Declining Earnings in Microstock (Veteran’s POV)

I’ve recently received an interesting email from a reader that has kindly shared with me 13 years’ worth of his earnings data from uploading stills to “all agencies”. These represent a significant sample that I’ll try to draw some conclusions in order to better-understand the big picture of how his images have performed over the long-run within an industry-wide scope.

He wishes to remain anonymous and has consented to me publishing this chart and a short summary, perhaps as a warning to others about the decline in this industry. Or perhaps just to vent his frustrations. Well here it is:

13 Years’ worth of earnings data (“All Agencies”)

  • 13,000 images (70% commercial / 30% editorial)


His analysis (I’ve removed confidential info accordingly):

The chart shows my total DL’s at all agencies since I first began in 2006. I currently have 13,000 images in my SS portfolio (70% commercial / 30% editorial). 

The chart represents a grand total of 462,950 DL’s.

You can see the decline in total downloads over the last three years. 2016 total was 69,688 – and netted over $51k (73cents per download). You can see that 2019 probably won’t be half of that, unless I have a great last quarter. But I find nothing to be optimistic about, and it’s not like I quit trying.

He has asked me not to link his port on this piece but will say that having had a look myself,  his stock images are very-well executed with strong themes. Sorry, cannot go any further and show examples.

The writing is on the wall

I’m afraid that if you’re looking to get started, and looking to monetise your content, you will have your work cut out. Not to say it’s impossible to earn a regular side-income but you have to face the fact that the “good old days” are long gone by at least 3-5 years, maybe even longer.

From speaking with other veterans, apparently the peak in earnings was around 2010-2013 (although in his case it was 2016). In any case, the striking declines of the past two years are without a doubt a reality for most.

Source: Backyardsilver

Agencies opened the floodgates volume-wise around 2017

Although simplistic and a topic to be explored on another occasion, I believe that a major contributing factor to declining earnings has been that agencies (in particular Shutterstock) have relaxed their Quality Control standards, as you have probably noticed leading to a flood of sub-par turdy images and unworthy contributors.

They have also relaxed their entry requirements to 1/10 images being accepted on the first batch from a previous 7/10.

SS stats

Although this is a complex issue which requires much more analysis, simply put: it’s clear that supply has far outstripped demand, thus leading to downward price pressures.

Shutterstock is also feeling the pinch

One can’t take contributor-earnings in isolation. According to Seekingalpha’s article entitled, “Shutterstock Continues to Deteriorate“, the road ahead looks bleak growth-wise:

seeking alpha

What’s the solution?

It’s pointless to whine and complain without adopting an effective strategy to combat declining earnings. I wish I could offer concrete solutions but everybody’s circumstances are different.

In my case, I’ve looked into pursuing stock footage as a viable alternative business model and slowing down uploading stills (except for the book covers). Although early days, my results are encouraging on both the footage side and book cover sales.


Can you think of any other solutions that you’re adopting in your own business?

How has your stock income dropped over the years?

Please comment below. Don’t need to be too specific but roughly tell us the size of your port and how much your monthly income has dropped year-on-year and from the past 3-5 years for example (if you have been submitting for that long).

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted six years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography


  1. That was for me the most interesting post you made during the last months.
    Not as a pleasant reading, the contrary.
    It gives face to our agony as contributors and forces us to see the truth:
    We earn less!
    I do not want to be a Kassandra bearing bad news.
    I just keep on believing – and my last years’ predicaments were true up to now – that video prices will drop but current or and new agencies will emerge, charging premium prices for exclusive or better quality video. However, …
    Prices of hardware are cheaper. Do not rush to say my example is overkill for stock. You can now buy with 4.000 $ a 6K Panasonic full frame and (almost) do the job a 24.000 RED camera does.
    All these people need to have their work sold somewhere.
    With 5G in a year or two, data plans will be cheaper giving access to more videos on mobile. Therefore, for this and all other uses, including social media or TV productions and news, the stock video demand will be higher. The probably bad thing of that is that every poor quality unedited and uncorrected video will sell, advertised as “original”. We will see who smiles at the end!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post alex. Couldn’t agree more about people looking to start. I have completely stopped wasting my time with images on stock sites. Like you say it you cant execute well it isn’t worth it and I was using it to learn. But the pressure to keep uploading made the quality suffer heavily.

    I will be concentrating on the video side but only using BlackBox which you know doubt will of heard of. If you use it let me know would love to collab to help edit clips and do meta data.

