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

Pond5 adds Music and Sound Effects

This is going to be an interesting experiment…  But a welcome one.  I am a former high school band geek and “I got the music in me”, so I’m working on some stuff.

Got my first music clip accepted: http://bit.ly/2QQe0v

October 6, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , , | 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

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

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

Almost there…

Hit 498 clips online at Pond5 today.  For number 500, I have submitted some editorial footage of country music stars Blake Shelton and Tim McGraw.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment