Oct 2019 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Welcome-back to October’s action-packed edition of the Brutally Honest Earnings Report, straight from Madrid. Let’s see if this time ’round whether I managed to keep up with the pace from a strong September…

In addition, I’ll be discussing strategies on tackling a brand new city to capture stock content and providing some news for November. So this will truly be a comprehensive stock update!

Let’s get this party started!

For a recap on my September Brutally Honest Earnings Report. Before getting started…

Would appreciate if you could help me out!

Throughout my blog, as you can appreciate, I’ve given quite a bit of my time to help you make sense of this complicated stock industry and focus on making money. I’ve also given away earnings info on some of my best-sellers which will directly lead to those images reducing their value (how much is impossible to say but suffice to say that copycat thieves may be lurking).

If you feel that the information below and throughout the blog is useful I kindly ask you to donate as much as you feel is reasonable, such a price of a coffee, by clicking on the following link below:

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You can also support me by purchasing one or more of my images as a wall-hanger:

Alex’s Fine Art Prints!

The leaves are falling and this month so did my earnings

I mentioned on my previous month that Sept-Dec are supposed to be strong months, but October, at least for me, was largely forgettable at a combined $739 net (see table below for detailed breakdown). At this stage in the game I “should” be earning at least $1k/month, every month.

Most major agencies produced average results with Alamy in particular really struggling. On the footage side, decent effort at Shutterstock but Pond5 continues to disappoint. Why is that?

Optimism is turning to pessimism

In fact, even for such an optimistic person as myself, it was hard to take much positive…other than the steady footage sales. Perhaps Robert Harding will soon report a fantastic Quarter soon but I rather not get my hopes up…or an Arcangel book cover…anyway, here’s the detailed breakdown:

Detailed Earnings Breakdown


Agency Number of Images in port (added Oct) Net Revenue for Oct (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF 4,327 (99) 6 0.58
Alamy 11,305 (110) 92 12
Arcangel 764 (29) 0 0
Adobe Stock 3,577 (86) 73 0.91
Bigstock 3,731 (91) 6 0.32
Creative Market 1,264 (34) 11 6
DepositPhotos 5,695 (84) 16 0.32
Dreamstime 6,444 (101) 9 0.61
iStock 6,014 (86) 141 0.51
Robert Harding* 383 (0) 14 2.31
Shutterstock 10,021 (128) 292 0.58
Pond5 1,257 (107) 0 0
Picfair 5,258 (109) 0 0
SignElements 1,139 (22) 5 N/A
Total 650

In red = Agencies deep in the “Turd-Zone”

* Q3 Report coming out in Oct


Agency Number of clips in port (added Oct) Net Revenue for Oct (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock 294 (5) 0 0
Pond5 1,213 (46) 10 10
Shutterstock 976 (35) 79 20
Total 89

In red = Agencies deep in the “Turd-Zone”

Overall total: $739 vs Sept $1,075

Looking at the long-term (majors)

Average results at all major agencies except Alamy which were hugely disappointing

Results at Major Agencies


Starting with my darling agency, Shutterstock, after September’s record-breaking $678 month, in Oct results were subdued but still average for the past few months at $372. Even though volumes were almost identical, the main difference were an almost complete lack of large Enhanced / Extended License sales in Oct…hence the average return per download for stills more than halved from $1.22/image in Sept to $0.58/image in Oct.

Only three sales were somewhat respectable and worth reporting (between $8 and 15 each):

The image on the left special for personal reasons and was captured in summer of 2013…so the fact that it sells over 6 years later is quite awesome. Truly eternal passive income.

10k milestone reached

October was also when I reached a somewhat meaningless milestone of 10,000 images. Quite cool anyway but doesn’t really change anything, unlike the $10k milestone where I earned a 25% pay rise. Clips are not too far off the 1k milestone. The real Milestone I’m looking forward to reaching is the $100k!

Happy to share the link to my SS port here


Alamy were extremely disappointing at only $86 net, keeping in mind that I have a comprehensive port consisting of 11,305 images, with some 700 as Rights-Managed exclusive / Breaking-news .

Nevertheless, “major” sales were: on right, A courtyard at Sforzesco Castle in Milan selling for $29.66 gross and a cyclist on the facade of the University of Paris selling for $24.19.

On Halloween night, a sale popped up of a group of students/tourists posing in Florence earning me $16 gross.


Personal Usage License Issues

They’re also dragging their feet on the Personal Usages misuses and that’s really pissing me off since I’m certain that some of their buyers are up to no good. I’ll just have to keep following up…

Adobe Stock

Results were about average at $73, in line with the previous few months. Apparently my flooding series is having some success over there. Perhaps soon AS will overtake Alamy results…

Flooding series is performing swimmingly well


After September’s disastrous iStock results of just $73, at least Oct was back to normal with a more much respectable $141, finally an average return per download just above 50cents/image. At least some relief and a small light at the end of the microstock tunnel.

