Videoblocks was a stock footage agency from 2014 to 2019. As of today, the URL videoblocks.com appears once in a while within the project into which it merged: Storyblocks (learn more about Storyblocks).

The Videoblocks brand, however, has disappeared, and I think the continued presence of the URL is only a technical matter that requires a little bit of time to migrate the URLs.

The homepage of Videoblocks still exists and is indexed by Google, but if you click on the link you will arrive on the Storyblocks homepage.

Videoblocks: The story of this microstock

For many years, Videoblocks has represented a steady income for me as a stock footage producer. If you consider that I would have created the content I sold there anyway in order to sell it on:

and that the upload did not require the repeated insertion of titles and keywords (being able to exploit the information already entered on Pond5 thanks to .csv files), I was very disappointed when, in September 2019, it stopped selling stock footage because its successor, Storyblocks, changed its business model, as it meant losing thousands of euros in income each year.

But let's go step by step.

2015: 3 thousand dollars just to join the collection

Videoblocks was born at the beginning of the millennium, like many other microstocks.

Unlike its competitors (Shutterstock, Istockphoto, Dreamstime), which focused on single sales, Videoblocks had an alternative business model: the sale of subscriptions; once you bought one, you could download an unlimited number of videos.

So, they had an element of differentiation. But, given the poor quality of their collection, they had the problem of finding customers, because buyers could find far better stock footage on marketplaces like

  • Shutterstock,
  • Fotolia,
  • Pond5,

though at much higher prices.

In 2014, Videoblocks decided to launch its own marketplace while keeping its subscription program. With this strategy, they aimed to raise the level of the content they offered and to compete with other microstocks.

Shortly after that decision, at the end of 2015, those at Videoblocks contacted me after seeing my portfolio on another agency, asking me to contribute to the marketplace (while the All You Can Download collection was created using the content of video makers selected by invitation).

The proposal they gave me was:

Why don't you send us your stock footage since you will earn 100% of the sales?

My answer was:

Yes, but I also want 3 dollars for each clip of mine you select (I had 9,000 on Pond5).

Having been a producer since 2006, I've received those kinds of propositions dozens of times. Usually, when I make that kind of counter-proposal, the people in charge of the new-born agencies disappear.

If you think about it, mine was not a crazy way of dealing, even when looking at things from the point of view of Videoblocks itself:

Shutterstock dashboard

This one above is my Shutterstock dashboard from some time ago. At the time, it had already hit more than 35 thousand dollars in revenue (today it is well beyond 40 thousand: learn more about it).

Since Shutterstock pays 30% to producers, this means that, thanks to my content, they had made more than 70,000 dollars. Therefore, I was asking Videoblocks for a figure which, if they had produced a level of income similar to their direct competitors as they had also promised in the email with which they contacted me, they would have repaid in a few months.

By guaranteeing the contributor 100% of the royalties (another great feature), they did not earn anything on my sales. But since they are obviously not a charity, they did use my content and those of other producers to promote their subscriptions program, which they sold, earning the full amount paid by the buyers.

That promotion, since microstock is a business, had a cost that, from my point of view and from the rules of the economy, had to be quantified using the closest value on the market as a guideline.

The negotiations

Producing microstock (stock images and stock footage) is:

  • business
  • not art

And, in business, entrepreneurs win and artists fail.

At first, the dialogue sank. 27,000 dollars (3 dollars x 9,000 clips) was a lot for an agency of that level and, frankly, when approaching a negotiation, I always use the unionist's strategy:

  • I ask for 100
  • to get 10

knowing that, on the other side, if they are interested, a counter-proposal will soon come. In this case, unfortunately, it was not immediately like that, because they gave me a classic response that many other new-born agencies’ representatives have given me in similar situations during my 10+ years of business:

We will let you know.

Which is not synonymous with not talking anymore, because those who have zero chance of considering the deal usually don't even answer.

In fact, a couple of months later, they contacted me:

We can offer you 3,000 dollars, one-off, to sell your clips on our marketplace (in addition to normal earnings).

To seize the opportunity without taking the discussion further, I accepted immediately, because I understood that it was an unrepeatable offer, as demonstrated by the many other cases in which new agencies had asked me to contribute, running away at my first requests to be paid in advance.

A couple of months after receiving the 3 thousand dollars, I suggested to a producer and good friend mine that he should upload his content there, and I acted as an intermediary by contacting via direct email the people with whom I had talked during the negotiations.

I received a respectful, but somehow annoyed, response:

Yours was an extraordinary payment. We don't make these payments anymore because we are losing money with the marketplace.

Upload stock footage without wasting time

The excitement that situation gave me was also due to the fact that Videoblocks accepted the .csv files downloaded from Pond5. So, I didn't have to describe 9,000 clips from scratch, a job that would have taken me far over a month and that wouldn't have been convenient for just 3,000 dollars.

