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Will Pond5 Ever Do Away with Free-Form Pricing? June 15, 2016

One thing that attracted me to the Pond5 stock footage agency way back in 2008 was the ability to set my own prices. I wasn’t shackled to some set-in-stone pricing structure all the other outlets forced producers into. But are the tides changing at the Pond?

Pond5 has gone through some growing pains recently. From several website design changes, to an upper management shake-up, things are definitely in a fluid state. And I think there may be more in the works.

Something that may be on the chopping block is the “free-for-all” pricing structure Pond5 became known for. And I do believe it is time for this to be put out to pasture. Yes, the very thing that attracted me to Pond5 is what I think needs to be eliminated, or at the very least, tweaked.

Stock agencies have come and gone, and while Pond5 continues to be my number one earner, there’s no denying that the stock footage market is very different now than when Pond5 started. There is some serious competition out there these days that did not exist a few short years ago.

VideoBlocks introduced it’s Marketplace, ShutterStock has upped its game and is rapidly approaching Pond5 in sales for me, even with half the number of clips and a lower commission rate, and Adobe bought Fotolia and integrated it into it’s popular Creative Cloud suite under the name Adobe Stock. What about Pond5? It is still basically using the same business model from when it began: contributor-set pricing with a 50-50 split between producer and agency. While that still may be popular among contributors like myself, I think customers are beginning to demand more.

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The first noticeable change at Pond5 happened in March of 2016 with the addition of their membership program. Similar to the VideoBlocks Marketplace which launched in April the year before, it allows buyers to download what they need from a curated selection of about 200,000 clips. While it is not an “all you can eat” membership plan like VideoBlocks, it is a definite shift in strategy, probably due to new competition, customer demand, or at the request of the new management–or a combination of all three.

Only a few months after this membership plan was implemented, they send out a newsletter to their contributors stating there will be “enhancements” to the licensing terms for buyers. Other agencies had different licensing options available to consumers for years. These “extended” licenses are for scenarios like indemnification protection for the buyer and broader usage rights, situations Pond5 did not cover in the past. Is this an attempt by Pond5 to be more like other agencies? Perhaps.

I believe Pond5 will eventually evolve into a “hybrid” of other agencies, taking what they think are the best features that appear to be working elsewhere and building it into their new business model. They have already started this process with their membership program and they are continuing with the addition of optional licensing terms. There is really only two things left: pricing and commission structure. Since buyers really have no reason to care what commissions producers receive, I think pricing will be the next item that is addressed in a continuing effort to retain and gain more customers.

Pricing

cash-register-no-salePond5 has always given total pricing freedom to contributors. But I also think it is Pond5’s biggest weakness. While free-form pricing may be popular among stock footage producers, I think customers are becoming more educated and may eventually be less willing to shop at an agency that has such a loose grip on something as fundamental as pricing. After all, allowing producers to set their own prices is what lead to a $989 price difference between this $10 clip of ducks in a pond and this $999 clip of ducks in a pond.

With so many options available, I think buyers not only want quality offerings, but also consistent and predictable pricing. They may no longer want to search for a stock clips that fit into their project while at the same time keeping an eye on cost. Sure, there are customers out there that do not care about pricing and will buy a clip regardless of the cost if it is the one they need. But there are probably increasingly more buyers out there who will “settle” for another, lower-cost clip than the one they originally found but is a tad bit out of their budget. Searching for an alternative clip that is of similar quality but cheaper is very time consuming. In fact, there may be a trend of Pond5 buyers finding other agencies who not only have similar (or exactly the same) stock media clips, but also predictable pricing.

There has always been a battle among Pond5 producers as to what the right price is. Some contributors list their clips at a price others think is too low, and some price what buyers may think is too high. There are even Pond5 contributors that regularly change their pricing in an attempt to better understand what customers will tolerate. This “wild west” approach to pricing may be contributor-friendly, but not very consumer-friendly, and is something I think Pond5 needs to address. But suddenly changing their stance on pricing overnight will most certainly cause some producers to revolt, so I think Pond5 is easing contributors into this new structure.

Why may set prices be needed? Simply put, there are just too many options available. With more being added everyday, stock footage is rapidly becoming a diluted commodity. And since Pond5 does not require exclusivity from contributors, many of their offerings are available elsewhere on other stock footage agencies, sometimes at lower prices. If Pond5 customers begin to realize they can “shop around” to save money, it could be detrimental to the agency.

head in sandThe ability to set your own price was the reason so many producers flocked to the agency in the first place. It was what let Pond5 grow to what it is today: arguably the most popular stock footage outlet on the Internet, at least with producers. However, what Pond5 needs now is not more contributors, but more paying customers. And what is good for the customer is not necessarily what contributors want to hear.

Where do I fall into this pricing debate? I think consistent pricing is an asset for an agency, but Pond5 does not necessarily have to force everyone into one price. Maybe the solution is something more like what 123RF.com does, where a producer is free to choose from three predetermined pricing tiers. Contributors still have some control over pricing, and buyers can more easily predict what clips will cost. Perhaps Pond5 can add the ability to only search within a single tier. That way, they know all clips they look at will be of one price. If they cannot find what they are looking in one pricing tier, they can move up to the next level. iStock does something like this with their “essentials” and “signature” collections.

Fixed pricing ends unproductive pricing wars among contributors and can be a tremendous benefit for the consumer. It also levels the playing field. When cost is the same (or basically the same) across the board, price is no longer a determining factor when deciding what to license. Clips are chosen solely on quality, and I think that will result in happier customers, which will ultimately prove to be a positive incentive for contributors to produce more quality content without having to worry about what price tag to attach to their clips.

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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