Stock footage: How to earn income selling your video

Life is happening everywhere and there are people who need footage of it. And it’s not just extreme shots like aerial footage or underwater video footage. Royalty free stock footage is in demand everywhere. Stock footage is a very lucrative industry and the Internet has made it possible for everyone to partake in the creation – and sale – of stock footage.

What is stock footage?

Stock footage is video clips that are shot by professional and amateur videographers to be sold to others who are in need of footage. Let’s say, for example, that a producer in Los Angeles is filming a television show that is set in Philadelphia. Does she fly out a crew and all their gear to Philly to get an establishing shot of the city, shots of Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, and the Rocky statue? Or would it be easier for her to purchase a few royalty free clips from an established stock footage company? Considering that the cost for purchasing the stock footage will almost certainly be less than the price of just one round-trip ticket across the country, the easy answer is to buy the footage. Remember this: movie, TV and video producers are looking for footage that they cannot easily and inexpensively produced in their own neighborhood or studio.

Once you have set your sights on a potential partner, check with the company as to what file formats they accept and try to find out what types of footage they are looking for. In many cases, the websites send emails to their registered users to let them know what content they need. Registering on websites is usually free, but it’s not always simple. The companies that will be selling your video footage want to know that they are contracting with someone who is competent and has equipment that meets their standards. Oftentimes, the companies will ask you to provide a reel or a link to your work. If this is the case, then you should put footage together before signing up, so that you are able to supply them with the necessary information when they request it; you can build a portfolio while generating marketable content.

You will also need to know the length of the clips they’re looking for. For instance, Joel Holland of Video Blocks states that his company accepts clips between 10 and 20 seconds long, with a preference between 12 and 15 seconds, whereas iStockphoto will accept clips as short as five seconds, or as long as 30 seconds with the preference toward the longer end of the spectrum.

What footage can I sell?

The content supply companies are looking for many types of footage, but the key word is unique. While most sites will allow you to place footage of running streams or waves breaking over the ocean, these are timeless shots and they already have plenty of them. Therefore, these common shots are far less likely to sell. Jim Goertz of iStockphoto explains that his company is focused on “scenes with fresh people doing natural activities in our current world” and he finds that they are always in demand. As the world changes, this type of material will always need to be refreshed.

Covered bridges aren’t just in Iowa’s Madison County, but they’re rare and a perfect example of something you might have in your area that someone else will pay to use. Getting multiple angles gives your users more options and gives you more possible revenue from the photo shoot.

But what if you live in an odd, remote area? Even better! Holland says that Video Blocks has content producers in “over 250 countries” and their biggest focus at the moment is the Middle East. Remember, the goal is to provide content for those who are unable to attain it on their own. So if you have footage of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid – or icebergs in the Arctic Circle, you may have something that someone else is willing to pay good money for. Experiment with angles and positions, and always remember that a potential client could be looking for anything; you can’t read their minds.

If you have access to events in your area, such as concerts and sports, you can create clips from them to send to content providers. Who knows? There could be someone who needs footage of a nondescript soccer game or tennis match (but, as always, be aware of copyrighted logos and identifiable shots of minors). Shots of people are also sought-after, but generally in group settings. If you focus in on someone and they can be distinguished, there could be legal issues down the road, so keep the shots wide unless you obtain a written release from them.

Can I still make money on footage from my old SD camera?

In a word: no. The time for standard definition footage has run its course and nobody’s looking to purchase it any more, unless it has some historical or unique value. That said, some of the old footage that you’ve been saving since 1981 can be valuable. Holland mentioned that Video Blocks recently purchased footage from the Apollo missions. Companies such as FootageLand and Historic Films specialize in antiquities. Therefore, if you have older stock available and it can’t be reproduced today, then it may be a good idea for you to see if you can sell it.

High definition video is the minimum standard for all supply companies and many are looking for a minimum resolution of 1920×1080. The number of outlets that will accept lower resolution footage is dwindling. Goertz states that many of the suppliers for iStockphoto have taken to DSLRs due to their ability to “shoot stills and video on the same set and at the same time.” This is advantageous to the videographer because many of these companies sell both stock photos and video. By using DSLRs to shoot both with a single camera, the content provider is maximizing his or her potential income.