The bad luck for me was that I still wasn't working with the professionalism that sets me apart today. I didn't use any rules to uniquely name my videos, as I teach today on my course (learn more about my course). Consequently, I lost some working days correcting the mistakes I made with the names of my files. But it still was a good deal to be paid 3,000 dollars for my actual time and effort.

100% commission

From 2015 until 2018, Videoblocks gave me 100% commission for all of my sales. Many visitors of this website and listeners of my podcast, when they understood this, began to wonder (and ask me):

How does Videoblocks give 100% of the sale price to the producers?

My first answer was:

It is actually a little less than 100% of the price.

Videoblocks sales report

For the sale of Full HD videos, it was about 86%, because it was necessary to subtract:

  1. Credit card fees (3.6%).
  2. (For non-american producers) Withholding taxes (usually 30%, but, as an Italian, 8%, as I filled in the W-8BEN).

The reason why they could give such royalties is the same as why supermarkets sometimes sell at a loss: To get new customers to enter the shop and then try to sell them something else.

Videoblocks was looking for producers to keep the level of the marketplace collection high, hoping that their brand would gain fame and then sell subscriptions to the All You Can Download collection which, once produced, was delivered digitally and had no distribution costs.

However, that 100% royalty share didn't last forever. But I'll explain that later.

The historical context of the microstock world into which Videoblocks was born

With its aggressive policy, Videoblocks managed to thrive (and eventually converge into a more important project in Storyblocks) at a time when it seemed impossible for a microstock other than the powerful companies that already ruled the business to have success.

Its secret was:

  • investments
  • finding a different and enticing business model for buyers
  • agreeing to lose money for several years

Throughout my time in the business, I have seen many similar ideas born and die, so I acknowledge that Videoblocks did better than all the others, especially because, unlike:

  • Shutterstock
  • Fotolia (which no longer exists today)
  • Istockphoto (which gasps today)

and almost all microstocks (Pond5 excluded), Videoblocks started selling stock footage without selling stock images first, which is very hard to do.

Obviously, the extreme competition between agencies is a god-sent gift for us producers who, if we can already rely on a rich portfolio, become somewhat like top football players who are fought over by major teams.

Unfortunately, the era of microstocks like:

  • Corbis
  • Getty
  • alwaysHD
  • Dvarchive
  • Artbeats

is over. Those agencies used to pay more than $100 per sale, while today we can earn those figures only with extended license sales on Pond5 and Shutterstock.

The marketplace and the All You Can Download collection

As mentioned, Videoblocks had two collections from which you could buy videos:

  1. Marketplace
  2. All You Can Download subscription

The first included videos of a quality level similar to that of its competitors, such as:

  • Shutterstock
  • Pond5
  • Adobe Stock

but with a smaller quantity of footage for sale.

On Videoblocks, however, the single video price was cheaper:

  • $49 for a single Full HD clip (versus $79 on Shutterstock and Adobe Stock)
  • $199 for a single 4K clip

At least until 2018, when they raised the price from $49 to $79. But, at that time, they had probably already decided to stop selling footage through the marketplace.

The All You Can Download Collection was definitely the cheapest ever deal on the market.

It provided:

  • more than 100 thousand clips to download (while Storyblocks’ subscription today has 800 thousand)
  • a price of $149 a year (while Storyblocks’ subscription today costs $199)

The quality was poor, although there was occasionally something of excellent quality; in particular:

  • helicopter footage of major American cities
  • ultra slow motion videos.

However, if you were looking for content that had people as subjects, the material was poor and focused on typical American people, so inserting that footage into projects for different markets was not convenient.

Stock image of an American family portrait

Videos recorded indoors had awful lighting and were shot with little professionalism.

Last but not least, you could only choose from 100 thousand clips, while competitors like Shutterstock already had more than 10 million published.

So, Videoblocks' All You Can Download collection was a compromise for those who had no budget.

My sales as a producer on Videoblocks

Videoblocks sales report

In the period in which it sold my content, Videoblocks was my third most profitable agency

on average, with months when I cashed even 800 dollars. Sometimes, it was the second, in front of Shutterstock and behind only Pond5.

Until 2016, my average month on Videoblocks was fairly steady, with at least 10 sales, even in August:

Videoblocks sales in August 2016

From that point on, there was a constant decline due to the recalibration of their search algorithm, which had started to favour the All You Can Download collection over the Marketplace.

In other words, if a potential buyer wrote a keyword because they needed videos of a subject,

in 2016 Videoblocks showed them nine pieces of content from the Marketplace and one from the All You Can Download collection. In 2017 and 2018, Videoblocks gradually moved towards the opposite scenario.

After the acquisition of producers who could provide them top-level stock footage, it began its transition to a healthier business model, to favour the part of their website (the subscriptions) on which they earned.

Multiple buyers of footage recorded in Austria

Another good feature of Videoblocks was that its buyers belonged to the magical category of those who bought multiple clips of the same subject – the dream of every stock footage producer like me.

Here is an example:

Videoblocks sales report

In the summer of 2012, in times of hot weather, I went with a friend of mine for a day trip to Carinthia in south-eastern Austria, which is a couple of hours by car from my house.

Using the tool that weighs the saleability of keywords, which I teach on my course but can’t show you here because my paying students will get angry, the two main cities of that region:

  • Klagenfurt
  • Villach

have a high value.

The problem with shooting them in that moment (as well as the fact that it was more of a tourist trip for me than a working day) was that, since it was so hot, the people who were filmed there dressed too seasonally (learn why this is not good for sales).

As a result, I initially didn’t sell much of the footage shot that day.

Years later, however, on Videoblocks, I made 3 contemporary sales that made me 130 dollars. With that income, I paid for:

  • the highway ticket
  • fuel
  • (part of) my salary for videomaking, editing and keywording

The beauty of the microstock is exactly that: allowing you to use your free days differently and still earn money even years afterwards (at least if you don't only create stock images but also create stock footage, which is the most profitable content).

If you already know how to shoot photos, becoming a video maker is not so difficult, and in terms of equipment it requires nothing more than a good tripod in addition to the camera you already have.

260 dollars when waking up

Those like me who have been producers for many years know that the feeling you get when a sales report arrives is far better if that moment belongs to a day of leisure.

Earning is always nice for any non-hypocrite, but looking at how society is built, it is normal to expect an economic result only if it comes after hours of hard work. On the other hand, reading 5 emails like the ones below after a few hours of snowboarding can give an indescribable serenity in a world without certainties.

Videoblocks sales report

For the record, it was 43.39 dollars in earnings per video. I shot that footage during a trip I made to Paris years earlier. That will remain my most profitable day on Videoblocks.

How they informed producers of sales

Microstock agencies inform us producers of sales via a page in the user area. Some of these, like Pond5 today and Videoblocks at that time, also do so by email:

  • Pond5 with a daily summary message (on days when there are sales)
  • Videoblocks with a message immediately after each sale

Regarding the accuracy of Videoblocks' reports, I can say that they were not immediate in communicating.

Let me explain. Look at this screenshot:

Videoblocks sales report

This report shows that I would have made 8 sales in just one day. I'm not an expert in statistics but, considering that these pieces of content are very different from each other, the report is quite suspicious, since 8 sales were more than I had obtained in some months that year (2018).

Of course, it would change very little if the earnings indicated were related, for example, to the entire week, and were therefore only certified late. But in a world in which we need to trust agencies, as in microstock, for transparency reasons I can say that Videoblocks didn’t have a professional attitude, even if it always paid regularly in the end.

2018: The beginning of the end

From 2018, Videoblocks had started to be more selective about content. Many new producers who had started to earn with stock footage thanks to the Marketplace saw this kind of email arriving:

We have reviewed your image portfolio and are currently prioritizing content that best meets the needs of our Marketplace customers.

While we are not accepting your content at this time, we will retain your information and you may hear from us in the future. In the meantime, feel free to review our Submission Requirements to ensure your content meets our quality and technical standards.

We appreciate your interest in the Storyblocks Marketplace.

It meant:

We like your videos, but at the moment we are not interested. Maybe, if things change, we will let you know.

Commissions for producers lowered to 50%

In the summer of 2018, another piece of bad news arrived.

On the 15th of August, 2018, the commissions reserved for producers went down from 100% to 50%, aligning Videoblocks with Pond5 (though, since 2019, Pond5 has paid 40% to non-exclusive producers) but still keeping them higher than Shutterstock, which instead paid 30% (which it still pays today).

Then, the prices of Full HD videos went from 49 to 79 dollars.

These decisions were a prelude to the end of Videoblocks’ Marketplace, when the project, at least in part, had already merged into Storyblocks, an agency which also sold, in addition to stock footage:

  • stock images
  • soundtracks and sounds

Storyblocks is very convenient for those who buy content, given the low price, but equally inconvenient for us producers, given the modest earnings it generates.

When the Marketplace closed

In September 2019, Videoblocks/Storyblocks Marketplace closed definitively.

A month earlier, Videoblocks/Storyblocks asked all the producers to agree to sell the stock footage they had in the marketplace with the subscription program for ridiculous revenues.

If a customer buys an unlimited subscription on Storyblocks, which costs 39 dollars per month, and in that month they download 500 videos, what is due to the producer of the single video downloaded is 50% of the 39 dollars divided by 500. You can do the math.

Goodbye Videoblocks. We miss you so much.

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