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

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