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.

2011 MicroStock Performance So Far

MonetizingSales this year so far have been interesting.  Overall, they are above my 2010 sales at this time, but growth is slow.  I think that’s mostly due to the fact that I haven’t been vigilant about adding new content to my portfolios.

Sales are up considerably on ClipCanvas which seems to be a very fast growing player in the Stock Footage marketplace.  They cater to the European market which appears to be a good niche for them.  They don’t yet support clips encoded in PNG with alpha, but it’s a feature they are working on. Unfortunately, they joined the club of sites offering free files and they hamstring artists who don’t contribute to their free file pool.  When will agencies figure out that buyers don’t care about free files and free files do not attract new buyers.  The only people interested in free files are non-buyers who just want more free files.

Sales are also up on ShutterStock, although just barely.  I’ve added a few new files this year, but every 4 or 5 submissions gets rejected with some ridiculous reason like “no commercial value” or “use a tripod”.  The “user a tripod” is particularly funny when I’m submitting animations.  The good news is that ShutterStock has hired a new person for their Stock Footage side of the business who is intent on increasing SS’s market share.  We’ll have to see how successful he is… but he’s saying all the right things.

Pond5 sales are up from last year at this time, but pretty even with the end of last year.  So I haven’t really experience much overall growth in the first 6 months of 2011.  Pond5 has a number of issues which I’ll discuss in a follow-up post.  They still outsell all of the other Stock Footage markets combined, but the company is on auto-pilot  right now from what it looks like.

RevoStock is both disappointing and exciting at the same time.  They have been on a tear adding new features to the site on the stock footage side and over all.  A new wordpress plugin for displaying artist  portfolios, a new system that allows buyers to resize and re-encode footage for their needs.  They are doing a lot to encourage more sales.  Unfortunately, they’re not actually making more sales.  At least not for me and a half-dozen or so other artists I speak to frequently.  Sales are down and have been on a downward trend for some time.  I’m not sure what they can do to fix that, other than more direct advertising to studios and such.

Update your blog already!

Well, actually, the post I read was a little more profound (profane?) than that, but I understood it immediately. 🙂

On a personal note, it’s been a busy year.  I started my own local TV production company with several shows already in production and several more still to come before year’s end.  I also took a month off in May to work as Director of Photography on a feature film shot in Kansas City, MO.  It was a lot of fun and a huge learning experience.  A lot of what I learned is information that I am able to use when shooting Microstock.

With my super busy schedule, I haven’t had much time to get much more footage online.  That’s not to say that I haven’t shot a lot of stock footage, I just haven’t had the time to edit most of it and get it online.  Something I hope to get going on fairly soon.  My sales are above last year at this time, but they’ve been pretty stagnant.  You really need a continuous flow of new items to sustain sales growth.  Of course, it doesn’t help that we’re in the middle of the “summer slump”  with sales down across the board on all sites.

RevoStock responds…

I tweeted this morning about yesterday’s blog post “February News” and Craig L., the owner of RevoStock took issue with a number of things I said…  So, let’s set the record straight.

His first comment was with regard to my claim that their Google ranking was below ClipCanvas and the Envato Marketplace.  I have to admit that my last Google search for “Stock Footage” was a few weeks ago which is when I noticed they had slipped and made a note of it for a future blog post.  Doing as he asked, I searched again today and RevoStock was on the front page, both in the search results and in Google Adwords.  It’s possible that they changed their Adword campaign to move up to the front page after reading my post, but for them to be on the front page in search results means the changes they made to their SEO had to have occurred some time ago.  Google search rankings wildly fluctuate at times, especially with popular searches as each business is constantly tweaking their site to improve.  Before stating their ratings had slipped based on data from a few weeks ago, I should have done another search to see if that was still the case.  So I’ll give RevoStock that one… I was wrong.

However, go to the web sites where potential RevoStock customers are and you won’t find any advertising…  CreativeCow, GreyScale Gorrilla, Mograph.net, etc…  Nor in any magazines that I have looked through.  Other than a good Google ranking and giving away free clips to people who don’t buy (they just collect free clips), what are they doing to attract sales?  Why are sales growing on Pond5, ShutterStock, iStock, ClipCanvas and other sites while they are falling on RevoStock?  I don’t use/buy After Effects templates, but RevoStock is known as the number one site for AE templates.  And from what I gather talking to AE template sellers, their sales are steady or growing.  My own unofficial and non-scientific tracking also shows that to be the case (stock footage sales dropping, AE template sales growing).

He also took issue with my statement about exclusivity and some producers I called out by name.  He said one or two of them had already been brought to their attention by another artist and they were looking into it.  And he invited me to rat out those that I find.  Which is fine, but it’s not really my job to police their site.  A few hours refreshing the home page and checking various “exclusives” against clips on Pond5, ClipCanvas, ShutterStock and iStock by one of their employees should be enough to figure out who the big offenders are.  And what prompted me to post what I did in my blog was an unanswered post in their forums.  Apparently they’re monitoring Twitter chatter about RevoStock, but why are they ignoring their own forums?  And he said they’d look at each contributor individually to decide how far they’d go.  I can understand that, but those artists I mentioned have sizable collections which Revo would prefer (I’m sure) not to be without.  So I imagine they’ll just get a slap on the wrist, which I think sends the wrong message.

I’ve had a few emails from Craig over the past couple of years and he’s a very passionate individual.  He believes strongly in his site and has a lot of pride in RevoStock.  If I were him, I would too. In the past he has done a great job of communicating with artists and providing features requested by artists to improve the site.  Only Pond5 has had (past tense) a better reparte’ with artists.  Still, I wish they’d monitor their forums a little more, even if it’s not Craig, someone on his staff should be going through them every day.  It’s not like more than a half dozen message are posted there daily.

He called my claims “blatantly false” and to a degree he’s absolutely correct… which is why am I answering him publicly so that I can admit my mistakes.  I’ve left the comment about Google in the original post, but I’ve changed it with a “strike-through” font.  But while I’ll admit from the tone of his message that he (as owner) and RevoStock take the issue of fraud seriously, there was nothing to indicate that my impression of leniency with what I feel are blatant acts of theft is false.  We’ll see what actually happens.  When I run across clips that are mismarked as  exclusive, I’ll report them.  But as I said, that shouldn’t be my job to find them.

Let me finish with this…  RevoStock is one of the good guys… They have a healthy respect for artists, they have communicated well with artists, and for the most part they treat artists more like partners than sites like iStock, Fotolia, etc…  My frustration with them comes from a lack of sales on their part and from a perception of them being lethargic.  At one time they were the number 1 Stock Footage seller on the Internet, having practically invented the market.  But Pond5 has that position now and upstarts like ClipCanvas are also moving quickly up the ladder.

RevoStock reminds me of those companies that hit the top, get comfortable and stop thinking/working like a contender.  Rather than battling it out, they play defense in the hopes of not losing much ground.  They are slow to adapt to changes in the industry (they added support for Alpha clips almost two years after Pond5 did).  And they fail to promote some of the features which make them still a premiere site for artists today (it’s great when you add a feature that allows artists to share revenue on asset sales, but why aren’t you promoting that more? And where’s the support that was promised for allowing models to share revenue with artists?)

I am rooting for RevoStock, I want to see them succeed.  Because their success is also my success as an artist who is part of the site.  But I see a site that is just running on auto-pilot. Lackluster sales, lack of advertising, essentially sleeping at the wheel until someone like me comes along and pokes them with a stick. 🙂

So far, every time Craig has told me things will get better, they do… at least for a little while.  He is a man of his word and he’s on the case… and things will get better, I truly believe that.  I just hope they don’t fall asleep again because I still have my stick.

February News

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, without iSyndica around to give me reports, having to gather up all of the data myself from all the sites is a major pain-in-the-ass.  But I’m working on it and will catch up with everything over the coming week.

Here in Kansas it’s been a long cold winter with lots and lots of ice and snow which makes getting out to shoot footage very difficult. As a result, I shot very little in the way of stock since mid December.  Instead, I’ve holed-up in a cozy-warm chair at my computer creating new animations using Cinema 4D and After Effects.  Now that Spring is nearing, I’ve got a long list of things I want to shoot and get online.

About mid December the folks at Pond5 started getting behind in curating new clips and as of this week they are 3 to 4 weeks behind. It’s a bit frustrating because I’m used to 7 days or less on Pond5 and because the way Pond5 works, they really shouldn’t be that far behind.  Let’s face it, Pond5 has no quality standards.  In their major push to be the biggest provider of stock footage on the Internet, they literally approve everything submitted unless there’s a clear cut copyright violation or a technical problem with the submission. You’d think a day or two of just playing “whack-a-mole” with the approve button would get them caught back up.  One of the curators did post there has been a huge uptick in new contributors, but again that’s mostly because word has gotten out that you can upload anything and get away with it.

