Exclusive Vs. Non-Exclusive Finally Answered

A Case Study on Crowd-Sourced Stock Audio Libraries

 

About a year ago, I made the decision to start selling my recorded sound effects and music online as stock material.  After doing a bit of research, I discovered a growing trend in the industry focused around a type of online database known as crowd-sourced sound effects and music libraries.  While other established sound libraries are run by independent producers, maintain a hired staff, or have an extensive auditioning process for new artists, crowd-sourced stock libraries are generally easier and free to join, do not require an affiliation with a PRO, and provide a worldwide market of potential buyers to the artist at the price of a commission for each sale.  Thus, crowd-sourced stock libraries have a greater appeal to new or less-established independent artists.

There are several stock libraries available to choose from, AudioJungle, Pond5, AudioMicro, and ProductionTrax to name a few.  But with so many options available, the question that the independent artist is inevitably faced with is this: Do I sell my material exclusively through one company, or non-exclusively through many companies?  Before I continue, I have included a table [F1] detailing the pros and cons of these four companies.  Please refer to it as necessary to understand the factors of this case study.

Stock Audio Library Comparison Chart

FIGURE 1: Stock Audio Library Comparison Chart

 

I suspect that AudioJungle is the leader in this battle of exclusivity.  Other stock libraries offer a set royalty percentage for exclusive/non-exclusive accounts, or only offer a non-exclusive agreement.  AudioJungle, on the other hand, offers one of the most beneficial royalty rates in the market to its exclusive authors, currently 70% at the highest tier.  However, at only 33%, it also offers the lowest royalty percentage to its non-exclusive authors.

And so, given this information, we arrive at the ultimate question:

 “Do I really benefit from AudioJungle’s high exclusive royalty rate, or will I make more money selling on a non-exclusive agreement with multiple companies?

 

If you are at all like me, you have probably scoured the internet trying to find tangible information on this subject, but have either come up dry or with too many opinions to answer the question clearly.  It is a loaded question, and cannot be answered simply based on royalty percentages.  How well do other stock libraries sell?  Will AudioJungle outsell other libraries enough to compensate for choosing to sell exclusively?  Do some libraries cater to a particular type of sound effect?  I was at an impasse with my decision, and these questions needed answers.  With no viable proof at my disposal, I decided to conduct my own experiment and log my results as evidence.

THE EXPERIMENT

 

My experiment was designed to answer this question of exclusivity, focused around AudioJungle as the leader in exclusive royalty rates.  Bear with me, as my methods are hardly an exact science, but I’ll entertain the notion by following the scientific method along the way.

 Hypothesis

Based on my research and on a hunch, I suspect that selling non-exclusively through a number of sites will yield more income than selling exclusively through AudioJungle.  Crowd-sourced stock photo libraries, which are older and in much greater quantity than stock audio libraries, seem to operate primarily on a non-exclusive basis.  I believe that if the trend to go exclusive yielded a higher profit for the photographer, then the market would have gone that direction instead.

 Procedure

I will upload the same sound effects to each of these four stock libraries (AudioJungle, Pond5, AudioMicro, ProductionTrax) on a non-exclusive agreement, and adhere to the average prices of each market for sound effects of similar length, quality, purpose, etc.  I will log the daily sales for each of the four companies for one year, and analyze the data based on the following categories:

  • Total non-exclusive income, including AudioJungle, Pond5, AudioMicro, and ProductionTrax
  • AudioJungle income @ 50% (the lowest tier for exclusive authors)
  • AudioJungle income @ 70% (the highest tier for exclusive authors)

Finally, the sound effects titles, descriptions, and key words would be identical as permitted by the rules of the various companies.

 Biases and Inconsistencies in Data

As I mentioned, this is hardly a scientifically perfect experiment, but I wanted to enlighten you with a few inconsistencies throughout the experiment to consider when evaluating the results.

