What is the future of MicroStock Footage?

Who knows what the future will be… might as well ask what tomorrow’s lottery numbers will be.  I guess the better question is “What SHOULD the future of Stock Footage be?”

Most stock footage sites are all about making it easier on them to distribute your footage.  Which means they impose a lot of restrictions and rules in order to get footage accepted.  In some cases, they even make “judgements” on what footage may or may not sell which results in rejections based solely on the reviewers opinion.  In the end it hurts the buyer who not only has less to choose from, but is also limited by the need for sites catering to the ‘average’ consumer.

Let me give you an example…  Most sites require sellers to encode video in MotionJPEG, PhotoJPEG, Animation or PNG quicktime codecs.  That’s because “some” buyers won’t be able to handle your HDV, AVCHD, DVCPRO or H.264 encoded footage.  The end result is that you could shoot an absolutely beautiful and colorful sunset with your 5D Mark II (or Red) but you lose most of that color data and vibrance when you re-encode it to PhotoJPEG.  PhotoJPEG simply does not support that big of a color palette.

My Canon Canon VIXIA HF11 records HD video at the max 24 mbit data rate.  Which means when I view my AVCHD files on my computer or on my TV through my PlayStation 3, I see wonderfully rich video.  But the moment I re-encode it to PhotoJPEG at the required 75% to 90% quality as required by most stock footage sites, that richness is dulled down.  Sure, I can minimize that to an extent through color correction, noise reduction, etc… but you can only do so much to make a flower look pretty when you’ve trimmed off many of its petals.

What the industry needs is for one or more of the major stock footage players to step up to the plate and let sellers submit footage in either the native camera format, or re-encode to H.264 at the full 24 mbit data rate to preserve as much color information as possible.  Of course, the problem us that some buyers won’t be able to handle many native camera formats or H.264 at the full data rate.  Their computers either don’t have the proper codecs installed, or they aren’t powerful enough to decode in real-time.   For many sites, this means dealing with buyer complaints when they don’t pay attention to what they are downloading and have issues trying to use the footage.   The solution is a fairly simple one…  Re-encode the video on the server to match what the buyer needs.

Can you imagine it?!?  Uploading your footage in its native camera format (for many of us, a 10 second clip encoded in our native camera format is 50% smaller than the same 10 seconds encoded in PhotoJPEG and it still has more data per pixel in it) and the buyer simply selecting PhotoJPEG, H.264, MP4, AVI, WMV, and even FLV as the target format and dowloading the clip ready to go.  Maybe you have a 30 second clip and the buyer only needs 5 seconds of it…  Why download the whole 30 seconds when you can just download what you need (some countries still charge for bandwidth, remember)?

For artists it also opens up a new world of possibility…  High Dynamic Range (HDR) footage.  As I mentioned previously, PhotoJPEG does not have a huge color palette.  Which means that you can’t reliably encode video captured in HDR and keep the color data without the color blowing out or getting washed out.  But AVCHD and high-bitrate H.264 were designed to support HDR video.  So those of you with a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 7D or a Red can capture video in HDR and retain that data for your buyers.  A whole new untapped market.

Both AVCHD and H.264 support “stereo footage” which is the format used for 3D Televisions.  The market for 3D footage is small right now, but expect it to grow as the first 3D TV’s hit the market later this year and the plethora of new 3D movies hit the theaters as the year progresses.  I’ve already seen chatter in some advertising forums inquiring about acquiring 3D footage for those commercials you see before a movie starts.  But none of the current MicroStock sites will accept 3D stereo footage.

Right now I know of two sites which are working on the ability to re-encode footage to whatever the buyer requires.  When one or both of these sites finally roll this feature out, I think it’s going to be a big deal for both buyers and sellers. For buyers it’s the freedom to get what they want in the format they need.  And for sellers its the opportunity to provide even richer footage or animations that have enough color data to be used in 2k films or HDR footage that is good enough to be shown on an IMAX screen.  And, in my opinion, which ever site rolls it out first is going to set the standard for the rest of the MicroStock Footage industry.

Free File of the …

The first week of February I was fortunate to have a clip selected as the Free File of the Week on RevoStock… or so I thought.

[vimeo]http://www.vimeo.com/8451486[/vimeo]

They selected one of my more recent clips and an animation which took me a lot time to set up and render as I was just learning to use Cinema 4D dynamics at the time.  But, I figured that it was a worthwhile sacrifice if it brought more exposure to my portfolio.  While the clip was fairly popular and received nearly 200 downloads during the week, the views on the rest of my portfolio barely moved.  Vultures swarmed in to download the clip, but ignored the rest of my portfolio.

So for me, on a personal level, having my clip selected as the free file on RevoStock did nothing.  Even though I promoted the heck out of it on Twitter and various mailing lists (I even got several people to sign up on RevoStock just to download it).  In the end, what counts is sales, and I got no sales that week.

RevoStock and other sites that offer free files will argue that it brings more buyers to their site, but none of them have yet to produce any hard facts which support that claim.  After discussing it with numerous other artists, I concluded that offering free files may sign up a lot of new people to a site, but most of them are after the free file and don’t actually ever buy anything.  One thing I know for sure… It’s highly unlikely that my clip that was offered as the free file will ever actually sell on Revo now that everyone who wanted it got it for free.

Still, I don’t regret it.  It was a lesson I needed to learn.  No more offering free files for me.  Unless, of course, RevoStock or other agencies want to compensate me for offering up a file for free.  After all, if they are truly generating new sales as a result of giving my file away then they shouldn’t have a problem compensating me in some fashion… right?  Perhaps paying me for 1 download or even paying me 1% for each download (so I’d get a full share at 100 downloads, etc..).  Is that too much to ask?

Another issue is file selection…  During the Christmas holiday buying season Pond5 gave away a generic looping snow background…  My own generic snow loops have traditionally been my best sellers during the Christmas buying season and it killed those sales…  While I still sold some of them, even during the freebie period, my sales didn’t match last year or the year before.  RevoStock made the same mistake the week after they used my clip… They gave away a Valentine background animation, and a couple of artists told me it killed their regular sales of valentine animations that week.  Stock agencies need to think about what they are giving away.  If you want to give away a Christmas clip, do it in March or the middle of summer.  Never give away a clip that pertains to any kind of current buyer trend.

January 2010 Sales Stats and News

January was kind of a mixed bag for me…  Most of the sites were way down in sales, while Pond5 was just a little above my 2009 average.  The biggest thing for me is that I doubled my clips on RevoStock and nearly doubled my clips on ShutterStock.  I also added ClipCanvas and iStock into my regular rotation, however iStock takes anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks to approve clips, so I don’t expect anything from them until March.

Agency Clips Sold Portfolio Size
Pond5 42 853
RevoStock 2 190
ShutterStock 2 84
Can Stock 1 12
ClipCanvas 0 38
MotionDrops 0 2

RevoStock was the real puzzler… After 3 months of decent sales, they completely dropped off in November, December and the first 3/4ths of January.  I managed to get 2 sales in January, but I went 88 days without a sale.  Yet, during that time Pond5 continued to sell very well.  I’m guessing that Pond5 and Revo just have different customers… I notice in the “Recent Downloads” section on the RevoStock home page that the majority of clips sold are footage and not animation.

Stock Footage DataUnlike Pond5, RevoStock doesn’t do much to help contributors with sales data.  So it’s hard to gage what types of clips sell well and therefore what I should concentrate on producing for RevoStock.  Their search terms data is mostly useless and you only get to see 10 clips in the “Latest Downloads” with no details on what search terms were used to find the clip or what size sold.  So the best I can do is keep using the Pond5 data to produce new clips and hope when I  upload them to Revo that something catches on.

Most of the reviewers on sites take the holidays off, so all of the sites fall pretty far behind on reviews.  By mid month Pond5 was down to 2 days, RevoStock was down to 3 days, and ShutterStock was down to 3 days.  However, I imagine there was a major surge in uploads the first few weeks of January because they’re all back to being a week behind in reviews.

RevoStock is in the middle of a major overhaul of the site.  They have updated the submission process for footage clips with some great new features.  They also posted some information to help artists get their assets into the weekly Fresh Cuts email newsletter.  Unfortunately, it seems they forgot about Twitter as the number of tweets from them has dropped off.  Pond5 had a minor surge of tweeting the first half of Januay, but they too have gone silent.  ShutterStock and, surprisingly, ClipCanvas are dominating the twitterverse right now with their daily tweets.

I am expecting to see more new features from RevoStock in February… hopefully including a new revenue sharing feature that allows artists to work on projects together and then share the revenue from sales.  Several artists and I pitched the idea originally to Pond5, but they turned us down thinking it would be too much work for them.  I decided to pitch the idea to RevoStock since they’ve been interacting with artists a lot more lately and they loved the idea.  Initially I think it will allow an artist to upload an asset then assign other artists as contributors.  So if you assign 1 contributor you each get a 50% split of each sale.  Eventually, I’d like to see them add the ability to add models as contributors.  This would allow me to shoot a model and instead of paying them up front, I could give them a percentage of anything that sells.

I also expect we’ll see one or two new features from Pond5 in February.  I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag, but if one of the features is what I believe it is, I can tell you that it’s going to be a game changer in the industry.  I’m personally really excited about it.

I spent most of January producing new animations as it was mostly too cold to go outside and shoot video.  It also gave me a chance to spend a lot more time uploading clips to balance out my portfolios across the sites I support.  Overall I uploaded close to 400 clips in January and I can tell you that I would not have been able to do it if it weren’t for iSyndica.

I have a fast Internet connection and I can upload a 100mb clip to one site in about 5 minutes as long as the rest of the family is asleep and not sharing my Internet connection.  You can imagine how long it would take to upload 400 clips manually.  Instead, I uploaded 88 clips to iSyndica and “syndicated” them to all of the other sites.  It made my life so much easier.  In fact, I recorded one of my upload sessions on iSyndica and as soon as I get it edited I’ll be posting a video review.

I hope everyone did well and I hope we all do better in February!

What should every Stock Footage site have?

I’ve been getting asked this a lot lately, so I thought I’d post a new blog with my opinion on what every Stock Footage site should have from a seller’s point of view:

  • Clearly defined payment structure and schedule.  I’m tired of having to dig through several pages of “FAQs” to figure out how much I need to earn to get paid and when I’ll get paid.
  • FTP upload.  I use iSyndica for all of my asset distribution.  If your site is not supported directly by iSyndica (if not, it should be) then you need to support FTP uploads.
  • iSyndica integration.  Your site needs some kind of API that iSyndica can use to download my sales data.  If you haven’t tried iSyndica, create a free trial account and take a look at their “Analytics” page.  It is outstanding for tracking my sales.  You also need the ability to import clip data from iSyndica.  I want to type in the title, description and keywords once on iSyndica and have them auto-fill when I visit your site.
  • Stats!  I need stats!  I want to know how many views each clip gets, how many times it’s added to a cart,  (obviously) how many times it has sold, and what clip bins (lightbox, favorites or whatever you call it) it’s in.
  • I want to know what the popular search terms are, preferably daily, but weekly will do.  Knowing that information helps me to spot trends so that I can produce more content that will sell.  Better for me, better for you.
  • Likewise, I want to know what the top selling clips are for the day, week and month.  Again, it will help me to spot trends.
  • If you reject one of my assets, please tell me why.  Not with a canned response, but specifics.  Give your reviewers the ability to type in a small note giving details on why they rejected my submission.
  • I want the ability to create submission templates so that when  I submit multiple assets from a similar collection, it’s quick and easy to copy the same relevant data from one file to the next.  Optionally, I’d like the ability to just copy data directly from another clip.  As an example, Pond5 has an excellent template system and RevoStock has a great way to copy data from another uploaded clip.  Combine those two features and you have the ultimate in quick and easy submission.
  • I want support for mass import.  Once I’ve uploaded a bunch of clips, let me import a CSV file with all of the clip data.  This is especially important if you’re a new site and you’d like to build your site’s portfolio very quickly.
  • I want to upload my footage in my camera’s native format (in my case, AVCHD).  If your site does not allow buyers to re-encode their purchases to their desired format, you are behind the curve.  By letting me upload my footage in AVCHD format you’ll be getting a much better looking clip which has more color data in it and AVCHD files are actually smaller than PhotoJPEG even though they contain more data.  So it saves on your storage costs as well.
  • I want to set my own prices.  I know the value of my footage, it’s my business to know.  So let me set my own prices.
  • I want to create “collections”.  Anywhere from 2 to 10 clips which sell as a bundle for one price.  A sports collection, a time-lapse collection, etc… just let me create my own collections and set a price for them.
  • I want to create coupons.  Let’s say that you and I split each sale 50/50.  So on a $10 clip, you get $5 and I get $5.  I want to create a coupon good for 3 days (or 5 days, or a week, etc..) that gives a discount as a dollar amount or percentage.  And that discount comes from “my end” since I created the coupon.  So if I create a $2.00 off coupon and sell a $10 clip, you still get your $5.00 but I only get $3.00 because the $2.00 discount came from my end.  And obviously, the coupon would only be valid for my clips.
  • I want to create a VIDEO BLOG for my portfolio.  Essentially I want to create tutorials which show buyers how to use my clips in their projects.  My tutorials will attract buyers to your site and hopefully my portfolio.
  • I want a higher percentage, but we can argue about that later… 🙂

And you can be sure I will add to this list when other things I know I’m missing pop into my head when I re-read this for the next 30 or 40 times.

Time to start submitting your Stock Footage

Okay, you’ve been shooting video for some time and you’ve picked your best shots to submit.  What do you do next?

If you are submitting to more than one site, you want to create a single clip that meets the needs of all sites.  So, keep your clip length to a maximum of 20 seconds.  If your clip was shot on a tripod, make sure that you don’t have any shudder due to wind or bumping the camera.  So, stabilize your footage.  Even if you have a really great camera (if you do, I don’t like you already) you want to check your footage for noise and run it through a noise reduction filter.  Finally, encode your Quicktime .MOV file using the PhotoJPEG codec at around 85% to 90% quality.  PhotoJPEG isn’t great, but it’s accepted by everyone right now.

If you did not read my previous blogs and you have clips of cloudscapes, ocean waves, traffic, etc. that you want to submit, then do something with them to make them unique.  Stylize them… Black and white, vignette, colorize it… Anything to make it distinct so that it stands out.  A lot of sites suggest that you upload the footage with no changes and let the buyer add post effects, but that was when there wasn’t so much footage available.  The artists who are top sellers today are using products like Magic Bullet Looks or Boris Effects to stylize their footage.  They’re adding lens blur in post, not through the camera lens itself.

After you have uploaded your clips to iSyndica, just fill out the title, description and keywods for each clip.  Try to keep your keywords to around 25 or 35 as many sites are reducing the number of keywords you can add.  After you’ve filled out the info for all your clips, export the data from iSyndica so that you can just “cut and paste” the info when you submit to each site.  Just head to the Syndicate tab now and start the uploading.

The average time for review on most sites is about 3 days.  But there are a couple that are much longer (one site is close to 60 days behind in reviews).

BE PATIENT.  On some sites even after your clips are approved, it takes them a while to show up in searches.  And if you are just starting out, there may be a lot of buyers who “view”  your clip, but don’t buy because you are new with a small portfolio.  So BE PATIENT.  As your continue to submit and your portfolio grows your sales will start.  You just have to BE PATIENT.  (Yes, Davie wants a cracker.)

Good luck!