Predictably, Brexit content led the way:


Microstock Minnows

Last month, the combined minnows of 123RF, Bigstock, Depositphotos, Dreamstime, SignElements and PicFair pulled in a relatively respectful $90. However, this month, they barely broke the $20 mark, combined. What gives?! Pathetic!!

Here’s my date and I waiting for those pathetic agencies to start delivering


Footage earnings were average with four clips sold at SS for a total of $79 and one at Pond5 for $10. In fact, Pond5, they have been EXTREMELY disappointing in the past three months, which makes me wonder if they’re giving priority to exclusive clips. Anybody have thoughts on this? There’s an ongoing discussion on the MSG forum about low Pond5 sales which makes for useful reading.

Happy to report that two of my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu clips where I discussed in this blog post, sold:

jiu jitsu clips
On my way to paying off the gimbal investment!

You can see the clips here and here. Interestingly, SS rejected these clips for “press pass needed” reasons and glad I insisted finally mentioning on caption in caps “NOT STAGED CONTENT OR AT CLOSED EVENT” upon re-submission. SS may be using AI bots to review content so we need to be clever!

Other new sales included:

Happy to see that this clip of the Aterro do Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro, sold but just for $11.
Sold for $10 at Pond5 – Wooden “moliceiro” boats in Aveiro, Portugal – link to clip here

New Content from Madrid

So I moved from Portugal to Spain about a month ago to engage in a full-time legal job. Still shooting obviously but only during evenings and weekends, which is generally fine.

I was out in the financial centre, including Plaza de Castilla and Cuatro Torres, and before going out (as I usually do), I checked what was on already on offer at these agencies.

Spanish flag on foreground

Instead of going for the same-old, I had a simple yet brilliant idea to invest 2 euros on a miniature Spanish flag to insert on the foreground of my wide angle shots. I think it may just help them stand out from the competition! In hindsight, I should have done the same while in Italy, Portugal, Brazil…


I may be starting a movement as Theo has started to the same! Where are the gyros and ouzo, Theo?!


On the following day, I headed to Bernabeu Stadium, home of Real Madrid for a somewhat unique shot that will hopefully stand out from the competition.

Not a composite!

Then I tried a somewhat more dramatic fine art shot of the main facade with the emblem.

Perhaps the somber mood may be used in an article when the team loses an important match

Surprisingly, this image sold on the very next day after it was accepted and managed to spot it in a live football streaming website:

Spreading Armageddon across Iberia

I couldn’t help myself and even though Madrid is one of the driest places in Europe (and far from any major river and coastline), I decided to flood it anyway…because that’s what I enjoy doing! By the way, my flooding series is generating regular sales.


On another day, I woke up to a glorious sunrise with some construction cranes near my apartment. Also decided to flood it, of course! I really like the look but scratching my head on what would be its intended purpose. I almost put it as a book cover but I think it’s generically enough linked to the construction industry that may have some repeat-sales.

Construction fine art?

Homeless clip

I decided to capture some footage of a homeless man begging at a traffic light with huge glass corporate buildings in the background. Slightly controversial clip and I redeemed some of my awkwardness by giving the poor man some money.

What stood out for me, in particular, were the majestic glass skyscrapers in the background, contrasted with the man’s otherwise dire situation. Link to clip here. 

homeless man
Perhaps a timelapse next time

Interestingly, SS reviewers (human or not) rejected this clip on the first try with the following strange reasoning. Re-submitted with no choices and voila, it was accepted!


Took advantage and shooting at 10mm, captured this still of the homeless dude with the skyscrapers in the background. Should sell!


Taking a page out of Doug’s course

I feel that my clips are getting stronger and stronger (with some results to prove) in large part thanks to the knowledge I’ve picked up from Doug’s Master course (full review if you click the link, including the discount code), as well as from speaking to him on a weekly basis. He’s active on the SS Contributor forum btw.

He recently put out a demo footage of many of his clips using the Sony PXW-Z750 – hope you enjoy the tranquility of nature, followed by the chaos of the city!

By the way, I was inspired by this clip by Doug on capture the homeless dude above.

seeking human kindless

When I probed Doug on the thought-process behind capturing this powerful clip of the homeless guy, he humbly replied:

“The homeless guy was too good to pass up but I was across the street for the first couple of shots because I don’t have the courage to speak to people either.  I shoot people the way I shoot animals — start far away and then move a little closer as they get more comfortable.  However, in this case I did go over and actually talk to him afterwards and I gave him $20.  He actually seemed very articulate and pretty smart. 

He’s probably making a pretty good income on that corner.  I probably could have gotten him to sign a release if I wanted to, but I don’t have the courage to ask people for that kind of stuff.  Especially when the SS model release forms ask for way too much information. I’d never fill out a SS model release if some stranger asked me on the street.” – Doug Jensen

FAA Buyer Reached out to me to license an image

I had an interesting episode in late-Oct where someone saw one of my pics on my Fine Art America portfolio and reached out to me directly to license. I was naturally suspicious since I’ve heard of numerous scams that fake buyers will pull on that site. However, after some due diligence I was satisfied it was a genuine buyer and proceeded to negotiate a fair price based on RF usage.

Cutting out the middlemen agencies

The basis of the negotiation was by the prices indicated by usage at Alamy and deducting 60% from the price. So in the end it has been a win/win for both the buyer and myself to cut out the middleman with a net result in the low 3 figures range for me.

Drafting the licensing agreement

This left with me drafting the Royalty-Free licensing contract and sending an invoice…which isn’t too difficult to do considering I both have a legal background and there are many templates available online. If you would like to use my template, please get in touch and I’ll send you a copy.

It’s not often this type of transaction occurs and I wish it would happen more often. This reminds me that I should probably re-activate my premium Fine Art America account and load new images…just in case I get some more requests!

Turd of the Month Agency / Agencies

Last and certainly least, with so many turds to shoot from, I decided to give a double-nomination to 123RF and Bigstock for achieving the almost impossible task of earning $6/month on over 3,400+ assets. Well done!

Flushing those turds down the toilet!

I foresee a dark and disturbing future for these small agencies as the majors gobble up more market share to the detriment of these small agencies. My worry is that they’ll pull a Canva and team up with those Unsplash turds and start giving away images for either almost free or entirely free.

Plans for November!

As I’m done settling into a new place and job, my goal is dedicate more time to this blog in November. I have a series of pieces I would like to publish, including:

One of Adam’s best selling clips and it’s obvious why this is premium stuff!
  • Update from Mirko, Founder of Microstock Academy’s lifestyle photography course;
  • A detailed post on images/clips that I had great hope at the time but in the end have disappointed in terms sales. What I could have done differently, if at all. In this blog post I’d really like others to participate actively and share your thoughts so we can all benefit;
  • Hope to visit some surrounding towns near Madrid, including Segovia and Toledo.

Looking forward to a much more profitable November – until next time – Alex

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted six years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet!). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

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


      • Homelessness is of course an important topic, but my suggestion would more entail fully released “people without issues” – there is an almost infinite demand for those type of images in stark contrast to travel imagery which is oversupplied. Adding lifestyle to your portfolio you’d see a big upshot in earnings (I’m confident about that). Released lifestyle, any ages, any races – use friends and family, barter – most people find it fun to end up in a newspaper or magazine. ANYWAY – the decision is of course yours, hope I don’t annoy you too much with my unsolicited attempt at advise and I wish you a better earnings report next month! All said with “love”! /Fox

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Martin, you’re absolutely right about lifestyle and it’s something I’m slowly getting into. You can see my post about shooting a model in Seville. I’m making contact with some attractive young women here in Madrid and making some arrangements for shoots…have lots in mind. Pay them 50 euros and take them out during the day, ideally a good looking couple. Stay tuned! Yes, should sell much better than the average travel stuff. All the best


  1. Alex,
    This is some of my data for this month: SS – $121.21 with 2188 photos/videos; AS – $81.56 with 926 photos/video; DT – $31.33 with 1,151 photos; and rf123 – $5.93 with 789 photos. Not a great month for me, but better than August and September. Thank God I have a good day job.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, Geoff. Decent results for a much smaller and focused port.

      I’m also thankful now that I have a day-job, was really tough living off stock income + some side client work to make ends meet. Beer is on me!


  2. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for your work and data as ever.

    I wonder why you are not moving more of your 10k images port onto Adobe? Your Adobe numbers, given your present port size there, would seem to justify such an effort. Uh?

    Good luck in Madrid. I too live in Spain and I like it here.



    • I try to upload as much as I can to AS, but something like 60% of my port consists of editorials and they currently don’t accept those (although they are liberal on the types of commercial shots they do accept)

      My AS are quite disappointing but showing improvements month-on-month…unlike Alamy and iStock that are all over the place.

      Hasta lluego, amigo!


  3. I’d like to thank you for all the data displayed in your report.One should really appreciate your work and I truly hope that you achieve those $ 100 k ! (even a bit less will still be okay…)


  4. Thanks for the update Alex. Sorry that your month wasn’t as hoped for. In contrast, I had a good month both at SS ($125/205dls) and Adobe (£85) with help from a $16 SOD at SS and a £50 custom sale at Adobe. At SS this month I had a 30% increase in DLs which is pretty surprising as I’ve uploaded almost nothing for 6+ months with just under 900 images.
    I reckon that here are cycles in microstock (depending on the month) and that my increase in sales against your decrease has got something to do with the ‘type’ of portfolio. I have virtually no ‘travel/places’ but lots of stills/studio/food etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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