How to Search, Buy, and Sell Stock Video Footage Online

How to Search, Buy, and Sell Stock Video Footage Online

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Are you trying to find that right piece of video content you can use commercially? Or perhaps you own video content you have the rights to sell, but don’t want to do the selling work yourself? I interviewed Jim Goertz, Director of Content Development for video at, a media agency that sells royalty-free video and other digital content via licensing with copyright owners. Jim talked with me about the advantages of buying and selling stock video content, and offered some tips on the best ways to submit video content to a stock media agency and make money.

iStockPhoto and Royalty-Free Video Content

iStockphoto is a Royalty-free digital stock media company with over 7 million digital files. The company started in 2000 and started selling video near the end of 2006. Along with video, the company licenses photos, illustrations, audio, and flash animation files.

I’ve been a customer of iStockphoto for years. I think they have a great user interface (UI), and very reasonable pricing plans. So that and the fact that I’m an official media partner of theirs (meaning I get to feature their footage in my articles here in return for credit back to them), I thought they would make for a good example on showcasing some of the benefits on working with a digital media agency on searching for, purchasing, and selling (i.e., licensing) quality video footage for commercial use.

Advantages of a Stock Media Agency for Video Footage

Fast, affordable, quality, and variety

A stock media website will let you quickly and easily find the video content you’re looking for, in the file format and resolution that matches your display needs. What you pay for premade content will likely be a small fraction of what it could have cost to produce video of comparable quality, yourself.

Legal protection

Stock media agencies have legally binding licensing contracts with copyright owners of the video footage, so you should never have to run into any issues over legal permissions with what you purchase. (Companies like iStockphoto also provide an insurance guarantee on every piece of digital media they sell.) This way you never have to go through the hassle with getting your own signed waivers and releases; which can be required for all the people featured in a video, all locations in a video, or all copyrighted pieces of work featured in the video.

Top-notch search features

Stock image agencies typically come with much better search features for their own digital libraries, than what you’ll find at the image and video search engines with mainstream sites like Google, Bing and Yahoo! I especially like iStockPhoto’s own recent search enhancements, which understanding of semantics and location easily outshines Google’s own search engine. ThinkJose’s Jose Castillo has a good explanation at for why it’s traditionally been difficult to find video content on the mainstream search engines:

“The internet was never designed as a platform for video… the basic structure and platform we are using to consume visual data is an outdated system originally used for sending text messages between universities.” He says.

The limitations you run into with traditional search engine sites like the top 3 search players I mentioned, are generally not an issue with most any established stock media agency website.

Royalty-free purchases

I remember in earlier years when licensing video footage was very expensive and limited. There were no web-only licensing options, and it was on a pay-per-use. Now with royalty-free video, you only need to buy it once, and you can use the video an unlimited amount of times for commercial use.

Try-before-you-buy option

Stock footage agencies will typically let you download a free version of their footage, which for video will come in low-res with their own digital watermark.

Searching For Stock Video @ iStockphoto

iStockphoto has it’s own proprietary search technology, which they refer to as “faceted search.” Along with standard items such as using Booleans (so you can use ‘and’ or ‘or’ or ‘not’), you can do the following types of filtered searches:

  • Search within a search. You can narrow down your search, by doing a second search within the initial search results.
  • Elemental search. You can also do a search for image qualities, such as prominent colors in the video.
  • Video file formats. You can search for files by 16:9 or 4:3 dimensions, 720 or 1080 HD; or even by PAL, DV, or NTSC.
  • Search by people. You chose to limit searches to those only featuring people in them, or those without any people
  • Search by file age: If you’re looking for the most recent uploads, you can limit your searches to files that have been uploaded in the past month, week, 24 hours, or last hour.
Exampel of video search results

Important Tips When Purchasing Stock Video Footage

I always recommend checking out a stock image agency’s Licensing guidelines before you do a serious buy of any video content. Here are some things to carefully review:

Standard vs. extended licenses.

Extended licenses simply give you more distribution rights than what a standard license offers. For web-only videos, most of the type you may not have any need for an extended license to the video work you purchase.

License restrictions

Most stock media agencies will not license any videos that you intend to use for pornographic work, or that depicts a personal endorsement by a model, or the use in any logo or trademark. If you purchase a video featuring a model and inject your own subject material that could be of a controversial nature, typically you will be required to issue a disclaimer along with the video content. Also check for videos that may have an “editorial use only” licensing agreement. (This means that you can only use the video as part of a news or editorial piece, not for sales and marketing.)

Legal guarantee

Any reputable stock media agency should come with a free legal guarantee. This is a promise that the content you purchase will not subject you to any legal action (provided you are careful to follow the terms of your licensing agreement).

Modification clauses

Some stock media agencies may also place restrictions on the types of modifications you can make to the original video, and also on any purchased music or other audio you insert to run along with the video. That’s why it’s important you carefully read and follow the guidelines for if you can only use the stock video and audio as-is (without modifications), and clearly understand the extent of modifications that you may be allowed to make.

What If You Only Want FREE Online Video Content?

Of course, with a stock media agency you will eventually have to pay for whatever video content you take that you decide to put to any commercial use, or make available to the public in any way. On top of that, video content is always going to be pricier – sometimes a lot pricer – than any still images. But the reality is you’re going to have to pay anyway for pretty much any 3rd party video footage you intend for commercial or promotional use, unless that video can meet any of these criteria:

  1. You already own the rights to 3rd party video footage for commercial use.
  2. You see a Creative Commons license that allows you to take that video for your own commercial use.
  3. You use “public domain” video.

Even if you meet any of these exceptions, you may find there to be additional restrictions on whether you’re allowed to modify the original video work. So with all of these potential restrictions, you can understand why it makes sense for a lot of web video producers to opt for purchasing video content directly from a stock media agency. At the very least, it’s a good way to protect your business investment!

“The Currency of Engagement” with Video Content

(left-to right) iStockphoto's Director of Digital Video Content, Jim Goertz, with Amos Struck and Dittmar Frohmann

Jim Goertz, Director of Content Development for Video at iStockPhoto, is in charge of the team that sets the standards for the (video) files that are uploaded into their collection. Jim says that while his company can be fairly described as a stock media-licensing agency, he stresses that what they and their partner video producers have understood for a long time is the currency of engagement.

“By ‘currency of engagement,’ I mean media that engages the audience always tends to be more valuable than media that doesn’t engage. Hence, that’s why we refer to video as ‘rich media.’ Says Jim. “So I would really say that we’re in the business of licensing content that engages. I guess it can be interpreted as the same thing, but to us it’s more than just media; it’s media that you can definitely count on to engage your audience.”

iStockPhoto’s Video Content Submission Process

Jim says that that iStockPhoto currently has roughly 6,000 video contributors. “Some of them may have only one or two files online, but a lot of them are rather active.” How a contributor makes money is that every time one of their files is downloaded, they’re paid a royalty.

I asked Jim to explain the process of how they receive, review, and select video content for licensing to others on your Website.

“iStockphoto is a crowd-sourced site. By that, I mean that we have people from all over the world who are contributing on a regular and constant basis.” He Says. “What they have to do is somehow prove to us that they are capable of providing good content that meets our customers’ needs. Once they’ve done that, then what they can do is just submit files via upload. A real human being inspects every file that comes in – whether it’s a photograph, an audio file, a vector illustration, or a video. For a video submission, every frame gets looked at as well. We look at all submitted content real time.”

Tips for Submitting Video Content and Making Money

Here are some of the things that Jim and his team have to establish when they review video files for inclusion into the website, for royalty-free licensing to their customers:

  • It is it legal? Are there any distinguishing marks that might make it a risk for anybody?
  • Is it technically sound? Does the video play properly, with no skipped frames or weird things going on it?
  • Is it appealing? Is the quality of the composition good enough to stand alone for an individual purchase? Once it meets all of those requirements, iStockPhoto then makes that video live for viewing, downloading, and purchasing on their Website (right from the account holder’s profile page.)

I asked Jim, what tips does he have for video contributors to pay attention to when submitting content to iStockphoto? Here is his answer:

“I’m not going to say you should go out and find a popular file and copy it, but you can definitely see on our Website where the trends are, and what kind of content people are looking for.” If you see that a (video) file is selling an awful lot, well, it must mean that there are a lot of people in our world who need that kind of, or who are conducting a search that brings up that kind of file.

Here are some additional tips for selling your video content to iStockPhoto and other licensing agencies with their own public digital library websites:

  • Search and buy video content yourself. “It’s funny because some of our most astute contributors are people who buy content themselves; and that also opens their own minds up to stuff that they need, others likely will, too. Footage with people outsells footage without people in them. I think that’s because people want to see the human contact.” He says.
  • Check out the download numbers. iStockphoto shows the range of downloads that a video file has, so you can sort of see if a file is popular or not. “That’s something a lot of other (stock media) sites don’t share.” Jim says.
  • Check out the contributor guidelines. Here you should find information about the application process for submitting video content, more on the type of video content they’re looking for, and their royalty payment system(s). I also recommend checking out the FAQs for contributors, and submitting any questions in advance.

I also recommend checking out this video below for an additional take on making money with your own stock video footage. Happy shooting… and submitting!


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