Rants of a Digital Bard

OMG! Who gave this idiot a blog?

Being successful in Microstock Footage game

My good friend Jake Hellbach wrote an excellent article on the Shutterstock forum about some of the keys to his success in the stock footage business, which you should definitely read.  Besides being extremely talented, Jake is a pretty modest guy.  He really doesn’t like to use the word “successful”, although I think he has been.

The folks at Shutterstock edited his original article a little bit to center on the stock footage industry, but the basic premise that Jake discusses can be used in stock photography or pretty much any “hobby” that you want to monetize.

One thing that I wanted to point out is that while it does make it “easier” to spend the thousands of dollars Jake has on equipment, it doesn’t always make it better.  It’s a short article, so he briefly discusses how important lighting is, but in my experience lighting is pretty much the whole game.  Especially if you don’t have a $3000 camera that makes almost anything look good.  If you are using a camcorder instead of a “Video DSLR”, you are going to run into low-light noise issues.  That’s where having lots of light and proper lighting really helps.

I did a recent shoot in my home studio and I’m spending a lot of time fixing noise issues with dark clothing.  Anything in the image that is light (skin, light colored clothes) looks beautiful, but I didn’t have enough light on the subject to deal with dark clothing.  Lesson learned.  I talked my local library into getting the book “Lighting for Digital Video & Television” by John Jackman.  I highly recommend it, and the library is going to be lucky to get it back from me.

I can tell you from the many, many, many discussions I’ve had with Jake on his techniques and trying to pry details of his shoots out of him (he’s actually very forthcoming), I have learned that Jake plans every shoot as well as he can before any filming actually takes place.  That’s another lesson I learned the hard way this last shoot I did.  I made a shot list beforehand, but I had the talent for 2 hours and I only had about an hour’s worth of ideas on my list.  I lost 15 to 20 minutes during the shoot because I had to stop and think up more stuff for her to do.  In the future, I’ll have a MUCH MUCH longer list that is prioritized on what I really want to accomplish and if everything goes right, we’ll run out of time before we hit the end of the list.

What is not in Jake’s article, but if you were to talk to him he would tell you is that patience is THE most important skill you can have to be truly successful in the Stock Footage game.  If you are just starting out, or you’ve been doing it for a short time, success comes slowly.  Not every clip you produce is going to sell (even if it’s your personal favorite).  In fact, only a small percentage of your portfolio will ever sell even once.  And a tiny percentage will sell on a regular basis.  This business is a numbers game.  The more clips you have online, the better your chance of being seen.

But that doesn’t mean that you can shoot everything you see and uploads hundreds of clips at once to build a large portfolio.  Those days are gone.  Most stock sites are starting to reject clips that are too similar to those already online. Sunsets, time-lapse clouds, time-lapse moonscapes, etc…  Everybody has done it and unless your shot REALLY stands out as unique, it’s gonna get rejected.  It’s a very tired cliche, but “you need to think outside the box” and you need to come up with something new and unique.  Tough to do when everyone has a video camera these days.  But I think Jake’s article touched on something important…

Buyers are looking for a “Cinema Look” on clips.  If you spend time on each clip to color correct it, maybe even do some color grading to make it softer, harder, darker, or some unique artistic look then you’ll have a better chance of standing out in the crowd.  Some sites, like Pond5, will even let you submit the same clip multiple times, but with different artistic looks.  The important thing, however, is uniqueness.  If a buyer searches for “sunset” and your clip is in the middle of thousands of others, it won’t get noticed unless there is something unique and special about it.  So don’t just upload your footage without any kind of artistic touch any more.  Because I already did, Jake already did and so did the hundreds of others who started a long time ago in this business with us.

One last thing for those of you just getting started or who have only been doing this a relatively short time…  Look at the clip count on the home page of each site..  Over 250,000 on Pond5 (congrats, btw), almost 150,000 on Shutterstock, etc…  Your 50 clips, or 100 clips simply aren’t going to stand out in that large of a crowd.  Especially if none of it is unique.  Jake has over 1,700 clips on Pond5 and over 1,000 on the other sites.  So it’s much easier to find his stuff.  That’s where patience comes in…  Until you start getting around the 500 clip mark, don’t get frustrated or depressed because you’re not making $1,000 a month in sales (or even $100 a month).

To paraphrase one of my favorite fish… “Just keep producing, just keep producing, producing, producing”…  As long as you keep producing new stuff your value on each site will grow and you’ll get in front of more buyers and you’ll sell more.

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stock Footage Sales 2009

Okay, I have 22 clips which are common between Pond5, RevoStock and ShutterStock and have been online for 6 months or more on each site.  Over the past 6 months Pond5 has outsold RevoStock nearly 12:1.  RevoStock has outsold ShutterStock a little over 3:1.  Why?

Pond5 only rejects clips for technical reasons, they do no pass judgement on what they believe a buyer may actually buy. So, they get some crap, but “ugly is in the eye of the beholder” and I have stuff I consider crap which has sold.  Pond5 allows artists to set their own pricing.  Pond5 has the second highest payout in the industry.

RevoStock rejects files for stupid reasons sometimes, but anything good does get through.  Still, the “ugly” stuff they rejects is selling on Pond5 (meaning, it generates revenue).  RevoStock has a limited ability to allow artists to set pricing.  Still, there is a TON of stuff which is simply not competitive.  They are getting killed on the low end where Pond5, Digital Juice, and other sites with low cost clips are making bank.  RevoStock pays 40% which isn’t bad, but isn’t near the top.   They pay more if you’re exlusive, but if you go exlusive with them you’ll lose more money that you’ll get from the extra %.  They offer no real incentive for going exclusive.

ShutterStock rejections are a puzzle.  I have stuff which has sold many times over on Pond5 and even RevoStock, but has been rejected by ShutterStock.  I’ve had stuff rejected by one reviewer on ShutterStock, re-submitted a few weeks later and accepted by another.  There is no consistency to it at all.  ShutterStock sets the pricing and their per clip pricing is high on animations and low on many HD camera clips.  The real bargain for ShutterStock buyers is in subscriptions, but artists get royally screwed on subscription sales.  And ShutterStock is among the bottom of payouts to artists.

Is it any wonder that Pond5 has come out of basically no-where in the past 2 years to LEAD the stock footage industry? Revo is one of the sites that helped start the industry, but they’re behind in the curve (although, admittedly they are making changes for the better).  And ShutterStock is just so big they honestly don’t care about artists at all.  They have big money behind them and a very large loyal customer base because they treat their buyers well.

October 6, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , | Leave a comment

My Dream Stock Footage Site…

My dream stock footage site would have the following features:

Allow the artist to set the price for clips.  Allow creating “bundles” of clips and allow the artist to set the price for bundles. Pay a minimum of 50% royalty on sales.

Mobile device friendly site.  A lot of producers I know have iPhones and would kill to search/browse clip libraries without having to crack open the laptop.

Allow me to create a “brand” and apply that branding to my portfolio page and all of my clip pages.  Almost like a mini-store for my clips within the main site.

Allow me to have a blog on my portfolio.  More importantly, allow me to have a VIDEO blog on my portfolio where I can produce tutorials on how to use my clips or ideas on using my clips.  Something integrated into my portfolio, not just a link to YouTube or Vimeo.  And allow me to upload a show-reel to my portfolio.

Allow me to embed clip previews on other sites, such as my blog so that I can drive more buyers to my portfolio.

Allow me to create time-sensitive discount codes for my portfolio.  So I could create a discount code for 5% off of all my clips and that 5% comes out of my end, not the sites.  This would aid me in marketing my own stuff.

Allow me to upload different sizes and encoding for my clips and set different prices for the sizes, but show it all on the main clips page.  (RevoStock already does this and Pond5 “sort of” does this.)

For buyers, have a “My Studio” feature that allows them to place purchased clips in their “Studio” and do things like re-encode them in another codec, resize them, trim them, etc.

Allow artists to edit the data for their clips, even after they’ve been submitted and approved.  (Pond5 and RevoStock both do this.)  Allow artists to download all of the meta-data for their portfolio.  (Pond5 does this.)

Provide artists with sales data.  Most popular clips over a given period by both dollars and downloads.  (Pond5 does this.)

Daily notifications of sales at the end of day.  When rejecting a clip, please include the original uploaded filename in the rejection notice.  Do not delete the clip and make the artist re-upload it if there is a problem that can be fixed without re-uploading.

Support both FTP and Web uploaders for submitting footage.

Flexible limits on both clip length and file size depending on the content.  Not hard limits.  (Pond5 does this.)

Automatic monthly payments when the payout limit is reached.  Reasonable minimum payout. (Pond5 leads the pack with $25 minimum.)

No exclusive contracts or exclusive vs non-exclusive pricing.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , | 1 Comment

Can Stock Photo, friendly folks but ugh…

A friend on Pond5 notified me when Can Stock started accepting footage recently.  They’ve got a pretty good reputation in stock photography, so I decided to sign up and give it a try.

Finding footage on their site is a horrible experience.  But I don’t think most of their sales come from their own web site.  They offer their entire catalog through Fotosearch.com which has a TON of buyers.

They set the prices on clips, but they offer 50%.  I haven’t actually sold any footage through them yet, so I don’t know what Fotosearch sets for their prices.

Quite honestly, the submitter interface is easy to use, but not artist friendly.  But footage is still a work in progress with Can Stock, so it’s getting better.

They accept footage encoded in most codecs as long as it’s in a .MOV wrapper (just like Pond5) which makes uploading a lot of stuff with alpha real easy.

But the main reason I like them is the staff there are ultra friendly.  They answer questions quickly, answer you directly and are always looking for suggestions.  Reminds me of the good ole’ days with Pond5.

For most people, Can Stock probably isn’t mature enough yet for submitting unless you like getting in on the ground floor.  Footage sales are slow (I haven’t sold anything yet), but it’s a maturing site that keeps getting better.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , | Leave a comment

RevoStock, getting better

I think RevoStock is one of the oldest stock footage sites on the net.  It’s certainly the first one I ever encountered when I first got into the business.  But it’s one of the last I actually joined because they make you take a stupid test in order to sell through them.

The site looks very professional, but it’s not a “clean” interface by any means.  It’s very cluttered, although it’s not a complicated site to use.

At present RevoStock sets the price on all footage.   And they pay you 60% for clips that are exclusive to their site and 45% for clips that are not.  The goal is to get you to submit unique clips to RevoStock only, but the extra 15% isn’t really worth it.  If you are not uploading to more than one site, you’re losing way more money than 15%.  Their pricing is also really convoluted as clips are given “levels” based on how many times they sell (the price goes up as a clip sells more). It’s a tad confusing.  Rumor has it they are going to allow artists to set their own prices, if they do… Watch out Pond5 because RevoStock has a huge customer base and can seriously compete as most artists join.

RevoStock only supports clips encoded with PhotoJPEG and MotionJPEG.  They do not accept clips encoded in other formats, which I think hurts them.  They also limit  clips to 20 seconds which also hurts them.  I have a number of very big sellers on Pond5 that are 30 seconds and cutting them to 20 seconds ruins the clip.

The submitter interface isn’t nearly as good as Pond5’s, but it’s still pretty good.  And like Pond5 you can edit clip information even after a clip has been submitted.  Unfortunately, they don’t save the original filename so it’s harder when the first frame of a clip looks the same or similar to other clips in your portfolio.  They do let you upload your own still for the preview image which is pretty cool. They also let you upload different sizes for your clip which are offered on the same page as the original.  This is actually better than ShutterStock which automatically resizes clips and the artist loses control of the quality.

The RevoStock staff seems pretty friendly on their forums.  They love feedback from both artists and buyers and they have open conversations with people.  Although, they’re a little slow to respond at times.  I’ve made a few suggestions and the answers I got back were friendly, but I felt like they were “blowing me off”.  But that could just be me…

I think at one point they were actually the “Stock Footage Champion” before Pond5 really became popular.  And from the posts in their forums of late, I think they realize it and are working to get back to #1.  They seem like really nice folks and although I think the whole “exclusive” thing is a crock, they are still very artist friendly.

And in case you missed it before, they have a HUGE customer base.  So they SELL A TON OF FOOTAGE.  RevoStock should definitely be on your list of sites to sell through.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , | Leave a comment

ShutterStock or ShudderStock depending on your point of view

ShutterStock started out as just stock photos and artwork, then added footage later.  And from an artist point of view, if you only do stock footage, the tools and features of the site make you feel like footage is the “red headed stepchild”.  The submitter interface feels like an afterthought and certainly isn’t nearly as friendly as Pond5, RevoStock or several other sites.