One inconsistency among the data is the acceptance rate of my submissions between the four companies.  Pond5 and ProdcutionTrax accepted 100% of my submissions, and thus can be compared accurately in their quantity of sales.  AudioJungle rejected submissions for various reasons, and as a result has only accepted roughly 90% of my sound effect submissions.  AudioMicro accepted 100% of the sound effects I submitted, but I discovered part-way into the experiment that AudioMicro inserts a digital fingerprint into each file submitted for sale.  For this reason, I made the personal decision to stop uploading new sound effects a few months in.  This is a personal bias that I won’t get into, but you can read more about digital fingerprinting HERE.  Based on the first few months of sales though, AudioMicro had minimal impact on the overall data, so I have reason to believe that this decision did not affect the final outcome of the experiment.

I also have a few songs for sale, which sell at a much higher price than sound effects.  All four companies approved the song submissions, and thus it is not an inconsistency in the data, but when a song or two sells it shows up on the graph as a spike in the data.  This event can be clearly seen in my first month of sales, which explains why the first month is so much higher than the next few.

Results & Analysis

After logging one years worth of data, the findings were fascinating.  I’ve included a series of charts from my workbook to correspond with these findings.  If you would like the view the workbook in its entirety, you can download it HERE.

(And if you would like to adopt it for your own use, go ahead!)

Total Income/Sales by Company

If analyzing the data by total income per company, it is clear that the current heavy hitters in the industry are AudioJungle and Pond5.

 

FIGURE 2: TOTAL INCOME PER COMPANY (BAR CHART)

FIGURE 2: TOTAL INCOME PER COMPANY (BAR CHART)

Even though this chart [F2] [F3] only depicts the final calculation of total income, I can tell you that these two companies were neck and neck throughout the entire period.

 

 

 

FIGURE 3: TOTAL INCOME PER COMPANY (PIE CHART)

FIGURE 3: TOTAL INCOME PER COMPANY (PIE CHART)

While the total income between the two companies is relatively close, the number of sales is not.  AudioJungle is only counting a non-exclusive royalty rate of 33%, while Pond5 is counting a non-exclusive royalty rate of 50%.

This indicates that even though AudioJungle has the highest number of sales, its low cost per unit ($1.00) and lower non-exclusive royalty rate (33%) yielded less income than Pond5’s higher cost per unit ($2 to $3) and higher non-exclusive royalty rate (50%).  The ratio breaks down to roughly 3:1.  In other words, you must make 3 sales on AudioJungle for every single sale on Pond5 to achieve the equivalent amount of income.

The following chart [F4] represents the total non-exclusive income per company by month.  This line graph is a better indication of the growth in sales over time, and the competitive relationship between AudioJungle and Pond5 as described earlier.

FIGURE 4: TOTAL INCOME PER COMPANY BY MONTH

FIGURE 4: TOTAL INCOME PER COMPANY BY MONTH

 

 But… What about AudioJungle at 50% or 70%?

To calculate this, we have to calculate AJ’s theoretical income at 50% and 70% royalty rates, and then compare it against the actual total earned income.  For you math people out there, the equations are as follows:

Audiojungle @ 33%  ÷  by [ .33 ] = AJ TOTAL GROSS INCOME


AJ TOTAL GROSS INCOME  ×  [ .5 ] = AJ THEORATICAL INCOME @ 50%


AJ TOTAL GROSS INCOME  ×  [ .7 ] = AJ THEORATICAL INCOME @ 70%


Pond5 + AudioMirco + ProductionTrax + AudioJungle @ 33% = TOTAL ACTUAL INCOME

 

Income Trends:  AudioJungle VS Total Income

The following line chart [F5] is the bread and butter of the whole experiment.  It shows the relationship between total non-exclusive earned income, and the theoretical income of selling exclusively on AudioJungle at both 50% and 70%.  By plotting these data points in relationship to each other, we can clearly see when the non-exclusive TOTAL INCOME yields more or less income than if we had opted for the exclusive option.  The dotted lines are trend lines, and allow us to view the rate of increase in income over time, and thus help us predict the outcome of our earnings in the future.  This chart suggests that, over time, a non-exclusive agreement with multiple companies is likely to yield higher income than an exclusive account with AudioJungle, even at its highest tier (70%).

 

FIGURE 5: INCOME TRENDS: AUDIOJUNGLE VS TOTAL INCOME

FIGURE 5: INCOME TRENDS: AUDIOJUNGLE VS TOTAL INCOME

CONCLUSION

 

Based on my research, and the type of material I have for sale, I can conclude that a non-exclusive agreement with multiple companies is likely to yield more income. 

…a non-exclusive agreement with multiple companies is likely to yield more income.
However, I can also conclude that it is astronomically more work to upload to multiple companies than to just one.  There are other companies out there beyond these four, and selling non-exclusively also means you can sell through your own website.

If you are hoping save time on your workload by selling exclusively though, I recommend choosing AudioJungle.  In addition to high amounts of traffic, it is also a social community that you can use to your benefit to increase sales.  AudioJungle allows you to establish a social reputation, which can be used to cross-sell your products and draw in new customers, while other companies leave you more or less anonymous.  It is also worth noting that AudioJungle’s tighter approval rate is a positive thing.  Websites like ProductionTrax have many more files available for sale, making your files more likely to get lost in the crowd.  AudioJungle’s policies keep the number of available files down, so your files will benefit from increased visibility.

 

TRUE OR FALSE:

FALSE:  AudioJungle does have the highest royalty rate, but they also have the lowest prices.  70% of a $1.00 sound effect on AJ is only $0.70, while the same file at Pond5 sells for $2.00 with a 50% royalty rate, meaning you earn $1.00.  The math is simple, and it proves just how much authors would benefit if AudioJungle did a global price boost. 
FALSE:  One company might have more… say… whooshes for sale than another company, but I have declarable proof that my highest selling sound effects with one company are the same highest selling sound effects with another company.  The company does not matter, the type of sound effect does. 
 TRUE… AND FALSE:  My experiment seems to be the most comprehensive study out there on the subject of exclusivity.  If you sell sound effects like me, I think you will find similar results.  If you are a songwriter or anything else, your situation may be different.
 TRUE:  This experiment follows the trends over the course of one year from April 2013 to March 2014.  Non-exclusive may not always be the best option.  AudioJungle seems to be picking up steam in the marketplace.  If AJ gains a large enough buyer population, or Pond5 loses a substantial portion of its buyer population, an AJ exclusive agreement may wind up being the better option. 

 

 

I’m still not sure what to do…

If you are still uncertain of what to do, I’ve devised two options that might be worth considering in order to maximize your profit:

Join as a non-exclusive author and upload to multiple companies when you start out.  It takes a whopping $75,000 in sales to reach AudioJungle’s 70% tier, and the majority of authors never make it that high.  AudioJungle makes it really easy to switch between an exclusive or non-exclusive agreement, so keep selling non-exclusively until it is no longer beneficial to you, and then delete your accounts on other companies and switch AudioJungle to an exclusive agreement.  You will bypass the starting 50% tier and be instantly upgraded to whatever tier equals your current amount of AJ sales (I confirmed this to be true with the Envato Staff).  Most companies will allow you to easily remove your uploaded files by simply deleting your account.  But beware.  If it is difficult to remove your sound effects from a competitor’s library – for example – because your files have been incorporated into a hard copy distributed library, you may not be able to use all of your files on AudioJungle without risking a policy violation. 

As we’ve covered previously, AudioJungle tends to hard reject some submissions for a variety of reasons.  This is likely because they already have too many of a certain type of effect or they do not believe your effect is commercially viable, rather than because your sound effect was of insufficient quality.  This does not mean your sound effect is incapable of earning income.

Create an exclusive account on AudioJungle, and upload all of your sound effects for review.  Make note of the few that have been hard-rejected, and then upload those files to non-exclusive accounts with other companies.  I’ll go out on a limb and state that all other crowd-sourced libraries mentioned in this article will accept 99.9% of your submissions, so, while you’ve reserved your highest commission rate on AJ for the majority of your effects, uploading your leftovers to the competitors can still provide you with a little supplemental income.

About the Author

Daniel Warneke

Dan is the owner and sound designer at Frontier Audio, a full-service audio company providing services in sound design, post-production editing and mixing, and studio/location recording services. He also runs Frontier Sound FX, providing personally recorded and designed effects in stock libraries for use in audio post-production.

Share This Article

Comments 14

  1. Great post. I have a few of my tracks on sites like productiontrax, but I’ve been reluctant to put them on audiojungle because of the low prices. Do you think I should join audiojungle and risk undercutting myself or just stick with the sites I’m using now.

    1. Post
      Author

      Chandler,

      Thanks for the comment. This is the issue I see: We don’t like undercutting ourselves on AudioJungle, but the numbers I’ve put together show that AJ logs more sales than any other company.

      – If you view your products in terms of Cost Per Unit, you will feel undercut.
      – If you view your products in terms of Total Income Earned per Unit, you start to feel a bit better.

      In other words, a $1 sound effect won’t get you very far, but if that sound effect is available to a potentially worldwide audience (7 billion people), it is worth far more in total value. I understand that only a fraction of the world population actually shops for stock sound effects, but I hope it illustrates my opinion, and my particular point of resolution with this pricing issue.

      That one effect can become a substantial source of income — if you have access to the right audience. That audience is shopping in increasing numbers through the Envato Market, and thus, it is a place I want to be.

      As an additional note, AudioJungle is currently doing some internal testing on their pricing system to see if increasing their prices on their products will affect their position in the stock market. No clue as to what the outcome of their testing will be, but it it good to know that the company is responding to an issue that many of us share as contributors.

      There are some other benefits passed to you from the way the Envato marketplace works. You’ve inspired me to write my next post about it, so stay tuned.

      1. The sound effect that’s earned me by far the most money is a $1 sound on Audiojungle. As of June 10th, 2014, it’s earned $66 since it was put up for sale.

        It sounds like chump change but if you leave it there and let it accumulate in value, you’ll be glad when that extra $50+ comes your way at the end of the month.

        Profits on Audiojungle grow slowly, but they grow like the grass. And the items practically sell themselves, I don’t need to do much marketing.

        Hope you find this little fact encouraging. 🙂

        Best of luck!
        Blinn (aka Ryan Smith)

  2. Pingback: How to Become the King of the Jungle | Frontier Sound FX

  3. Pingback: High Intensity Stings Sound Pack 1 (Sound Packs) | h2

  4. Thanks for posting this test data, I found the info you have shared very interesting as I have wondered what to do and which direction to go I have been with Envato for a long time but have only just recently started to upload some of my SFX to AJ.

    I have just 2 up exclusively right now, and have already made a few sales so I thought hey that’s cool. I hope I can sell a lot more I was also unable to get something I thought would sell and sounded good up as they rejected it, but as you said this happens on AJ more then others.

    But then I was thinking could I not just sell the rejected SFX on another site as they did not accept it on AJ , I would think that should be fine would it not.

    You have some cool SFX by the way, maybe you can have a listen to what did get accepted so far. link is within this post to my AJ page.

    I can see for this to become any kind of income it will require me to get a lot of SFX accepted. It does seem like it could be worth while overtime, as I see you have hundreds of sales but also have a lot to choose from so that seems to also be key.

    also your article on becoming king of the jungle was also a good read I will try some of that I do think my profile page looks pretty good to start but I can see how my own HTML would make it a lot better.

    Again awesome info thanks for the extensive test you ran.

  5. Hey Daniel,

    Thanks for making and sharing this great research. It is really helpful clearing some questions in mind.

    You are right about posting multiple libraries is a headache. All of them require different formats and have different tagging system, definitions…etc. Maybe, this study can be extended by including the cost-per-hour of uploading to multiple libraries.

    May I ask the size of your sample pool (the number of effects) you used for the experiment?

    Again, a big thank you:)

    1. Post
      Author

      Guney,

      Thank you for the question. At the time I wrote this article, I believe I was working with around 80-100 sound effect for sale. Not much has changed since then. I might be around 120-130 now, but I’m working some new jobs and have not have as much time to devote to the sound effects business. On a positive note though, sales are still coming in, so I’ve achieved my goal of establishing some passive income. I’ll be posting a year 2 update with plenty more information regarding that, so look for that sometime around April.

      Cost-per-hour is an interesting topic though. I have not tracked the hours I put in to creating and prepping the sound effects, but I’ve considered the time commitment versus the pay-off. Honestly I usually spend time entering meta data while watching TV, which I otherwise might consider as my free time, so I’m not sure that tracking my work hourly is an accurate representation of a sound effect’s value. Also, because stock sound effects are a form of passive income (I’m not actively “working” after the initial prep time) it is difficult to put in terms of hourly rate. But consider this:

      (Depending on how good the episode of a show is) I can prep a sound effect with watermarks, descriptions, keywords, and upload to my various sound effect libraries at a rate of maybe… one sound effect every 10 minutes. US minimum wage is currently $7.50 per hour. There are 6 ten minute blocks in an hour, so some quick math… $7.50 / 6 = $1.25 for every 10 minutes.

      Its a little rough around the edges as far as equations go, but using this method you might say that, for each sound effect I upload, it must exceed $1.25 in sales for my time commitment to be above minimum wage. But again, passive income is not easily definable in terms of hourly rate.

      I do focus on ways to reduce my time spent in design and prep though. For example:

      – All of my track names, descriptions, and keywords are first entered in an excel spreadsheet. Once that is done, I can quickly copy/paste the universal metadata into all of my libraries instead of typing in out each time.

      – I use some generic HTML code in every sound effect description on AudioJungle. I have that saved in a word document that I can again copy/paste, then modify as needed to save time.

      – When I create sound effects, not every one is started from scratch. I’ll pull quite a bit of source material into Pro Tools all at once, and then mix and match different elements to create a batch of sound effects.

      Thanks again for your feedback. I hope this gives you some more fuel for thought.

  6. Hi, Daniel!

    Thanks for the awesome research!

    I just want to ask: do you know, is Audiojungle team supports their exclusive authors?
    (For example, tracks of exlusive authors have more chances to be highlighted on the main page of the site or any other bonuses).

    I mean, maybe account type affects sales.

    Best regards,
    Dmitry Paderin (aka leadsquid)

    1. Post
      Author

      Dmitry,

      I can’t say with 100% accuracy that there is no favoritism going on, but I do believe the system is equally fair the exclusive and non-exclusive authors alike. Logic tells me that Envato has no reason to elevate their exclusive authors over others when they receive a bigger cut of the cash from a non-exclusive sale. Awarding exclusive authors may help Envato establish a material dominance in the market though, so hard to say. After a quick glance at the “Featured” section, I see that most of the authors are exclusive sellers, but all of them are high-volume sellers. So which do you suppose holds more weight? Chicken or the egg?

      I think the determining factor that establishes presence for an author is number of sales (time on the market + quality + demand) and quantity of material. While quantity, complete with thorough cross-marketing techniques, establishes more visibility in the overall market, the tracks with the highest number of sales continue to be awarded the most new sales. This is because the best selling tracks and authors are always visible on the front page. No digging required. I also think that higher selling tracks are perceived as better value, which leads to further sales. For more on this, see my other article “How to Become the King of the Jungle”.

      Long story short — I think top sellers are rewarded, not exclusive ones.

  7. This is fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing your experience in this much detail! As a hobby-musician wondering about a crack at the production music market this kind of info is immensely helpful. Thx!!

  8. Pingback: Exclusive Vs. non-Exclusive Finally Answered: Year 2 | Frontier Sound FX

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *