Nov 2019 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Welcome-back to November’s action-packed edition of the Brutally Honest Earnings Report, straight from Madrid. I recall that my October was a pretty poor month, so let’s see if I managed to recover…you’ll also be surprised who I selected as the Turd of the Month Agency…

In addition to earnings, on this edition, I’ll be discussing some new plans for gear that I’ll be investing into the business and I’ll give you reasons as to why. Also some plans for December and onto the New year.

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

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, including this beauty I shot just last week of Puerta Alcala in Madrid (available on my Photo4me account):

Alex’s Fine Art Prints!

Puerta de Alcala, Madrid, Spain

November Rain

Putting on some Guns and Roses on the background while I draft this….and November has truly been a bit of a washout as I really haven’t had much time to be out shooting due to work-commitments and rainy weather! However, Axl Rose is right that “nothing lasts forever, even cold November Rain”…

Passive income dream

I’m finally testing this model of the passive income stream as I’ve really slowed down my uploads recently because of office-work commitments.

Earning passive income while being a corporate drone…

Will earnings slow down if I don’t upload as much?

That’s a question I receive a lot and the short answer is that it depends on what you shoot. There’s obviously huge natural variance month-on-month (as you’ve seen with my iStock earnings) but I feel that a few months of few uploads shouldn’t have a direct impact on earnings  as I feel that my port is quite timeless. If I or you were shooting fashion, lifestyle, technology and breaking news, it’s safe to say that these types of niches have a much shorter shelf-life.

Overall results

Reasonably OK all-round results at all agencies, with the usual Shutterstock leading the way, followed by a strong month at iStock and decent effort at Adobe Stock.  The minnow agencies added up to something somewhat significant, turning a page on a poor showing in Oct. Alamy, on the other hand, struggled for a third month in a row.

On the footage side, relatively quiet at Shutterstock, but finally Pond5 showed some signs of life with a good sale, even though I increased the prices (more on this).

Fine Art America were impressive, with a buyers’ inquiry leading to a direct sale, as well as two sales of prints.

Detailed Earnings Breakdown


Agency Number of Images in port (added Nov) Net Revenue for Nov (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF 4,390 (53) 10 0.38
Alamy 11,371 (66) 45 4.5
Arcangel 767 (3) 0 0
Adobe Stock 3,298 (35) 69 0.84
Bigstock 3,743 (12) 7 0.27
Creative Market 1,290 (26) 10 5
DepositPhotos 6,293 (75) 22 0.32
Dreamstime 6,522 (88) 13 0.48
EyeEm 746 0 0
Fine Art America 690 26 13
iStock 6,072 (58) 185 0.62
Robert Harding* 383 (0) 41 9
Shutterstock 10,078 (68) 334 0.79
Pond5 1,326 (70) 20 20
Picfair 5,330 (72) 0 0
SignElements 1,157 (19) 11 N/A
Direct Sale N/A 129 129
Total 881

*Q3 2019 Earnings

Red = New entrants this month

Average Return Per Download

Return per download
Interesting to see that average return per downloads for my top 3 earners is converging around the $0.70 – $0.80 image mark.


Agency Number of clips in port (added Nov) Net Revenue for Nov (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock 298 (4) 0 0
Pond5 1,249 (36) 53 53
Shutterstock 1,005 (29) 51 17
Total 89

The big picture (combined)


Total results: November $970 vs $739 (Oct)

Results (stills) at Major Agencies


Although something is broken with their Quality Control review system (I highly suspect the use of bots), since there are strange rejections on first submissions, Shutterstock is still an earnings power-horse. I really admire their consistency. Results were better for Novembers vs October ($334 vs $292).

