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.

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