ShutterStock sets the prices on the footage they sell and they only pay 30% for per clip “downloads”.  They offer subscriptions and they pay even less if a clip is purchased through a subscription.  Definitely among the lowest in the industry.

Besides rejecting clips for technical reasons, a reviewer may also judge the “value” of a clip and decide that the clip you uploaded isn’t “stock worthy” and reject it because they simply don’t like it.  With dozens or more reviewers, that means you get a dozen or more opinions as to what is “stock worthy” and what isn’t.  If you get a clip rejected for this reason, you can usually wait a week, re-upload, re-submit and have it pass from a different reviewer.

And yes, I said “re-upload”.  If a clip is rejected, it’s deleted by the system.  Even if it’s a keywording error, you still have to re-upload the clip.  And if you have more than one clip rejected, you have to guess what they were.  The original filename is lost, all you get if the number they assigned to it.  The submitter interface is really not very friendly.

Most of the artists who participate in the forums are pretty nasty and not very helpful people.  Most of them only use the “photography” side of the site, but they have no problem jumping in and giving their opinion in any thread.  Not all of them are that way, certainly there are a number of friendly people. But I have found the majority to be mean and unfriendly.  Including some of the staff comments I’ve come across.

So why submit there if the site is that bad?  Because, like Wal-Mart, they SELL A LOT OF FOOTAGE.  They’ve been in the business for a very long time, they have a HUGE number of buyers.  If you have a good number of clips with them and they are popular, you can make a lot of money with ShutterStock.

Unfortunately, the people who run ShutterStock realize this and know that they don’t have to treat artists fairly or even well.  Oh sure, there are individuals at ShutterStock that are nice helpful people, but not anyone who makes any of the business decisions.  ShutterStock is all about business and making money.

So, yes, because they know how to get buyers and how to make money, I keep my account active and I am increasing the size of my portfolio there.

Btw, I want to make it perfectly clear that nobody from ShutterStock has treated me badly.  My opinion is based on a comparison of how they do things versus how other sites do things.  They pay low, reject high, and from reading thousands of posts in their forums over the past few years, they have an unfriendly tone to their posts.  The overwhelming majority of comments I read on other sites about ShutterStock are negative… with one glaring exception… they make people a lot of money.  Which is why artists continue to submit and deal with them.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , | Leave a comment

Pond5, the disputed leader and champion

Pond5 is my favorite site for selling stock footage.  The crew there has always been helpful, friendly and listen closely to contributors.  It’s a friendly relationship, not a confrontational one.

Pond5 lets you set your own price for each individual clip you upload.  They have a minimum of $5 for anything smaller than HD and a $10 minimum on HD.  There is no upper limit.  And they split each sale with you 50/50.  This is the second best payout among footage sites.

Pond5 only rejects clips for technical reasons or if you violate their content terms.  They DO NOT pass judgement on what is “sellable” or not, they let their customers decide what sells.  I have seen some stuff that I think is horendous, but it has still sold.  Pond5 truly understands that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.  As a result of this liberal policy, they have grown to be the biggest artist contributed site on the net despite a number of sites having been around longer.

The Pond5 web site looks very professional and has a simple and clean design.  Emphasis is on getting clips in front of buyers and not hokey stuff that is “nerd cool” but serves no purpose to the experience.  Buyers and artists have clip bins that can be public or private and each clip page has nearly complete technical data on each clip.

They support more codecs than any other site, which is EXTREMELY artist friendly.  Of course, they prefer PhotoJPEG and MotionJPEG, but they still accept Apple PNG, Apple Animation, and MP4.  Plus, if the sound is relevant to the clip, they accept clips with sound.

The management tools for artists to manage their portfolio are THE BEST of any site.  It’s very easy to quickly make changes to pricing on just one of your clips, a group of clips or all of your clips.  All of the data for your clip is editable, even after it’s been submitted.  And you can download a CSV file with full data on your clips (number of views, number of sales, price, original uploaded filename, etc..).

The Artist Resources are steller.  You can get reports on the best selling clips for the last week and the last month sorted by dollars earned or number of downloads.  You get a complete breakdown of the most popular sizes being downloaded as well as the average pricing of clips for each size.  No other site gives you as much information to help you in your own marketing and clip production.

If you submit a clip and it is rejected, they do not delete the clip.  They leave it so that you can correct any mistakes if there is a correctable mistake.  So you don’t have to re-upload it.  They also store the original filename in their database and let you view it, so that it helps you with your own book keeping.

They send you email notifications of accepted and rejected clips when clips are reviewed.  And you get email notifications of any sales.  They delay processing of sales by a few days so that buyers have a chance to notify them of any issues that might require a refund or if the transaction is fraudulent.  But this is actually a great system because you don’t end up with a bunch of refund notifications on your account.  The only downside is that the tally process is somewhat manual and sometimes they forget to do it for a day or two.  So you if you sell clips on a regular basis, a few days may go by without any notifications.  It’s excruciating for someone with little patience. 🙂

It’s not all roses, however…  The site is not mobile device friendly, so browsing for clips on your cell phone or iPod/iPhone won’t work.

When the site was in beta and for the first year or so after beta the Pond5 staff communicated almost daily with the artists.  Now that the site has matured, the communication is much less frequent.  Pond5 has grown considerably with lots of new faces and they have announced some great new (and highly anticipated) features, but many of us who have been with the site for a long time miss that dialogue.  They are still SUPER FAST at acknowledging and fixing bugs, but the daily conversations about what they’re doing and what we want to see are a thing of the past.

Depending on your viewpoint, another annoyance is that they don’t do very much policing of search keywords.  So it’s pretty easy to slip popular keywords into your clip data in order to get it viewed more often in searches.  From a buyer point of view, it’s gotta be very frustrating to do a search on “christmas” and have a dozen or more clips show up on the first page that have nothing to do with Christmas or any other holiday.  Many sites have the ability to report keyword issues on each clip page, but not on Pond5.  For the moment if you have an issue, you have to contact the staff through their messaging system.

By far, in my opinion, this is the best of the stock footage sites from an Artist/Submitter point of view.  They are fair, they let artist set  their own prices and they treat artists with respect and we are treated as partners.  Very refreshing compared to most other sites.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , | Leave a comment

Sell your stock footage online

I get a lot of emails asking about my opinion on the various stock footage sites through which I sell.  And occasionally I even get an email from a stock footage site asking my opinion on what they can do better.  So, I thought I’d post about what I think of various sites I use and also what my perfect stock footage site would be.

I’ll seperate each site into a different post to make things a little easier to read.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , | Leave a comment

Shooting footage with the Canon Vixia HF11

Here are some tips I have learned shooting footage with my Canon Vixia HF11, I hope others find them useful.

First, the camera is lite… Very lite… So if you are shooting outside with a tripod and there is any kind of wind, the camera is gonna shake.  It’s less noticeable if you are not zoomed, but once you use the zoom, it becomes very noticeable.  So get yourself a heavy tripod and/or weigh your tripod down to make it more stable.

Turn off the Digital Zoom.  Turn off the Instant Auto-Focus (IAF).  Turn off the Optic Stabilization (unless you’re actually filming hand-held).  None of these features are your friend.  The IAF is finicky and will constantly attempt to adjust focus even when it’s already correct.

Speaking of focus.  If you are filming a subject whose distance does not change, disable the auto-focus.  I set up my camera, point it at what I want to shoot, let the auto-focus find the correct focus, then use the joystick to disable it by setting it to Manual Focus.  If you’re filming a moving object that gets closer/farther from you or you are using the zoom, then you’ll have to leave the AF enabled.

If you are filming on a tripod, use the remote to start/stop shooting and zooming.  If you touch the buttons on the camera it causes a noticeable little shake.

The three most important accesseries are a GOOD Tripod, a weather proof camera bag and a 37mm UV filter to protect the lens.  After that, I’d get a DC to AC convertor for your car to use the camera charger (cheaper than a second battery), a lens hood, a polorizing filter, an ND filter and a wide angle lens.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Over 500 clips online!

Over 500 clips now online at Pond5!!  My last batch includes some editorial stuff of Jack Ingram, Blake Shelton, and Tim McGraw performing at an outdoor country music festival in Manhattan, Kansas.

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment