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Drones are a powerful tool to differentiate yourself from other contributors in a business like microstock where being different from the competition is essential to making money.

The question you have to ask yourself, considering that filming with a drone requires money, capacity and time, is whether it is worth it or not in terms of earnings.

How to tell if drones help sales of stock images and stock footage

The starting point for planning every shot and every photograph in microstock is always the tool you can find on dropstock.io.

On the Microstock Photo Keyword Research Tool, I type drone here, on File Types I select video:

and then press Search.

Before commenting the keywords list that turned up, I want to say something.

The word you enter on this tool is usually related to the subject that you want to understand the selling chances. In this case the drone is not the subject, but the device with which the content is created, so the data shown are not as useful as usual.

These keywords are the most used and included in the stock footage shown to people who search for the keyword “drone” in microstocks.

Now I make a second test with the word aerial, which is a type of shot that can also be made with helicopters.

Compared to the word drone, the score is lower for photos and higher for videos.

With this data you can speculate as much as you want, but ignoring that information and testing photos and videos created with the drone is the only thing to do, given the lack of clarity that the tool gives on these researches.

Why it is not convenient to use drones in the city

As a person who have been working in the microstock business for the last fifteen years, my idea is that using drones in a city is not a good project, at least if you want to earn money looking for an alternative shot for highly requested subjects such as tourist landmarks.

The real problem is that filming with drones is dangerous, and if you film an urban situation without the proper permission, it will probably be the most stupid thing you have done in your life. So you have to follow the rules and, talking about the bureaucracy required for an authorized shot over cities like Florence, Barcelona or Houston, it is not worth it, considering the salability of the stock footage of those cities.

If the subject was Paris or New York instead, the subject would be far more profitable, but you would have to consider lots of elements in order to understand the convenience of shooting, because even if you could potentially earn a lot, the unknowns are too great.

Using drones to film more profitable subjects

If the context where you film became something easily manageable and the idea was good, then the drone might be your breakthrough.

When you switch from shooting a city to portraying a concept—such as freedom, for example—and, in order to portray it, you decide to film a group of young people in a car while driving on a road by the sea, or a man with his arms in the air on the ridge of a mountain, or many other things that, once you have learned to use the drone, these aren’t difficult to shoot and your stock footage sales might be worth the investment.

Another subject which is usually profitable in microstock are the professions. With dropstock.io you can understand which ones are most requested by the market and focus on them.

For example, agriculture has always been an excellent niche, like all the businesses that invest on communication. It's also a good subject for stock footage for a simple reason: no photographer or video maker loves photographing and filming fields and tractors that much. So there isn’t a strong competition.

I remember, for example, that in the mid-2010s, a contributor who I knew showed me the video shot from above of a tractor plowing a field. He had a business in the advertising world, and he used a professional drone that at the time was one of the few that allowed stable shots, so the video was perfect and at the end, with a few-second clip, he earned a lot of money.

Today, given the ruthless competition that has come since then, and the technology that is better than ten years ago, you must know that doing the same thing is much more difficult.

Why creating a business with drones has become more difficult today

In the late 90s I worked as a factory employee. At the factory entrance there was a print of a photo taken from the sky, I think with a helicopter. It cost 1000 euros.

Ten years later drones arrived, and suddenly prints like that started to cost just 200 euros, because they were identical to those shot from the helicopter but the drone had far lower costs.

I think today that same type of photography can hardly be sold for 20 euros, because many people now have a drone, the market has been saturated and, round the corner, there's always a friend working almost for free.

Something similar is happening in the stock footage market, because there’s always more and more videos for sale, but with a big difference. The product is not sold directly by producers, but by agencies, which compete on many features, not only on the low-cost offers they have.

If you’re wondering whether it is worth using the drone to open a new business, I think starting now is a bad idea, unless you already have good connections to find customers, but in that case you wouldn't be working thanks to your skills with the drone, but because you know the right people.

For example: you are a sales representative and you know lots of entrepreneurs who trust you, so you can also sell them photos or videos made with the drone. Or you work in the sports field and you can easily sell videos filmed with the drone to teams for their YouTube channel.

In general, whatever your business project is, I always recommend you consider the sale as a priority, even compared to the product itself.

So in order to work with drones, you have to beat your competitors by being able to explain to your potential customers why they should choose you and not the dozens of other businesses who sell a product very similar to yours.

The sale is always crucial. The group of friends with a toy drone having fun might dream of taking advantage of their passion. But in order to understand if their project can become a profitable business, they don't have to think about the pleasant part of the job, but they have to understand why they can sell their service.

If those friends want to use traditional methods to find customers, they should start knocking on companies' doors to start selling. Out of 20 attempts, 10 people will send them to hell, 5 will take the business card but will never call back, 4 will say that the owner isn’t there and to come back another time, hoping not to see them again. One at most will ask for a quote.

That same quote will also be asked to a dozen other drone owners, looking for the best price, so the final result will be wasting a month being treated as a pain in the neck by hundreds of people for nothing.

From analog to digital communication

Obviously, if traditional methods are replaced by digital ones, in a world where, with a free YouTube channel, you can make yourself known by thousands of people, the paradigms change. But even with this assumption, if you do not want to accept my suggestion to think twice before investing into a drone, you have to understand how important the sale is, even before the product creation itself, which in this case is your video or your photo shot with the drone.

Selling with YouTube and a website, and learning how to communicate with digital is not impossible, but it requires a lot of study in order to have a chance to succeed.

We all have friends who had the best idea ever. Something like:

The App with which they will make millions of euros.

Then, if you ask those friends if they have made a search to understand if there’s something similar already online, they act so surprised.

Dreaming of getting rich is pleasant, but the effort of writing a keyword on the smartphone to investigate is hard enough to stop your project.

Everyone's goal is to make money, so there are no magic formulas to do that. If there were some, people smarter than you would have already found it.

Fifteen years ago with microstock, you could pay for your holiday in Paris with a photo of the Eiffel Tower. Then the word spread, and it became more and more difficult to sell, and today it’s impossible to do that, if you first don't study the best subjects and you don't learn how to write proper titles and keywords for your images and videos.

The drone business works the same way, whether you use it to create stock footage or to sell your service to companies. To be successful, there’s just one method, today more than yesterday::

  • quality
  • hard work.