And just how big is that potential? That is a question that can best be answered with a question: How much do you plan to put into it? Daniel Hurst of Morgan Lane Studios, who works full-time as a content supplier, says that “you really get out of it what you put into it. It is not easy money or a get-rich-quick scheme, it takes a lot of hard work and investment to make a decent return. Competition in the stock video market has dramatically increased over the last few years.” Daniel and his partner, Luke Miller take their jobs seriously and have invested in some excellent equipment including: RED EPIC-X and RED EPIC-M, Phantom HD GOLD (high speed camera), and Cineflex V14 (aerial camera system). However, unless you’re already a licensed pilot, it’s probably not best to start off with aerial footage.

How do I get my footage to the content aggregators?

Each content company has its own policies and you will need to research that when you do your due diligence in finding companies to work with. Most of them offer file transfer protocol (FTP) service so that you can transfer large files. Video Blocks offers this or they will accept information on hard drives (and they will pay for the drive, plus the postage). There are other companies that don’t offer FTP, but will assist you with getting your videos uploaded to their site.

What will it cost me to advertise my footage?

Time. You can advertise your footage the same way that you can advertise mostly anything else these days. Through a website, a blog, a Facebook page, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. But here’s the best part: You don’t even have to. Hurst says that he leaves that up to iStock, allowing them to drive the business to his work.

Is there another way for me to make money with stock media?

Photography and sound effects are both ways that you can make money with stock footage companies. In fact, Video Blocks’ Holland says that “our biggest growth areas right now are royalty free production music, Adobe After Effects and motion backgrounds.” If you look around, you will see that there are many ways to make money in stock footage; be creative and it will pay off for you.

Do I need to record sound when I create stock footage?

The content distributors prefer that you create clips without sound, unless sound is integral to creating the clip. If you must use sound, iStock makes the following recommendations:

  • If there are voices in the soundtrack, then those voices must be released.
  • There should not be any off-camera voices (such as director’s comments).
  • If sound is included, it should be recorded at proper levels without clipping or wind distortion.
  • No music should be included, even if it was just playing in the background.

How much money are we talking about?

Holland says that Video Blocks purchases its footage outright. The minimum purchase is 150 clips (although they prefer much more) and purchase prices begin at $5,000. Since this is non-exclusive, those same clips can be sold to other content providers as well.

Most providers pay their contributors a percentage of their sales. For instance, a video producer whose work is on iStock will make 15-20 percent of the sale price of their material if they are a non-exclusive provider. If that provider is working exclusively with them, the royalty becomes 45 percent of the sales. The advantage with this business model is that a content producer can theoretically get paid in perpetuity for the same clip, and clips can be downloaded thousands of times.

The industry of stock video footage is young and it is growing; there is room for you if you are serious. And if you are serious, you will do your homework. Study the needs of the footage companies and ask questions.

Prices for video footage range from a dollar to several hundred dollars. Depending on the deal that you strike with the aggregator, you could earn more than $100 per clip (although that is certainly the exception). The best part is that in most cases, you’ll earn money on the clips that you shot for many years to come. High definition stock footage is preferred, but if it’s an extreme piece of well-composed aerial footage, or an impossible-to-duplicate piece of time lapse stock footage, the payoff might be higher, but anything the stock video companies need will pay off if your video footage has good composition and framing. 

Most of the distributors that pay a percentage of the sale have a minimum dollar amount before they release funds to you. Goertz of iStockphoto explains, “Each time your file is downloaded, a record of the sale is attributed to your account. Once you have accumulated a minimum of $100 in royalties, you can cash out using your PayPal or Moneybookers account or request a check. Contributors can request a payment once per week.”

Videomaker recently spoke with founder and CEO Kevin Schaff of T3media, formerly Thought Equity Motion, regarding its new licensing program called Paya. This program runs on the same premise as a craigslist or eBay listing. You post it, you get 80 percent and Paya gets 20 percent of the proceeds. Paya allows everyone, from professional photographers and videographers to average consumers with iPhones and DSLRs to sell their work using social community reach and the speed of the Web.

Rights and Royalty-free

Video footage is almost entirely sold as royalty free footage. What that means is that when a client purchases the footage, they are free to use it in any manner that they choose, for as long as they like, and in as many situations as they desire. It is theirs; they paid for it, and they are welcome to use it. 

Daniel Hurst states, “one thing we never expected would be so great about working with iStock is the community of iStock staff and other stock shooters. We regularly stay in contact with other shooters, we have meetups – both official iStock events and just getting together on our own. Sometimes these meetups are to work together on shoots, and other times its just to share ideas and hang out. We’ve made some great friendships with people who live all over the world.”

John McCabe is a video producer.

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