I’ve preached before about how great Pond5 was for not passing judgement on what may or may not sell like many other sites do, but come on… one contributor uploaded 3,000 clips that were nearly identical.  Seriously?!?  I can understand letting a dozen or maybe even 100 through, but 3,000?  And a lot of the new contributors are up to old tricks of submitting clips from Video Copilot tutorials, Creative Cow tutorials, etc…  The curators at Pond5 (all two of them) can’t be expected to know every tutorial, but at some point some of this stuff has to start looking familiar.

And finally, the Pond5 crew has mostly disappeared again… Ignoring questions and comments in the forums.  It’s been months since any kind of real update to the site and everything is always  “coming soon”.  The rumor mill is that Pond5’s lack of standards, building up huge numbers of online assets and lack of updates on the site is because the company is up for sale.  I seriously hope not.  The loss of Pond5 would be a HUGE blow to the MicroStock Footage community.  RevoStock has given up on selling footage (they’re mostly an AE shop now, more about that shortly), and both ShutterStock and iStock pay less than stellar commissions.  ClipCanvas is growing quickly, but they’re no Pond5 and still have issues of their own to resolve.

Every producer I know who has footage on RevoStock has told me their sales are way down (as are mine).  RevoStock just doesn’t seem to have their heart in it any longer.  They are widely known as an After Effects template shop and AE template sales there appear to still be growing.  Perhaps that’s why you don’t see any advertising by RevoStock for footage anywhere.  They’ve even allowed their Google ranking on stock footage to slide below upstarts like ClipCanvas and (gasp) the Envato marketplace. And they updated the front page recently to include a new tab showing clips that are (supposedly) exclusive to RevoStock.  However, when I was looking through them, I noticed a lot of clips I’ve seen on Pond5, ShutterStock and elsewhere.  So a lot of artists are flat out lying about exclusivity on RevoStock in order to get a higher royalty.  By even having that kind of option, Revo opened themselves up to fraud.  And what’s sad is they don’t really appear to care about it.  “Andre Baget”, “RWM Media”, and “Pixel Girl Media” all have clips marked as exclusive on RevoStock which also show up on Pond5 and other sites.  That’s outright theft… They are stealing from RevoStock and cheating the system which gives priority to exclusive content in searches. But Revo is just looking the other way…  If I started making clips as exclusive, they’d kick my butt off the site (especially after they read this blog post) which is what they should do to those artists.  But even if they do make those artists fix all of their clips, it’s unlikely they’ll do much else.

I was going to upload a bunch of new clips to Revo this month in the hopes of jump starting sales there, but “Sean P” through his little side venture “Wavebreak Media” uploaded over 3,000 clips.  So it’s kind of pointless this month.  And of course, with 3000+ clips, Sean will win February’s $500 prize.

ClipCanvas sales have really picked up for me over the past 4 months, which is a little bit of a surprise.  They’re nearing 150,000 clips online and my portfolio is less than 400 right now. Most of my friends tell me their CC sales are pretty dismal though.  In a phone conversation a few months ago ClipCanvas told me they were going to add support for PNG encoded clips with Alpha, but that still hasn’t happened.  And clip approvals are a bit slow there right now.  And I’m still not happy about CC charging me every time a buyer uses PayPal  to buy one of my clips… especially after they lowered commissions. But I’m trying to get over it.

I’ve decided to give a couple of other sites a try.  I already sell a few models on TurboSquid, but they’re getting a really bad reputation with artists (they’re the iStock of 3D models).  So I am quitting their exclusive “SquidGuild” and I’ll be selling models and stills on “The 3D Studio” after my 1 month waiting period required by TurboSquid.  I’m hedging my bets in case things on TS go south and the folks over at T3DS seem really nice.  The site needs major work though.  It’s simple design reminds me of something I did when I first learned HTML and it’s missing a WHOLE LOT of features.

I was also contacted by the folks over at Stock Media Pro, a new site based in the U.K.  They offered to title, describe and keyword my first 200 uploads.  And since that’s the hardest part of submitting to sites, I figure I’d give it a shot.  So I’ve been uploading a few files a night while I’m sleeping (gotta keep those CPU cycles paying for themselves).  The site looks nice and professional, but it’s far from polished.  When viewing clips you can’t sort them and new clips are added at the END of each list, not the beginning.  So to new visitors it looks like the site is never updated.  I’m uploading 200 of my best clips, but we’ll see what  happens.