Time to upgrade my gear

While I have been out shooting a lot more footage for Microstock this year after a dismal performance last year, I am still spending a lot of time shooting commercials for local businesses and working on short films. The great thing about that is it pushes you to the limits of your gear and in some cases forces you to upgrade. Which, of course, is very beneficial to shooting for stock as well.

My gear at the end of 2011 consisted of:

  • Canon T2i DSLR
  • Tamron 28-300mm zoom lens with vibration compensation (image stabilization)
  • Pentax 50mm F/1.4 lens with EOS adapter
  • Weifeng 717AH Tripod (fluid head video tripod)
  • Zoom H1 Portable Recorder
  • Rode VideoMIC
  • HTDZ HT-81 Shotgun Microphone
  • indiSystem indiSLIDERmini (2-foot camera slider)
  • Tripod Dolly
  • Glidecam Steadicam

Slowly but surely, I’ve been selling off my old equipment and upgrading.  So far I’ve sold the Zoom H1 and upgraded to a Tascam DR-40 audio recorder. I sold the Tamron 28-300mm lens and bought a Tamrom 17-50mm F/2.8 zoom with VC. And I’ve sold the camera slider since I rarely ever used it. My plan is to also sell the Glidecam (a gift from a friend) which is an older model that is overkill for my small Canon T2i DSLR and get a newer model.  I also sold my HTDZ shotfun MIC and am selling my Rode VideoMIC to upgrade to a better shotgun MIC.  I haven’t been using either of my shotgun mics lately… using my Audio-Technica AT3550 LAV mics instead.

I am also planning to sell my T2i and upgrade to the T3i in the next month.  Why such a minor upgrade? Because the T3i will let me use my 8 existing camera batteries, my existing battery grip and other accessories. And I could really use the flip out screen from the T3i.

I plan on posting reviews of the new equipment as I get it.

A look back at 2011

With the sad death of iSyndica, it’s just too difficult to pull together the small details in numbers for 2011.  But the overall numbers show a growth in sales for me, which is a good thing.

But there’s a bit of bad news mixed in with the good.  Sales on Catooh have dropped dramatically in 2011… by over 50% in fact. I mostly attribute that to a jump in the number of submitters to the site and my slow growing portfolio there.  Most of my best selling clips are 3 years old or so and I uploaded very few new clips last year.

Pond5 was up over 2010 sales, but sales started to drop near the end of 2011 and so far in 2012 they’ve been dismal. I added less than 500 new clips in 2011, but Pond5 nearly doubled it’s overall portfolio size last year. So my clips are a tiny droplet in the “Ocean” that is Pond5. Of course, it also probably didn’t help that Pond5 went on auto-pilot in 2011 with almost no new features and they slashed their advertising budget.

RevoStock sales overall were down from 2010.  There was a minor surge in November and December, but it dropped back to a trickle after the new year started. A very pleasant surprise was ClipCanvas which really took off in 2010. It was a nice replacement for lost sales at RevoStock and in fact last year ClipCanvas tripled the amount I’ve earned from Revo lifetime. I have a couple friends who aren’t doing as well on ClipCanvas, but I think it’s only a matter of time for them. Things have slowed down a bit since the start of February, but I’m hopeful for another great year there.

Sales at iStock were dismal in 2011 and after 6 consecutive months of zero sales plus all the “stuff” that happened there, I decided to close my account and pull my tiny portfolio there.  The submit process was extremely difficult and it took 3 to 5 months to get anything accepted.  A couple of my friends are still selling there, but they report sales are way down from last year and the year before.

ShutterStock was the big surprise last year.  Sales trickled the first half of the year, but late in the year SS decided they were tired of having their ass kicked in sales by Pond5. They hired a new person to take over the footage side of ShutterStock who immediately got aggressive.  As a result sales on my relatively small portfolio there jumped dramatically. We’re talking several hundred percent. It was a very welcome source of revenue at the end of the year and in January of this year.  Sales have dropped off since mid February, but I’m hopeful it’s just a tax season thing (which appears to be affecting every microstock agency this time of year every year).

I got really side-tracked on trying to start a full-time photography studio business and didn’t shoot much for microstock last year.  I did manage to shoot about 600 to 800 new clips, but I only got around to editing and submitting about half of them. My photo studio isn’t working out and I closed it a few weeks ago.  So, I’m working hard on getting back into the swing of microstock and my goal is to double my online portfolio this year with at least 1500 new clips submitted.

Let’s talk about RevoStock

Back in mid November I was sent an email from the owner of another microstock related web site.  In this email was the results of a survey taken from 44 RevoStock producers with 1000 stock footage clips or more in their portfolios.  I knew from my own experience that RevoStock sales were WAY down, but the results of this survey shocked me.  And I tweeted it.  A few weeks later, RevoStock decided to respond to the tweet on their web site.  They didn’t bother to notify me of their post, I just discovered it today.

After reading Craig’s response, I immediately emailed a link to the author of the survey.  I’d just post the email I got along with the author’s name, but Craig decided to get all legal in his response, so I’ll leave it up to the author to decide if she/he wants to reveal her/him self.  However, if the data in the survey is false, it’s the first time this person has sent me false information, so I’d be totally shocked. Of course, Craig has also never lied to me and has been very candid with me upon occasion, so it’s one of those rock/hard place situations.

Let me toss out my opinion on this whole thing based on my own experience…

RevoStock is one of those sites that authors REALLY want to (and should) support. They are one of the few sites that actually maintains an open dialog with their artists and have continued to update their site based on feedback from both buyers and artists. They are “the good guys” in Microstock. They’re not out to take advantage of anyone (buyers or artists).

RevoStock has been around a very long time, and despite my own personal experience with dismal sales there, they’re not in danger of closing down or going out of business.  They are really known as THE place to buy After Effects templates and from what I have seen on their “recently sold” as well as email chats with several AE template authors, they sell a crap ton of AE templates. And they offer buyers a lot of unique advantages over other Stock Footage sites…  The ability to down-rez stock clips (and some times for a lower price) and the ability to buy bundles with significant savings. So the “recent sold” ticker does “move” every day, but typically quite a bit slower than the AE ticker.

I have a very small portfolio on RevoStock (340-ish clips) compared to my portfolio on Pond5, ShutterStock and ClipCanvas.  So my little bit of clips in RevoStock’s huge offering is a drop in the bucket. I would expect my sales to be smaller than those other sites.  But even on Videohive where I have like 4 video clips, I sell at least 2 or 3 a month.  I’ve gone month’s on Revo with zero sales.

Also, I recently did some research on Stock Footage marketing and RevoStock doesn’t do much that I can find.  They’re on the front page of Google when you search for “stock footage”, but as of a few minutes ago they were 6th on the right side ads. And not on the first page in the regular web search. On the 30 or so film making related web sites I visit on a regular basis they are no where to be found. And when I recently spend a day at Barnes and Noble reading through film making related magazines, they were also absent.  Craig has assured me that RevoStock is spending money on advertising Stock Footage, but when I search for it, I can’t find it.

Contrast that with Shutterstock… They hired a new person to head up the stock footage division and they’ve declared all out war on Pond5, the leader of the Microstock Footage industry. The only place they’re being outspent on advertising right now is Google adwords.  Every site I visit having to do with film making or stock footage that has Google ads is covered with ads from Pond5. But Shutterstock has been spending a lot of money on traditional paid advertising…  Magazines, web banners, co-promotions with partners, etc…  And it’s paid off.  My portfolio on Shutterstock is currently just over 100 clips, but they have outsold RevoStock by about 20 to 1 so far this year.  Ever since the new SS guy took over, my footage sales have increased over 500% there.  By far the best performance of any site this year, so far.

While I haven’t done any kind of survey myself, I do keep in touch with a small group of dedicated Stock Footage artists with portfolios ranging from a few hundred like myself to several thousand clips.  And in direct private conversations, they have told me their sales on RevoStock are down.  Not ridiculous like 81%, but typically in the 5% to 15% range.  With sales steadily declining over the course of the year.  Given the lack of marketplace presence that I can see plus declining sales (my own and those whom I know directly) lead me to believe that RevoStock is doing poorly with Stock Footage sales.

That said, it’s entirely possible that overall RevoStock stock footage sales could still be up over last year. More and more people are getting into the microstock game with the false assumption that there’s riches which means RevoStock has MANY MANY MANY more clips this year than they did last year which has resulted in more sales this year than last year.  However, as more clips are added by more new artists, the percentage of clips artists have in the overall RevoStock portfolio has dropped which means individuals are making less money while RevoStock is making more. Good news for Revo, bad news for most stock contributors because the smaller our portfolios are in compared to the overall availability, the less we’ll make.  They only way to combat it is to submit more clips and grow our portfolios.

Still, the fact that a site like Shutterstock, which has more stock footage clips than RevoStock, is selling more of my own clips than Revo is and my portfolio there is smaller leads me to believe that Shutterstock is doing more to sell footage than Revo is. They are doing more to grow their customer base. And that’s a problem for Revo (and other sites).

Still, as I said earlier.  If you are a stock footage producer, RevoStock is a site you definitely want to be on.  And once you’re there and have a chance to interact with Craig and his staff,  you’ll be rooting for them to succeed.  Especially if you’re used to dealing with iStock, Getty, the old Shutterstock, or even the current mess going on at Pond5 right now.

ps. The end of November and so far in December my sales on RevoStock have jumped. I don’t know why, but I like it.

Trying out Fotolia

I got an email message from Fotolia offering me a free 30-day subscription and asking me to try it out.  I’ve been a bit busy lately, but my shooting schedule is a bit lax this month so I plan on spending a bit of time working on my web sites.  So now is as good a time as any to give the subscription a try.

I’ve downloaded one image so far and it was incredibly easy.  So far, so good.  I’ll post a review in a month when the trial ends.

Falling out of love…

The very first MicroStock agency that I signed with was Pond5. Their process was (and is) simple, just sign up and start uploading. If your files are not total crap, they approve them and (hopefully) you start selling. What’s (mostly) great is that they don’t pass judgment on what might sell, they leave that up to buyers.  And you would be surprised at what sells.

Back in those days the developers of Pond5 were extremely active in communicating with contributors with pretty much a daily dialog between “them” and “us”.  New features came online almost weekly and bugs were fixed within a few hours to a few days.  They made us feel like partners, rather than being exploited the way other agencies do.  Sadly, those days are behind us… 🙁

I started my professional life as a computer programmer.  So almost from the very beginning, I’ve been involved with many startup companies.  Even a few silicon valley companies that are now big names.  And pretty much every new startup goes through the same evolutionary cycle… At first they are nimble, able to make changes quickly in order to build market-share.  They listen to customers, employees and pretty much everyone with opinions and advice.  And there is a two-way communication. As they grow, things slow down. They communicate less. And eventually they stop listening altogether.

You always hope that a company or business you like will break the cycle. As they grow, they’ll continue to listen and communicate. They’ll continue to adapt and grow quickly. But that never happens.  Every company reaches a point where they listen to their bank statements more than their customers and partners.  Unfortunately, Pond5 is no different.

Oh, it’s not as bad as I might make it seem.  I’m 100% positive that the folks at Pond5 are still reading everything sent to them or posted about them. So essentially, they’re still “listening”. They’re just no longer talking back or participating much in any type of open dialog the way they used to.

To some degree you can’t blame them… They went from a grand experiment in the beginning to dominating the MicroStock footage market.  I don’t know any contributors who sell on Pond5 and other sites where Pond5 doesn’t consistently beat sales elsewhere.  In some cases (like mine), Pond5 outsells all other competitors combined.  I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it… Pond5 simply knows how to sell footage better than anyone.

But once Pond5 got to be number 1, they fell victim to a phenomenon that happens to all top companies… They stopped playing offense (the strategy that got them where they are) and started playing defense.  They are slow to change.  They stopped communicating with contributors. And they’ve started down a path of severing their partnership status with contributors.  At least, that’s how it looks from many of us who have been with them the longest and remember the “good old days”.

Despite my bitching about Pond5 quite a bit over the past year, I’m still a stanch supporter.  I refer buyers and contributors to Pond5 all the time.  I recommend them to everyone. I absolutely love them and appreciate the opportunity they gave me in the beginning.  It’s often said that you are most critical of the ones you love because you want to see them succeed and that’s how I feel about Pond5.  I want to see them stay number 1, I want to see them continue their success.  And I feel hurt when it takes them months (or years) to fix a bug or answer a question.

A couple of years ago I made a suggestion to Pond5 about creating a back end process where buyers could re-encode footage they purchased to meet their needs.  If they bought a clip encoded in MP4 and needed it in PhotoJPEG.  Or needed a clip encoded at 29.97 fps re-encoded to 25, they could simply have the Pond5 servers do it for them before downloading their purchased clip.  They seemed to like the idea and indicated they would work on such a system.  But it still hasn’t happened.  At least, not on Pond5.   RevoStock was the first to offer such a feature and it’s proving quite popular.  I have no doubt that Pond5 will eventually implement something similar, but Pond5 is no longer an innovator in the MicroStock market.  They are a follower, and that too is painful to watch.

I’ve been asking Pond5 for a WordPress plugin that allows contributors to display their portfolio on our WordPress web sites.  Such a plugin would link hundreds if not thousands of web sites to Pond5 which would help their search rankings.  They put up some JavaScript code for webmasters, but it’s very difficult to use and not at all friendly if you’re not a web programmer.  Once again, RevoStock listened where Pond5 did not and was the first to come out with such a plugin.

I guess the most disappointing thing about Pond5 is that I know they mean well.  I know from direct discussions (including a phone call with them) that behind the scenes, they do care. They just seem to have a hard time “showing it”.  And despite being directly told things will improve, there is little to no *visible* evidence that things are improving. They continue to ignore most conversations with contributors and they are incredibly lethargic with updates and upgrades to the Pond5 site.  It’s very popular for them to use the word “soon” in describing when a bug might get fixed or a feature implemented.  But soon to them seems to mean anything up to and including TWO YEARS from now.

Pond5 will always have a special place in my heart, just like my first girlfriend.  And there will always be love there. I will continue to support them, recommend them, and be a major pain in their ass. But just as their hunger to be the best is fading, so is my intense love affair with them. As a contributor there is only so much I can do, so the next step is theirs if they wish to rekindle our passion.