Stock Footage News – January 2010

Stock Footage DataAs is pretty typical this time of year, most of the stock agencies are behind in reviews… some more than others.  Over the Christmas and New Years holidays reviews slow to a trickle and fall behind.  It usually takes most agencies about a month to catch up.  As of January 25th RevoStock is a little less than a week behind, Pond5 and ShutterStock are about 3 days behind, and iStock is 60+ days behind as usual.

RevoStock is on a tear with site updates right now.  Their new submit process is slightly more streamlined with the addition of ‘pre-fill’.  The ability to pre-fill in all of the data for a new clip with data from an old clip.  It’s pretty slick when you’re uploading similar clips or clips from the same series.  I was able to submit 5 clips from a series in about 2 minutes using the new process.  However, it replaces the current clip name with the old one, so make sure you don’t get distracted and forget which clip you’re working on.  I requested they include the original clip name and move the thumbnail to the top of the form to make it easier to remember what you’re working on… hopefully they’ll do that.  While it’s definitely a nice feature, it doesn’t help when you are uploading a new clip.  For that you have to enter everything as usual.  It would be nice if they had a template system similar to Pond5’s.  The combination of the two would make RevoStock the most flexible submission system of all the sites.

Speaking of Pond5, lots of promised changes coming but still nothing since July of last year.  The folks at Pond5 seem to have disappeared for the most part and are no longer as chatty with the artists as they used to be.  I’ve complained about it a few times and each time we’ll get an apology and a minor update as to what their plans are and then they go back into hiding until the next complaint.  Still, Pond5 continues to be an extremely artist friendly site and after a unusual dip in sales the first part of the year, seems to be roaring back strong. It’s still my favorite agency, but only just barely with RevoStock working hard to woo artists with regular artist interaction and a slate of great new features coming.

Many of my artist friends report the same sales slow down around the first of the month.  For a number of them iStock and ShutterStock are taking over as this months big sellers.  Mostly due to their automatic downsizing of clips from what we can tell.  Buyers are purchasing the bare minimum of what they need for current projects and the SD/720p prices on iStock/ShutterStock can be better than full 1080 HD on RevoStock and Pond5.  Another reason for both Revo and Pond5 to quickly roll out their own automatic clip resizing plans.

I joined ClipCanvas last month and I’ve been steadily uploading all of my new clips there along with my regular sites.  Mostly because I joined up with iSyndica which makes it easier to submit to multiple sites.  I still have to upload older clips to ClipCanvas.  I haven’t had any sales there and unfortunately they have very little for artists in the way of statistics.  So I can’t tell if anyone is actually viewing any of my clips or not.  I also find it disconcerting that you can’t sort searches by number of downloads or number of views. All searches appear to be sorted by upload date with newest first.  It’s a nice looking site and very efficient, but it has a lot of work to be as buyer friendly as the major sites.  I’ll have a complete review of my experience there in a future blog.

I joined iStock ages ago, but never really felt motivated to submit there.  The process was always difficult and with their new ‘copyright/trademark guarantee’ the process is even more difficult.  But the high sales volume reported by other artists has motivated me to start uploading there.  Since I’m still considered “new”, I am limited to uploading 15 clips a week and their average review time right now for non-exclusives is two months.  iStock apparently has the largest base of buyers for any stock agency, but I can see why they haven’t killed off any of the competition.  They simply can’t compete for “freshness” of new footage.  With their incredibly long review time most clips are online and selling at other agencies for a month or more before they appear on iStock.  Like ShutterStock, iStock is not an artist friendly site.  They pay very low commissions for sales, they have a minefield of regulati0ns, and their reviewers are notoriously inconsistent with rejections.  But, as I said before, they have the largest customer base of any agency and they do a huge volume.  So for most artists (including me, apparently) it’s worth the aggravation.

I mentioned previously that RevoStock has been communicating with artists lately…  They’re working on a lot of changes to the site and taking a lot of input.  It’s very refreshing.  One thing that has me particularly excited is the possibility of a new “revenue sharing” feature.  A number of artists and I have discussed for months the possibility of collaborating with each other on stock clips.  Each bringing our best talents together.  The only problem is in how to compensate each other for each person’s work.  We brought the subject up with Pond5 about 5 or 6 months ago, but they weren’t very keen on the idea, believing that it would be too much work on their part to implement it.  However, with Revo being so friendly and communicative lately, I brought the subject up there and they were very receptive to the idea.

Basically, it would work like this…  You have a clip that I like and that I believe I could add something to to make it better.  So you give me the clip and I make my changes to it.  I then upload the clip to RevoStock and in the clip settings add you as a contributor.  Each time the clip sells you and I would split the sale.  As you can see, it has really great potential and if RevoStock is able to pull it off I think they would see their catalog grow several times faster than it is currently.

