Thursday, March 27, 2008

Review:Video Stock Footage Sites for Submitters...




So I have a ton of footage that I really would like to make some money on. Heck, I have so much footage that I actually have to go through some of it frame by frame to see what I have. Some of it is really cool, some of it not so cool. Or is it?

I have been shooting for about 6 years now and one can only imagine what piles up in the tape bin. It's a grueling process to "suck"the footage into the editing bay and then actually look at it, over and over again. Or is it?

Clips here, clips there, clips everywhere. Now I am no Dr. Seuss, but I had to throw that in. But it is a very true statement. Then you gotta believe or at least think that these clips are worth something. No?

Well, I have been on a quest. The quest to help me determine where to sell all of this "high quality footage". After all, wouldn't it be nice to make a buck or two from stuff that basically is sitting in its digital closet known as tapes? Time to bring this stuff out of the closet so to speak.

Now I have not really been fair with myself either. I believed for quite a long time that my footage is crap! Yes, absolute garbage! Although I did have fun shooting it. So who cares other than me? Well, after pulling some stuff out and revisiting old times, I found that some of the stuff was actually pretty cool, in my opinion. Make a note of that statement. Particularly the "my opinion" part. For what you are about to read is purely my opinion and is in no way supposed to imply anything other than my personal opinion. This opinion is based on what I have experienced to date and in no way shall reflect fact or truth about any company, individual or entity named here. It is just my opinion, for what it's worth.

Now back to making a buck or two...

I started assembling clips from hours of footage. As I said, a grueling process. Also an instant schooling course on becoming a "vlogger" - yes a video log writer, as in the real industry, not the You Tuber types. Documenting, describing, analysing, noting, in some cases frame by frame. (Ok, really only when I am vlogging the lightning shots, but that's another story.)

So I came up with this bright idea. Let's make some DVD's and sell them. With all the You Tuber's, Internet Directors and let's not forget Hollywood, they should sell! Considering the pricing, it's a heck of a deal for all those nicely organized clips. (My Opinion!) - Ok, some of those are done and you can get them here and here is here is a little intro-info for them as well.

But there must be a better way and a way to sell by the clip. And there is! Actually there are several ways and several companies that will do this with you. I have so far only joined two(2) of them. So I will only tell you about my experiences with just these two. My guess is that I may not join any others either, as it is a lot of work to maintain the libraries in any case. So, call me lazy. But that is why I think I selected the best two. Now for the nitty gritty.

So I am going to review, based on first impression these two companies, Pond5.com and iStockphoto.com.

Right off the bat, you should have noticed that there is a link to Pond5.com, but not to iStockphoto.com. Why you ask? Well, I suppose I could link to the general iStockphoto.com site and just let it be that. But I refuse to just link to some site that I do business with, without having the opportunity to make a referral fee. Duh! iStockphoto.com does as well have such a program, but I have yet to understand why they are so picky about what the potential referral has to do, and when they have to do it and what needs to be turned on and.... . (You get the point.) - Strike 1 for iStockphoto.com

Uploading files of this nature is a very time consuming task, no matter who you work with. Or so it may seem. The fact is, both sites only accept files that are a minimum of 5 seconds to a maximum of 30 seconds. Great! That is what stock footage is all about. We are not producing major motion pictures here. But even these small times can create enormous sized files at full resolution. For example a full NTSC 720x480 progressive blah blah blah blah file easily reaches 68 MB (Mega Bytes not Mega Bits) in DV format. Just imagine an HDV file size! Then mix that in with your typical slooooow uploading speed and you will be drinking a lot of coffee while waiting for the first file to upload. Since this is typically the case, we need to automate this process and put it in background. Here is how the two companies stack up for this simple yet ever so important process...

iStockphoto.com - web based interface only, unless you agree to be exclusive with them. In the case of exclusivity, they will give you a FTP login/account.

Pond5.com - either via web (browser) or FTP with no special requirements or catches.

Now this may sound a bit picky, but if you can't use the old and reliable FTP stuff and let it run in background for such large files, then you will be hoping and praying that your sloooooow upload speed connection won't timeout the browser based method. With FTP you can "batch" a bunch of files and let it rip. With a browser based app, it is a bit problematic. - Strike 2 for iStockphoto.com and shame on you for trying to "force" the exclusivity angle on us artisans!

To be fair though, the Pond5 web based app has yet to work for me in any way shape or form. Of course I haven't really bothered with it in any case as I have no real use for it either. Maybe it's my browser blockage stuff (security settings) or simply that I am running on Vista. I really don't care in either case. I like FTP.

The curation process is a very intricate part of the whole mechanism. iStockphoto has the process named "Dismabiguation", Pond5 calls it "Tagging". iStockphoto also offers a very fancy processing screen for this. In my opinion, almost too fancy, hence cumbersome. Of course this process is cumbersome no matter what, because this is where you need to literally "vlog" the clip. However, iStock really did a great job on the facility and also in their training manual. They explain in very nice detail how to do it correctly. Of course I cheated and also applied this knowledge to my Pond5 uploads.

In a nutshell, iStockphoto and Pond5 each have their strengths and weaknesses in the "vlogging" process:

Upsides iStockphoto:
  • Great training.
  • Very elaborate (almost too elaborate) disambiguation process.
  • Allow you to upload your choice of .jpg for the initial screen shot of the clip. (For me this was priceless when submitting lightning footage!)

Upsides Pond5:

  • Allow FTP from the start without any hooks or catches or requirements.
  • Simpler and less tedious "vlogging" - lots of check boxes - cool
  • Allow you to make re-usable templates for the process - a tremendous time saver!
  • Reasonable curation time (about a week and maybe a few days)
  • Focused strictly on video!
  • Some really neat features on the back end for the artisan (new stuff - nice dashboard)

Downsides iStockphoto:

  • Very slow in curating uploads. So far the average time has been 2 weeks plus and still waiting. (At the time of this writing they have been re-vamping servers and such, but stated specifically that "this will not impact curation times". The re-vamping only impacts the uploading facility, as in, "you can not upload anything until we are done". Now patiently waiting a week later....)
  • Very slow in curating uploads. Oh wait, already said that...
  • Seems as if they consider video stock to be a secondary product by the menu placement and lack of front page highlights regarding video.
  • When browsing and if you checked all of the boxes (Photos, Illustrations, Flash, Video) it is very hard to figure out which is which, particularly when the artist puts in a long title. A little icon would be nice as opposed to simply adding the text "(Video)" to the end of the title.
  • Perhaps because this site is all of the above "stock stuff", it makes it not as focused.

Downsides Pond5:

  • Not as big (yet) as iStock, but then again, this may be really good for some of us.
  • Haven't done much marketing yet, but then again, time seems to be on their side and they are growing steadily.
  • Potentially will suffer from growing pains in my opinion because this company is going to rock!
  • Won't let you submit or pick the display image for the clip. For example if you have a clip of lightning, chances are, it won't show the particular frame that would really help sell the clip. (i.e. the lightning strike itself)
  • Curation time will most likely suffer when the above happens as well.

So to be fair, curation times are the biggest gripe on both forums. Unfortunately there just is no easy way to do this process. These companies work their butts off to make sure that nobody gets into trouble with copyright issues, releases and so on. I would guess, and again this is subjective thinking, at some point the curators will also "clean up the garbage" that has been, is being, and will be submitted. As of this writing, iStockphoto has now specifically announced to all artisans that they will no longer accept "generic cgi" stuff. It's about time!



Pricing and selling are of course the biggies when it comes to stock footage.



Pond5 allows you to do one of two things, either set the price yourself, or let the curator determine the price. I do not know how the price is determined if you let the curator set the price. However this flexibility has its upsides and downsides.



One can imagine that since this is a very subjective process, there will be some people that believe their footage is priceless. I do recall seeing a site (not Pond5 or iStockphoto) where clips are being sold for as high as $300.00/second! - Not many clients out there to pay that. Particularly in today's market.



On the other hand, there are submissions that are worth a bit more due to the quality, the composition and the diverse use possibilities. But how would one know that before hand? Again, this is all very subjective.



iStockphoto on the other hand sells everything at a fixed price. The price is set regardless of the length of the clip. They do adjust for differences between what they call small, medium, NTSC/PAL, HD 720 and HD 1080. Simple, no subjectiveness and no flexibility.



The common strategy between both sites is that they do not put much focus on "rights managed licensing". Pond5 has nothing related to such a process. iStockphoto has something along those lines, but since I have not implemented that yet, I can't tell you much about it. iStock however does have a button to click on called "Extended License" - which I assume can only mean, buy it, use it for your projects without time limit or usage limit. Of course you may not use it for a compilation library that you would re-sell since you never will own the copyright, only the right to use. I know, it gets really legal here.



Artist Commissions are somewhat unbalanced between the two companies. In my opinion Pond5 seems to be less greedy. I like that in a company. Here is the quick breakdown:



iStockphoto pays 20% in royalty, however if you "qualify" and are "eligible" for exclusivity you can make up to 40%. Wow. Ok, I am being somewhat sarcastic here. But the term "exclusivity" always scares the hell out of me, particularly when it is my copyright we are talking about. I find it really difficult to offer a company exclusivity without a high price. It limits my market.



Pond5 kicks iStockphoto's butt on this one! They use a very simple philosophy, 50/50. Yup, you get 50% no matter what. Of course you do need to put a minimum price on things as they specify that to be $10.00.



Strike 3 - iStockphoto.com



Now I want everyone to understand that this review is based on my first impressions of working with both companies. But first impressions are exactly that and they do count. However, I encourage anyone that wishes to participate in this business to try them all out. They are all working diligently to improve the process, make life better and so on. Remember what I said at the beginning - This is in my opinion! My opinion and a quarter will not even get you a cup of coffee today. :)



Please feel free to comment and throw your opinions in about this topic. The more information gets exchanged, the better for all of us behind the camera.



Thanks for reading and hopefully this helps you a bit.

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