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Sat, Apr 6 2013 17:47:14 UTC

Interview with Vanishing Point

Today we have an interview with John from Vanishing Point, a digital marketplace for Poser and DAZ Studio 3D models.



My name is John and I started making digital artwork on an Apple II back in the 1980's. I had always been interested in art, but I couldn't draw people at all. I started using modern graphics software around 2000, when I picked up Ray Dream Studio, Bryce, and Poser. I quickly learned that I could make artwork with realistic people. As I worked to improve my art, I taught myself how to make models. Soon after that, I offered my models for free, and then started selling models on sites like Renderosity and 3D Commune.

After selling on those sites for a few years, I became disappointed with a number of their policies and rules so I decided to start my own site, called Vanishing Point. I spread the word of my site and I soon had other artists selling with me. Vanishing Point became a content provider on Smith Micro's Content Paradise and e-on software's Cornucopia3D.

Over the years, I've gone back and forth on ideas: for a while, I made sci-fi models, then I made cars and trucks, then I made real-world buildings. I now focus on vehicles and buildings mainly because these products will never go obsolete, unlike clothing which becomes obsolete when DAZ releases the next version of Vicky or Mike. I also don't like telling my customers that my product requires a product made by someone else, even if it's a free model by DAZ. Sending people to another site (especially one like DAZ) is risky since they could spend their money on that site instead of mine. I've tried selling clothing and I've had good luck selling military uniforms, but my line of fantasy clothing never caught on with buyers.

What sells the best? That sometimes surprises me! I uploaded a PT Cruiser for sale and that's become a huge success, which I didn't expect. I uploaded a Pontiac Firebird model with a free add-on to turn it into KITT (from Knight Rider), but it hasn't sold nearly as many copies. But, overall, my best sellers have been the science fiction sets inspired by the Star Trek bridges.

As for the free models, I've definitely found it gets attention and traffic. There are a lot of people who like to ''try before they buy'', so by downloading a free model they can judge the quality of the products for themselves. I also offer a lot of free product add-ons so customers can get extras for the products they buy from me.

Making free items is also a good way for new artists to start their career: by making free models, artists can build a reputation of making a certain type of model (aircraft, buildings, clothing, etc). It's easier for them to start selling models since they'll already have an audience of people who have seen the quality of their models.

What advice would I give to merchants and artists?

The main advice I would give would be to watch the community to see what other people are doing (or not doing): if everyone is making texture resource kits, then that market could be flooded with products. But if no one's making cars or sci-fi buildings, you should ask why: is it because these models are too hard for the average artist to make? If so, then this would probably be a market worth exploring.

I wrote a blog back in 2010 answering some typical customer questions. Although my answers are meant to be humorous and sarcastic, this blog raises an important point about selling: how do you deal with customers and complaints? And, unfortunately, it seems like people on the Internet have become ruder over the years. As a merchant (or website owner), you'll get questions about issues that you have no control over, such as why PayPal won't take a customer's payment or why Earthlink is blocking your site's e-mails with download links.

I followed that up with another blog talking about product ideas. This blog was designed to be a counter-point to many advice e-books that simply say ''find a niche and fill it''. Making a product (and a best-selling product) takes a lot more work than just coming up with an idea. Do you have the skills to make a product? Do you know how to make a model, UV map it, or make textures? Can you make nice sales images? And, of course, can you market and promote the product?

Would I recommend someone start their own store now? Probably not since there are too many obstacles to overcome. For example, marketing and promoting your product has become a challenge ever since DAZ and Renderosity started clamping down on outside sites.

Another issue to think about is the lack of originality in the Poser market. If you make a cool product, someone else may copy your idea. And even if their product is inferior to yours, they may have a better marketing (such as selling at DAZ). In this case, you might be accused of being the copycat simply because their product has the backing of someone like DAZ.

I'm finding that it's very hard to sell against DAZ and Renderosity since they've become a monopoly (or would that be a duopoly?) since they, by default, host the Poser community forums. Because of this, whatever they say goes. For example, as the first major Poser marketplace, Renderosity set the merchant cut of a product sale at a 50% commission. Does it really cost Renderosity 50% of a product to test the files, host the files, serve the file, and process the transaction? (Customer support is usually placed on the merchant, so there's no cost to the store.) But, since Renderosity was the first, most other stores followed, and now a 50% commission is standard... even though this would be outrageous for physical items..

In recent months, DAZ and Renderosity have all but outlawed any advertising of outside sites, ostensibly because these outside sites take business away from them. There are also rumors that DAZ is outlawing the mention of free items available at other sites, claiming that these free items could somehow take away from the products available in their store. While I agree that competing with other sites is always an issue, isn't the solution to make better quality products? And even then, how does a site like Vanishing Point (with 30 merchants) compete with Renderosity, which has close to 2,500 merchants? How does Vanishing Point, with about 7,000 members, compete with Renderosity which has 3,000 to 4,000 people on its site at any given time? (Their marketing page says they have around 250,000 members.)

Their monopoly strategy also applies to products. I have heard numerous stories from merchants who have submitted products to DAZ, but never hear back from the tester for months. Meanwhile, the product -which the merchant worked hard on- is effectively killed. I personally submitted a few products to DAZ about 8 years ago only to be told ''we do not sell products which are all ready for sale at Renderosity'', even though they lured away many Renderosity merchants to sell with them. More recently, one of my modelling partners submitted some cars and aircraft models, but again, never heard back from the testers. They eventually gave up waiting, gave me the models, and I'm now selling them at Vanishing Point.

However, an argument could be made that cars and buildings don't support DAZ's core strategy of promoting their Vicky and Mike figures. Although DAZ does sell cars and buildings, I'm sure they would prefer clothing, poses, hair, and characters, all of which require their figures to be useful. Artists can make scenes of cars and buildings *without* needing Vicky or Mike.

A good way to not deal with product submissions is to add ever-increasing product requirements, with the thinking that only the most dedicated merchants will submit products. Over the past few years, Renderosity has added more and more product requirements, from requiring merchants to put the product readme file in a specific folder, to creating templates for models, to creating 214x214 pixel thumbnail images. (Why the odd size of 214x214 images? Because these are what fit best in their new style-sheet and obviously it was easier to tell 2,500 merchants to change their 4-10 product image thumbnails than have their programmer adjust the style-sheet.) A few times, Renderosity has also changed the size of their ''optional but required'' banner image from 690x250 pixels to 750x210 to 690x250, then back again. And ''optional but required'' means that the admins say this image is optional, but the Upload Product page stops the upload process unless this image is included.

After the product is uploaded, the product goes into testing. The store staff says products could take up to 2 weeks to be tested, and with the sheer volume of products, this might be a realistic time frame. However, in all fairness, I've found that my products are usually approved for sale within a week, and sometimes in 3 or 4 days.

On the other hand, I've been selling at Renderosity for over 10 years and I try keep up with all their changes so my product will pass through testing without any issues. But when my products had issues, I've dealt with some testers who were nice and would help me fix it, and I've dealt with some not-so-nice testers who ''just follow the rules''. These rules ''require'' the tester to put the product back at the end of the testing queue, where it would sit for another 7 days until it was re-tested.

One recent poor experience was when I uploaded a model of the Eiffel Tower. One tester said there might be a copyright issue, even though the shape of the Eiffel Tower has fallen out of copyright. The product was held in testing for almost 2 weeks... yet when I uploaded a model of a Ford sports-car a few weeks later, none of the testers mentioned anything about a possible copyright issue. (As a side note, I also uploaded a Vue version Eiffel Tower to Cornucopia3D, which is owned by e-on software, which is based in Paris, France. They made no mention about any potential copyright issue and I would expect a company located in Paris to be more familiar with French copyright law than a company in Tennessee.)

I wonder how many merchants will try to keep up with these requirements and how many won't even bother uploading a product? Will they make their product available for free on sites like ShareCG or will they not make their model available at all? Will the community lose a good artist simply because he doesn't have the organizational skills to follow Renderosity's requirements? In my opinion, marketplace sites should do everything they can to HELP the merchant get their product up for sale, instead of forcing them to go through a gauntlet of rules. After all, every product sold at the site is more money for the merchant AND the site, especially when that site is keeping 50% of the product's sale price.

Why does a site tell its merchants to make 214x214 pixel images when they've been making 200x200 images for years and years? The humorous answer is the same as asking why a 500 pound gorilla sits in the middle of a room: because he can.

Renderosity knows no one's going to quit over their requirements: merchants may complain the rules and they may threaten to quit, but realistically, merchants won't make nearly the same amount of sales on another site. Again, since most Poser users are at DAZ and Renderosity, it doesn't make financial sense to NOT sell there.

Though to be fair, in all the years I've been selling at Renderosity, every single payment from them (every month, sometimes twice a month), has been on time. I've sold at other sites that have paid late or had ''accounting issues'' which delayed payment, but I won't mention any names. So, while there are definitely hurdles to overcome to sell at Renderosity, once you start making money, they pay on time.

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