Several years ago I found myself searching through my hard drives when it dawned on me just how much footage I had accumulated over the years. Naturally I wondered “can I possibly make money selling this as video stock footage?”.
As videographers we shoot a slew of footage which is typically used once before it gets buried in the archives to never again see the light of day. But what we don’t realise is that our footage is actually worth something. The likelihood is that there is someone out there who would pay money for a shot we already have – either because it is unique enough or simply because it is more convenient for them to buy instead of shoot it.
When I first started out with stock, I decided that I was going to try to sell on the two biggest stock agencies at the time (Shutterstock and Pond5). After uploading about 30 clips, I quickly realised just how much work goes into uploading onto just one agency. Every clip must first be trimmed, color-corrected and exported after which it needs to be uploaded, named and populated with keywords. This process then needs to be repeated if you want to submit your footage on another site.
After a bit of research, I stumbled upon Blackbox Global*. They are a stock footage distribution service that act as an aggregator; submitting your footage to over three of the big stock agency websites (Shutterstock, Pond 5 and Adobe Stock). While they do take a cut (15% of NET sales), I figured that I could justify the time savings of having to repeat the process over and over again. (*this is not a paid endorsement)
WHAT STOCK FOOTAGE SELLS?
This is the question that almost everyone asks. It’s also the one that is so incredibly hard to answer. Some of my favorite shots have never even made a single sale whereas some of my most obscure have sold over and over again. The truth is you simply do not know what buyers might need. When starting out, it might be worthwhile to try and diversify your portfolio to see what sells. Over time you will better understand the stock footage landscape and you can hone in on niches as you discover them.
When you look at the trending / popular categories on stock sites you will find that Aerials, Sport, People, Timelapse, Technology, Lifestyle (amongst others) consistently rank high. But this offers very vague insight to contributors, and in practice, it is far more nuanced than that. A strategy that I have seen some people practice is to film stock footage relevant to current topics. If there is a topic that is trending internationally, you might be able to think of creative ways of illustrating it through video.
One piece of advice I can give is that unique shots are valuable.
Think of it this way – almost anyone can shoot a generic shot of a cat napping (there are thousands online). It is not very smart to try and compete in a category that is so heavily saturated. It is by no means impossible, but it is much more difficult. A better approach is to find niches that are underserved. If you do find yourself shooting a subject that is not particularly unique or hard-to-find, try instead to make the shot either unique or better in order to stand out amongst the crowd.
What I can say from several years of experience however, is that in stock there are two golden rules: quality and diversity.
I know people who have portfolios that boast thousands of clips, yet they do not make very many sales. For the longest time I only had about 300 clips, yet I often made more sales than them. This is why I believe the focus should be on creating quality clips as well as building out a long tail (in terms of diversity).
It is worth noting that your first few months are probably not going to yield many (if any) sales. I only made my first sale after three months. You need time to build up your portfolio and also to let your videos work their way up the agency’s algorithm. Just like YouTube, stock sites rank your footage using algorithms.
WHAT CAMERA DO I NEED TO SHOOT STOCK FOOTAGE?
One of the biggest concerns people have is that their camera is “not good enough” to shoot stock footage with. While it’s no secret that newer cameras shoot better video which is more marketable, if your shot is unique enough it can sell. I have heard countless stories of people who have sold footage that was shot on their smartphone or some of the lower end cameras like GoPro or DJI Osmo.
The point is, the subject is just as important as the quality of the clip – if not more. Ideally, you should strive to achieve both.
One thing worth noting is that if you can, you should shoot your clips in 4K (or higher). This will give the buyer more options and will ensure that your clips have a longer shelf-life. That is because, while we still use 1080p today, it might not be as useful in a few years from now.
To learn more about picking the right camera: we have separate blog post dedicated to that.
HOW MUCH CAN A CLIP SELL FOR?
Some stock agencies will determine the price of a clip themselves while others let the buyer set their own. As the contributor, you will get paid depending on what quality the buyer chooses to purchase (4K, 1080p, or 480p).
On average, these are the range of prices* you can expect (before agency fees)
- 4K: $129~$199 per clip
- 1080p: $59~$89 per clip
- 480p: $49~$59 per clip
(stock agencies commission can vary from 50%~80%)
Although much less frequent, some people buy footage with an “extended license agreement”. These tend to be bought by the Film & TV industry where they obtain exclusive rights for a certain period of time. These buyers look for the highest quality clips and can sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars.
*Bear in mind that stock sites with subscription services (eg: StoryBlocks) offer different pricing structures to these. They are normally significantly lower per clip due to the nature of the business model but can often result in a higher number of sales.
CAN I MAKE A LIVING OFF SELLING STOCK?
Let’s douse this with a pinch of realism. Selling stock footage is a lot of hard work and the market is somewhat saturated. While it is entirely possible to make a living off only selling stock footage (which some people do), it needs to be said that it is a lot of hard and ongoing work. Just like anything, it requires a full time commitment.
Would I advise you to go into this full time? I probably would not advise for anyone to quit their day job to pursue stock; but it can be a great source of side income. While it is not passive income, the great thing about it is that once a clip is uploaded, it can earn you money over and over again for years to come. I have a bunch of clips that sell consistently every month.
All in all, I think that selling stock video offers filmmakers the opportunity to make some extra cash from the footage that they already have. For me, that is the real value behind it!