Busy, busy, busy…

It’s been a very busy month for me.  I lost my primary income, so my sole source of income (for the moment) is now MicroStock and I’m not making nearly enough to cover all my bills.  I am managing to pick up a contract job now and again, but not enough.  So it’s a mad frantic dash to start producing and getting as much as possible online.

Sadly, I am not anywhere near my goals for uploading this month.  I had to make a trip to Tennessee for a few days and unfortunately the situation conspired against me for getting much footage from the trip.  I did get some nice stuff in St Louis, MO, but not as much as I would have liked.  I managed to spend a day at a local park for a Tulip festival and get some very nice footage which I’ve uploaded everywhere.  The great news is that it’s already selling on a couple of sites.

I must say that I am almost exclusively using my Canon T2i for capturing footage.  I haven’t run into a situation where I’ve needed to use the Canon HF11 and, quite honestly, the T2i footage is so much better.  I let my step-daughter use the HF11 at the Tulip festival and she got a few usable clips for me.  I’m going to spend time this summer teaching her more about video and photography, that should be fun.

I ordered a number of items before my income situation changed, so  I have a “Slider Dolly”, a DIY portable green screen (I made the frame using PVC pipe), a new camera bag and a “variable ND filter” which is one of the best investments I’ve made so far.  The ability to “dial” the needed filter setting instead of messing with a bunch of different filters is fantastic.  I also got some new lighting stuff from Home Depot to upgrade my DIY home studio lighting kit.

I’ve been planning to do some reviews of a couple iPhone apps for MicroStock, but I’ve been  having issues with an iPhone video cable that would allow me to record video from my iPhone.  The first one I ordered got lost in the mail and the replacement isn’t working. Although, the Chinese company that I bought it from says it’s my iPhone and not their cable… So, I’m going to do the reviews the old fashioned way with screen shots taken with my camera instead of video.  I’ll post them on the iSyndica blog starting next week some time.

My good friend Bryan (aka EternalSpline) joined a new up and coming MicroStock site called MediaStock.  He’s been bugging me and a few other friends to check it out and join, which I finally got around to doing in mid April.  They sell stock footage, photos, music, after effects projects and 3D models.  An interesting “all-in-one” approach.  So far, I’m very impressed with them.  I have only managed to get 72 files online, but within a week I had my first sale and so far I’ve had 4 total sales in April.  They’re kicking ClipCanvas and iStock’s asses.  Like my other favorite sites, Pond5 and RevoStock, they are very artist friendly.  They’ve made a number of changes to the site based on artist suggestions and they’re very eager, so changes come quickly (I remember those days at Pond5….sigh).  With stock footage you get to set your own prices, but they set the prices on photos and music.  Not sure about AE projects and 3D models, I haven’t submitted any yet.

I mentioned in a previous blog that iSyndica added the ability to edit meta-data in video files.  At that time only PixelFlow supported importing meta-data, but I’m happy to announce that Pond5 also imports embedded meta-data.  MediaStock is adding support and should have it working very shortly, and rumor has it that RevoStock will also support it.  Just like with photos, that means you can embed the Title, Description, and Keywords right into your video file which is imported to supported sites automatically.  A HUGE step in speeding up the submission process.

I’ll have more details about how the sites are doing in a few days when I post my April sales report.

March 2010 Sales Stats and News

March was another busy month.  I spent 10 days in Michigan visiting the “in-laws” and managed to get some pretty good footage from a huge grass fire and a nuclear power plant, as well as some misc other vistas.  I didn’t get near the uploading done that I wanted to, so I’m playing catch up this April.

March 2010
Agency Clips Sold Portfolio Size
Pond5 80 (+19) 906 (+19)
RevoStock 6 (+2) 222 (+11)
ShutterStock 3 (-1) 112 (+9)
Can Stock 2 (+1) 30 (+9)
iStock 1 (+1) 11 (+4)
ClipCanvas 1 (+1) 86 (+20)
Fotolia 0 4 (+2)

Once again, Pond5 led the pack and for the third month in a row my sales increased.  I got my first sales on both iStock and Clip Canvas.  And RevoStock was a little bit of a shocker with small sales growth, I was starting to write them off.  I managed to get 900 clips on Pond5, not the 1000 I was shooting for, but I should definitely hit 1000 by the end of April… I got a lot of good stuff in Michigan and I’ve got a short 3 day trip to Nashville later this month with a half day stop in St Louis.

