I’ve been asked my opinion on one of our competitors going “Generic”. My first thought was that it was an interesting choice of words on their part.
TurboSquid is an ardent supporter of fair use of 3D models, and that will not change. We will continue refining our handling of cases, how we label items, and so on. I personally engage with each case and concern about items sold on TurboSquid. Some gray area does indeed exist, and it is a personal mission of mine to do my best to make that as black and white as possible. That will help everyone: artists, manufacturers, and TurboSquid.
It takes thought, engagement, and respect towards people who are worried about TurboSquid’s intent and our artists’ intent. Fair use is ethical. Our artists are ethical. Our customers are ethical.
I’ve been insulted by lawyers many times, but when they figure out that we are a professional company, that our artists are professionals, and our customers are professionals (who include a huge number of news outlets), the conversation changes.
Bottom line: these folks become reasonable when they understand we respect their intellectual property. You would be surprised about which things people care about. It is *not* obvious. That’s why I want to participate in discussions and work with them. I purposefully do not invite TurboSquid’s lawyers. The reality is that the internet has run ahead of current legal frameworks that originated from the notion of copying books hundreds of years ago. That said, legislatures do not want to make stupid legislation that harms progress. Courts don’t want to make historically bad decisions when the nature of intellectual property itself is changing.
That leaves rational people to the process of solving this as a business problem, not a legal problem.
TurboSquid has worked a lot with big companies in strategic capacities. We have had many people try to acquire TurboSquid. Instead, we chose to keep our independence. Solving the problem of managing fair use is exactly the kind of problem we can tackle. But a big company that has a legal department, and that doesn’t care about visual 3D, just doesn’t need the headache.
If you are an artist with your content taken down from another site, let’s avoid the spin — content that was taken down is obviously not selling now. This is a loss to you, not a new opportunity. We created SquidGuild Bridge last year at the request of people who wanted to participate in CheckMate and higher royalty rates. If it makes sense for you, we’re happy to have you join.
Remember, as an artist, you are responsible to make sure that you publish content for which you own or have the rights to publish — all of those rights. Artists warrant to us that they have these rights, and we tried to make this clearer in our publisher recently, and our license revisions. If you don’t own the rights from a manufacturer, for example, to generally sell a 3D model, then you must list it as editorial use only. TurboSquid does not protect you from your own infringement. Some artists selling on their own sites have been tracked down and contacted directly by big companies, and those artists acted as they saw fit. On our site, TurboSquid does a very good job keeping the peace and talking sense into all parties when there is conflict.
On a personal note, I know we (and I) pissed off a lot of artists when we started the SquidGuild and changed our royalty rates in 2009. It was hard to be criticized, but I understood why and knew that a meaningful number of artists felt like we broke their trust. The competitor I mentioned earlier took this to a level that was really out-of-bounds, with outlandish accusations about what we were doing and future conspiracies about what would happen and how we would keep changing royalty rates and all kinds of things.
The only thing that we could do (that we were willing to do) was to stay the course with our original intent and over time earn back trust from those artists. The royalty rates stayed the same, we have invested in trying to create great content, and we have many more opportunities on the horizon. We have not abandoned our core business, and believe that the future of the industry is not in a race to the bottom on pricing, and it is not in printable 3D. At least, not for people who love making incredibly photoreal models.
The future is in taking the work we love, working in the apps we love, and reaching a much, much broader audience. TurboSquid has made a huge number of investments to make this happen, and they will roll out when they are ready. 3D is hard to do well, but it will have its day, and it will be big.
You’ve probably noticed how much energy we’ve put into raising the quality of models on the site with CheckMate. We’ve also been removing lower quality models, but that rate is about to go up, by a lot.
I wanted to give artists notice that this is coming. We’re going to focus on the very lowest quality first, and work our way up over time. If this happens to be you, and of course we don’t want it to be you (or anybody), we’ll send a support ticket explaining why. We have a lot of beginners, and people who put stuff up that they had lying around — and why not? There is nothing wrong, it seems, to throw stuff out and see if it sells. But we know what sells now, and we don’t want stuff that isn’t ready for that. It’s not personal, it’s just how we have to evolve the business.
