WriterAccess Webinar Archive

Images and Content

Thursday, July 31, 2014 – 1:00 PM ET

Wake up your digital content! Plain text is tiresome. Chunks of copy are boring. Graphics and motion add the pizzazz you need to catch readers orbiting at high speeds. But where do the pros go to get the goods?

Join host Byron White and guest Joel Holland, CEO of GraphicStock and VideoBlocks, to get up to speed on the latest sources for lighting up your words and enlivening your story. Learn why images and motion create the emotion that turns browsers to believers, and believers into buyers.

Learn All This and More:

  • How stock art works
  • The best sources for stock work
  • Stock work's challenges and benefits
  • Advantages of using original work

Slidedeck Download

The slidedeck from this webinar is available for download.

Video Transcription

Byron: Welcome, everyone. Byron White here, founder of Writer Access- happy you could join us today. I am here with Joel Holland. Joel, welcome.

Joel: Thank you very much for having me, Byron.

Byron: Right on. So, we are going to take on some good challenges today and hope everyone asks us some questions along the way. So, feel free to use your go-to webinar ability to fire in questions to us. We will bottle all the questions up in the end of the presentation and have you get some answers from us- Joel, particularly, being the focus, I'm sure.

I am going to walk through a deck as part of today's presentation that Joel and I worked on and show everybody what our prospective is on the marketplace and what's going on out there. I also put together some tips and advice at the end of the deck to help you understand the challenges you face and the opportunities within your reach. So, without further adieu, I will say the following: We would love to hear from you and Twitter is a great way to do that. I've got a couple of Twitter addresses here: @ByronWhite and @VideoBox, so feel free to let us know how we are doing in this presentation. Share the love, share anything positive or anything you want, really. We'd love to hear from you and we will try to respond after the presentation.

So that everyone knows, you will receive a copy of this deck, along with links to download a couple of books and any promotions that Joel wants to toss in, as well, to everyone on the line. And then we are actually going to have three winners today, of everyone that is here and that has showed up for a year-long subscription to AudioBox, then separately VideoBox, then separately GraphixBox. So, thank Joel and his team for doling out some cool prizes to everyone that's tuned in now. So, thanks for that. We had a great reception and response to this webinar so we are really excited to dive in and take on some of these issues. Without further adieu, keep the questions firing over in the the questions section. Thanks much for that. We currently spend a lot of time on screen. I like using that word "on-screen" because, as you will quickly learn, we have so many screens that we are looking at these days. Its really quite remarkable that 8 or 9 hours of our day are spent on screen. That is a fact. That's the reality and I am not sure what that is doing to our brains and our senses but we are going to talk about that a little bit today. As a result of some deep analysis into the brain's activity, as it turns out, about 90% of the information absorbed in the brain is visual. Now, its no surprise there- our eyes are our greatest communication tool into our brain. What we see gets to our brain extremely quickly, without having to interpret it or understand it. It just arrives. As it turns out, our brain processes visuals about 60 thousand times faster than text, which is pretty interesting if you think about it, and what this all means is that we need to better tap into that ability to get information to our brains in a visual sense- time to load up our minds with information. Research has shown us that visuals improve and increase engagement by as much as 94 percent.

There's a really cool promotion that I read recently from Getty Images. Lindsey Morris is speaking and this promotion is talking about this incredible statistic on what an impact images can have. So, it is pretty exciting stuff this week to see what is transpiring. There are certainly some stats backing this up. One more stat is that viewers are 85 percent more likely to buy a product or service after watching a video. Again, fairly staggering and interesting to me is how slow video continues to move as it makes its way into our web-world. Certainly the stats of YouTube are remarkable. Something like 60 hours of video are loaded up every minute to YouTube. The stats are pretty overwhelming with how much video is out there but, at the same time, it continues to be burdensome and difficult to produce videos on products and services.

It seems like a production, it takes a lot of time, if you are going to do custom work. So, there are a lot of interesting challenges there but the stats are in favor of wanting to invest and produce content in the video space. So, the real challenge is: who is going to create all these images in videos and visuals and design work we need to really tell our story in the content marketing world? And, I like saying that content marketing is really an art and a science. It is the art of understanding the wants and needs of your customers and the science of delivering to them in a compelling way. Obviously, images and video and visuals are a big part of that, so the question is: who, specifically, is going to create that and how can we get those visuals and things out to the marketplace so all of our work can look better?

So, a little tidbit in history on graphic design: graphic design became the mainstream, I would argue, thanks to five key individuals that brought graphic design to the mainstream. Some wonderful New York legends here, particularly in the advertising industry, I believe, could be held wonderfully responsible for the graphic arts profession.

What's interesting about the graphic arts profession is there has never been a politician, at least that I know about, or anybody that has had a real leadership position, other than leading an ad agency, of course, rise to the top of the corporate channel or the political channel, at least in this country. I find that really interesting, given how much weight and emphasis and importance design has been to literally bringing products like Apple to the forefront of leadership positions, despite all odds, in the PC world. Design clearly has its place in the corporate world and I'm really quite surprised that more people haven't risen to that leadership position. But, if I could just comment about that before we go to the next slide, I think a lot of that might be because, in a sense, a designer isn't necessarily a leader themselves in developing a campaign. In fact, they are part of the team and that team is what produces the campaign. It isn't one individual that has the idea and executes it and is the rock star and takes something from start to finish. I would argue that graphic design is a profession where there isn't a clear hierarchy where there is one person on top. It is a team sport, if you will, and I think designers think that way, which is quite interesting.

So, anyway, thanks for letting me transgress over in that interesting tidbit, there, but today, there are, in fact, more than 300,000 designers. Good news! We've gone from five people in New York to a profession and the profession is now quite healthy. In the US, alone, it is a very big, big audience of designers out there and that's an extremely broad-based term: "graphic arts professionals". There are probably many more than that, technically, in the marketplace right now. It will be interesting to see what Joel's take is on that. He is in deep contact with a lot of these artists producing the work that is available with his company, but we will dive into that later.

I think the good news is that we have also gone from a male-dominated industry, when there were five men to now about 50 percent women. The bad news is we really have this sort of skewed racial representation and that is quite interesting, if you think about it. Think about the global challenges we have in getting under the skin of the target audience and truly understanding that. And, the best way to describe that, perhaps, is by saying if we face challenges in expanding companies' products and services globally, and at the same time as we face challenges in diving into new niche markets, and even both of those combined, like the Spanish market, for example, is without a doubt the fastest growing niche that will soon dominate even our marketing and advertising here in the United States, most likely- hard to imagine that, but that's coming at us. But, when we look at these challenges, its really all about getting under the skin of the target audience and understanding what engages them and inspires them and motivates them. How do we do that? How do we learn to do that? Are we in the best position to do that with the current the audience we have with our graphic arts professionals?

So, we are going to talk about hopefully a little bit today with Joel, because I think its a very interesting challenge that this whole community faces. So, on top of that, we have a vastly growing creative community here that has new and different roles that were unimaginable, even a short ten years ago. You know, UX, user interfaces, titles... We've gone way beyond creative director, art director, designer, illustrator, you know, core fundamentals of the graphic arts industry and expanded it into micro roles: communications specialists, image research specialists.

I mean, there are literally hundreds of titles of different professionals within this graphic arts and creative community. And, that it makes it more challenging and more challenging, by nature, to just get work done and to find the specializations, to find a way for the specializations to work together to make everything happen. On top of those challenges, to be successful these days, forward-thinking companies really have to think, I would argue, like old-school publishers. They have to gather ideas and develop stories and publish content readers actually want and need. That's difficult for a lot of big brands, as well as small to mid-sized companies. It's hard for them to get their grips around that. They typically have not seen a copywriter and a designer team up within the marketing department to truly be the first field that's attracting prospect customers. Typically, that was done with more marketing-driven push marketing, with direct mail or advertising or pay-per-click ads, perhaps, but those push advertising tactics are not connecting or resonating well with customers and readers and fans these days. So customers are literally being forced, by the way, with the help of Google, that's pushing Panda and Penguin and other releases of their algorithm; they are forcing us to write original content and not publish duplicate content on our product descriptions and all kinds of interesting things. The bottom line is a lot is changing, a lot has moved forward in this marketplace.

There is a great book that I want to highly recommend to everybody in this industry topic that we're speaking of today, called "Sisomo". It is written by Kevin Roberts, the then-chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi. It is a fabulous book. I highly recommend it. I saw Kevin speak, actually, quite a few years ago, at ADTAC and a big percentage of us left his speech in tears, literally. With his ability to understand the importance of telling stories and advertising and how we need to pay close attention to that art as we move forward and as we continue to sell our products and services. Lovemarks, as he calls them, are really the new brand mark that companies now seek and he contends is that people relate to brands these days the same way they do other people. They connect with them, they talk with them, they talk about them, they think about them, they care about them and that's pretty remarkable that our marketing efforts have moved a company, in the eyes of the consumer, as a person. That's really what is happening right now but the challenges there are immense as we begin thinking of our brand as a person. We'll talk about that a little bit today.

The screen has grown and the screen now connects us to both brands and people. There are basically lots of screens and those are the current challenges we have. There are screens in our living rooms and big in-house, in-home movie theaters and dashboards of cars. Billboards, of course, are now digitized and are presenting multiple ads at different times of the day, depending upon who might be driving around and altering the demographics; based upon who might be on the roads. Its remarkable and, of course, Google Glasses is out there and the screen is everywhere. I think our average hours are going to go up from eight or nine hours a day to ten, eleven or twelve hours a day when all is said and done. Most of our work days will probably be spent looking at screens. What does this all mean? Where do we get all of this informational content we need to turn browsers into believers and believers into buyers? Where is all this content going to come from? That is the challenge we all face and we want to figure that out.

So, the few tips for you that I put together that will hopefully help you as you begin thinking about imagery and then we'll let Joel dive in and talk about the challenges that he sees, himself, and some of the solutions that his company provides.