My sales on Pond5 in March were my BME (Best Month Ever) in both number of clips sold and dollars.  And they don’t show any signs of slowing down so far this April.  Especially with Pond5 giving away $500 a day in clips  (plus another $2500 a day during the NAB show in Vegas).  That should spur a ton of sales this month.  I am also extremely happy to see them tweeting more or less on a daily basis now.  There have been a few minor updates to the site in March, but none of the promised big changes yet.  They seem a bit slow on “visible” development, but they did a major overhaul of site code to streamline things… so that may be the catalyst for their planned “big changes” they’ve discussed with artists.  I really hope so.  A number of artist friends still have iStock as their number 1 seller (in dollars), but iStock has a MUCH MUCH MUCH larger customer base than Pond5, yet Pond5 is still close for those artists.  Which means they sell more footage for a smaller number of buyers.  That can only mean REALLY GOOD things if this give-away of theirs brings in a lot more buyers this April.  They already have the largest collection of independent stock footage on the Internet, so they could easily be number 1 in sales this year.  They just need to keep bringing in more buyers and start rolling out some of those features they’ve been promising us.

First let me state up front that “I LOVE REVOSTOCK”.  I know I’ve been ragging on them a lot lately in my tweets, but it’s only because I love them and they frustrate the hell out of me. Like Pond5, Revo is extremely supportive of artists.  They treat us like partners for the most part.  So I very much want them to succeed.  They made a number of improvements to their web site this March, including a MUCH needed speed up at the end of March/beginning of April.  Most pages load almost instantaneously now.  I still think their site has too many graphics and is too cluttered, but it’s an actual pleasure to visit now.  However, during their upgrades they created other issues.  The site no longer automatically generates thumbnails for uploaded clips (a bug they are working on) and their forums stopped working.  Besides the MUCH FASTER site upgrade, most of the upgrades they did were pretty superficial.  Their reporting still sucks and they still don’t auto-resize clips.  The reporting thing to me is the big one.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I can’t do any real research on their site to figure out why the top 200 selling clips from Pond5 don’t sell on Revo.  I’m starting to think that Revo has a very small “footage” customer base or most of their footage buyers have moved to Pond5.  From what I can tell, they sell After Effects projects like gang busters (and they recently added support for Apple Motion projects).  They just don’t seem to be doing well with Footage.  I am also a little miffed that they rejected a clip that has sold on 2 other sites.  I’m wondering if their reviewers just don’t understand the footage market and are rejecting a lot of stuff that it selling on other sites… perhaps that’s why their sales are so low.

I sold my first clip on ClipCanvas, so that was a little exciting.  My goal is to more than double my clips on the site by the end of April.  There’s nothing really new on the site.  Still no stats for artists… I did email that request to them directly, but I got no response.  They also scaled back on their tweets in the latter half of March.  Don’t know if they’re just busy or what.

I also sold my first clip on iStock.  I didn’t upload much to iStock in March because I was so busy, but had planned to do a ton of uploading in April… that has changed, however.  They completely changed their FTP upload procedure and made it 5 times harder.  You have to create a unique folder name for each clip, upload the clip with a special name into the folder and rename the folder after your finished uploading.  A major PITA.  I did manage to finally figure out the correct procedure and uploaded a couple of clips to test it, but I am NOT going to waste my time doing that for hundreds of clips…  Most artists I know feel the same way and plan to seriously scale back their iStock uploading as well.  It’s funny because “exclusive” iStock contributors are defending the new requirements like rabid dogs on the IS forums…  My friend Mark (IronStriker) coined the term “iStockholm Syndrome” to describe them which is perfect.  iStock also had their 10 year Anniversary last month.  That’s a major accomplishment, but it is somewhat diminished by the fact that iStock was originally started to HELP artists distribute online and now iStock has the lowest commissions in the industry. They were purchased by Getty a few years ago, who has done more to destroy the industry than any other agency.

I finally got accepted by ShutterStock for images and as a “new artist” I had a huge burst of sales for the first 3 weeks after my initial batch was approved.  What’s great about that is when I don’t have enough footage sales to reach payout for the month, hopefully I’ll get enough image sales to “bump” me over the threshold.  I had one less sale in March, but I didn’t do much there in the way of uploading… I am trying to upload a lot more now, but their FTP process is severely broken and their support has been less than stellar in getting the issue resolved.  But I’m still hoping to get a LOT of clips uploaded there in April.

I totally misunderstood the new subscription pricing for iSyndica and thought that you got 5000 credits per month, but in fact you only get 5000 credits per year.  Which at 10 credits per video clip is only 500 uploads per year.  Not much…  and it means you’ll be spending a lot on buying extra credits.  Still, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a great deal and at just a penny a credit (10 cents per video clip) it’s more than worth it if you’re distributing to a lot of agencies like I am.  They also added a couple new features in March.  Embedding of meta-data in Quicktime .MOV files (which will soon be supported by several agencies), and release form management so that you can more easily distribute your releases with your photos and videos.  Very cool.

Spreading the love…

Most people are aware of the saying “Don’t keep your eggs in one basket”… which was probably coined the first time a farmer dropped his basket of eggs.  But the same thing can be said for MicroStock… Don’t just sell your assets through a single agency.

There are artists who are exclusive at one agency or another who would argue with me, but I believe those who are truly doing well as an exclusive are the exception, not the rule.  Not all buyers buy from just the top agency.  In fact, many buyers will buy from multiple agencies.

My first year of selling stock footage I was exclusive at Pond5.  Not because of any agreement (they don’t offer exclusivity), but simply because I found it to be a major hassle to upload at other agencies.  I figured if buyers didn’t find what they were looking for at other sites, they’d find my stuff on Pond5.  Boy was I wrong…  Some buyers only buy from a single agency.  Especially buyers who purchase subscriptions or those who use multiple types of assets (stock images as well as stock footage).  So even if I had a better clip that fit their needs, they’d never see it because they never left whichever site they were subscribed to.  Encouraged by other artists, I soon joined other agencies and started uploading my portfolio there. But I ran into a number of problems.

First, unlike stills, video clips are HUGE.  Some of my clips are nearly 500 megabytes in size and those can take as much as a half hour to upload to just one site.  So uploading just that one clip to 7 or 8 sites took 3 to 5 hours.  Multiply that times nearly 1000 clips and it could take a lifetime to spread my clips around.  Thankfully iSyndica solves that problem.  I can upload the clip just once to iSyndica and then “syndicate” it to all of the other sites I distribute to.

Second, the description and keywording process is different at every site.  And unlike JPEG stills, there is no embedded description/keyword functionality in .MOV files (the standard used by all of the video sites).  So you have to manually add descriptions and keywords to every clip uploaded to every site.  Initially I would upload my clips to Pond5, describe and keyword them there, then open up a second browser window and copy/paste the data to other sites.  However, I found it to be just as easy to fill in the title, description, and keyword info on the iSyndica catalog page and copy/paste from there.  The quicktime .MOV file format actually does support embedded meta-data, but nobody has bothered to come up with a standard or tool for embedding. Since they are the most artist friendly sites, I’m hoping Pond5 or RevoStock will create such a standard that artists can then use to force other sites to support.

And Third, every site has different “standards” which means that some sites reject what other sites accept.  Photographers who support multiple agencies have been dealing with this for years and there are tools available that will track which images have been uploaded to which sites.  No such tool yet exists in the footage world, but I’m hopeful.

Once I started uploading clips to other sites, my revenues increased.  Sure, because my portfolio on other sites is smaller than on Pond5 I make less on those sites, but as I continue to migrate more and more of my portfolio to those sites I expect my revenue to keep increasing.  Indeed, my revenue has already more than doubled from “spreading the love” around different agencies.

More importantly, most agencies appear to cater to different types of buyers.  So clips that don’t sell particularly well at one agency may find life on another.  And when sales are down at one agency, they could pick up at another which helps keep your revenue stream more stable.  My sales at the end of the summer on Pond5 were way down, but sales on RevoStock were up and made up the difference.  Similarly when sales started to tank during the holiday season on RevoStock, Pond5 picked up.

So, my advice is to spread your portfolio around.  Particularly if you have a group of clips which aren’t selling on your current favorite agency, try uploading them to another agency and see if they get better results there.

February 2010 Sales Stats and News

February was a busy month for me on the home front and I missed a couple of goals, but overall I think things were better.  I increased my portfolio on all sites and my sales were a little up.  MotionDrops put itself up for sale, so I’m dropping them until that plays out.  And I finally decided to start uploading to Fotolia again, although I’m downsizing my clips because of their low subscription prices.

February 2010
Agency Clips Sold Portfolio Size
Pond5 61 (+19) 887 (+34)
ShutterStock 4 (+2) 103 (+19)
RevoStock 3 (+1) 211 (+21)
Can Stock 1 21  (+9)
ClipCanvas 0 66 (+28)
iStock 0 7 (+7)
Fotolia 0 2 (+2)

I managed to sell at least 1 clip each day that Pond5 reported sales… that’s a first.  And over all, it’s the second highest number of clips I’ve ever sold there in one month.  I missed my goal of 900 clips online by the end of February.  I’m going to try very hard to reach 1000 clips by the end of March, but a trip to Michigan for 10 days might get in the way. ShutterStock sales are also on the rise… I’m not sure if it’s because I uploaded more there in February than the previous 6 months combined.  I passed my goal of 100 clips online at ShutterStock and next I’m shooting for 150 clips by the end of March.  RevoStock still puzzles me.. I did manage to sell 1 more clip than January, but every single one of my best selling clips on Pond5 have been uploaded to RevoStock and still my sales there are poor.  It’s very disheartening.  I don’t have a goal for Revo in March, it depresses me to even log into the site at the moment.  I’m really working hard to get a decent size portfolio on ClipCanvas, I hope to crack 100 clips by the end of the month.  No sales yet, but I’m hopeful.  I just wish there was some way to see some stats on the site.  And iStock finally started approving clips I uploaded.  It takes about 3 to 5 weeks for them to approve clips since I’m non-exclusive.

I pitched a major fit on Pond5 about their disappearance from the forums again.  I go through this with them all of the time.  As usual, someone shows up, apologizes, gets involved in a few threads and then ultimately disappears again.  Although, Marcus has been adding a number of new features to the site lately.  At my request, you can not get an affiliate link on each of your clip pages if you want to link directly to a clip in Twitter or a blog.  They also added the ability for you to add a search engine for your clips on your own web site.  It requires some PhP programming knowledge on your part (or whomever manages your site).  One artist has done a pretty impressive job of integrating it with his site.  Marcus is also working on getting oEmbed to work for WordPress blogs.  As much as I whine in their forums about stuff, one this is for certain… They SELL FOOTAGE.  Most artists I know did very well in February with several up over 50% from their January sales.  From what I can tell, only iStock has sold more footage than Pond5 and that’s only because iStock automatically downsizes your footage.  Most artists I know who got tons of sales on iStock reported it was downsized SD or 720p footage and not the 1080p originals.  If Pond5 would just hurry up and implement automatic re-sizing, I think they could beat iStock in sales.

RevoStock has been working hard behind the scenes to improve the site.  But so far I  haven’t seen any improvement in sales.  In a moment of ultimate analism I tracked every footage sale for a week and found they averaged 20 clips a day in sales for that week.  That is unbelievably low compared to other sites.  A couple of friends of mine had banner months in February selling close to 100 clips each, so it’s not all bad news for everyone.  But most artists I know share my grief.  I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but sales seem to fall off when RevoStock stopped being super active on Twitter…  During the few months where I was selling well there, they were tweeting almost daily.  In other news, there are several discussions in the Revo forums concerning requested changes.  I highly recommend you check them out.  Revo’s been great at communicating with artists on the topics (hello, Pond5 are you hearing this?).  We’ll have to see how it goes.  You can read my previous blog from a couple weeks ago about my experience with having the free file of the week.

ClipCanvas has made a few visible site changes.  They got rid of the login from the top of the home page (I wish they’d bring it back) and changed a few  graphics.  No new features for artists yet.  They are nice people, but they lack of a lot of features from the bigger sites.  Especially missing are stats.  I have no idea if any of my clips have ever been viewed and a few friends have sold clips there, but there’s no way to see what has sold.  While I still haven’t sold anything, I am still enthusiastic for the site (for now) and I’m planning on some major uploading there in March.  Just like January, ClipCanvas was pretty dominate in the Twitterverse, tweeting almost daily.

ShutterStock was a bit of a shocker for me… I really wanted to get 100 clips online there, so I started uploading a lot of newer stuff there.  And surprise, I started getting sales again.  I had heard that their search engine favors newer items and a couple of my sales were new clips I’d uploaded in February… so maybe there is something to that rumor.  Since I’ve lost a lot of enthusiasm for Revo, I’m going to spend a little more time this month uploading to ShutterStock.  As always, ShutterStock was number 1 in the Twitterverse with thousands of automatic tweets a day and their multiple daily tweets highlighting various submitters or blogs related to MicroStock.  I am still very unhappy with their low commissions, but my cold heart is starting to melt a little towards them.

And I started uploading to Fotolia again, although since they allow subscribers to download HD clips for a few bucks, I took some advice and I’m downsizing my uploads to either SD for valuable stuff and 720p for stuff that’s less valuable.  I’m holding off for a little while on uploads though… I’m reading a lot of reports from artists who haven’t been paid in months, and hundreds of  artists who have left (or are leaving) Fotolia because they’re using currency exchange rates to rip artists off.  It’ll be interesting to see how that drags out.

And iSyndica significantly lowered their prices.  On the lower end it used to cost roughly 25 cents per footage upload which was quite expensive.  That’s down to 10 cents per upload now.  So for a dollar you can upload 10 clips to 1 site or 1 clip to 10 sites.  Quite a deal.  They’ve also significantly improved their analytics, which were already great.  But I really don’t like the new “batches” feature.  Sadly there’s no way to turn it off.  But there is a way around it, so it’s not all bad.  I didn’t do as much uploading in February as I did in January, but I still got a lot done thanks to iSyndica.

I finally got a vDSLR that I could afford…  I bought the new Canon EOS Rebel T2i earlier in the week and I’m having a ball learning its features.  I’m headed to Detroit in a little over a week to visit the in-laws and I’m taking both my cameras with me.  The wife has graciously agreed to allow me too spend 90% of my time there shooting footage.  So I expect a huge burst of uploads at the end of March into April.  I’ll also have a review of the T2i up within a few days, probably on the iSyndica site to start with.

My Stock Footage Tool Chest

I am often asked about the tools I use in my Stock Footage business, so rather than answer you all separately, here it is…

Video Editing

I am currently using Adobe After Effects CS4 to do my video editing.  Expensive, but it really is the best for the job in my opinion.  Especially with all of the free video tutorials you can find all over the Internet.  Many of the animations in my collection were created in After Effects.  And I use it to remove noise and color grade my camera footage.  If you are moving into footage from stills, you may already be familiar with PhotoShop so you should be comfortable with After Effects fairly quickly.

I only have AE because I happened to win the complete Adobe CS4 Production Bundle at a user’s group meeting.  Had I not won it, I never could have afforded it and I’d still be using Corel Video Studio.  Which I highly recommend if you can’t afford After Effects.  Video Studio has a ton of great features, allows you to do a lot of effects and can fix a lot of footage problems.  It even supports AVCHD which is important since I have a Canon Vixia HF11 which records to memory and not tape.

I also bought QuickTime Pro because you can quickly and easily re-encode your clips in it without having to open up AE (which takes forver to launch) or another program.  However, you can do the same thing with the free MPEG Streamclip (which works on the PC and the Mac), although I prefer the interface in QT Pro more.

File Transfer

I’m on a PC, so I use FileZilla to upload my clips to iSyndica via FTP.  It’s free and has a very nice configurable interface.  Now… I am an old fart and I still do a LOT of stuff using a command line interface (previously known as DOS).  So I also use a program called NcFTPD which allows me to upload files from a batch file.

Animation

Most of the animation work I do is in Maxon’s Cinema 4D.  It’s very expensive, but it’s very powerful.  I was fortunate that I needed it for a project at an old job and the company bought me a personal copy to use at home.  When I left the company, they let me keep it.   I also use Daz3D, a free animation program that does character type animations.  And I have an older copy of Vue for doing beautiful landscapes.

So… what tools do you use?  If you have something cool you’d like to share, post a comment. I’m always looking for new stuff.