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

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

Here comes the rain

We’re expecting a lot of rain in this part of Kansas over the next 4 or 5 days, so I’m gonna work on uploading footage to Shutterstock and get back to doing some animations.

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