And for the most successful artists on TurboSquid, here’s an analogy. In the music world, many great artists record songs that aren’t great. They hold them back from release, and when you hear them later, you can tell it was a good decision. Watch the movie Pulp Fiction, and then take a peek at the DVD extras to see which scenes were edited out. All of them were great cuts.
There is going to be a point where some great artists, that have great collections, but have a couple low quality models, are going to have them pulled off the site. We’ve got a lot of wood to chop before we get to that point, and will focus so there should be few examples of other low quality stuff left when we do. Please don’t take this personally if it happens to you.
We’re going to be as objective as we possibly can, and have some strategies about how to be as effective as possible. The marketplace will ultimately be healthier, even if it is a little painful in the interim. This won’t happen overnight. There will probably be cases where a model comes down before another model of similar quality; please allow the process time to play out. We can’t have any sacred cows, especially like the one above. I hope you agree.
I wanted to take a moment to discuss some of the issues around 3D model prices, and whether the price per model is worth the effort for some artists to publish and sell. Many artists make their entire income from TurboSquid, and we’ve spent an enormous amount of time studying this topic, so I wanted to share some thoughts. I’ll start with the conclusion — the answer for artists who want to sell at higher price points is to give customers more value for their money at those higher prices, with less risk and hassle. However, the road TurboSquid took to get to this pretty obvious conclusion wasn’t so obvious.
When we started TurboSquid, pricing was low. We were competing against Viewpoint, who charged US$1000 per model. The prices artists set in a free market like TurboSquid were low enough that we worried there wouldn’t be a high enough volume (number of individual sales) to justify a low price. Viewpoint had done an economic study, and for those of you who follow this kind of stuff, they determined that people only bought models when they were desperate, and were willing to pay high prices, what is called “inelastic” in economics terms. So Viewpoint created pricing that was so high, people truly only bought when they absolutely had no other choice. In this way, the results from their economic study were self-fulfilling.
We created TurboSquid out of broader ideas for the Internet in general and digital marketplaces in particular, and since our founders were 3D artists, 3D was a great place to focus. We had lower pricing and a wider variety of models, and for better or for worse, a wider variety of quality than Viewpoint did. If we were airlines, customers buying Viewpoint weren’t just traveling first class, they were paying for the Concorde at stratospheric prices. TurboSquid was the Southwest or Ryan Airlines of that comparison. Viewpoint is almost forgotten, except for us old timers who remember what we used to like about their catalog back in the day.
After we’d had a marketplace going for two years, TurboSquid decided to raise prices in 2002 because prices were so low we were concerned we were short-changing both ourselves and our artists. We did a mass price increase with strategically-chosen 3d models to about triple their previous prices. The result was that we lost volume, but revenue stayed about the same. In other words, we traded a lot of customers spending less for fewer customers paying more, which is generally considered to be a bad trade. However, it did disprove Viewpoint’s conclusions–the trade proved that prices are indeed “elastic.”
We did a lot of analysis right after the change, and then dropped some prices to try to restore some equilibrium. In any case, it was very difficult to tell which prices should be higher or lower — how to find an “optimal” price that maximized revenue seemed impossible with the data, and we had outsiders and PhD’s review the data as well. As a general process going forward, we then had somebody review each new model to enforce the higher prices and look at prices for models under related searches, and then change the product’s price if it was too low, or more rarely, too high.
After a time, it really felt like we were just injecting noise into the marketplace. Why had the initial raised price been selected? Was it right? Did prices go too high initially and we were merely keeping that mistake going? Too low? The data were just too sparse to come to solid conclusions. So around 2005 we unlocked pricing completely and let the market set prices.
Interestingly, the average selling price of a model correlates to publishing rates. Throughout the history of the company we’ve seen the publishing rate per month increase. More and more models are published each month, which seems to correlate to a slow drop in the prices of models sold, continuing over time. It was hard to detect at first, but over years, very clear. It seems like this was caused more by increased supply at various price points, than a general lowering of pricing from artists. Given various price points, customers were trending lower in the amounts they would spend on a given model. But they kept on buying more and more volume, and the overall sales revenue of the marketplace continued to improve. It turns out TurboSquid would’ve succeeded anyway without the price hike.
The financial crisis of late 2008 caused both a spike in publishing as artists looked to beef up their income from stock 3D, and a drop in average price per model sold as customers tightened their belts. Clearly this drop in average pricing was caused by customers choosing to spend less money — our analysis tells us that artists didn’t just drop their pricing en masse all of a sudden. Customers started to buy models again in higher volume in late 2009 and have been buying ever more since. The average selling price over the last year has been about double the original pricing of 2000-2002, having drifted down from triple that original pricing.
Looking to the future, there are a lot of benefits if the average selling prices rise for models. TurboSquid would like to see this happen, and remember, we went to the mat before fighting for this in a storm of criticism. But we don’t just want to see prices rise for the sake of taking more money from customers per model. We did that before because we felt we had to, and all we did was trade to fewer customers. The trick is really this — the models have to have significantly more value for the prices to rise. Like the airline analogy, the customers that want to fly business class want models that work with no headaches. They want to save time, make their deadlines with less stress, and are willing to pay more for that value. We’re not going to override the market in setting prices above what artists want to set ~ we’re going to add value to products, and customers will see that and, we believe, choose the premium products, but it’ll be their choice to spend more money.
So everything circles back to TurboSquid’s ability to invest in the models and figure out what customers need, and then work with the artists who do the bulk of the work to create something of clear value that customers *want* to pay more for. After two months of CheckMate, we have the first significant uptick in average selling prices for models across the whole marketplace since we let the market set the prices. It’s very clear when you see the graph. We said internally at the outset of the program that if CheckMate is a success, the trend of the price points for selling models will go up for our marketplace as a whole. That’s really the only statistically significant data because once a model is CheckMate certified, it’s hard to know how it would have sold if it hadn’t been certified, and we’re seeing the hoped for increase in these selling prices.
I think if you asked the other staff members, they’d tell you that CheckMate has been a success beyond our wildest hopes. In a broad sense the numbers are really astonishing, with relatively few models having an outsized impact, and drawing customers that had a bad model quality experience before to come back. We intend to protect the CheckMate price points — these models are exclusive, they aren’t labeled CheckMate anywhere else, and we will keep the prices at a level where artists want to invest in the models and customers know they can get that value reliably at TurboSquid. Models should sell, and particularly CheckMate Pro models, at a higher price point. Now that we know TurboSquid’s capacity for inspecting models, we are going to introduce new price points so more CheckMate Pro models can be certified at lower prices when they are simpler models. Complex Pro models will be higher priced, period, but we will have premium Pro models at a variety of price points, some lower than now.
Going forward, we have some very good ideas about how to be much more specific about pricing, and add the strength to the analysis of pricing that we were frankly missing the last time we tried to improve model pricing. This is going to take some months to build out to the rigor we need, and we are putting a ton of energy into it. We’ll probably even ask for your help. It’s not a trivial problem that can be solved by having an individual simply sift through models, as we’ve seen already. The problem is much more complex when you consider the many varying categories and levels of complexity in geometry, texturing, accuracy, aesthetics, etc.
A question: should TurboSquid let artists on the marketplace that sell at lower prices? The answer is yes, because we don’t feel like we can solve that problem for the general catalog of models — there will be a marketplace whether we host it, or it is scattered on the net. Without question, a great model for $1 is hurtful to the ability of artists to invest in creating similar types of objects. It’s a category killer, and customers could think they’re stolen, and we don’t want that. But some artists have collections at relatively low prices that are genuinely trying to maximize profit — they’re not throwing models out there to damage the marketplace, which is a huge distinction.
Maybe that’s why it feels so threatening to see the value at those prices from some artists, because it is a high quality organized effort to produce quality models that are very competitive. The thing is, I can name some artists that are targeting architects who have lower budgets than most 3D projects and need collections at low price points. The solution from our point of view is not for TurboSquid to get back into raising prices on models, which would have the bad side effect of making TurboSquid arbitrarily more expensive than other outlets on the web, or to start kicking models off the site from professional businesses who trying to make a real living selling models.
The real value we see — and the money for artists — is in giving customers better value for *their* money, through higher quality models with less risk. This is where CheckMate is headed, and where so many customers who see tons of value in stock 3D want all of us to put our efforts. Looking at the true low end of the market, there is a never-ending stream of free junk coming from Google’s 3D Warehouse. We can’t, and shouldn’t, compete with that.
