Twenty Sixteen in Microstock

This year has been an extremely busy one for me, both personally, and with regards to Microstock.  My job ate up most of my free time with 60 and 70 hour work weeks and my family fostered an amazing young lady that we’re in the process of adopting.  It’s obvious I had no time to update this blog, but I also have very little time to add to my portfolio this past year.  While several of my good friends added thousands of new clips, I added less than 500 new clips this past year.  And the bulk of that was done in the past 3 months as I made the time to shoot, edit and submit.

A lot of that has to do with a conscious decision to cut back my overtime hours at work.  And the inspiration I got from several of my Microstock friends and some new equipment I picked up this year.

VideoBlocks

Let’s start off with the positive…  VideoBlocks emergence onto the scene has been a game changer in the Microstock Footage industry.  VideoBlocks has a massive collection of videos they own and they sell subscriptions for $99 to $149 a year to access their collection.  Subscribe and you can download all you need from their collection.  They’ve got some good stuff but their own collection wasn’t growing very quickly and their subscription numbers were good but not great… then comes genius, they offer artists the ability to sell their clips and artists receive 100% of the sale minus the actual transaction costs.  Thousands of artists join up and upload hundreds of thousands of clips.  The genius part? In order to get the best price on artist clips ($49 for HD) you have to be a subscriber.  Non-subscribers can still buy HD clips for $79, but purchase 4 or more clips and you might as well subscribe… so they pick up thousands of new yearly subscriptions.  And their subscribers take advantage of the fixed $49 pricing on HD clips.  The process of submitting is extremely simple (the best in the industry in my opinion) and you can do a mass import via CSV file.

But not all is perfect with VideoBlocks…  If a non-subscriber buys an HD clip for $79, the artist still only gets $49 minus the fees.  The remaining $30 is kept by VideoBlocks.  Still, it’s better than the 50% revenue share of Pond5.  And there are a lot of issues on the back end that need to be addressed. The crew at VideoBlocks are super super helpful, they are “Johnny on the spot” in answering questions and super communicative. You could not ask for a better partnership between artists and an agency as far as how they treat artists and how great their communication is. But they are so incredibly slow at getting anything done…

They do not have an affiliate capability, and I make enough money from affiliate linking to Shutterstock and Pond5 that I’m not yet ready to use VB as the primary promotion of my portfolio. They don’t offer any form of artist resources (except for an occasional blog) in helping artists to find sales trends. Their API for adding your VB portfolio to your own web site to promote VB is broken and a low priority in getting fixed.  And there are lots of tiny little bugs on the backend that have gone unfixed for months (and months). In fact their web development team is excruciatingly slow on getting most things done.  I know they are growing and have a lot of internal priorities that take precedence over artist requests, but at the pace they are moving, a faster moving agency can quickly overtake them. (I do web development for my day job and I have pumped out 10 times the amount of code and features in the past year than their whole team.)

Still, right now, in terms of Artist Friendly and Growth, VideoBlocks is the top stock footage agency in my opinion.

Pond5

Pond5 was the second agency I joined and for many years was my top earning agency every single month.  But when Pond5 stopped communicating with artists and the founders started leaving or were pushed out, my earnings (and those of many friends I know) started dropping.  Shutterstock moved into the top spot a few years ago and VideoBlocks moved ahead of Pond5 a couple of months ago.  This despite that fact that my ENTIRE portfolio is available on Pond5 while I have only partially uploaded my portfolio to Shutterstock and VB as of today (I will remedy that before the end of 2016).

Pond5 is till a top seller.  Pond5 is second only to Videoblocks in revenue share.  Pond5 allows artists to price their own stuff (both good and bad).  And Pond5 has the best tools for artists interested in tracking sales trends (although, those tools are less useful today despite promises of a fix, but I’ll get into that shortly).  For me, Pond5 is solid at number 3 for the moment.

So what happened?  Well, Pond5 took a crap ton of investor money over the past few years and now investors want their money back. They have taken over the company, pushing out the founders and installing their own people to run Pond5.  The Pond5 booth at NAB in 2015 has several of the founders in attendance and it was a big booth with lots of friendly faces.  In 2016 they had a tiny booth by comparison with a couple of people in attendance.  I have a couple of insider friends at Pond5 and they say everyone there is afraid for their jobs, so it’s a very depressed work atmosphere with lots of fake smiles and lots of division.  It shows in their latest ideas.  They now offer artists exclusivity and they only promote those exclusive artists (with the exception of a few heavy hitters that get special treatment because of their massive portfolios).  They have a subscription plan.  And with the sad passing of Jonathon who was a saint and truly truly a Godsend to artists for his communication and artist support, they once again stopped communicating with artists for the most part.  It no longer feels like we are partners.  If it wasn’t for their 50% revenue share, it almost feels like iStock took over Pond5.  In fact they are already finding ways around the 50% share by offering discounts and coupons that used to come from their side, but are now shared with artists so that we get less.

Pond5 still has the largest collection of Microstock footage on the Internet, so they are not going anywhere.  But I would not be surprised if they end up selling to another agency to satisfy the investors.  And they are still having MAJOR problem with curation.  It can take months to get new uploads curated and their curators are extremely inconsistent from one to the next.  I get stuff that has been curated and sold on VideoBlocks or Adobe Stock that is rejected for having no marketable value. They have thousands upon thousands of unsold footage in common categories so they reject new footage in those categories.  You can’t upload any new Flower related footage because the category is full of SD, 720p and a ton of HD footage that has never sold.  So why allow a newer 4k clip that might actually have a chance at selling? The same goes for numerous other “filled up” categories with mostly old footage that has never sold.

And while most Microstock agencies spend the majority of their budget on finding buyers for their goods, Pond5 is still spending a huge amount of money and effort on recruiting new artists.  Despite the fact that only 1 in 50 new artists ever upload more than 10 items as they give up and get frustrated with little to no sales after only a few months.  And while I love the concept of letting artists price their own work, I think that model hurts Pond5 now more than it helps them.  The vast majority of artists on Pond5 also sell through agencies with fixed pricing. So a $400 clip on Pond can be purchased for $49 on VideoBlocks or a similar price on Shutterstock.  I am literally praying for Pond5 and my friends who work there.  But I’m preparing for them to continue their downward trend in sales and likely eventual sale to another agency.

Shutterstock

It’s also been an interesting year with Shutterstock.  They were my number 1 revenue generator for 2016.  I have approximately 60% of my Pond5 portfolio uploaded to SS and SS offers a much lower revenue share than Pond5, but Shutterstock outsells Pond5 consistently every single month.  While Pond5 is all over the place is trying new things and recruiting new artists to try and fix their woes, Shutterstock just plods along in pushing sales.  And making the sales experience for buyers better and better.  Their communication with artists is still pretty poor (better than Pond5, but still pretty poor) and for some reason stock footage is the “red headed stepchild” of Shutterstock (I’m pretty sure they make more money selling footage than they do stills). The support for footage is extremely poor in their contributor app and they pretty much ignore all requests for feature updates related to footage.

But, again, Shutterstock was built as a SALES company and they do selling better than anyone in the market.  And as a buyer there is NO BETTER AGENCY in helping buyers to find the exact image or clip they need.  My sales growth in 2016 was fairly small, but that has more to do with the very slow growth of my portfolio in 2016.  I’ve been uploading the remainder of my Pond5 portfolio to Shutterstock and I expect to have it submitted by the end of this year.  And because of the “bizarre excuse” from Pond5 that they aren’t good enough to sell some of my clips, Shutterstock will actually have MORE clips from my portfolio online than Pond5 when I’m done because their curators reject clips based on technical details, they don’t pass judgement on what a CURATOR thinks will sell.  That said, they do reject clips from over-saturated categories.  A policy I disagree with (let’s delete old clips that have never sold and replace them with newer clips shot with better camera equipment).  I think VB will overtake SS as my number one revenue generator in 2017, but I still think my SS sales will continue to grow and at a much faster rate next year as I put a lot more effort into expanding my portfolio.

Adobe Stock/Fotolia

I have had a few clips on Fotolia for many years.  At one point they sold HD clips for $1, so I deleted the majority of my portfolio some years back.  But when Adobe bought them to create Adobe Stock, I quickly started uploading my portfolio back.  And as expected, my revenue from them began to rise.  My portfolio on Adobe Stock is pitiful right now, but as with Shutterstock, I’m uploading EVERYTHING right now with the hope of getting it submitted before the end of 2016.  I think that Adobe Stock will overtake Pond5 in 2017 as my number 3 revenue generator.

Uploading and submitting through the Adobe Stock web site is a major pain in the ass.  It’s clunky, buggy and not intuitive in any way.  Plus there is no support for importing a CSV, so you have to cut and paste if you are copying your portfolio from Pond5 or another site.  Their curation is super fast, I’ve not had a single clip take longer than 4 business days to get approved or denied.  But their curation is much like Pond5’s… very inconsistent from one curator to the next and curators are allowed to determine if THEY think a clip will sell.  If you do a lot of Editorial, then Adobe Stock will frustrate you to no end.  They have said they plan to allow Editorial in the future, but they haven’t said when and I’m getting hundreds of dollars in Editorial Sales on other sites that Adobe Stock is missing out in.

Everybody else…

I am no longer on iStock, so all I know is what I read online. They are still a crappy agency to deal with and they keep finding more and more ways to screw artists over.  Dissolve is on a slow death spiral.  The former iStock employees who built it are using the “let’s screw artists over” mantra they learned at iStock and have pretty much the same crappy reputation. Everyone I know who is stuck there because of their multiyear policy before deleting a portfolio has stopped uploading.  So Dissolve is getting very little in the way of new uploads.  I met with them at the 2015 NAB convention and literally every single promise they made at that meeting, they’ve gone back on. And after continued poor sales on ClipCanvas, I finally deleted my portfolio there. The new management there just have no clue about what they are doing and I felt as though leaving my portfolio there was supporting their ineptitude.

My sleeper for 2017 is Motion Elements.  They have made it easier to submit and I’ve seen a much more aggressive sales push from them.  If they keep it up, I think they can make the top tier in revenue.

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