    Apart from stock I think it’s time to work on getting into the industry of photography/videography. Try and make a job out of something Iove doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Matt,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Yes, Blackbox is a good agency, although I have no experience working with them. Seems like a smart approach to focus more on clips, especially if shot in 4K. My results are looking up and I trust yours are as well.

      Thanks again



      • Yes shooting in 4K now after switching to the xt3. I have made more from 1 clip than getty images and you dont have to wait to reach a certain amount to get a payout which is a bonus.


    • My sales are actually growing steadily but at a such a snail’s pace that I really started questioning if this ROI really worth it. I still do it because I’ m still shooting images, have some fun doing it and still have some return, but if I was asked for advice, I would actually try to dissuade people from looking at it as an income option. The industry became quite unpredictable and the effort required just to get started is mind-boggling.


      • Thanks for your reply. I agree that the effort to get started in this enterprise is mind-boggling. At present it is still a kind of a hobby for me. But,when my Microstock is finally open for business, I surely would like to make some money with it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your reply. I agree that the effort to get started in this enterprise is mind-boggling. At present it is still a kind of a hobby for me. But,when my Microstock is finally open for business, I surely would like to make some money with it.


  4. Hi Alex,

    Thank you for your work, as always. Most appreciated.

    A long reply, so PLS feel free to cut as you find fit. But I hope you will find time to read my take on the subject.

    Too bad the post at seeking alpha got written in very poor understanding of what an unbiased and properly worded reporting / research is. Growth is growth and when it decelerates it implies the company (profits, size, whatever) is still GROWING. Just not as fast in previous periods. And anybody who has even basic understanding of businesses knows that rapid growth is found only at some stages of ANY business. Clearly SS (or any other long established business) is NOT where it was 10 years ago. And so its growth cannot remain as it was 10 years ago. It MUST slow down. It may stop. And it may ‘reverse’ too. Writing about such things as if they were crime against the community of good hard working people (aka contributors) shows the author is unhappy and some facts that are no good news to him. But perhaps good news to others?

    My other observation is about ‘sub-par turdy images and unworthy contributors’. This is slur. You do not like somebody elses images? Who cares. Do they sell? This is the real, important question. I have my own deep doubts if agencies demanding 24mpix sensor for making images that only ever appear in 2×3 inch screen images make any sense ever. And making money selling turd is still good business model if, as shown, it grows at 3 to 7% a year. Or is it not?

    If the images are as turdy as some claim, they are not likely the reason why the database at SS (and other agencies) is growing this fast. I bet it is not one Joshka Blitzkrieg from New Delhi with his port of wee 100 files that is flooding SS. Take one look around you you quickly discover that one Vasiliy Petruska from Kiev has 200k images, all of amazing quality. And guess what, that bastard (if you judge from their avatar) is just 19 years old! Replace Vasil Petruska with Tania Kosmatcheva from LA, bump the port to 250k and you get the whole picture of WHO is flooding what.

    Apparently SS wants to get so flooded as otherwise they have very simple tools to limit / size the inflow of new images.

    My advice? Skip the whining part about what SS and other agencies are doing. They are doing what they see best for their profits. And they have darn plenty of experience and skill to judge well on this.

    Instead, take your yesterday stellar images and look at their present market value. Then adjust, develop, or die.

    Move to Leningrad, become Alexia Rottenberskaya, add 200k great looking files to your present 10k port of good looking ones. Sell your stellar files at 5th Av. art galleries (easily 1000$ apiece). Change your avatar to a busty blonde (not sure this helps though). ANYTHING.

    Or start a competition microstock agency. Ban turd there. See how this model works. Perhaps it is better in the end.

    Adjust, develop, thrive, or die.

    For the market will NOT adjust to our visions of past glories nor to our wishing wells.

    Very best regards from the turdy side of the fence.

    PS For your statistics: turd sells now at about 2% (monthly) at SS. Can’t see how this endangers authors who claim to sell 5 times this figure on their worst month.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comments.

      haha not sure Alexia Rottenberskaya has enough motivation to capture another 190k nice looking images! Maybe as a small factory with all the resources….

      After my latest iStock report earning me a pitiful 22cents per download, difficult to be optimistic about the business. One the same breath, I’m on pace for a $500+ month at SS, so I think some agencies are improving while others are disappearing. SS, AS and Alamy on the up and Getty and the rest on the down. Difficult to see how 123RF, DT, DP and BS surviving for much longer.

      All the best,



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