Our strategies go beyond CheckMate. We have multiple approaches to try to get customers the most benefit possible, where customers are willing to spend way more money on stock 3D, and ultimately live more creative lives because they don’t “reinvent the wheel” by building models readily available at the expense of their creativity elsewhere. Artists who publish similarly want to live more creative lives, with less risk and more financial stability. TurboSquid’s duty is to try to maximize value for everyone, and we spend way more time trying to solve these problems than I ever believed possible back when I was an animator. And as best we can tell, the long term solution is to build around CheckMate as the foundation, with the support and deep analysis to keep the value and pricing at that magical intersection of demand, volume, and price which artists and customers consider “optimal”.
I’ve traded my life’s work from something directly creative like 3D animation and compositing, into something heavily analytical, financial, and managerial. It’s been a good trade because I believe in what we’ve all created in TurboSquid. I try to solve these problems around pricing and quality by leading our team and devoting an enormous amount of energy and thought to them. CheckMate is the best answer we’ve found, and I deeply hope the trend toward increased selling prices continues because we’ll all invest more, and our customers will be increasingly delighted with the value and quality of what they purchase here. I hope this helps everyone understand the history, and our feelings about pricing, marketplaces, and the evolution of quality in the stock 3D world.
I have an exciting announcement for our entire 3D community. After two years of development, TurboSquid has released its CheckMate Certification program for 3D models. CheckMate Certification allows artists to submit their highest quality models for review and inspection by TurboSquid staff. Models that pass the standard are marked with a badge so you can easily search for and spot our best 3D models.
Up until now, quality in our catalog has varied too much from one model to the next. We are addressing this problem by establishing universal standards: CheckMate Pro for the highest quality, and CheckMate Lite for basic reliability. We’re sending out a press release on this groundbreaking program, and we’d like to give you a little more background on how we came to decide on CheckMate as the next important step for TurboSquid and the 3D industry.
The Stock 3D Industry’s Problem
The lack of generally accepted standards for 3D model quality has been a major problem in our industry. Customers don’t know what they’re truly buying, and artists don’t know what customers care about in a model. While our industry and TurboSquid have seen consistent growth, we haven’t come close to tapping into stock 3D’s true potential because customers get deeply frustrated if they have to repair a model or even talk to customer support – like everything, models should always “just work”. So if the field of photography has long had standards for composition, contrast, and clarity, why doesn’t 3D modeling have standards, too? It’s time for somebody to step forward and try to solve this problem.
The Solution: CheckMate Certification
CheckMate Certification is a whole program that includes the standards themselves, a submission process for artists, model inspections from our in-house team with personal feedbcak, artist training materials, and display of CheckMate badges in search results and in product previews. We’ve assembled a sizeable team to make this happen, including a large group of trained 3D inspectors to conduct manual inspections alongside our automated tools. You can find out all there is to know about the program on our CheckMate info page and in our Knowledge Base. You can also read our CheckMate Certification FAQ to find out more.
How Did TurboSquid Determine the Standards?
We surveyed customers and artists extensively to compile the CheckMate standards. We started with discussions with artists in our blog and forums, and moved on to survey and interview customers in a wide range of disciplines. For example, in one of our surveys, we asked customers how they felt about a variety of 3D model attributes. Below you can see some of the results, showing the percentage of customer respondents who considered each attribute important. These attributes all became part of the CheckMate Pro standard. We also got feedback from customers about product information and presentation in product previews on TurboSquid. More than anything else in a presentation, customers want better and higher quality images. So, as part of preparing for CheckMate, we developed and released a high-resolution thumbnail viewer and turntables which dramatically increase the amount of detail customers can see before they buy. As part of our intense push for quality, these types of images are required for CheckMate Pro models. Lastly, TurboSquid ran a six-month beta program with top customers and artists to fine-tune both the standards and the inspection process. Feedback from our artists was invaluable in developing a working certification program. From the beta process emerged a second standard, CheckMate Lite, a less rigorous specification that requires wireframe thumbnails, full product information, and a model that renders and works. Early customer feedback on CheckMate has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, many customers who participated in our surveys and beta said they’ll never buy anything other than CheckMate models, which is a great validation of the effort made by TurboSquid’s artists and our team to bring standards to this industry.
It’s time to end the game of guessing what a quality 3D model is. We named this program CheckMate for just that reason. TurboSquid has always had the widest variety and largest catalog of models, but we now have a clear brand in CheckMate to help customers know what they’re buying. CheckMate will demand more from artists who create and publish their 3D models, and more from TurboSquid in inspecting and certifying these models. But this work will create new value for our customers, and will open up stock 3D to new customers who wouldn’t have considered it an option in the past. We look forward to a new era in the stock 3D industry, and we invite you to be a part of it. Please tell us what you think by commenting below.
TurboSquid closed a major deal with Autodesk Seek® a few weeks ago that we can finally announce. We’re excited about this for several reasons. Firstly, it shows the continued trust that Autodesk places in TurboSquid and our leadership in building this industry.
Secondly, it places TurboSquid in the best position to reach the massive number of CAD users coming into the graphics markets and further augments our existing relationships within their Media & Entertaiment group. As a 3D artist in the animation world, I used to personally just deal with pictures and animations for clients. I had no idea what CAD really did, or how that industry connected to ours in more than a superficial way. A decade and some gray hairs later, I’ve learned that the CAD users outnumber 3D artists (what I would have called “us” previously) by an order of magnitude at the minimum. I’ve heard estimates (from non-Autodesk sources) that the number of users in this space is twenty times greater. The good thing for us is that they want imagery. CAD users can now render high quality images in Revit, and they are only going to want more models and resources in the future, from furniture to people to buildings to trees.
Lastly, Autodesk is making a significant effort to build content solutions of various types for their users. They have an entire group and large team, Autodesk Seek, that’s focused on this aspect of 3D. For the part of their effort that involves users selling content, it’s all coming exclusively from TurboSquid’s membership and infrastructure. This is a huge victory for our community and will put our sellers and their work directly in front of those who need their content the most.
There are a lot of great things happening in the 3D industry right now, most recently 3D going natively into Google’s chrome browser and home television sets supporting 3D viewing. The fact that CAD users are getting a taste for imagery and getting closer to “our” world will only open more doors and possibilities for everyone who has content for sale through TurboSquid.
People ask us all the time about our viewpoint on web traffic, how this process works, and what it means for industry trends. Well, customers come to TurboSquid from a variety of directions. Most just simply type www.turbosquid.com into their browsers to get right to our site’s own search. A lot find us because of our relationships with Autodesk and other 3D application companies with the Tentacles plug-in for TurboSquid.
A surprising number of people actually type a company’s name into Google because they know googling turbosquid will find us (or whatever company they are looking for). Others go to their favorite search engine and type in something like 3D models, then click on the results and start shopping.
Really specific searchers might type in something like 3ds max male rigged model -tutorials –youtube, which performs a search on the terms 3ds max male rigged model, but eliminates results for tutorials and YouTube videos.
So generally, there’s this process of finding customers (customer acquisition) and getting them to come to you directly and trust that you’re the best source. As a business, you want people to come right to you. In the web world, this is typing your domain directly into the browser, like “turbosquid.com”. This “direct traffic” is the most likely to buy or use your services, and these customers are worth the most to your business.
The best public measurement of direct traffic turns out to be people googling your company brand, for example “turbosquid”. Lots of people do this out of laziness because they know Google easily find a company. Here is what these brand searches look like compared to our direct competition using Google Insights:
Since 2007, something interesting happened. Three major sites started to distribute free 3D content. Google’s 3D Warehouse has drawn an immense amount of traffic pretty quickly, though the quality of their models is extremely low. It’ s almost like we have three flickr.com type companies operating in 3D.
The trends overall show that an increasing number of people are consuming 3D content. Google has added an enormous amount of free and low quality content, but that will likely increase the size of the stock 3D industry as these users move “up market” to higher quality models.
Google’s move has also created momentum behind WebGL 3D graphics, and the drive to get 3D graphics to display natively on the web. If Google, Autodesk, Dassault (3dvia), Adobe and others can create widespread adoption of 3D content, it’ll be the rocketship for the stock 3D industry and 3D artists in general.
In the meantime, TurboSquid will continue to develop our website and focus on our building our brand and direct traffic.