images they like.
Many of our top sellers are exclusive to Arcangel, I’ll leave it at that.
As the popular saying goes: “never judge a book by its cover”, but generally speaking, do you think a “good” book cover can make a book’s success? Alternatively, can a “bad” book cover ruin an otherwise good book’s chance?
That’s a great question. It makes a huge difference to sales. There’s a reason why publishers have used us for almost twenty years, there’s also a reason why they use high quality designers to put their covers together.
When you have a library with premium imagery that’s relevant to the industry and fantastic designers who know how to create eye catching book covers, it draws audiences to it. There are of course many factors that go into selling a book but never underestimate the power of professional imagery and great design work.
New / Struggling Contributor Experience
The high standards set by Arcangel can be challenging especially for beginners who are still learning the ropes. What would be your advice for creatives who are perhaps just start creating book cover content and for Microstock photographers who try to make a leap from otherwise more generic Microstock-style of imaging to premium book covers?
You’re right. It’s a very different place to microstock and there is a lot to consider before embarking on the transition, some take to it quite naturally and some find it very challenging. The reality is there is probably too much to cover here but if there was one piece of advice I could give to anyone considering a move into the industry, it’s to do some research.
Look at covers in the market and create a plan for yourself. It’s not about throwing images up or making quick copies of what we already have, as inevitably, a poor copy of a great image is exactly that. It’s about really spending time understanding what sells and putting the time in to getting better at what you do. There are no shortcuts. For those that are already with us, visit the App*, we put great information out there that covers so many vital areas, a lot of the information is already out there. It really does come down to putting the time in. Quality is the key, relevance and creativity are essential.
We work with artists who have been creating amazing work for as long as we’ve been around, some of our contributors were among the first few in the library. They have earned their stripes, put the work in have had to evolve as the industry changed, constantly learning and improving to meet the ever increasing requirements from our clients.
*The App is only available to existing contributors. Arcangel have a duty of care to their new approved contributors and also our existing long terms artists, so they naturally wouldn’t want to dilute the importance of key information by disclosing too much information on a public forum.
How important is it for a contributor to develop his/her own style to shoot and post-process? How about exploiting a niche?
So the first thing is this, as a professional library working with major players around the globe. we would expect that someone coming to us already has their own style. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to be a master of post production. As I mentioned above, it takes time to evolve and it takes real motivation to go from someone with little post production to someone who can put an amazing composite together. Sometimes it’s about the emotion in the image or the atmosphere and elegance of a subtle crop.
You don’t always need heavy post production to create a beautiful and highly saleable image but you do need to be able to see the cover in the image. In most cases, I would say stay away from composites unless you have mastered the process. That’s not to say that you should just send in lots of images that haven’t been worked on and are straight from camera. Most images need a little something.
Would you kindly identify some trends that you’re observing that new contributors may wish to include in their initial batch?
If you’re someone who is serious about moving into the industry, have a look at online bookshops and spend the time yourself, identifying some of the markets, they are generally broken down and available to filter.
Then, look at your own style of work and see where it fits best. We are always looking for creative work whether that’s still life, landscapes, mystery or general fiction etc… The work really has to be done before coming to us and as I said earlier, there are no shortcuts, so doing the research first will help you decide whether this industry is a good fit for you.
Contributor Experience – Creating Content
What would you say are the most common mistakes that would lead to rejections and/or being overlooked by buyers?
That’s a really important question, I’m glad you asked. It’s probably easier if I bullet point some Do’s and Don’ts so it’s easier to digest.
Do’s Don’ts Take some time to understand the market so you can produce relevant content Don’t just throw lots of images up in the hope that something sticks without having done any research. Hone your photography or Illustration and overall technical skills Don’t upload anything that is not technically sound Be selective and curate your images before uploading Don’t expect huge numbers of sales if you don’t upload high quality relevant work on a regular basis. Understand the levels our contributors operate at and what we do, to ensure the quality Don’t get frustrated at the process if all the Do’s haven’t been taken care of first. Be creative but make sure your work is relevant, you do this by spending time researching Watch the weekly videos we release on the App and pay attention to trends Watch the Dave Wall tutorials and find something that works for you Be mindful of the portfolio you’re building so that your work is consistent and you build name recognition Upload on a regular basis so that you’re seen often Understand this is not an overnight process and there will be work to do to achieve your desired result Look, look and look. The covers in the market will guide you but you need to be consistent and really look at what is out there Understand that this is a competitive market with a lot of fantastic talent already on the books. We are at the high end of creative stock photography. Our clients expect the best.
How proficient must contributors be at post-processing to be a successful book cover contributor? In other words, would someone with only basic knowledge still be able to produce quality more natural-looking content that that can be licensed? Side note: Excellent tutorials by Dave Wall on the Blog.
There is room for everyone. Natural looking content absolutely sells but it all comes down to relevance and quality. We offer contributors an abundance of visual examples, weekly videos and free tutorials from Dave Wall.
“Diversity” and “inclusiveness” are currently hot social topics. Would you encourage contributors to shoot with different ranges of models in terms of ethnicity and gender, etc.?
Absolutely. The world is full of colour, inclusivity is not only important to publishers, (more so now than ever) but also to us as we mirror the requirements of all publishers and have a responsibility to promote equality.
