Movies and pictures have been a part of life since the 19th century, but in the past they were more compartmentalized. Today, our devices have screens and they’re connected, allowing us to process more images every day:
- Documentaries, other programs and even commercials are being produced and viewed on a vaster scale than ever before.
- Streaming content increases exponentially every day.
- Marketers, businesspeople, media and artists are all creating, combining and repackaging visual stimuli.
What do these trends have in common? The need for more raw material, both to work with directly (with permission) and to use as a reference and inspiration for fresh ideas.
Monetization begins with good metadata
With advances in economical digital scanning and storage matched with the growing hunger for content to click or stream, there may be a new audience for nearly every image ever recorded. If you have digitized footage or still images, you have a right to be optimistic about getting them seen. And you should be opportunistic about ways to monetize them or use them to promote other ventures.
But first, you have to be found by those who want or need your content. And there’s a lot of content out there to compete with, so how do you become the signal and not the noise.
Assuming you have digitally transferred your images, or they were born digital, the next step that cannot be neglected is good metadata. Computers cannot understand the context of your footage or stills, and you cannot anticipate all the possible needs and desires of people searching for what you have.
Metadata is a big topic but, for this article, I’ll stick with the basic kinds you should consider, depending on your ultimate needs and goals:
- Administrative metadata may include things like dates and sources
- Descriptive metadata, or what the content is about, is for keywords for online searches
- Preservation metadata may protect or extend the life of the material
You must know what you have and how to explain it to others in a way that will match their searches. And know what formats you want your digital images stored in. There are a variety of formats and methods for transferring and sharing your material, so discuss your options with a metadata expert before you begin scanning.
Read more on using metadata in Film and photos lost, now found, part I
Working with stock footage companies
Some companies may buy your images outright and make them a part of their collection, or they will manage them for you. Many media rights-holders have arrangements with stock footage companies.
This can be an exclusive arrangement or you may choose to make your material available in various places and in different environments. Your footage or photos will be searchable on their website. When a buyer comes along, professional stock footage companies already have licensing agreements and fees established to ease the sale.
Companies like these can range in size from very small to very big. For many years, movie studios, newspapers and other media outlets created, sold and marketed their own images. Press bureaus like The Associated Press would license footage shot by their cameras to newspapers and broadcasters around the world. Some studios and media companies continue to maintain stock footage departments in-house, selling their images to filmmakers directly. But many content holders no longer market their collections themselves as the business becomes more complex.
Familiar, well-established stock-footage companies, like Getty Images, now manage many image collections. Their clients include The New York Times and The Hulton Library, a vast archive of British photos. Large stock footage companies may represent millions of still and moving images, but they may also buy or represent a very small or niche collection as well.
Other notable stock photo and footage providers include:
- Shutterstock: With a huge library and variety of pricing plans and licenses, Shutterstock is a popular source that appears often in stock photo searches. They also have video footage and music.
- VideoHive: As part of Envato Market, a popular resource for web designers, VideoHive allows you to buy and sell footage and motion graphics as well as Adobe After Effects project files.
- Pond5: Pond5 reportedly has the world’s largest collection of stock footage and also licenses music, photography, sound effects, after effects and 3-D models.
All good stock photo sites deliver professional websites, strong search tools and storage for your material. The one(s) you should choose will depend on the type of content you have, as well as the media format—film, photos, video, etc. It’s important to remember that many companies allow you to sell your material in multiple venues.
Large or well-established stock footage companies bring many benefits but, as with any business, there are brilliant alternative upstarts and market disruptors. All offer different options, techniques and business models. What’s right for you may be a creative mix of all or some of them.
Also, remember it takes patience. Current events and tastes can change in a flash—an image or piece of footage you own may seem irrelevant now, but around the world something suddenly can happen that makes your footage or images instantly relevant and in-demand. News or media companies may react immediately and turn to trusted and known stock-footage companies for relevant material, and they will want licensing terms and fees with no surprises.
Trying out options for marketing and licensing your imagery
If you decide to test the waters, or you want to work with a company that hosts, markets and licenses your images but lets you retain the rights, there are several of them out there. Companies like Shutterstock, Pond5 and Videohive all allow you to upload your footage directly into their servers yourself. You may also be able to transfer spreadsheets full of metadata regarding your content to help build a searchable library of your material. These companies will want to know that you have complete legal ownership of your footage and any content within it. If your footage or images contain someone else’s copyrighted material, like paintings or corporate logos, you may need to prove that you have the legal right to offer this material.
All of these companies have different pricing models. Some set the price and give you a percentage and some let you set the price, but split the profits. Again, it depends on the material but there are differences among these companies that will appeal to different rights-holders. You may want a more DIY solution and have the time and technical know-how, or you may want a hands-off approach and allow a stock footage company more exclusivity.
Archival researchers and other options for sharing your content
Regardless of whether you sell or license your content yourself or with an established stock footage company, you have other options to bring attention to your assets.
Archival film researchers
Archival film researchers act as middlemen. Many of them have long standing relationships with commercial production companies and filmmakers. A documentary filmmaker may hire an archival researcher first before searching for images themselves. Calling these researchers’ attention to your content can help put you directly in front of interested buyers, especially if your content is unique or niche.
To find archival film and image researchers, you can turn to professional trade group like AMIA or FOCAL.
- AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists) hosts an active resources guide that can help you find specialists and consultants. They also sponsor many industry events with multiple opportunities to meet and network with archival film, photo and video researchers.
- FOCAL (Federation of Commercial Audio Visual Libraries) is a trade organization for people who own or manage content or content libraries. They offer training as well as conferences. Their members include documentary producers, researchers and anyone that might have footage or images to sell or market. They often sponsor a “Footage Marketplace” where anyone searching or selling footage can meet.
YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media
Working with social media platforms is a very broad, potentially far-reaching way to reach viewers and potential customers for your stock footage. Like a street vendor setting up an apple cart in Times Square, you can get overlooked. But you can also test the waters and reach some eyeballs with a minimal financial commitment. Armed with great metadata and metatags, you may find someone somewhere in the world looking for just what you have.
Create lower resolution versions of your images before posting them on Youtube or anywhere with broad public access. Create a digital watermark that shows up somewhere in the image, with your trademark or company contact info so filmmakers can’t permanently ‘borrow’ the image. Someone who finds your content may cut and paste this lower resolution image into a rough cut of their commercial or film project. When the filmmaker is ready to scale up and get a higher-resolution version of that image, they will have to reach out to you and request a larger file as well as negotiate a fee. Make sure your material has your contact info either in the watermark or clearly at the beginning or end of the image.
Creative Commons and giving to receive
Using social media to share some of your work can create viral interest. You can create license-free images for the general public to use. While not providing any fees or income, it can be a great way to promote your business and create interest in other images you want to license for a fee.
Creative Commons are a set of licenses created by a non-profit organization and now widely in use. Some CC licenses allow a user to take your footage or images and use them any way they want and some are more restrictive, requiring the user to credit the rights-holder. Research your Creative Commons options and see which license works best for you. It’s a very user-friendly, DIY way to protect yourself. And it gives end-users the security they need before they jeopardize their project by using images they may have no legitimate rights to use.
Network within the image archiving community
Archivists and film preservation professionals often share what they are working on. Consider joining a professional trade group like AMIA or FOCAL, hiring a professional archivist or working with a nonprofit or academic department.
AMIA holds conferences and events several times a year, all around the United States and abroad, sharing archival film presentations of all kinds. A simple but well-produced Caterpillar industrial film on tractors shown at an AMIA conference in the mid-2000’s was so popular that there were encores years later.
The Orphans Film Symposium is another possible outlet to share content, people come from all over the world to share stock footage or random images, often unidentified, hence orphan. These can be places to share your content or to increase your understanding of what you have and what other people might be looking for. The next one takes place in May 2020 in Amsterdam.
In Southern California, the University of Southern California Libraries host a yearly Archives Bazaar, which is a low-key event in an academic setting, but the collections hosted are incredibly diverse, from minor league baseball footage and photographs to historical societies with the contents of a now-defunct local newspaper photo library. But these are places to meet archivists, producers or any professional that deals with diverse visual images.
Your content has all kinds of meaning potentially far outside of whatever it may have been originally created for. If you saved it, now you have many options for sharing it, so it can take on a new life.