Twenty Sixteen in Microstock

This year has been an extremely busy one for me, both personally, and with regards to Microstock.  My job ate up most of my free time with 60 and 70 hour work weeks and my family fostered an amazing young lady that we’re in the process of adopting.  It’s obvious I had no time to update this blog, but I also have very little time to add to my portfolio this past year.  While several of my good friends added thousands of new clips, I added less than 500 new clips this past year.  And the bulk of that was done in the past 3 months as I made the time to shoot, edit and submit.

A lot of that has to do with a conscious decision to cut back my overtime hours at work.  And the inspiration I got from several of my Microstock friends and some new equipment I picked up this year.

VideoBlocks

Let’s start off with the positive…  VideoBlocks emergence onto the scene has been a game changer in the Microstock Footage industry.  VideoBlocks has a massive collection of videos they own and they sell subscriptions for $99 to $149 a year to access their collection.  Subscribe and you can download all you need from their collection.  They’ve got some good stuff but their own collection wasn’t growing very quickly and their subscription numbers were good but not great… then comes genius, they offer artists the ability to sell their clips and artists receive 100% of the sale minus the actual transaction costs.  Thousands of artists join up and upload hundreds of thousands of clips.  The genius part? In order to get the best price on artist clips ($49 for HD) you have to be a subscriber.  Non-subscribers can still buy HD clips for $79, but purchase 4 or more clips and you might as well subscribe… so they pick up thousands of new yearly subscriptions.  And their subscribers take advantage of the fixed $49 pricing on HD clips.  The process of submitting is extremely simple (the best in the industry in my opinion) and you can do a mass import via CSV file.

But not all is perfect with VideoBlocks…  If a non-subscriber buys an HD clip for $79, the artist still only gets $49 minus the fees.  The remaining $30 is kept by VideoBlocks.  Still, it’s better than the 50% revenue share of Pond5.  And there are a lot of issues on the back end that need to be addressed. The crew at VideoBlocks are super super helpful, they are “Johnny on the spot” in answering questions and super communicative. You could not ask for a better partnership between artists and an agency as far as how they treat artists and how great their communication is. But they are so incredibly slow at getting anything done…

They do not have an affiliate capability, and I make enough money from affiliate linking to Shutterstock and Pond5 that I’m not yet ready to use VB as the primary promotion of my portfolio. They don’t offer any form of artist resources (except for an occasional blog) in helping artists to find sales trends. Their API for adding your VB portfolio to your own web site to promote VB is broken and a low priority in getting fixed.  And there are lots of tiny little bugs on the backend that have gone unfixed for months (and months). In fact their web development team is excruciatingly slow on getting most things done.  I know they are growing and have a lot of internal priorities that take precedence over artist requests, but at the pace they are moving, a faster moving agency can quickly overtake them. (I do web development for my day job and I have pumped out 10 times the amount of code and features in the past year than their whole team.)

Still, right now, in terms of Artist Friendly and Growth, VideoBlocks is the top stock footage agency in my opinion.

Pond5

Pond5 was the second agency I joined and for many years was my top earning agency every single month.  But when Pond5 stopped communicating with artists and the founders started leaving or were pushed out, my earnings (and those of many friends I know) started dropping.  Shutterstock moved into the top spot a few years ago and VideoBlocks moved ahead of Pond5 a couple of months ago.  This despite that fact that my ENTIRE portfolio is available on Pond5 while I have only partially uploaded my portfolio to Shutterstock and VB as of today (I will remedy that before the end of 2016).

Pond5 is till a top seller.  Pond5 is second only to Videoblocks in revenue share.  Pond5 allows artists to price their own stuff (both good and bad).  And Pond5 has the best tools for artists interested in tracking sales trends (although, those tools are less useful today despite promises of a fix, but I’ll get into that shortly).  For me, Pond5 is solid at number 3 for the moment.

So what happened?  Well, Pond5 took a crap ton of investor money over the past few years and now investors want their money back. They have taken over the company, pushing out the founders and installing their own people to run Pond5.  The Pond5 booth at NAB in 2015 has several of the founders in attendance and it was a big booth with lots of friendly faces.  In 2016 they had a tiny booth by comparison with a couple of people in attendance.  I have a couple of insider friends at Pond5 and they say everyone there is afraid for their jobs, so it’s a very depressed work atmosphere with lots of fake smiles and lots of division.  It shows in their latest ideas.  They now offer artists exclusivity and they only promote those exclusive artists (with the exception of a few heavy hitters that get special treatment because of their massive portfolios).  They have a subscription plan.  And with the sad passing of Jonathon who was a saint and truly truly a Godsend to artists for his communication and artist support, they once again stopped communicating with artists for the most part.  It no longer feels like we are partners.  If it wasn’t for their 50% revenue share, it almost feels like iStock took over Pond5.  In fact they are already finding ways around the 50% share by offering discounts and coupons that used to come from their side, but are now shared with artists so that we get less.

Pond5 still has the largest collection of Microstock footage on the Internet, so they are not going anywhere.  But I would not be surprised if they end up selling to another agency to satisfy the investors.  And they are still having MAJOR problem with curation.  It can take months to get new uploads curated and their curators are extremely inconsistent from one to the next.  I get stuff that has been curated and sold on VideoBlocks or Adobe Stock that is rejected for having no marketable value. They have thousands upon thousands of unsold footage in common categories so they reject new footage in those categories.  You can’t upload any new Flower related footage because the category is full of SD, 720p and a ton of HD footage that has never sold.  So why allow a newer 4k clip that might actually have a chance at selling? The same goes for numerous other “filled up” categories with mostly old footage that has never sold.

And while most Microstock agencies spend the majority of their budget on finding buyers for their goods, Pond5 is still spending a huge amount of money and effort on recruiting new artists.  Despite the fact that only 1 in 50 new artists ever upload more than 10 items as they give up and get frustrated with little to no sales after only a few months.  And while I love the concept of letting artists price their own work, I think that model hurts Pond5 now more than it helps them.  The vast majority of artists on Pond5 also sell through agencies with fixed pricing. So a $400 clip on Pond can be purchased for $49 on VideoBlocks or a similar price on Shutterstock.  I am literally praying for Pond5 and my friends who work there.  But I’m preparing for them to continue their downward trend in sales and likely eventual sale to another agency.

Shutterstock

It’s also been an interesting year with Shutterstock.  They were my number 1 revenue generator for 2016.  I have approximately 60% of my Pond5 portfolio uploaded to SS and SS offers a much lower revenue share than Pond5, but Shutterstock outsells Pond5 consistently every single month.  While Pond5 is all over the place is trying new things and recruiting new artists to try and fix their woes, Shutterstock just plods along in pushing sales.  And making the sales experience for buyers better and better.  Their communication with artists is still pretty poor (better than Pond5, but still pretty poor) and for some reason stock footage is the “red headed stepchild” of Shutterstock (I’m pretty sure they make more money selling footage than they do stills). The support for footage is extremely poor in their contributor app and they pretty much ignore all requests for feature updates related to footage.

But, again, Shutterstock was built as a SALES company and they do selling better than anyone in the market.  And as a buyer there is NO BETTER AGENCY in helping buyers to find the exact image or clip they need.  My sales growth in 2016 was fairly small, but that has more to do with the very slow growth of my portfolio in 2016.  I’ve been uploading the remainder of my Pond5 portfolio to Shutterstock and I expect to have it submitted by the end of this year.  And because of the “bizarre excuse” from Pond5 that they aren’t good enough to sell some of my clips, Shutterstock will actually have MORE clips from my portfolio online than Pond5 when I’m done because their curators reject clips based on technical details, they don’t pass judgement on what a CURATOR thinks will sell.  That said, they do reject clips from over-saturated categories.  A policy I disagree with (let’s delete old clips that have never sold and replace them with newer clips shot with better camera equipment).  I think VB will overtake SS as my number one revenue generator in 2017, but I still think my SS sales will continue to grow and at a much faster rate next year as I put a lot more effort into expanding my portfolio.

Adobe Stock/Fotolia

I have had a few clips on Fotolia for many years.  At one point they sold HD clips for $1, so I deleted the majority of my portfolio some years back.  But when Adobe bought them to create Adobe Stock, I quickly started uploading my portfolio back.  And as expected, my revenue from them began to rise.  My portfolio on Adobe Stock is pitiful right now, but as with Shutterstock, I’m uploading EVERYTHING right now with the hope of getting it submitted before the end of 2016.  I think that Adobe Stock will overtake Pond5 in 2017 as my number 3 revenue generator.

Uploading and submitting through the Adobe Stock web site is a major pain in the ass.  It’s clunky, buggy and not intuitive in any way.  Plus there is no support for importing a CSV, so you have to cut and paste if you are copying your portfolio from Pond5 or another site.  Their curation is super fast, I’ve not had a single clip take longer than 4 business days to get approved or denied.  But their curation is much like Pond5’s… very inconsistent from one curator to the next and curators are allowed to determine if THEY think a clip will sell.  If you do a lot of Editorial, then Adobe Stock will frustrate you to no end.  They have said they plan to allow Editorial in the future, but they haven’t said when and I’m getting hundreds of dollars in Editorial Sales on other sites that Adobe Stock is missing out in.

Everybody else…

I am no longer on iStock, so all I know is what I read online. They are still a crappy agency to deal with and they keep finding more and more ways to screw artists over.  Dissolve is on a slow death spiral.  The former iStock employees who built it are using the “let’s screw artists over” mantra they learned at iStock and have pretty much the same crappy reputation. Everyone I know who is stuck there because of their multiyear policy before deleting a portfolio has stopped uploading.  So Dissolve is getting very little in the way of new uploads.  I met with them at the 2015 NAB convention and literally every single promise they made at that meeting, they’ve gone back on. And after continued poor sales on ClipCanvas, I finally deleted my portfolio there. The new management there just have no clue about what they are doing and I felt as though leaving my portfolio there was supporting their ineptitude.

My sleeper for 2017 is Motion Elements.  They have made it easier to submit and I’ve seen a much more aggressive sales push from them.  If they keep it up, I think they can make the top tier in revenue.

Another Year and More News

Stolen Equipment

In May someone broke into my car and stole roughly $5,000 of equipment including my Panasonic GH4, several lenses, Sennheiser wireless audio kit, a portable LCD, some LED lightning and misc other accessories.  It was devastating.  And it was not covered by my insurance (loophole).

In a desperate home to recover as much as I could, I created a GoFundMe campaign where I raised just over $1,000. Coupled with another $1,000 in direct donations, I was able to get a new camera within a few weeks.  I am very grateful to all those who contributed or sent me messages of encouragement.  The campaign is still active and I still need to raise a little more to cover my audio needs if you feel like you might have a few dollars to spare.

I am especially grateful to some close friends who donated generously and Pond5 who gave $300.  They were the only agency that donated and I am so blessed by their kindness.

Major Changes in Microstock

Since my last post on Microstock news, there have been a lot of changes…

  • Revostock closed up shop – They were buried under a lot of legal debt from their patent infringement lawsuit (that they won) and couldn’t recover. They shut down owing a LOT of money to a lot of contributors.
  • Dissolve, a partnership from some former iStock employees, started up a new Microstock Footage web site. They talked a lot of people into joining promising a lot of things and then screwed everyone over a few months later. Given they come from iStock, it’s not surprising they would do that.
  • VideoBlocks started allowing contributors to upload footage and after effects projects. So far, they appear friendly and are like Pond5 used to be when they started. Very communicative with the artist community and they are doing very well in sales.
  • The founders of Pond5 are almost all gone and it shows.  They are no longer artist friendly (except for the industry leading 50% revenue share) and of course they stopped communicating with artists a long time ago.  They got a huge influx of cash from investors who want their investment back, so they replaced a lot of people that made things happen. They are still a top seller, but I expect that to change over the rest of the year as they are rejecting over 50% of all new submissions and favoring a few artists over everyone else.

Microstock revenue as a whole is growing as more and more of the world joins digital.  But we’re seeing agencies do more to keep more money and share less.  And we’re seeing a lot of changes at agencies as they try to increase their share of the market.  Most of the changes are NOT good for artists.

A Little Bit of Positivity

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have been really hard on Pond5 over the past year.  And it’s real easy to complain about how things are going there and the poor relations they have with contributors.

So, I while contemplating yet another rant, I decided to think about the positive things at Pond5, because in reality, the positives do outweigh the negatives.

Pond5 is still in the top tier of Microstock agencies in revenue sharing.  From the get-go, they’ve offered a 50/50 split compared to the 30% or less provided by the other big names.  They still allow artists to set their own pricing.  And the process of submitting is still pretty simple, making it easy to grow your online portfolio.

So, despite the many issues on the negative side, I have to say “Thank You” to Pond5 for remaining an “overall” positive marketplace for Microstock contributors.

My Audio Journey

Most of my friends who do stock footage also either work in the entertainment industry, or they do other projects such as short films and weddings.  Typically, we remove the audio from our stock footage clips, but when we need audio, we typically need GOOD audio.

That’s where I’m at.  My current “day job” is shooting television commercials and corporate commercials for the web.  So I am often recording actor dialog and/or voice-overs at a remote location. And since the T2i I used to shoot with recorded audio poorly (even with Magic Lantern, it wasn’t great) and my new T4i isn’t much better, I went the separate audio recording route.

I started with the Zoom H1 Ultra-Portable Digital Audio Recorder that I got for $99 + shipping.  Yes, it’s made with cheap plastic, but it does an excellent job as a voice recorder for dialog and voice-overs.  I also picked up the Audio-Technica ATR3350 Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone for about $30.  The Zoom H1 is so small it fits in a pocket, so it was easy to clip the lav mic onto the talent, turn on the recorder and have them stick it in a pocket.  After learning how to use it for a few days, it ended up working EXTREMELY well.  I got great sound out of it and shot about 20 or so commercials and a half dozen short films.  I even used it with a Rode VideoMic mounted on a boom pole numerous times.  The main problem I had as that most of the time, I couldn’t monitor the sound being recorded because the Zoom H1 tucked away in an actor’s pocket.

So after saving up some money from my new-found career, I upgraded.  Of course, it wouldn’t be worth it to upgrade to a better recorder (I’d have the same problem, plus a new problem that the better recorders won’t fit in a pocket) unless I also moved to a wireless solution for mic’ing up actors.  So, I sold the Zoom H1 and bought a Tascam DR-40 Recorder and an Audio-Technica Pro 88W Camera Mountable VHF Lavalier System.

I did a ton of research and all the “pros” kept telling me to spend $600 on a Sennheiser G3 system, but they weren’t willing to give me the money to spend. I read enough reviews that I felt taking a chance on the Pro88W wireless system was worth it.  And I can tell you, 5 short films and 60+ commercials later, I was right.  It’s a great system as long as you understand its limitations and work within them. First, it eats batteries, so ALWAYS keep fresh new 9-volt batteries in your audio kit.  I generally find that I’m using a new set of batteries for each shoot.  It comes with an omni-directional mic, so take a few minutes to have the talent be silent so that you can listen any other noises being picked up.  It’s also an advantage in that, if two people are standing next to each other, you can record both of them (great for weddings with the lav on the groom).  On a fresh set of alkaline batteries, I’ve successfully used it with the transmitter/receiver 100-feet apart in a large room or outdoor without any noise, but after about 20 to 30 minutes the batteries are used enough that 40-feet is your max range for noiseless audio.  After another hour of continuous use, that drops to 20-feet. Quite honestly, 90% of the time, I never have them more than 15-feet apart, so I rarely have an issue.  And at 15-feet you get a STRONG noiseless signal for about 2-hours of continuous use.

I could have used the new wireless mic with my Zoom H1, but I wanted a recorder with XLR connections and the ability to record multiple tracks.  On a few occasions where I shot interviews, I’d put the wireless mic on the talent who was on camera and I’d use the wired ATR-3350 lav mic on me.  Or, I’d use the wireless mic and shotgun mic simultaneously.  With the ability to record 4 separate tracks at once, it was very versatile.  The only issue I ran into with the DR-40 was that it was susceptible to electronic interference.  If I put the wireless mic receiver too close to the recorder, I’d get electronic interference recorded as noise.  Also, while Tascam released a new firmware that give you independent control over the line-levels for all 4 recorded tracks (previously, they shared the same levels), it was difficult to set them and monitor each one.

So, this last week I sold the Tascam DR-40 and bough a Zoom H4n Handy Mobile 4-Track Recorder. It’s not as easy to use as the DR-40, but I don’t get ANY electronic interference with it and so far it seems to be working just as smooth as the DR-40 did.

Oh, I bought a “boom pole adapter”off eBay to convert a cheap painter’s pole into a boom pole.  The problem is that it came with a 3/8th screw that wasn’t compatible with my Rode VideoMic. Plus the Rode Mic worked well mounted on my camera for general sound, but as a “shotgun mic” for dialog mounted on a pole, it just didn’t seem to work well.  I sold it and bought an Audio-Technica AT8015 – Shotgun Microphone. It’s really great at picking up sound that you point it at and rejecting sound from the sides, but it’s a bit too long and I can’t mount it on my camera without it showing up in the frame because it sticks out so far. It works great on a boom pole, though.

Right now I’m saving up for my next two upgrades.  a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic and a Sennheiser G3 wireless lav kit.

Some new charts

If you’ve visited in the past week, you probably noticed that I added some new charts to the right sidebar where I have tracking data.  The first chart labled “Agency Sales 2012” represents the number of footage files sold for the agencies listed.  One thing you’ll notice is that Pond5 is trending down, while Shutterstock is trending up.  At the present rate, those should meet early next year.

The second chart is revenue by year, although not in dollars.  I don’t want to give out how much I actually make. I mostly want to show the trends.

I’ll add ClipCanvas into the charts soon since they have become a major player for me in the past couple of years.

One thing that is extremely important to understand, especially for anyone just starting out.  The stock photography market is over-saturated and it’s EXTREMELY difficult to make much money without a massive portfolio. The stock footage market is starting to move in that direction.  Without a massive portfolio of unique and high quality items, don’t expect to make enough money to live off of.  Look at it more as a little extra money each month to pay for some gas in your car and a few nights out with your significant other.

Artists who are making a significant amount of money have been in the game for some time, have large portfolios and spend a LOT of hours adding new content on a weekly basis.  it’s actually a big job to be successful in the industry now.  That’s not to say that if you put in the effort and have the quality, you won’t also be successful.  But you can’t upload 100 clips and expect to make much of anything these days.  There are too many people in the game now.