Images with at least one models are the bread and butter of the book photography industry. What advice would you offer those photographers that perhaps don’t have access models and/or little experience that still want to build a strong portfolio?
I’m not sure that is accurate, although it may seem so from the outside looking in. If you walk into any bookshop you will see a range of covers ranging from obscure/abstract graphic work to landscape photography and illustration, as well as model based imagery. There is a lot of variation out there. Creativity, quality and relevance are the keys to success.
What advice would you give to contributors that wish to use a drone to shoot aerial photos that may become book covers?
We’ve seen more of this type of work coming in but again, it comes down to quality and relevance. One thing is a classic drone shot which can be found on Microstock sites and another thing is a quality drone shot with atmosphere that looks like a cover.
This is where the post production experience comes into it. Creating an atmosphere that lends itself to a storyline for example i.e. thriller or a clean graphic style that allows designers to creatively insert text. The other thing I would say is that the drone camera needs to be high quality so that you get clean focus on the image.
Becoming a professional book cover photographer
I see that Arcangel have an “Elite” Category, could you please expand on what are the benefits of this group and how would one go about applying, if possible?
Arcangel Elite is a division of Arcangel Images. It isn’t something that you can join as it’s invitation only but it is based on the very best and most creative contributors in the industry. There are of course benefits that come along with it but it’s not easy to get into and requires consistency. Top sellers, rising stars and historical specialists are in the group. It’s not a closed group but it will depend on a number of factors such as…you guessed it. Quality, relevance, consistency, saleability, etc.
Do some Arcangel contributors work on commissioned shoots? In other words, a buyer will provide a detailed brief of exactly what they want.
Yes, we work on commissioned shoots. If a contributor has access to premium models, locations, professional hair and make up, subject matter etc., and has the right experience it is something that we get involved in.
Artificial Intelligence in 2023
As already announced, Arcangel are strictly against any use of AI in its images due to legal copyright risks. However, is there any chance in the future this may change as the technology develops?
I personally feel very strongly that all premium libraries have an obligation to protect their artists from query based Ai. Copyright risks aside (which by the way are a huge issue), I don’t believe it can be seen as fair or right that an artist is pushed aside after having worked as hard they do, so that someone with no experience can generate an image by typing in a few words.
As impressive as the technology is, I believe in the authenticity of our library and the protection of our contributors.
End of interview.
Thank you very much, Nash and wish you and Arcangel continued success.
Thank you, Alexandre. I appreciate your time and efforts. You’ve got a great blog and I know it’s been super useful for people that are looking at the industry from the outside. I hope this interview answers some of the questions that may be of interest to potential contributors. Keep up the great work.
Arcangel was founded in 2004 with the aim of supplying clients with the quality of images that previously could only be commissioned. Our clients include international book publishers, record labels, advertising & design agencies, and magazine publishers. We represent some of the most imaginative and talented international photographers and illustrators working in the industry today. Our tight-knit team are passionate about the service and over the years, we’ve built a reputation not just for the calibre of our images but for the quality of our client interactions and relationships. Arcangel are full of members of PACA (Picture Archive Council of America) & BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies).
I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Lisbon, Portugal, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.
Most recently I’ve gone all in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images. Oh and also recently purchased a DJI Mavic 2s drone and taking full advantage and perhaps a Mavic 3 soon.
I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography
Thanks Nash! Great interview. Rarely we can get an insight from the leaders of the industry directly, so being able to hear right from the source is greatly appreciated.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great! I would have liked to have heard a bit more on the business side, particularly whether a sale of an image is the end of its earning potential?
LikeLiked by 1 person
“One image can be sold in multiple markets”
Fantastic and valuable interview, with a lot of information to follow
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great interview! I always appreciate Nash’s insight. He has helped me understand some of my rejections. It is frustrating getting rejections and not knowing why.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Very interesting interview.
I noted Nash’s reply to this comment of yours:
‘Images with at least one models are the bread and butter of the book photography industry’
So, I did some calculations.
I filtered all images to photos, took down the number and then filtered again to ‘nobody’.
Now, assuming that ‘nobody’ filter is correct, it looks like 35% of photographs in Arc’s database have ‘nobody’ in.
That’s a higher figure than I was expecting.
What of course would be best to know is what percentage of sales have no model in …
What would be best to know though is what percentage of SALES have no model in …
Hi Debra, I meant filter the bookshops so you can look at different genres but I understand what you did and why. However, we obviously wouldn’t give out Sales data. The other thing to think about is this, there are a few libraries out there selling into the publishing space so you won’t get a full or realistic understanding filtering like that. I would also say that the best thing to do is look at all of the other elements I laid out, especially in the do’s and don’ts.
Sometimes people get lost in the detail, trying to figure out the magic formula and there really isn’t anything like that I’m afraid. Other than, to create the very best work you can and make sure that it’s relevant. Consistent uploads of high quality and high relevance sell.
Understanding where you are as a contributor technically (this goes for anyone reading this) and knowing where you have to be in comparison to other contributors is a great start.
I hope this helps, I didn’t want to leave your comment sitting there without a response. )
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you Nash.
Much appreciated 😊