Is It Time to Ditch Web Resolution Options? June 17, 2015

Here we are, well into the 21st century with devices in our hands that are capable to displaying HD and 4K videos downloaded wirelessly at blazing 4G and broadband speeds. So why are some stock footage agencies still automatically transcoding our stock media and selling low-resolution 240p video clips?

I can understand if this was the year 1995 when download speeds were a fraction of what we get today, cell phones still had LCD displays, and HD in our homes was still years off. But now we have smartphones in our pockets with screens that are higher resolution than the 55″ projection TVs in our living rooms just 10 years ago. So who exactly still wants a postage stamp sized 240p video file, and where are they using it? On an Apple Newton? Even the Apple Watch as a vertical resolution of 390p–which is 15o pixels taller than web sized.

The download resolution options and prices for a 4K video submitted to ShutterStock.

I’m aiming this blog post directly at ShutterStock, 123RF, Fotolia, and DepositPhotos. Those are the big guys that still sell our beautiful pixel-packing 4K video clips at horribly-dated “web resolution” sizes. I’m leaving RevoStock out of this list since despite the fact they also offer down-sized video purchases, at least they let us (the producers) decide the prices of these incredibly small and practically useless video sizes.

I should note that all of the aforementioned agencies also give the customer the option to buy SD (480p) versions, and while I also dislike that resolution, I can still see a use for that size–for the time being. But someday, SD will be as worthless as web sizes are today and should also one day be banished–except for historical clips that are only available in SD. Those should be allowed to continue for the sole reason that no higher resolution is available.

There are agencies that seem to value resolution as much as I do. VideoBlocks, Dissolve, Nimia, Alamy, and Pond5 will not offer buyers anything smaller than HD (although Pond5 does permit contributors to submit resolutions smaller than SD). Those agencies should be commended on their desire to only offer the very best resolution to the customer. They realize that anything smaller than 720p just isn’t worth the storage space.

I do see the rational of giving the customer as many options as possible, which is probably why agencies like ShutterStock still offer web sized downloads. But is a $19 426×240 file really worth keeping around? Do customers buy web sized videos because they need 240p, or because the web sized option is cheaper?

web sizes to 4k

ShutterStock might say that they keep web sized versions available because they still sell. But are they still selling because they’re still available? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to the customer in the long run if SD was the smallest size available? Just look at that illustration above to see how much smaller a web sized video is compared to the other options. You can barely recognize anything in that small box.

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As a contributor, its very disheartening to sell a web sized version of a 4K clip, since with this small resolution comes an even smaller royalty rate. The small commissions associated with web sizes don’t exactly create a very motivating environment for us to create more 4K stock clips. I say remove all web sizes totally and let the customer downsample to 240p if needed. That way, they still have a larger version to work with later.

If an agency is still determined to offer on-demand smaller resolution files to customers at lower price points, make SD be the smallest size available. Or at the very least, if they insist on keeping web resolutions on the table, make them the same price as their SD counterpart, sort of like what iStock is doing with their “one price for all resolutions” policy. I bet if that happens, SD files will be downloaded more often than web sizes, which would prove my point that 240p is a worthless, legacy resolution.

James Orlowski

James Orlowski is the owner of Orlowski Designs, LLC. He is an accomplished videographer and producer with nearly 20 years of video production.

A graduate from Penn State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a Master’s Degree in Multimedia from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, he has years of experience shooting and selling stock footage on many of the major Internet-based microstock footage agencies.

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Orlowski Designs, LLC
4K Stock Footage and Media Production