If you have a library of footage that’s sitting around collecting digital dust, it may be the right time for some spring cleaning. The demand for video content is exploding online, and the unedited clips and unused footage that you’ve collected over the years just may be worth something.
Several sites like BBC Worldwide (T3Media), Getty Images, iStockphoto, Pond5, RevoStock and Shutterstock offer stock video sales in the form of rights-managed and royalty-free properties, with buyers needing content for everything from web use to broadcast to physical media like DVDs. It’s an extra source of income for footage that you may already have, and if you’re interested in investing some time and energy into organizing, labeling and marketing your material, there are quite a few video professionals who are able to make a decent living from stock. Even smaller catalogs of work can bring in a few hundred dollars over the course of a few months. For indie filmmakers, stock sales also can save you money over location shooting and give you access to the kinds of footage that are time-, cost- or location-prohibitive, like aerial footage, time-lapse, graphics, special effects and remote locations with footage available for everywhere from Antarctica to Bora Bora.
Stock sales are an extremely efficient way to both sell and buy footage, and we’re going to take a look at the model behind iStockphoto’s video offerings (www.istockphoto.com/video). iStock monetizes six different classes of royalty-free stock: Photos, Illustrations, Flash, Video, Audio and Logo. Centering on video, iStock offers a default 15% cut from each file that’s downloaded for nonexclusive members. Rates increase up to 20% annually by redeemed credits (credits are used to sell clips alongside dollars as there are several options for buying content). They also incentivize "exclusive" contributors with rates that extend from 25% all the way up to 45%. These contributors must apply for exclusivity after reaching 250 downloads with a 50% or higher approval (or 500 downloads without). iStock’s editor-curated Vetta Collection of high-quality clips includes a 10% bonus on top of commissions, as well.
Obviously, the problem with stock is that there’s an awful lot of competition, which has exploded exponentially as affordable video DSLRs proliferate and entry-level camcorders increase in sophistication. The solution to this problem is careful curation on the side of the stock website. iStock’s Vetta Collection, as well as an eBay-like icon system, is geared toward sellers who have had a certain number of files downloaded. Bronze members, for instance, have achieved between 250 and 1,249 downloads while Silver members range from 1,250 to 4,999 downloads. The higher your level, the more uploads you’re allotted. iStock also reviews new members as they create an account, asking for sample clips that "should be your best work." After you’ve been accepted, proxy clips of new material are also subject to review as they’re uploaded. An email is then sent to alert the uploader whether a full-resolution version of the proxy should be uploaded (or mailed) once the video has been accepted. Videos can be rejected or accepted for a variety of reasons, from relevance to blur to improper exposure. Purchasers also can review downloads and suggest keyword changes, which helps to further refine clip offerings on the site.
iStock offers tutorials, but keywording is largely up to you. Treading the fine line between overtagging while still remaining relevant to searches is an art form that takes time to develop. There are 50 words in the description for adding specific details about your subjects, the mood and the events that unfold in the narrative of the clip. Buyers looking for specific video clips often have a camera movement in mind, like panning, zooming or tracking. Wide, medium and close-up shots also have relevance as do, obviously, any effects or camera tricks that you’re using, like black-and-white, time-lapse or fast or slow motion. If people are your subjects, you should include proper tags for determining several physical characteristics, like age, weight and ethnicity, as well as more abstract characteristics like mood or appearance. iStock suggests covering the basics of your story—the who, what, when, where and why of your clip and how they’re relevant to the subject. Don’t forget synonyms.
iStock offers up to 30-minute clips at a minimum of 720×480 (NTSC DV at 29.97 fps) to 1920×1080 with frame rates available in 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 fps. One thing to avoid is the use of trademarks or copyrighted materials in the videos (a good rule of thumb, in general); for clearance reasons, iStock won’t touch them. Any recognizable face also requires a model release, and many locations require a property release depending on how recognizable the location is. Even product shots can be rejected because of patented designs. Sound can be included at 48 kHz, 16-bit, but background music shouldn’t be included in any scene. iStock also asks for camera metadata that can help in the event of troubleshooting: frame rate, format, aperture and shutter speed.
iStock sells clips through dollars or credits, which can be purchased on an as-needed basis or as a subscription for bulk or corporate accounts. iStock offers several license agreements. The standard license covers most uses, including web and printed materials at up to a half-million impressions and DVDs in the case of a commercial film or theatrical presentation. Extended licenses are required for larger circulations and resale. Certain uses are prohibited, like pornography and trademark use, for instance. iStock offers a legal guarantee that properly used content within the agreement will be free from infringement. The Extended Legal Guarantee will gain you more coverage while extending guaranteed coverage of damages from $10,000 to $250,000.