October 2010 Sales Report

October was a very welcome month with mostly higher sales across the board.  Pond5 led with a new “Best Month Ever” in both number of clips sold and sales dollars.  The only real bummer was the whole iSyndica thing… especially when it came time to gather the data for this months report.  Ugh!

October 2010
Agency Clips Sold Portfolio Size
Pond5 103 (+37) 1127 (+22)
RevoStock 5 (+1) 321 (+0)
ShutterStock 8 (+4) 159 (+9)
ClipCanvas 3 (+3) 308 (+77)
MediaStock 0 (+0) 78 (+0)
Can Stock 0 (-1) 48 (+2)
iStock 2 (+2) 17 (+0)
Fotolia 0 4 (+0)

Until a couple of weeks ago, Pond5 would manually process of all sales.  Which means sometimes several days would go by before we would know how things were going.  Finally, they heard our cry and automated the process.  So at 4:00am Eastern Time an automated script is executed to process new sales and send out the emails.  It is SOOOO much nicer to get those daily emails now.  One important note, sales are delayed.  Which means, if I buy one of your video clips today, it will not show up on tomorrow’s sales report.  Pond5 waits 2 to 3 days for the transaction to actually clear before it can be posted.  This is a measure to catch fraud and prevent refunds.  In all the years I’ve been with Pond5, I’ve never had a refund (that I know of)… I wish I could say the same for RevoStock or ShutterStock.  Getting that refund notice is a major downer.

I did manage to get about 50 new clips uploaded to Pond5, but I’ve been slow in the keyword process so only 22 new clips made it online last month.  Of course, it’s not helping that Pond5 is a week or more behind in processing clips.  But that’s to be expected as they are seeing a major rush of new artists from the whole iStock fiasco.  They also had some major FTP problems last month that took a little time to get worked out.  But, the great news is that sales skyrocketed there last month.  I hit a new BME in both number of clips sold (I sold 100+ clips in one month there for the first time) and in dollars.  I’ve said it before and it bares repeating… Pond5 knows how to sell footage.

Due to weather and car problems, I stayed home a little more than I would have liked last month and so I took that as an opportunity to get more clips uploaded to ClipCanvas.  Two my of my 3 sales this last month were from the new uploads, so I think it’s working.  ClipCanvas lowered their commission from 60% to 50% and that kicked in this last month.  I’m not happy about it because they really don’t do enough to earn 50% of my sales, but it’s still better than ShutterStock, iStock, etc…  To add insult to injury, this last week they started charging artists a payment processing fee.  So when a customer buys one of my clips, I have to pay the PayPal fee charged to ClipCanvas out of my commission.  Add to that, when I get paid by ClipCanvas, I also have to pay the PayPal transfer fee and a conversion fee from Euros to Dollars so that 50% commission is now actually around 40%.  So Clipcanvas isn’t looking as good as it used to.  They still have major issues with their artist interface and when I asked when those new features they told me about were going to get implemented, I was told sales were low and they can’t afford to do any more development right now… Of course, that does not include the development necessary to charge me for their transaction fees.  I wonder if they’re gonna start charging storage fees for my clips or charge me a percentage of the rent for their office space next…

I just missed payout at ShutterStock last month for a couple of dollars, but this month SS came roaring back with almost a new BME.  Like Pond5, they are very behind in footage reviews right now (about two weeks) but image reviews are moving pretty quickly (around 24 hours).  I had a couple of sales on iStock which was a nice surprise given how small my portfolio is there.  And I had +1 sales in October at Revostock, but it was still a very slow month.  I didn’t get anything uploaded, but with winter coming I’m planning on doing a lot of uploading to Revo over the next few months.  Hopefully that will start sparking more sales there.

Missing iSyndica

I feel like a drug addict going through withdrawal.  It’s not so much that I miss the ability to upload once and “syndicate everywhere” (I do miss that), more it’s a matter of missing the analytics.  Being able to log in every single day to check my sales stats not only helped me to track things, but it gave me a piece of mind knowing that somewhere I sold at least 1 item each day.

I’ve added the picNiche Toolbar to Firefox which does let me track sales on a number of sites, but a lot of the sites I use are missing and I’m not good enough with regular expressions to add those myself.  Additionally, there’s no history… there’s no total across all sites… it’s very frustrating.

While I would love to see someone else do something similar to iSyndica, the players who have talked about it all say that Video is their nemesis.  The amount 0f storage space needed is apparently expensive and those expenses have to be passed on to the customer.  So it’s not likely we’ll see anything similar to iSyndica’s upload capabilities for video that is affordable. I can probably live with that… I’ve gotten back into a routine for uploading files to multiple sites from my computer using a series of scripts that monitors an empty folder on my computer (I stick a file in the folder and my scripts automatically upload the file to numerous sites for me.)

What I miss more than anything is the analytics.  And I hope that Hugo from iSyndica sees this post and considers bringing back a new service which just does tracking the way iSyndica did.  Such a service would be FAR CHEAPER to run than iSyndica since there would be no file storage necessary beyond the database.  And it’s something I’d pay $10 to $15 a month for depending on how far it went.

First, it would need to support all of the sites that iSyndica did (which was 90% of the MicroStock industry) with regular updates several times a day.  The report would include how many files were downloaded from each supported site and the total revenue.  With support for historical data and basic projection of revenues each month.  All of this is what iSyndica did.  What it also needs is the ability to track portfolios.  I want to have a complete list of every file I have uploaded at every site and the ability to track which files are selling where. More importantly, I’d like to know which files I still need to upload to various sites and which files were rejected (so I don’t attempt to upload them again).  I imagine this would mostly be a manual process, but I’m fine with that as long as I can view and edit the data myself.

Unlike iSyndica which was primarily for file distribution, such a tracking site could run on relatively cheap hosting (you can get unlimited bandwidth/unlimited database for around $20 a month on many reputable web hosts).  The main expense would be a programmer to write all the code, add new features, and keeping it maintained.  But I would imagine such a site would have hundreds if not thousands of supporters which would cover the cost of a full time programmer and provide a hefty profit.

I know there are  a few other “stats” sites out there, but none of them go as far as iSyndica did with their stats and NONE of them support as many sites as iSyndica did (most don’t support video tracking).

More than I want a replacement for iSyndica’s easy uploading and distribution… I want a site to better track my Microstock statistics.  That is something I’d subscribe to “in a New York minute”.

Long Distance Relationships

When shooting video (or stills) on your DSLR camera, it’s always best to use a prime lens like a 50mm F1.8 or F1.4.  However, sometimes the subject you are shooting requires a zoom lens and prime zooms can be very expensive.  Fortunately both Canon and Sigma have zooms that are inexpensive (around $200).  When I first got my Canon T2i, a good friend of mine recommended that I get the Sigma DG 70-300mm lens for my zoom.  I did, and I’ve been extremely happy with it ever since (well, mostly happy).

The only problem is that the lens does not have any form of Optical Stabilization.  So when shooting video at full zoom, even the slightest twitch can cause major issues with the video. I try to shoot on a tripod whenever possible, but even then sometimes heavy winds can cause even the best tripod to shake a little bit.  And when using a non-stabilized zoom that translates into heavy camera shake in the video.  When that happens, you either have to trash the recorded video or use stabilization in your editing software which has its own issues.  And forget shooting handheld at max zoom, that’s a total nightmare.

Recently I ran across a really good deal on the Canon 70-300mm lens with Image Stabilization (usually sells for around $450), so I bought it.  I personally don’t think the image quality is as good as the Sigma lens, but the built-in optical stabilization is fantastic.  Check out this side-by-side comparison video I shot:

[vimeo width=”640″ height=”360″]http://www.vimeo.com/15161994[/vimeo]

I had the ISO set too high when I shot it (forgot to change it after shooting video the night before), so there’s some noise in the video if you watch it full screen.  But you can see the difference in how shaky the handheld video is between the IS and non IS lens.  With the Image Stabilization turned on the footage is actually usable.

I may sell the Canon IS lens and buy the Sigma version with “Optical Stabilization” simply because I like the look of the Sigma bokeh better.  But either way, for video, having a zoom with IS is essential in my opinion.

Batten down the hatches

In my little corner of the world, the weather is starting to turn colder and we’re getting more frequent storms.  Shooting footage and photos outdoor starts to become less of an option. So, I’m spending every good day out shooting new stuff and every bad day preparing for a long winter inside.

Fortunately, my skills include Cinema 4D which is a 3D animation and illustration program.  So I am not limited to just photography and video footage.  I am preparing a list of animations and illustrations I want to create over the Winter months.  Gathering up assets (buying models, textures, etc..) and making sure all of my software is patched and ready to go.

I’m cleaning up my studio… Well, the tiny part of the house I took over as a photo studio.  I’m making sure my backdrops are clean and wrinkle free.  Making sure I have all the lighting fixtures I need.  Making sure I have plenty of light bulbs (I use strictly 5600k daylight balanced bulbs).  I’m making a list of props I want to look for in thrift-stores or on eBay.  And I’m checking my equipment to make sure everything works and is ready to go.

The long winter is also when I do a lot of my marketing… sending letters and post cards to TV stations and companies that produce TV commercials. And it’s also when I do a lot of  market research.  I use excel to build a list of popular keywords over the past year and when they were popular… trying to find trends for the upcoming year.

I also plan to “catch up” on editing and submitting clips.  I’ve got several hundred that remain unedited on my hard drive because I’ve been concentrating on shooting as much as I can when I can.

What are your winter plans?

RevoStock – Stock Footage, Audio, A.E. Projects and F.C. Projects

I’m reading through old posts today and it occurs to me that I’ve been pretty hard on RevoStock and it might seem like I don’t like them or recommend them… which couldn’t be farther from the truth.  So, I’ll take some time to review RevoStock, both the good and the bad.

RevoStock sells Stock Footage, Audio files (music and sound effects), After Effects Projects and Final Cut  Projects.  They offer a 45% commision on non-exclusive items and 60% for exclusive items (you can make individual items exclusive).  Which, while not the best/highest rates in the industry, it does put them in the top sites for revenue sharing (iStock, ShutterStock, Fotolia, etc.. being at the bottom).  While I can understand the reason for wanting exclusive content, they simply don’t sell enough volume to make it worthwhile. At least not in Stock Footage.  They might in AE/FC projects or Audio.  And RevoStock lets artist set their own prices for items they sell.  But for some strange reason, they have an upper limit which means if you have a unique piece of editorial footage worth lots of money, you’re better off waiting to submit to Revo until after things slow down elsewhere.

RevoStock has been spending a lot of money and effort on site improvements over the past year.  They were among the first sites to support embedded meta-data in QuickTime .MOV clips.  And they’ve added support for clips with Alpha channels (PNG or Animation encoded clips).  Most recently they’ve added support for revenue sharing between artists which promotes collaboration (more about that shortly).  And while the site is still one of the slowest to use, they have made big improvements on speeding things up.  Most importantly, like Pond5, they support the artist community and treat artists like partners and not indentured servants (*cough* iStock *cough*).

Unfortunately, in order to sell anything on RevoStock you have to go through a stupid quiz process to show them your L33T enough to join their group.  It’s not a difficult quiz as they make you read a few pages of info then simply quiz you on that info.  It’s just a real PITA to go through.  I am selling AE projects and Audio on Pond5, but it’s not likely I’ll sell them on Revo simply because I think the quiz process is ridiculous and I’m not going to do it again (I had to for Stock Footage).  The process does not weed out anyone who doesn’t want to sell there and even if you pass the quiz and get approved, you still have every single submitted item being reviewed for approval.  RevoStock is just snobbish and the quiz process helps them to feel superior (which, based on their low volume of sales is not warranted).  However, once you get past the quiz process and get approved to sell, they do treat artists well, as I’ve stated before.

Once you are accepted and you upload your items to the site, it’s a simple matter of adding title, description, keywords, etc.. to each item and submitting it for review.  RevoStock recently added the ability to copy data from one item to another, so if you upload a lot of similar items, you can get through the submit process pretty quickly.  After that the review process can take from a few days to a few weeks depending on how many uploads they have to go through.  So far it appears there is just a single reviewer for footage, so at times she gets behind and it can take weeks to get items reviewed and online.  The reviewer is very nice and unlike many other sites, you get a detailed reason when something is rejected.  That gives you an opportunity to correct any issues the reviewer finds.  Unfortunately, they reject a lot of stuff for reasons that make no sense.  I shot video of a yacht race from the deck of a boat.  My clip was rejected for being hand-held (which it wasn’t but even with a tripod on the boat deck, there was a bit of swaying).  The clip was accepted on Pond5 and sold numerous times.  I’ve also had clips rejected for harsh sunlight that have also sold numerous times on Pond5 and ShutterStock where they were accepted.  I have no problem with rejections for technical issues or because a given subject is oversaturated on the site, but reviewers should not make decisions based on what they think will sell.  Because in WAY TOO MANY cases, they are wrong and the stuff sells on other sites.  I think their lack of vision is one of the reasons why they lag behind on the number of clips available and the low sales volume compared to other sites.

RevoStock recently added the ability for artist to collaborate on a project and share the revenue.  So, I could use footage from one of my friends (with permission), add some CG elements and upload it to RevoStock.  Then I can designate that a specified percentage of each sale be given to the other artist.  So if I sell a clip for $40 and give 50% to the collaborating artist, we’ll each get $9 added to our revenue (at 45% commission).  This is a huge deal and could promote a lot of cooperation between artists… Maybe even increase the number of exclusive items on Revo if artists choose to only sell collaborative works through Revo.

On the home page of RevoStock you can see the recently sold items.  So occasionally, when I’m working in my office all day, I’ll check the sales every 15 or 20 minutes to note how many items are sold that day.  Upon occasion, that number comes out to be less than the total number of sales I personally have on Pond5 for the same day.  Additionally, every single clip I have on Pond5 that has sold at least once has been submitted to RevoStock.  While a few have been rejected on Revo, most have not and while several of my clips sell almost daily on Pond5, they rarely sell on Revo.  Even when the price on Revo is lower.  That leads me to believe that buyers are not shopping around for pricing and buying clips wherever they find them cheaper.  And the same buyers are usually not buying from both Revo and Pond5.  I imagine that most sales on Revo come from buyers with corporate accounts there which makes it their number one place to buy.  Not to mention that every single buyer who has contacted me directly has done so through Pond5 (Discovery Network, Weather Channel, etc…).

Still, it’s worth it to support RevoStock and upload to them, for no other reason than their friendly partnership with artists.  Some of my friends do have good months there with lots of sales, but nobody I know has ever had RevoStock as their top seller for a month.  And while I’ve had what I would consider a few good months of sales with them, I’ve never even made half the revenue on RevoStock as I have on Pond5 for any given month.  But, again, I love their friendly attitude and their constant improvements to the site, so I keep uploading and hoping things will improve.