Number one: storytellers, I'd like to hear that name more when we think of writers and designers, and perhaps, even this new all-in-one designer, with the advent of products like SquareSpace and even WordPass, are writers of the world and designers of the world, are being asked to do it all. Code, program, put it all together from start to finish. I wonder if we are entering a new age where that will become really something critical. There was a great article about this very topic in Communication Arts this month that I would highly recommend. You are going to see another plug for CA Magazine in a few minutes but it talked a little bit the destruction of the design process that used to exist where you would meet with designers and they would comp up your website, perhaps, and your brand. Then, they would turn that over to developers that would then execute on that vision.

Those days are gone now. Why? Because coding is easier. WizzyWig software makes it fast and easy to accomplish the limitations you have within a screen. Second of all, to isolate programmers and developers, the people that could create wonderful, different features to software, makes no sense to get them in at the tale-end of a project. They need to be in at the beginning of a project to discuss all kinds of variables that exist and the ideas and to flush those out so its kind of interesting with what's happening now. Maybe the communications world will return to this all-in-one, jack of all trades that can truly do it all; you know, handle images, write copy and do lots of coding and development using the WizzyWig platforms. But, no matter what, the storyteller needs to be the centerpiece of that and if they are not, I think that's where we get lost. The story needs to be well beyond what its going to look like and feel like. It needs to be a story and we will talk about that a little bit more.

The second tip is to certainly upgrade your image tool chest with stock images and really upgrade your marketing tool chest, I would argue. Stock images are here to stay. They can help augment the story and tell the story. There are literally hundreds of millions of images available now and we've really done a service to SMDs, particularly that can access great images produced by incredibly talented artists. They can help both them and companies in expressing their story and their brand and their message... also, video production tools, as well, so take a look at some of these. Again, you will get a copy of the deck and of course, VideoBlocks, Joel's company, which I have tried to put at the center of all of this.

One of the tips I've learned, tip number three, is to try to de-stock your stock images- to first of all, make them original and second of all, align them with your brand. Here's an example of an image that we discovered from an illustrator online that actually became the whole style you see on Writer's Access right now. It was delivered to us through this wonderful illustrator we found. We looked at some of his stock work and we tested some of his stock work by "greenalizying" it, as I like calling it; putting the original color palette into our green color palette to bring it into our brand. This subtle change of the stock image helped to align our brand with the stock image and deliver a much different feeling to the work and help our overall brand. I would argue it is good to de-stock. This also becomes an original image, which has lots of SEO value. One could argue that a lot of traffic is driven by Google Image search, directly to companies websites. Good examples of that would be landscaping companies that might want to hire photographers to go out to take images of the beautiful work they do. Those images then get hosted on their website and, of course, get them listed in Google Image search, with really good keyword tags. Then, customers find those images and then discover the website and end up hiring you to do some more landscape work or something they have seen and identified. So, lots of exciting stuff going on there. Tap into it.

Tip number four is to tap into surveys and focus groups and, of course, AB and multivariate testing to find out which images inspire and perform. This is our answer to the challenge we have: can our current designers on our staff or even in our country right now adapt their skill and proficiency to get under the skin of the target audience? The answer is, yes, they can. I think AB and multivariate testing are, by far, the future of where image performance is going. It's already there, really, but maybe some of the people on the line haven't really heard much about it. The nut of it is, it is just plain simple and easy, using the free Google analytic technology to test AB testing, to throw in two different images on two separate pages- your original page and, say, an "A" test page and literally keep all the copy the same, simply change the image.

It could be a stock image that you can purchase quickly and easily. You can see if three people outperform one person, which, trust me, they probably will, based on history. You can begin looking at different variations and elements just of the image, alone, to test conversion rates. That's the future- where its going and that's the answer to some of the challenges we have in the marketplace. I think its also interesting- we have some agencies on the line, I've noticed, with the number of people that signed up. I wanted to suggest that we sell creative services differently in today's marketplace.

When you are putting your portfolio together, you can't just select the work you think is the best. You need to select the work that will resonate well with the client you are going to be speaking with. I sold design services for almost four years, from a couple of a different companies in the Boston area. What I learned from that is: when I think back on that experience, I would always tend to take out my favorite portfolio pieces that always seemed to inspire and "wow", but it never really dawned on me that the customers looking at that portfolio were more interested in the work that would be received well by their share-holders, or by their target audience. So, I never really altered or varied the presentation. I just went out with what I thought was my "best work". I think that's a big mistake and that we need to sell differently these days. That's true with our writing style, be it content writing services we are trying to sell and/or imagery or videography. That is even true with Writer's Access' model. We have stable samples, by the industry that would seem to be appropriate. At least we are breaking them up by the industry but perhaps there is a big difference between a small boutique bank verses the Bank of America. Bank of America is going to be looking for a different tone and style verses the small community bank in Bangor, Maine. I think that is worth having some interesting discussion on and thinking clearly about as we think about the images and content.

Number six: despite advertising, clear history here created it an adjective, not a noun. Why do I say that? To me, creators get lumped into a basket and that is really quite unfortunate. I think everyone in an individual company has that ability to have an "aha!" moment where they can take a picture or find an image that works or develop a story that would resonate well with prospect customers. I think "creative" is an adjective, as mentioned, not a noun. Its not a definition of what you do for a living. It is an adjective that describes people and I think that is kind of an interesting point, particularly given an image search, for example. It is often an afterthought, often dumped on somebody that can just get it done. Whereas, people really need to look at not only the content being created but the target audience that is going to be looking at that. Put those two things together and use creativity to find an image that would, and of course, test the images to see what works best.

