I’m fully with you on the motivation, and it’s not me you need to convince as I already have over 13,000 photos logged in 5,000+ obs on iNat and growing by the day. When I said it would be complicated and time-consuming, I was thinking not so much of my book but more generally. I have worked in an editorial capacity on several wildlife guides (not quite field guides in the strict sense, but something close to that) and most of them use primarily images sourced from an array of stock libraries.
And by the way, the high-res images you get from stock libraries have always had the EXIF data removed; very often the same is true of photos direct from professional photographers, as they will have their own preferred post-processing workflow that puts the images through PhotoShop or whatever to balance the colours, correct flaws, airbrush blemishes, or whatever, and most often that renders a final proof file without the EXIF information maintained. (I appreciate one can change the settings to maintain EXIF data if one wants; I’m just saying how the world is in reality.)
Even for the images that are provided directly by photographers, an author or editor or publisher has no authority over the contributing photographers to tell them what to do with their images. At best they can just forward the iNat request to them and say “hey here’s a really worthwhile project we think you should look into supporting”. And I know what most of them would say… some would have strong reservations about copyright implications of putting their images out in public and the rest would say “oh, looks interesting, my schedule is a bit too hectic this year, and next year, but I’ll try to take a look someday”. And there’s not much pressure beyond that that a publisher is in a position to apply to them.
That’s why I said that I am not convinced going via publishers is the best way of getting photographers to put their work on iNat. Even if it is workable and generates only a small amount of extra work for the publishers, you will still meet resistance because the profit margins in publishing are so tiny. To be persuaded, the publisher would have to get something out of it more than just a warm fuzzy feeling about doing something worthwhile.
That something would either have to be a payment (which iNat would then have to find funds for) or otherwise some way of increasing sales. If iNat were to offer publishers some kind of ad in return for participation, that might work. Maybe something like a link under every image publisher-provided image saying “This image comes from WildWorld’s Field Guide to the Birds of Benin: click here to buy” or whatever. If iNat was open to a scheme along those lines, then you could get some publishers on board. But there would still be a lot of copyright issues to resolve.
When we licence an image from a stock library for a book project, we typically have to tell the stock library how many books will be printed, what size the image will be reproduced at, how many languages the book will be published in, how many countries it will be sold in, and so on. And from that if it’s a small print run of say 3,000 copies of a single edition of a book only in English, they will quote say $40 for the usage. If we then say “oh but we would also like worldwide all-language online usage rights” that quote becomes $400. Even with the best will in the world, publishers cannot just absorb such extra costs. So whatever proposal one approaches them with has to make business sense as well as being “good for the planet” otherwise it’s just not going to fly.