The Ultimate Guide To Getting Your Start In Stock Video – Part 2 Exclusive or Non-Exclusive

As I mentioned in my last post, I began my career as an exclusive contributor to iStock. I made this choice purely for pragmatic reasons– I only wanted to learn one content management system and one set of submission rules. In 2006, it took a lot longer to upload footage and get approval due to the speed of the internet, and to the cumbersome submission processes.

Guide to Stock Video Part 2 - Exclusive to Non Exclusive

A lot of that has changed, or at least the speed of the internet has greatly improved. (I can’t say that every company’s submission process is smooth and trouble free). And I am no longer exclusive; I am non-exclusive on every site that I sell to. So I can speak from experience from both sides on the age-old debate on being exclusive or not.

Why You Should Be Exclusive

Exclusivity carries with it many perks that you cannot have if you decide to be non-exclusive.  The first perk is that by being exclusive, you will receive a higher percentage rate, and that percentage rate can climb over time, while oftentimes your percentage rate will be capped if you are non-exclusive. So, if you want to make more money per sale, exclusivity is your answer.

The next perk of exclusivity is that you will receive preferential treatment. Stock footage houses will put your footage to the front of the approval cue, give you exclusive invites, and more actively promote your footage. These perks should not be over-looked, as more promotion and quicker approval times means a greater chance for more sales.

The last, but not least, important perk that exclusivity offers to a content creator is the ability to control, manage, and track your content, protecting it from piracy. By only selling your content through one vendor, they can easily track who is buying your content, and if they have the rights to use it or not. If you sell through multiple vendors, it is next to impossible to track any of this, and you could have your content stolen.

Guide to Stock Video - Should You Be Exclusive?
Still from Ryan’s Library

Why You Should Be Non-Exclusive

With all the perks of exclusivity that I mentioned, you may be wondering why anyone would ever consider being non-exclusive. Being non-exclusive carries with it two important factors that override all the perks of being exclusive. The first, and most important to me, is being able to control my content, who I work with, and making sure all of my eggs are not in one basket.

The drawback of being exclusive is that you are now subject to the whims of that stock footage house. They change the way they operate, their guidelines, how their search results affect the results, how they decide to split the royalties, and more. You are along for the ride, no questions asked. During my time of exclusivities, I experienced all of these things at iStock- and a lot of times the changes were not favorable in my direction. So, by being exclusive, you are at the mercy of that stock footage house.

The second reason why it is better to be non-exclusive is that you will actually make more money by spreading yourself out. While this may seem counter-intuitive, as you are actually diluting the market by having your content everywhere, I have experienced the profits firsthand. Since going non-exclusive, I have increased my income by 2–3x.

My theory about why this market dilution benefits the content creator is that we are creatures of habit. Most of us want to find solutions that are quick, repeatable, and reliable. So, when we go online to buy content for a project, we go to our stock footage house of choice to find what we need. It is only if we do not find what we are looking for that we search elsewhere. After all, time is money, and it is cheaper to go to a source we know and trust than to spend 2–3x’s the amount of time searching for the same clip, only to save a couple of bucks.

For the content creator, that means the more points of entry you have, the more potential you have to get your content in front of more people, which raises your chances of completing a sale. If your content is not getting seen, then it doesn’t matter what your split is with the stock footage house, because you are not getting sales. Being non-exclusive ensures the highest potential possible to get your footage seen and bought. And, in the end, this is a business…

Guide to Stock Video Part 2 - By the Numbers

Doing It By The Numbers

Because this is a business, it is important to run the numbers, and not make a choice purely based off of your feelings. To keep things easy, for demonstrations purposes, I am going to base these numbers off of 100 completed sales per year of 1080p video clips over a 5 year period. Here is what you would make using today’s percentage splits:

5 Years Exclusive at iStock* = $13,600

  • Year 1: $8,500 in sales – You Keep $2,720
  • Year 2: $8,500 in sales – You Keep $2,720
  • Year 3: $8,500 in sales – You Keep $2,720
  • Year 4: $8,500 in sales – You Keep $2,720
  • Year 5: $8,500 in sales – You Keep $2,720
  • *These calculations used to be a lot easier when I first starter out, as 1 credit = $1. However, today due to the many plans people use to buy credits, 1 credit can equal more or less than $1. It is impossible to account for every single variation & combination, so I am doing a lot of rounding, and the math is not 100% accurate. But it does fall in line with my own experience.

    5 Year Non-Exclusive** = $35,817.40

  • Year 1: $28,280 in sales – You keep $6,798.50
    (iStock- 70 Clips Sold: $892.50 / Shutter Stock- 70 clips sold: $1106 / Getty – 40 clips sold: $3,600 / Pond5 – 30 clips sold: $1,200
  • Year 2: $28,280 in sales – You keep $7,075
    (iStock- 70 Clips Sold: $892.50 / Shutter Stock- 60 clips sold: $1382.50 / Getty – 40 clips sold: $3,600 / Pond5 – 30 clips sold: $1,200)
  • Year 3: $28,280 in sales – You keep $7,240.90
    (iStock- 70 Clips Sold: $892.50 / Shutter Stock- 60 clips sold: $1,548.40 / Getty – 40 clips sold: $3,600 / Pond5 – 30 clips sold: $1,200)
  • Year 4: $28,280 in sales – You keep $7,351.50
    (iStock- 70 Clips Sold: $892.50 / Shutter Stock- 60 clips sold: $1,659 / Getty – 40 clips sold: $3,600 / Pond5 – 30 clips sold: $1,200)
  • Year 5: $28,280 in sales – You keep $7,351.50
    (iStock- 70 Clips Sold: $892.50 / Shutter Stock- 60 clips sold: $1,659 / Getty – 40 clips sold: $3,600 / Pond5 – 30 clips sold: $1,200)
  • **I am assuming that you lose about 30% of your sales at iStock due to losing out on promotion of your clips, since you are not an exclusive contributor. And I am assuming that you sell a smaller percentage at the other stock houses as well. While these numbers are fictitious, the percentages do reflect my experience.

    As you look at the numbers, which would you rather have- $13,600 and the perks of exclusivity, or $35,817.40 without the perks? For me, this is an easy business decision, but it is a choice you can only make for yourself. In my next post, I’ll be covering my experiences with the major stock houses, and make my recommendations on who you should be selling to.

    DISCLAIMER: I am sharing with you directly from my own experience, and what has worked for me. I cannot promise or guarantee any results. Use my advice at your own risk.

    Until Next Time, Get Out There And Shoot…

    The Ultimate Guide To Getting Your Start In Stock Video
    Part 1 Misconceptions
    Part 2 Exclusive or Non-Exclusive
    Part 3 Who Should You Sell To?
    Part 4 How To Drive Sales of Your Footage
    Part 5 What Content Should I Be Shooting
    Part 6 5 Crucial Steps For A Successful Stock Shoot
    Part 7 Maximizing Your Post Workflow
    Part 8 How To Effectively Deliver Your Stock Footage

    Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer


    Join the conversation

    2 Responses to “The Ultimate Guide To Getting Your Start In Stock Video – Part 2 Exclusive or Non-Exclusive”

    1. Jinny Chivers on September 5th, 2016 2:12 pm

      Thank you for sharing. Really useful. We have some great drone aerial footage and we are trying to decide the best way to sell the footage. It doesn’t seem as straight forward as we initially thought!

    2. Cameraman Amsterdam on April 13th, 2017 1:38 pm

      Very helpful article thank you! I’m starting out myself, the proces of getting your footage out is very time consuming :(.

    About the Author

    Born in 1980 in Seattle, Washington, Ryan has had a love and passion for the visual arts since a young child when his grandmother, an avid photographer, took him along on photo expeditions. As he grew up, his parents furthered that passion by enrolling him in various art programs and lessons. While he enjoyed painting and drawing, something was always missing - the ability to capture motion. Once introduced to the art of cinematography in high school he never looked back.Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer Since that time, Ryan has developed this passion and turned it into his career. As an award-winning cinematographer his work has allowed him the opportunity to travel worldwide in the pursuit of telling stories that are visually compelling. Ryan's distinct experience includes feature films, documentaries, commercials, and shooting for Comcast, TLC, Oxygen, and the Discovery Channel. Not only does Ryan seek to deliver cinematic images for his clients, but his commitment, organization, and professionalism means he constantly goes the extra mile to ensure that the results he delivers exceed his clients expectations.


    Sign up now!