Name: James Orlowski
Subjects: General Stock, Graphics, Models, Education, Medical, etc.
Links to Agency Portfolios:
What is your background in video production and how did you become
involved in stock video?
Orlowski Designs: I've been in the production field since 1993. I currently work at a video post house outside of Pittsburgh, PA. The company I work for has a small library of “stock” clips that we shot ourselves and use in projects, but occasionally, we need something else. In 2007, I was introduced to Revostock, and started buying clips there when our library didn't have what was needed for a particular project. It took about a year for the light to come on inside my brain. I realized that I could produce shots that are better than what I've seen. And since I have a production background, I had the experience to create these stock clips. I invested in myself and bought a Canon XH-A1 HDV camera, and started my weekend gig in November of 2008.
StockVideoSeller: You have been actively submitting stock footage for almost three years now. Looking back, did you have any surprises about what you thought would sell and what has not sold? What insights has that given you into the stock footage business in your own work?
Orlowski Designs: I'm always surprised at what sells—and what doesn't. There are clips that I spent quite a bit of time to compose, shoot, and prepare that have yet to sell. Some even with hired models. Then there are clips that sell well that I just grabbed on my lunch break. But that's the beauty of stock: you never know what someone needs, so get it all. As a producer, you have to keep in mind that YOU aren't the end-user. The buyer is. The buyer decides what they need. This is the reason I'm consistently surprised when some agencies reject a technically viable clip for “low commercial value.” In my opinion, the only clip that has low commercial value is the clip that isn't available for sale. Often, rejected clips from one agency sell on another.
StockVideoSeller: Can you tell us about your experience uploading to multiple sites? Where did you first begin? Why haven't you gone “exclusive” with one of the big players – such as iStockphoto?
Orlowski Designs: I first began submitting to Revostock, since that was the first agency I was introduced to. I had no idea there were other options in the start, and as a result, a handful of my first few clips were uploaded “exclusive” to Revostock. As I got more into this profession, I was turned on to other agencies. Pond5, iStock, and Shutterstock quickly followed as places I also submit to. During my early months, I uploaded everything everywhere—even some lower performing places like Motiondrops and AlwaysHD. After all, at the start, I had no idea which ones would be better than the others since I had no frame of reference. As the months went by, I quickly learned that the “big four” were Revostock, iStock, Pond5, and Shutterstock. And to this day, those are the only four that I consistently submit to.
As far as the dreaded “exclusive” question, I struggled with this early on. Should I upload only to one site? On the plus side, my uploading process would be greatly simplified, and I'd get more commission on my sales. But how would I decide which agency to submit to? And what if my total sales at that one agency were LESS than my combined overall sales to all agencies? I opted to NOT be exclusive and continue to upload to the higher performing sites. I think that's the correct decision. The one thing I would really dislike about being exclusive is not being able to sell rejected clips elsewhere. As I mentioned before, rejected clips from one site do sell on another. I'd hate to see a clip sit in a folder on my computer not making me any money.
StockVideoSeller: As you know, I also submit to multiple sites. Some of these sites have been a better investment than others.
For instance, my entire uploaded portfolio disappeared, twice, from AlwaysHD. I think we both agree on the majors. I had hopes for MediaStock.ca, but it turned out to be very bad ROI for me. The market seems to be divided up between 4 or 5 players. You may have had a different experience with 2nd tier sites such as Fotalia, ClipCanvas and ClipDealer. Any advice for submitting to these poor performers?
Orlowski Designs: They way I see it is this: you never know what the customer base at an agency may need. So, if you're new to the stock business, submit to as many places as your fingers are able to keep up with. Your portfolio may “jive” better to the customers of agency 'A', whereas my portfolio may fit the needs of buyers at agency 'B'. I have producer friends with portfolios more vast than mine that rarely sell on one agency where I have semi-regular monthly sales. You won't know until you start submitting. After a few months (or more) of submitting, reassess your uploading procedures and make adjustments as you see fit for your goals.
StockVideoSeller: Do you upload the same footage to every site, or do you have different strategies for different sites?
Orlowski Designs: In the beginning, I submitted everything everywhere. After several months of going through the approval process, I quickly learned what my various agencies would take, and what they would probably reject. I now can quite accurately determine what would make it through the review process at most of my agencies. I still get the occasional rejection, but that's par for the course. You have to be prepared for that. In the start, I took rejections personally. I'd get upset that some [anonymous] reviewer somewhere didn't like my work. Now, I just shrug it off and say to myself, “Ok, so you don't want my clip(s)? Fine. It's your loss. They'll make me money somewhere else.” And I can't stress this enough: they often do.
StockVideoSeller: Your portfolio is really varied! You have location footage, topical footage inside schools, hospitals and topical footage combined with graphics and much more.
All of which is of very high production value.
Are your sales consistent throughout the year with such a varied portfolio?
Orlowski Designs: I take my camera almost everywhere. Stock is all around you. Just open your eyes.
If I go on vacation, I bring a camera and take the time to shoot some clips. I believe a diverse portfolio is key in this business if you want regular sales. On the various forums out there, I see new producers all the time complaining about how they aren't getting sales. But then I look at their portfolios and see mostly cows, clouds, and flowers. Or worse yet, pages and pages of the same subject. That's the reason they aren't getting sales. Of course, I, too, have clouds and flowers in my portfolio (no cows, yet), but I also have plenty of other subjects.
StockVideoSeller: How to you research ideas for new subjects? Do you have a “formal” process where you spend time on the different sties searching subjects before you shoot, or do you take an educated guess and press record? How would you recommend newcomers research potential niches?
Orlowski Designs: I suppose my “formal” procedure for ideas of new shots, I simply think, “if I were working on a project about (topic 'A'), what would I need to complete it?” Being I come from a production backgound myself, I feel I have a good grasp on what would make useful shots.
As far as finding new niches, I'd say shoot what you know first. If you're an accountant, think of shots that would be useful for such a project. If you come from a financial background, you'd have a better chance of shooting something that would be more realistic. Often for me, new ideas “hit” me while I'm shooting something else. Just keep your mind active and open.
StockVideoSeller: Have you considered doing stock video full time? If not, why not? Is the market viable in the long-term?
Orlowski Designs: That seems to be the $64,000 question. It'd be nice if my stock income was enough to live on, but right now, I still need my full time job. I treat my stock sales as “extra” income. And, I won't lie, it does make a difference. Here at the end of year two in this business, my 2010 stock income has more than doubled from my 2009 stock income. If this trend continues in 2011, I may have to rethink my priorities.
StockVideoSeller: I can see many of your shots are priced very competitively. How do you initially research pricing? On the sites which allow repricing, do you reprice upwards or downwards based on sales or customer views or your survey of similar competing shots?
Orlowski Designs: Pricing is a very touchy subject. There's no right answer that can be applied to everyone. When I started at Revostock, they had set pricing. As I branched out to places like Pond5 where you can set your own pricing, I began to seriously think how to price my clips. Should I price the same clip on Pond5 the same price as was set on Revostock? Do buyers “shop around?” If so, would they be upset if they bought a clip of mine on Pond5 for $65, then see the same clip on Revostock for $45? As a buyer, I think I would be. So, on the places where I control the pricing, I try to keep the clips priced within $10 - $20 of each other. And while I won't speak for other producers, I do feel that some price their clips too high. And worse yet, some price too low. I feel that low-priced stock is bad for the business overall. I've settled on a “flat fee” for my clips. I have a set price for 480, 720, and 1080. If a clip is exceptional (in my opinion), I price a little higher. If a clip is average (or there are plenty of others like it out there), I price it a little lower. That model seems to work for me. Your mileage may vary.
StockVideoSeller: Realistically, any newcomers should know they need to enter the game concentrating on finding niches for themselves and developing techniques which add production value to their offerings if they want to be successful. By finding niches I mean doing something different and not easily reproducible by other producers.
Orlowski Designs: “Copy-catting” doesn't help anyone. Don't look at another producer's portfolio and get the same shots yourself. The last thing we need is to inundate a prospective buyer with pages and pages of “tropical sunsets” search results. That's not to say don't ever shoot a tropical sunset, but think of a new angle or take on that idea. If your shot is different enough, it'll have a better chance at selling.
StockVideoSeller: Can you tell us about your experience using models for stock video footage? How did you find working with models? Looking back on the investment of energy and time, did the models pay off?
Orlowski Designs: The fact is that clips with model-released people in them sell. So, I try to work with models a few times a year.
Working with models is much more involved, so I only do that to myself every few months or so. If I did this work full time (and had an official “studio” to work in), I'd shoot with models more. I'm sure my sales would increase, but at this point in my career, I'm not ready to add the workload to my already tired fingers. Plus, the paper work can get to be a nightmare. Right now, the models I use are family members and friends. That makes it easier on me to schedule.
StockVideoSeller: Do you use a video syndication service like picWorkflow to streamline your work-flow? Can you describe your own work-flow?
Orlowski Designs: I use no third-party services. I do everything myself by hand. And I've gotten quite efficient with my submission process. I started early on organizing all my clips with a sequential number. That way, I'm guaranteed to not have duplicate filenames. After all, how many “Man with laptop.mov” filenames can you have? If you go that route, soon you'll have “Man with laptop 1.mov”, “Man with laptop 2.mov”, etc.
StockVideoSeller: What camera gear and accessories do you work with? Do you have any “indispensable” gizmos you bring to every shoot?
Orlowski Designs: My gear constantly grows. My main camera is a Panasonic HPX170. I also use a Canon T2i DSLR. Other items include a GoProHD, Nikon D90, and various mounts, tripods, and a basic light kit. I edit and prepare all my clips on my 27” iMac with a Drobo-FS for storage and Carbonite running nightly for backups. I edit with the Adobe CS5 Production Suite.
StockVideoSeller: I think the future of stock footage shooting will look something like the Sony NEX-VG10 with its interchangeable lenses. Do you agree? I know I'll never buy another large fixed lens camera again as I cannot get depth of field easily – and we are going to need that extra production value to compete. I find the Canon T2i, otherwise known as the Canon 550D, great for shots you have time to work with them, but a strange animal from a videograhers vantage. It's a still photographers camera with video tacked on. I know people do remarkable things with it, but it's not the ideal tool for a videographer.
Orlowski Designs: We're in a time of flux for cameras. Right now, we really only have two choices: 1.) traditional video cameras, and 2.) these new “hybrid” DSLR cameras that shoot video. Call me old fashioned, but I personally have and use both types. Some jobs are better suited for one camera, while other jobs can be done on the other. Until a good all-in-one, ergonomically correct solution is created, I think a serious new producer should think of having both types in their equipment list. The new Sony NEX-VG10, for example, is a good start, but I think I'd wait for a future version before I make a camera like that my “go to” camera for everything.
StockVideoSeller: You also submit to multiple sites, so I think you have some insight into the sales trends of your own footage and the industry. Do you think the stock footage mini-universe has become more competitive during the time you have been involved in it? What is the future going to look like and where are you going to position yourself in that future?
Orlowski Designs: I don't think anyone can predict sales trends. Of course, if you have a lot of Christmas-themed clips, you're end-of-year sales would probably spike. As I look at my past two years of sales data, (link below) I see no trend except for two years, October was my best sales month. I'm not sure why.
As the number of video producers enter this field, naturally, the competition grows. But, I feel I'm in a good position as I have a two-year head start. Also, I've noticed that agencies have “turned up the dial” on production value on the clips they accept. So, that will make it harder for a new producer to enter this business. But, I do feel the future of stock is strong. As the need for web-delivered video grows, so should the sales. I believe that production houses would prefer to buy a clip than hire a crew to go out and shoot the same thing.
StockVideoSeller: Do you have any advice for newcomers to the stock footage game?
Orlowski Designs: Pretty much every basic subject has been covered six ways from Sunday. So, find a niche topic. Now, I'm not saying don't shoot a business handshake, but maybe shoot it in a different way. Don't get upset with rejections. If you're persistent, you'll do well. Eventually.
StockVideoSeller: Thanks for taking the time for these questions!
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