Tip number seven is to subscribe to CA Magazine. More specifically, follow the arts and respect the artist that can really transform ideas into works of art that can make you money and drive business growth. I would not be a happy person right now, with my career and my life, if I didn't get my monthly magazine delivered to my door that just soaks my brain with so many ideas, not just in terms of what I am looking at, but how they could apply to my business. And how somebody has interpreted a design, a challenge and a business challenge and put it into a simple, easy-to-communicate message. So, go. Have at it and change your world, literally, and your business life and your personal life, with the subscription to this magazine.

Tip number eight of ten, here, is to appreciate the distinctions between text and visuals. Text is necessary. We have to understand that. We often have to describe a product in words. A picture is not going to do that. But, when you look at this balancing act here: what images bring to the table and what text brings to the table, you can see the power of images and how they can lift up these challenges that have to be written and have to be displayed. But I think this is a great slide, again, from Kevin Roberts' book, "Sisomo", which I recommend.

Tip number nine is related to this target audience challenge we have. When selecting images, I would argue, ditch your personal opinion and really focus on the audience and how they interpret this image. You need to understand subtleties amongst the audience. I like saying that often times we look at the conversion path in whole or opposites. A web page, for example, might have two primary target audiences, what I call " ADD Andy verses Sophisticated Sally". ADD Andy wants to look at the image, feel good about it, read the headline, confirm it is the product, looking at the visual and BOOM, he's ready to buy. He doesn't really care about the features or the benefits. Whereas Sophisticated Sally might not only care about the features and the benefits, she might look for additional resources or download a PDF that offers more detailed information right on the page before she buys. We've got to understand the target audience before we start thinking about selections.

Another great example of this is selling cars- always a challenge. As it turns out, women are much more interested in safety and environmental related issues: how cars were produced and the pollution that cars have in the marketplace. Whereas, men, particularly younger men, are more interested in speed and features of the car, itself, and other elements. So, who is the target audience? Who are we creating this image and campaign for? These are subtleties that have to be worked out and thought through as you select images and it is challenging. Its difficult to do but, thankfully, we have AB testing to rescue us so we can try to experiment with different conversion paths to see what works best.

Finally, tip number ten... is an important distinction to understand that stories really the engage the reader like "what happens next?" That's what good story-telling is all about- the suspense of what happens next. I get the fact that it is difficult to do that with the 200 word description on an ad but it is necessary to understand that people engage because of the surprise of what happens next. So, we to play into that. We need to work that angle perpetually as we create stories.

Images, on the other hand, have very specific roles to grab attention, for starters, and to, of course, touch the heart. Both are necessary for success. Michael Benice, a famous designer that I worked for, for a couple of years as his agent or marketing representative within this company, really taught me that consumers, readers, browsers and prospect customers have three approaches when they see an ad in a magazine. Number one, they look at the visual and, in milliseconds in their brain, they make a decision on whether they want to stop or not- literally, milliseconds. If they stop, you are lucky. They will actually read the headline. That's all they will read is the headline.

If you are very, very lucky, a small percentage of them will actually read the copy that, ironically, we often spend so much time fussing over and rewriting and drafting and crafting... these long-winded explanations of what we're offering, our benefits and our features and all this stuff. The consumer doesn't really think that through logically and doesn't set a priority over those details. Instead, their brain works differently so we need to understand that and to use imagery and content together to really make something work.

There ends the presentation on line but some of you have . You are also going to get an email that will feature links to both of these books, as well as this slide deck, as well as the announcement of who won some free subscriptions that I mentioned earlier. Without further adieu... Joel, how are you?

Joel: I'm doing very well. Thanks, Byron and I really enjoyed that presentation. I think you did a bang-up job walking through the content landscape and the importance of imagery along with more rich text content. It all really does play together to create the compelling story.

Byron: Joel, tell us about your model. First of all, your company is staggeringly large and its really incredible what you are doing and how you are doing it. Can you explain your model a little bit to people and why its a little different?

Joel: Definitely. I'll start by saying that, at our company, we have this belief, one of our fundamental values: creativity is power. And, everyone that works here came to the company because they not only needed a paycheck and job but they really enjoy creating and sharing something, whether its writing, graphic design, video editing or audio editing. I think what's really cool there is I feel like almost everyone has some kind of inherent desire to create and share content or to create and share something. The internet has come along and created this canvas that is just unbelievably open to enabling creators like bloggers. Blogging... I remember when it first came around, I had no idea what it was and very quickly, there were 400 million blogs. Then, Twitter came about and it was even easier to very quickly take your ideas and share them. And, we all know how successful Instagram has been. There were a 150 million amateur photographers, almost overnight.

I don't think that it was creation of any service that was created. Instagram did not make photographers. I think that a lot of us had an inherent, latent desire to be capturing imagery and sharing it and all of a sudden there was a tool that could do it. We founded the company, VideoBlocks, to make premium creative content affordable to all of us. Ten years ago when I was in high school, I was working on a small independent film project and I hated the fact that I could not afford to purchase the images and footage and music to jazz up the project we were working on.

We had this little TV show, where we interviewed really cool people. In one instance, we had the fortune of getting Arnold Schwarzenegger to sit down, on camera and give advice to teenagers about what they should do with their lives. We shot the interview. It was good advice. We edited it and did not have the budget to buy a D Roll and all of these other elements and because of that, the project turned out, to be honest, pretty boring. It was like this Charlie Rose, two-camera shoot, targeted towards teens and it was total mismatch. I just started looking at MTV and Discovery Channel. How did these networks take educational and mundane topics and make them extraordinary? And, it was by editing in stock media elements. That was enough for me to say "Hey, this isn't fair." It's not fair that, as an Indie video maker, I don't have access to high quality stuff just because I don't have the big, deep pockets. The big agencies are corruption companies.

So, that was the impetus for launching VideoBlocks- videoblocks.com was our first release. The concept is: you pay a subscription fee of as low as $99 for an entire year. That gets you unlimited download access. So, for $8.25 a month, you can download from over 100,000 video clips, special effects, motion backgrounds, explosions, clips from almost 100 different countries. And, there is no limitation on how you use those clips. That is another thing that is problematic with some of the other competitors is that they will limit you to "web-use only" or "US use only". For us, its unlimited download usage, unlimited download ability and unlimited usage anywhere in the world, forever. And, on average, our customers are paying less than a dollar for each clip they use.

Byron: Hey, Joel, may I ask you a question about that?

Joel: Yes.

Byron: That is a great deal for customers, by the way, to have access to. How are the artist compensated, and in general, lets talk about VideoBox, first. Are artists being taken care of and how are they compensated in this model?

Joel: That is a great question, Byron. After our belief that creativity is power, and our mission to provide premium creative content that we can all afford, there are three major stake holders that we sit down in every one of our meetings and say, "Hey, are these people winning?" One is the customer. Is the customer winning, and with our model, yes. They are getting access to content that they could not afford otherwise. That's great. Customers are winning. Are the content creators winning? Because, if the customers are winning at the expense of content creator, that's not good, right? That's not sustainable.

In this case, we have a very different model than ShutterStock, Getty or these others. Instead of having content creators submit content to us and then get paid upon download, in the hope that their stuff sells and then, in that case, they get a little bit of money, we will go out and say, "Hey, Byron, we notice you have a thousand clips of Africa. It's really great stuff and our users, from the search patterns we've looking at, they've been looking for more African footage. We would like to make you an offer to purchase rights to your material. Not in non-exclusive rights, so you keep selling them on the other sites. Keep making money like you are making it but we'd like to pay you $50,000.00 or a $100,000 to buy the rights to that material and drop it into our library." So, that's kind of our model. We will find existing content creators with great stuff and we will make them non-exclusive offers to take their content and drop it into VideoBlocks. Essentially, what we're trying to do is to forecast the next 10 years or 20 years or perpetual payments you would receive from our competitors and pay it to you now, times zero. So, you can take that money and buy new equipment, go do other shoots and what we ask for in return is the ability to then distribute this to our customers without paying commissions.

When I mention that customers are getting these clips, on average, less than a dollar a piece, an individual commission on that would be very, very small. It would be almost insulting. In my opinion, it would be very insulting to say "hey, here's your 50 cents or 25 cents on this transaction, Byron." But, when I come to you and say "hey, our minimum check size for a distributor is usually about $10,000." It's real money and we're not asking you to give up any exclusivity to your work. We're just asking for the right to make it available to our users. So, the customers win, the suppliers win and the third stake holder is us- the company and the employees. We find that we win when those other two groups do well. I think that's why we have close to 100,000 paying customers between GraphicStock, VideoBlocks and all the other Blocks. It's a very delicate eco-system and you have to have each one of those groups winning or else it all falls apart.

Byron: It does, indeed. Now, tell us how GraphicStock works a little bit differently from that. I know a lot of our writers on the line are really interested in GraphicStock and how that whole program works. Also, we have a lot of writers and designers on the line that might be interested in selling some work to GraphicStock. Talk a little bit about how GraphicStock works differently and what some of the payouts look like over there and how it works from a customer's perspective.

Joel: After a couple of years of running VideoBlocks, we surveyed our customers and we said, "hey, it appears this model is working well because you guys score us high when we give net promoters score surveys. You keep coming back and renewing subscriptions, so that's great, but what else could we do? If we are going to take this model and apply it to another content type, should we do that? And, if we did do that, what would it be? And, the overwhelming feedback was: we want images. Because, VideoBlocks was exclusively providing video, but a lot of our customers were also having a need for images, imagery, graphics, vectors, icons or photos. So, we started exploring that market, realizing the same problem existed- that there were companies, like ShutterStock, providing plenty of great imagery but it was hard, for some of our customers to pay each time. Every time they wanted to grab an image and use it in a broad use way, it was expensive. And, to your point earlier about AB testing images, a lot of our customers wanted the ability to grab a bunch of images and say "hey, I just wrote this blog, posted this article, I don't know which image is the best. Or, I'm doing something for a client and I don't know which images they are going to like the most, and I don't want to have to buy ten different images knowing I'm just going to use one of them. So, we launched GraphicStock in July of last year, so a year ago this month, and it's the same model as VideoBlocks: unlimited downloads to a repository of about 250,000 graphics, illustrations and images. It's growing by the day, by the way, so every day, there is new content. It's the same thing, $99 gets you unlimited download access to everything.

We launched it and we are very excited to see that a lot of our users included people like writers and bloggers who can come back to the well each week or each day, that they are writing and grab stuff and not have to pay. There's no paying to pump. They're not having to pay every time they download. They just go in there and grab anything they want, test a bunch of different things and use what they need with no additional charges.

Byron: Fantastic. Are the artists winning over there as well, with this similar type of model?

Joel: Yes. It's the same exact type of model and, again, our minimum payment, whenever we purchase material, is in the thousands of dollars. Typically it is five figures- our minimum payment to an artist is a five figure check. The rationale behind that is that we are asking for something different. We are asking for the non-exclusive but perpetual rights to distribute your material for our customers. We think it is important that we reward that appropriately. If we came to you and said "hey, we are going to give you a couple of hundred bucks", that is just insulting. But, if we say "hey, here's ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand dollars", that's real money that can be used to buy new equipment and invest in further creative projects.

Byron: Are you tending to literally buy their whole library? Those are pretty big numbers you are mentioning there. What is the criteria you are using to purchase those libraries?

Joel: Great question. It all starts with our customer feedback and non-exclusive feedback. We have a content team at the company that looks at all the search queries that go on. On our website, there are millions of search queries per month and our content team looks at queries that ended in "no results" and we'll say ok, this is stuff we obviously need. People are looking for it and we don't have it. And, we then we will look for trends and patterns. Footage of Brazil or images of soccer are very popular right now. Maybe it is because of the World Cup. Who knows what the economic factors are but people are asking for it. Then, our content team will go out and try to find artists that have matching content that is high quality. We'll look on competitor's websites. We'll go on 500 Pixels and these other websites and find artists that have high quality stuff and then reach out and say, "Hey, Byron, we really like your soccer graphics. Can we talk about potentially working with you?"

Byron: Very cool. Very cool. What about AudioBlocks? What's going on over there?

Joel: Following in that theme of surveying the customers and asking them what they want next... after GraphicStock was up and running and doing well, we stepped back and said ok, maybe we should build a new content vertical and we asked the customers what they wanted. The next answer was audio. Quite specifically what we heard was: music is to video what filters are to photos. That was one of my favorite little nuggets. It was true. If you create a video, a short three minute video promoting your company or little Johnny's soccer game, the easiest way to make it better is to add some music to it. Add some audio. It just puts it into motion. When we started looking around at the options, again, it was just too expensive, too licensed. It was too confusing to use. You had all these different licenses for different parts of the world for different types of media. We said "that's stupid, lets go ahead in and invest", so this year, we invested about a million dollars in buying really high quality music and launched AudioBlocks. We just launched about a month ago and its the same thing: $99 a year for unlimited downloads of over 100,000 music tracks, sound effects and loops and things that are used in ads.

Byron: Really cool, really cool. Now, are all these companies driven from the same database so your accounts are good in one place and the other? Have you sewed up the infrastructure from a tech perspective?

Joel: Great questions. They all have a similar look and feel, though AudioBlocks is a little bit different because we actually built a whole music discovery engine. We found that the way people search for images and video is usually textual. You'll actually type in "lighthouse". Whereas, with music, its more of a mood. So, when you're at AudioBlocks, you can actually search, if you want to, by mood and genre and feel. But, other than that, the sites all look, smell and taste very similar, just with very different content verticals.

They do not share the same database. The videos share the same database infrastructure. And, when you become a member of one, we make it even less expensive to become a member of the other two. If you are a VideoBlocks user, as you log into your account, you'll start to see offers to add on subscriptions to GraphicBlocks or to AudioBlocks.

Byron: If you add on a subscription, can you go right from one to the other? Is it the same user name or is it a separate ID for each of the models?

Joel: You can use the same user name and password and we are actually making this a single sign on process so that its even simpler. If you are signed in to one, you are signed into the others.

Byron: You just don't necessarily have a cash balance that you can't access. You can get to it?

Joel: Exactly.

Byron: Ok, cool. Let's go back to your vision of the future and where things are going. Do you feel like you are putting food on the table for artists that they wouldn't have discovered before, without your channel? Or, are we commodatizing this whole industry? Remember that there are people in the artistic community, photographers in particular, that were making a very good living working with those old ad agencies, making ten, twenty, thirty thousand dollar photo shoots back in the day. Those days are kind of gone. Professional photographers, in particular, have had to change the way they work and the way they do business. There are a lot more photographers out there, as a result of stockhouses that are able to sell their work and to attract more people to the industry. What's happening in your mind and in the industry as a whole?

Smaller pieces of the pie being distributed to a larger group... Are the kings still truly the kings that can command those $10,000 a day raids and the high premiums on the work? What's your take on the industry?

Joel: I love that question because it's a great question. Here's my take: the days of old are past. You mentioned "back in the day" there were five men that started graphic design and that's a great start, right? You fast forward to today, there's 300,000, still pretty male-dominated, pretty Caucasian, but still moving in the right direction. To me, the right direction is total democratization, which means anyone that wants to create and make a living creating can do so. In the past, if you didn't have the ability to go to a great school, to get the right degree to get into the "old boys" network at a big ad agency, you couldn't make money through graphic design.

Now, all of a sudden, the internet comes along and, as long as you are talented, there is a way to make money, regardless of your geographic location, of your upbringing, of your educational background. That's the audience we get most excited about. It's enabling total democratization of the mass creative class, as we kind of call it. Most of our customers could not afford- when we survey them, over 50 percent of them say they are actively trying to make money from graphic design or freelance work of some sort. They are in a job they don't enjoy at the time and they are trying to get into the creative world to make money. They could not afford to buy stock imagery or stock video from other outlets, so over half of our customer base has never purchased from any other competitor. They came across our model and were like "wow, we can actually afford this."

Personally, I look at it like we are feeding the enthusiasts, the individuals that are trying to break into the creative profession so they can work up the ladder. Just like "content is king", I think that really talented, creative individuals always rise to the top. If you are a talented singer, you are going to do well. If you are a talented artist, you are going to do well. If you are a talented photographer, you will find a way to do well. But, I like the fact that now, everyone has a chance to get into it and take a shot at being talented.

Byron: Well said, well answered to a tough question, I might add. Here is a question that came in: can someone that subscribes to GraphicStock use an image to create a product, like a t-shirt or mug to then sell?

Joel: Yes. This is a great question. We are very lenient with our licensing. You can. As long as you are adding some sort of substantial value to the image. You couldn't take it and sell it again as a stock image but that's almost the only restriction. If you are putting it on a t-shirt, I would say that is adding value and you are good to go. You need to add substantial value so, if the t-shirt has a design or a look that is unique to your company, yes, you are in good shape.

I'd almost mention that for writers, specifically... I always feel bad when a writer has written a really great post and they end that with an image and they have to link out from that image to a source. We don't require that. If you want to use images from GraphicStock in your posts and your articles, you don't need to caption them. You don't need to give us attribution, if you don't want to. Just give it a good caption. The image draws people in. The caption, by the way, is one of the most-read pieces of an article. There are so many that will show up, you will love captions. It is a waste to promote us when it is your article and your audience. You don't need to do that.

Byron: Cool, someone asked a question about: I did a search on the internet for the book "Sisomo" by Mark Roberts, and I couldn't find it. It's actually Kevin Roberts. That's what is listed in my slide deck and you will get a copy of that, as well. Thanks for asking that.

Another person asks: when a client asks for hyperlinks, I assume they mean to images. Would links to related videos be appropriate? Great question. That's one of our writers and they received an order that a client is asking them to hyperlink their content over to various sources. That's a little bit different than linking over to an image. However, I would link to the video if you mention the video in your content and you thought the video was amazing and great. Interesting idea for you to host the video on your personal blog and then link over to it. I think a client might get a little upset about that if you are self-promoting. I would stay away from that. Typically, hyperlinks with our clients are referring to link over to authority content and "here is a list of sites I want you to link to."

Another cool question somebody asks: do you feel design styles, i.e.. flat verses layered...depth, texture... should be universal across all industries or tailored to the situation. What are some industries that benefit more from design style than the next? Interesting question. Must be a designer that's beginning to take a look at this. Do you have any thoughts on design styles?

Joel: Yeah, I find this topic very fascinating because styles change very quickly and they are always adapting, so if you told me three years ago, two years ago that flat design was going to be a thing, I would have been shocked. Because I remember the first AOL CD I received in 1997. It was all flat design and then all of a sudden it was more three dimension, more bezeled and embossed. Because computers can handle it, design got heavier and, all of a sudden, we're reverting back to a nice, light, clean flat design, driven mainly by mobile. Mobile applications benefit greatly from flat design.

But, I never would have guessed, so the question about it being industry-specific- yes, I think that different industries certainly have different design styles that resonate. The only real answer, and I hate to make it sound like a popularity contest, but if you look at what is popular, and you are working for a client, typically the client's going to want to be the "cool kid at the party", which means wearing the same type of jeans. Then, it gets interesting because its like how do you innovate? What if you want to be the cool kid at the party wearing tie-dyed jeans? You could take that risk and maybe that becomes a new style- maybe with all those flat designs tie-dyed may end up on the internet. We certain watch trends very closely here and when we see new trends emerging, we very quickly support them by buying up the imagery that's going to enable that trend to go forward.

Byron: Cool. Someone had a question about examples of campaigns, or companies and brands, that might be using some of your videos or graphics. And that's an interesting question because, I'm sure, just like us here at Writer's Access, you are bound by a confidentiality agreement. Once your customer buys that image that they have rights and access to, they have no obligation to disclose that that image is from you, correct?

Joel: That's right. They have no obligation at all. But, I can certainly comment on some of the places I've seen our stuff used in the wild. One of my favorite shows is "Parks and Recreation" on NBC and NBC uses a lot of our stock footage in their shows. Anytime there is a skyline or some sort of shot, it doesn't make sense for them to, even though they have these massive budgets, even NBC says "hey, lets go ahead and download this image or video clip" because its just faster and less expensive than sending a crew to get it.

On the graphics front, one of my favorite uses recently was a micro-brewery that was trying to design a new logo and a whole brand for their brewery. They ended up using some graphic stock assets, incorporated them into their logo and brand and it was a really big hit with their customers. We have schools and churches that are using our content in classrooms and in their multimedia sermons. Then, there's the target market I like- these freelancers. Freelancers that are working on projects for their clients, whether they are advertisements, video ads or graphic print ads or even audio jingles. There is a very wide usage ability for this material and it's priced so that anyone can afford it.

Byron: Yeah, one of the slides I mentioned was how selling creative services needs to change and how designers putting together custom presentations- here's the slide right here. Creative services needs to change. You should almost be putting together spec work if you are trying to go after a ten to fifty thousand dollar project, just as an add-on, to showcase how you can bring together different imagery and truly understand the target audience. Don't you agree with that?

Joel: Yeah, and by the way, I have ten different ideas I want to show you here and you didn't have to purchase all those ten different stock images from a site. A lot of times you have to show them water marked images and that ruins it. It ruins the whole fen shui of the presentation. With GraphicStock, you just download them and use them, no watermarks, you've already paid for them. Its all yours.

Byron: What is your take on spec work, Joel? You and I haven't talked about this before so I would love to get your thoughts publicly here in front of everyone. It is getting easier. Spec work is spec work. You have business models out there like 99 Designs, which I think are not great. The talent pool is not really winning over there. One hundred people submit a logo design, only one person gets selected which means 99 people basically lose and have wasted time. That business model needs to be fixed but the other extreme of the model is Monster.com, Career Builder or even Elance, I would argue, are glorified help-wanted ads, where writers, designers, illustrators are forced to put together written communication, explaining in quotes on what they would charge on a project, once again, wasting time.

Do you think there is something fresh and innovative out there? Do you think that there's a better match-making type of model, that could potentially exist and particularly as it relates to spec work? How someday over the rainbow how easy it would be to use stock imagery and call it sketching to win a project, rather than a typed out thousand word summary that is, let's face it, fairly boring, with a bid number on the bottom of it saying "ok, here's my summary- $1000 and I'll do this for you." What's your take on that as it relates to your portfolio and how easy it is to access images?

Joel: Well, I think that the short answer is, I do think there is a better way than the way its currently being done. I think on one extreme, as you mentioned, you've got Elance, where you describe what you're going to do and try to sell the premise of what you can create, and then get selected as the only creator. But, there is a lot of risk on the customer's side because they haven't really seen a lot. They are going by that written description of what you are going to do. Now, on the other end of the extreme is 99 Designs. The customer wins really well there because the customer gets to sit back and look at tons and tons of ideas and designs and just pick the one they like. The one they choose wins and all others lose. It is a zero sum game in that case so there the balance is off because the customers win but the suppliers generally lose. I think there has got to be a middle way, where you can find a hybrid between doing complete spec work, because at the end of the day, you need to be able to make money from the work you are doing for clients. It's not fair to think otherwise. If you are going to do spec work your whole life, you are going to starve. I think to do a little work with the aim and goal of getting a contract, that makes sense. So, I know that's not a perfect answer but I guess there's got to be a middle way between where its too text heavy and there is too much risk to the customer and no risk to the supplier and 99 Designs where there is no risk to the customer but too much risk to the supplier. There's got to be something that balances those two.

Byron: Have you ever thought about going into the template business, you know, TemplateBlock? Going specifically into website templates, template designs?

Joel: You know, we have thought about it. It is certainly not surprisingly a very big business. There are a lot of sites out there and tons of new ones coming out by the day. So, we have thought about it. Thus far, we have not built a prox for it, but that's not to say we won't at some point. There are some really good resources out there right now, like SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly. Some of these groups are starting to make design actually sexy and easy. Before it was easy but not sexy. Now, it's kind of a little bit of both.

Byron: Well, listen, we are probably at the end of our webinar here. Just to be fair with time, we're probably about five minutes over so I want to thank you for being on the line and thank everybody for all the questions. Thanks so much for being on with us today.

Joel: Oh, man, I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun and I hope it was somewhat helpful for listeners. I know your presentation was, I learned a lot from it. So, thank you for that bang up job.

Byron: I really appreciate that you're helping out with the effort and helping with the promotion. Your company is fantastic, its exploding in growth. We threw some tough questions at you, as well, so you did a great job answering everything, so...

Joel: Thanks, really appreciate it. Thank you, everyone and remember: creativity is power. We really do believe that.

Byron: Right on. Same here. Same camp. So, until next month, everyone, I hope you learned a lot and we'll look forward to having you tune in next month. Thanks, everyone and everyone, once again, will be getting a copy of this deck, as well as a link to a live recording and links to my two books, which I am giving away for free and the announcement of the three winners from the presentation. Thanks for tuning in, everyone. We'll see you next month. Bye-bye.