Unfortunately, you’d still need to work something out with the other artist for submitting to other sites that don’t support such a revenue sharing model.  But personally, I’m excited about the potential and looking forward to mangling the clips of my friends for fun and profit.  If you like the idea, head over to the “Producer’s Lounge” on RevoStock’s forums and reply with your support.

Virtuosity and the Art of MicroStock

Maybe as we age we really do slow down… or perhaps we actually do grow more patient with age… or perhaps it has nothing to do with age and I’m just a naturally patient person.  I bet you have no idea what I’m talking about by now.

I read a post in a forum on a MicroStock site where the contributor was announcing that he was quitting because he had sold nothing.  Not a single video clip.  The rest of us who post about our sales are all liars because obviously nobody buys anything since they didn’t buy any of his clips.

So, I clicked on his name to view his portfolio…  he had only been on the site for 4 months.  He had 23 video clips.  And I won’t comment on how badly his stuff sucked… oh wait, I guess I did comment on it.

So here begins the lesson:  The number one key to success in the MicroStock industry is PATIENCE. This industry will frustrate the heck out of you.  Rejections for reasons that make no sense, review times that linger into “months”, and long periods of time between sales are all a major reality.  If you are easily prone to frustration, this is not the industry for you.  If you don’t have patience then you’ll find your blood pressure fluctuating from day to day.

How could he possibly expect to have sold anything when he only had 23 videos out of “hundreds of thousands”?  Did you ever actually try to find a needle in a haystack?  It’s quite difficult, no matter what Bugs Bunny tells you.  When the industry was much younger and there were far fewer items online at the various MicroStock sites it was very easy to stand out with just a small amount of clips.  But those days are long gone.

Those of you just starting out in the MicroStock biz have a HUGE mountain to climb and when you get to the top, you’ll find an even bigger ocean to swim on the other side before you get to where you want to be.  To start selling your work has to not only be outstanding in quality, but you need a minimum of 500 to 1000 items for download on a site before you can expect to even sell 1 or 2 items a month reguarly.

Of course, there is a shortcut…  A very difficult shortcut…  UNIQUE.  Photograph or video something that is truly unique.  A tough job because it seems like everything has been photographed or filmed.  But there are things still off the beaten path that haven’t made their way into MicroStock.  You just have to make the effort to find them.  But if you can’t find them, then upload, upload, upload and when you’re done upload some more.  It’s about volume folks.  Without it, your work simply won’t get noticed.

If you are out there shooting clouds, flowers, traffic, wind mills, farm animals, pets, etc… don’t have any expectation of selling any of it.  Just be happy on the rare occasion that it does.  And if you just got into the business within the last 6 months or so, LEARN PATIENCE.  You’ll live longer… trust me.

Stock Footage 2009

A new year, heck a new decade has come.  Where does the time go?

For stock footage in 2009 there were a few significant changes to existing agencies, but overall not a lot changed.  A few new agencies have showed up, but none of which I would personally consider submitting to.  The “big four” are still pretty much dominating the market with iStockPhoto and Pond5 leading the pack.

One significant change is that two of the big four changed their submit policies.  They are now offering “insurance” of sorts to buyers with a guarantee that all footage (and stills if you do still with them) does not violate any copyrights.  So make sure that you have your model releases for every shot with a person (or even a partial person now) in it.  They are also enforcing property releases on buildings and pets now too (yes, I said ‘pets’).

As for me personally, I saw my video portfolio grow from just over 300 clips on January 1st to a little over 800 clips on December 1st (a little over 2.5 times).  I mostly attribute that to having purchased a good video camera and adding footage to my portfolio which was strictly CG animations as of January 1st.  Not only is it quicker to edit and submit footage than to render an animation, but it has the added benefit of getting you out of the house and into the sunlight.

My revenue also rose almost 3.5 times that of my 2008 year end total.  Of course, with a larger portfolio you’d expect that… but I didn’t start significantly increasing my portfolio until the summer when I got my camera.  So while a larger portfolio helps, the main reason is because I finally started diversifying and uploading to all of the big four agencies instead of concentrating on just one as I did in 2008.  The additional income from the other 3 sites added up to amost 30% of my microstock income this year.  Further proof to me that exclusivity is rediculous.  I have less than 100 clips on the “other 3” sites, so once I get more uploaded and approved, I expect that revenue to grow as well in 2010.

The first thing I did when I got my new camera was to run out and shoot all of the standard stuff..  Clouds timelapses, lakes, flowers, traffic, etc…  While those clips added to the size of my portfolio, I can tell you that none of them have sold.  Those categories are just too saturated and everyone else who got a video camera last year did the same thing.  And everyone who gets a video camera this year will also shoot the same thing.

A very important lesson I learned in 2009 is that quality and uniqueness sell.  Every single one of my clips where I took the time to properly set up the camera angles, get the right exposure, and had a fairly unique subject has sold this past year.  I got a pretty unique angle on a popular subject (wind turbine) and it sold while none of my other wind turbine shots sold because they were more generic angles that everyone else shoots.

If you absolutely insist on shooting a common stock video subject, do yourself a favor and find a unique slant on it.  A different angle, unique lighting or play with the depth of field.

The World of Stock Footage

Stock FootageMany photographers are starting to look towards expanding their portfolio into the world of Stock Footage. Indeed, cameras like the Canon 7D, Canon 5D Mark II, Nikon D5000 and Pentax K-X have blurred the lines between still and motion picture taking.

Microstock Footage is not a new industry, however.  It’s actually been around almost as long as Microstock Photography has and has matured over the past several years.  Most of the leading stock footage artists are not still photographers (although some of the leading still photographers have been in the footage game for some time).

As with stock photography, the days of just getting any old camera, pointing it at stuff and recording are over.  Today’s stock footage buyers are sophisticated with many blockbuster hollywood movies even buying from microstock agencies.  They expect quality.  Fortunately, if you’re successful in stock photography then you already have a leg up on the average person trying to hawk their home video, because you already plan your shoots, use high end equipment and have a solid grasp of high production value.

Before you just dive right in, do a little research first.  While many of the stock agencies you submit stills to also accept footage (iStock, Fotolia, Catooh etc..) not all agencies are created equal.  The revenue sharing ranges from very low to rediculously high.  Most of the highest paying sites are new with very few paying customers, so they are using 60%, 70% and higher rates to attract artists.  70% is great, but 70% of nothing is still nothing.  So many new sites aren’t worth the effort unless you want to get in on the ground floor of a startup agency.

Also, watch out for exclusivity.  None of the sites the sites that offer exclusivity (and thus a higher payout rate) sell enough footage to make up for lost revenue at other sites.  If you haven’t been in the footage game for at least several years, it’s not worth going exclusive at any one agency.  The bigger agencies tend to cater to different classes of buyers, so a down month at one agency could be an up month at another.

If you are just starting out, patience is the key.  Most of the big agencies already have hundreds of thousands of clips online.  So your initial upload of 10, 50 or 100 video clips is like adding a drop of water to a full bath tub.  Just like stock photography, constantly building your portfolio is the key to success.

So, start shooting great footage and get it online!

Creating a new Stock Footage Site

Being the outspoken person that I am, I run into a LOT of people who either run existing Stock Footage sites, or they are starting up new ones.  And I give them tons of (sometimes unsolicited) advice from my perspective.  And not just the perspective of an artist who is trying to earn a living at selling stock footage, but as someone who does a TON of research on the industry that is becoming my livelihood.  So, rather than repeating my advice individually over and over again, I figured I’d post my thoughts here so that I can just give out the link…

The first thing to remember about the “MicroStock” industry is that it has matured.  If you are contemplating a new startup, you have a VERY LONG and DIFFICULT road ahead of you.  The overwhelming majority of buyers have already settled on their favorite places to buy from.  The job of getting them to buy from you is going to be an extremely difficult one and you are likely going to fail.  Go into it with the expectation (and fear) of failing, and you might just make it despite the odds.

“Fear of failure” is one of the best motivators for any new business.  It drives you to innovate and do non-traditional things that can help to make you a success.  And in a mature industry innovation is key.  But even more important is a strong desire to beat the odds and be the best.  If you set your goal to “make enough money to pay my mortgage” then you are doomed to fail.  You are not going to have the drive to take risks.  If you start down this road then you need to have the attitude and desire to be number 1 and take the established sites down.  Otherwise, don’t even bother… seriously you need to find something else you are passionate about because at this stage of the game passion is the only thing that will bring you success in this industry.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and buying Google/Yahoo ad placement is not going to drive a significant amount of traffic to your new site.  Most of the buyers have picked their sites and no longer use search engines.  Sure, there are always “new people” coming in to the industry that don’t know about Pond5, RevoStock, ShutterStock, Artbeats, Digital Juice or iStock… but they represent a very tiny part of the stock buyer community.  So plan on spending both time and MONEY on more traditional advertising like trade magazines and web ads on industry related sites.

Pick a niche.  The above mentioned sites target all buyers and accept all types of clips.  Footage, animation, HD, web sizes, etc…  But there are some successful niche sites that specialize in Nature Footage, Motion Graphics, or Very Small Rocks.  Find a niche that you don’t see being well served and fill that gap.  By concentrating on a small niche you’ll find it easier to stand out and attract buyers who have the need for your clips.