Strangely there were no huge sales but this made up with loads of On-Demand-Downloads. Only two major sale to speak of in Nov at SS:

$54 for this New desert cycle track at Al Qudra in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It’s length is nearly 100km – Image

Staying on the biking theme, this image of my baby in Italy sold for $6

Ghisallo, Italy – June 4th, 2016: Monument in memory of cyclists to he Madonna del Ghisallo, proclaimed Patroness of Cyclists by Pope Pius XII in 1946 – Image

I did a Google Reverse search for the above image (as I do for most of my sales) and it ended up on an Lonely Planet blog post about the 7 Pilgrimages every Sports Fans Must Take. Cool! Oh and by the way, if you’re reading this (you know who you are, I want my bike back)

Adobe Stock

In my previous reports, I haven’t discussed Adobe Stock so much…particularly since they’ve always been relatively poor-performers. This month, they did slightly better at $69 and there were at least some nice surprises, including:

$6 for this car stuck in a flash flood in Brazil. Here’s an example of the end-use of such image

I keep saying this every month but I really expect Adobe Stock to be a leader in the industry in the coming years. (they’re now a solid 3rd earner) This isn’t reflecting yet in my results but I trust it will soon.


Ah Alamy, you promise so much but deliver so little…starting to get disappointed in you! There’s some talk that with Getty closing down their Rights-Managed offerings, some buyers will migrate towards Alamy, let’s see!

The disappointment at Alamy continues and both volumes and average return per image are down down down at almost micro levels of $4.50 net per image with low volumes of only 10 sales. Some sales to report were:

$23 gross
$25 gross

The Personal Usage License drama is ongoing at Alamy and I’ve decided to at least offer them a helping hand by putting together a simple excel sheet with all the pending licenses so they can investigate. I suggest that you check out your port for suspicious Personal Usage licenses and report to them. If you can put together an excel sheet like this to help them they will appreciate.

alamy pending
Status: 4 Pending, 4 unsatisfactory responses and one PU license reversed

iStock Rollercoaster

My port has been riding a sort of wild roller-coaster ride as of late. Just check out this graph that I compiled using the todayis20 tool.

Not for the faint-hearted!

So, as you can see, I’m on a sort of high but I fully expect that Nov will fall! If you recall, iStock report one month behind. So, what were my results for Oct, you may ask:


Notable sales are the following:

istock sales
Link to my photo-shoot overlooking Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy (my best seller-shot above)

Microstock Minnows

The remainder of small agencies, I call the Microstock Minnows, pulled out a decent effort at a combined $73 with DepositPhotos leading the way with $22 net. Not bad and I still think it’s worth submitting to them because the earnings do add up.

In fact, happy to see that even at 123RF, some OK sales are possible, such as the following that just popped in today:

A sale like this in one of the minnows is a big result!


After gathering some opinions, I decided to give EyeEm a try, especially since most of my images are already keyworded, so it’s simply a matter of dropping a clicking. The goal is to have such images be accepted into their Partner Program at such agencies as Getty and so far I seem to have an OK ratio.

They’re trying to build a community and all but I couldn’t care less about that. As you can see from my bio, I’m there to sell and not to socialise! Early days, so let’s see…

“I’m just here for the Partner Program”

Fine Art America (Print on Demand)

FAA isn’t an agency I speak much of but this month I had a special surprise in the form of a legitimate inquiry from a potential buyer and two sales of prints. This makes me wonder whether I should devote more time there to increase my offering.

The inquiry results in a direct sale of GBP 100 ($129) for this beauty of a diminishing perspective bridge I captured in the Netherlands in 2013. Always nice to cut out the greedy agencies, even though I had to draft my own licensing agreement. Here’s the beauty:


As for the two prints that sold:


Turns out that my margins are too tiny, so Steve advised me to at least double them, according to his criteria you can see in his blog post about pricing at FAA in 2019. Thanks, Steve!

Should I go premium again at FAA?

To make a long story short, my premium subscription on there expired which means that I can’t upload any more pics, but the port that I have there is still up and running. Hmmm I’ll think about it…might be worth it since it’s only $30 a year.

Robert Harding

Last and probably least, Robert Harding reported on their Q3 2019 earnings and at least there was an uptick from Q2 2019 results (not difficult really). In total I earned GBP 95 (or $123) with 14 sales. Prices ranged wildly from as low as 50cents to $40 net.

Antibes, Cote d'Azur, France
$40 net for this capture of a beautiful Mediterranean sky in Antibes, Cote d’Azur, France

Suffice to say that I’m still not convinced going down the exclusive option is profitable. I’ll wait until Q4 2019 Report to make a decision whether I should upload my best work to them. I have a clear number in mind which they probably won’t reach anyway…so let’s see in February…


Starting with Shutterstock, a quiet month overall with only three small sales, including:

$10 for this clip
$24 for this clip

3rd one was the usual NYE fireworks in Rio…by far my best-seller.


Pond5 surprised this month with both an HD sale and an upgrade to a still image for Netflix use, apparently. Combined those earned me $72 ($50 for the clip). Here’s the clip which consisted of a 3 hour timelapse of the sky. Really love the comet at the end to finish off…or might have been an airplane…any guesses?

Link to clip

Staying on with Pond5, I decided to stop letting reviewers select prices based on quality and instead put a minimum of $69 for HD up to $179 for 4K to be in line with prices on other agencies, notably SS and AS. So the same above earned me double of what I would have earned me just one week ago when I had the lower prices. Funny business!

Trying out some new gear

I rarely speak about gear on this blog because first, I’m not really into all the technicals (there’s many other blogs that devote their time to just that) and secondly I don’t think that having the best / most expensive gear is fundamental to making sales. I know of many contributors doing just fine uploading smartphone footage in 4K to agencies.

Nevertheless, I’m always game to try out new toys and a friend of mine lent me a 360degree camera called a Theta which I’ve been playing around. Really not sure if such sales would sell and for how much but it’s fun. I was thinking of it’s use more for my private client jobs doing interior photography, which would come in handy.

I’ll keep playing and speculatively upload some shots on agencies and report soon. Here’s one:

5b20b2b5-ecf3-4cf1-9d2a-41e326c5e12b Here’s more info on this cool toy:

New Lens coming soon

I’m taking advantage of Black Friday sales to invest on a wider angle lens for my Panasonic Lumix. Looking forward to test it out and will report back soon!


Some Updates

Making Money with Stock Footage by Doug Jensen

Doug Jensen, put out a new video which I trust you’ll find interesting. He goes into more detail about his best selling clips and his earnings:

Fame at last!

Andrew Balcombe, based in the Netherlands, compiled a cool list of what he deems are the 6 most useful resources on stock photography / footage and has included me. Thanks Andrew! He’s also got some fun / useful videos, including shooting 8 cities in 1 days in the Netherlands.

Plans for December

  • I’ll check out some of the Xmas decorations in and around Madrid and hopefully those will be picked up in 10/11 months’ time.
  • Adam Melnyk’s stock footage update should be published…hurry up Adam and give me those answers!
  • I received an interesting email from a reader who has expertise in patents. He suggested to check out some of the public records of stock agents to analyse which types of patents they have registered and how it may help to uncover the deep dark secrets of their algos. I wouldn’t be surprised if SS puts out a patent for AI QC review soon!
  • Year-end review and plans / goals for 2020!

Finally, the Turd of the Month Agency!

I really never thought it would come down to this…but desperate times call for desperate measures. I hereby, with deep sorrow and regret, nominate my Turd of the Month Agency as Alamy :((((


I feel that I must explain:

  • With 11,371 images, Alamy are my leading agency in terms of portfolio-size.
  • I can understand lower volumes but $4.50 net average sale is too low. Basically the worst of both worlds – low volumes and low prices. As you can see above, Alamy earned me a whopping $45 in November, which is just double that of the minnows that is DepositPhotos.
  • Their attitude to personal usage licenses has been turdy.

Congratulations, Alamy!

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


  1. Congrats on the new lens, Alex. I hope Panasonic is much better than Sony when it comes to repelling dust spots. Otherwise, you might get som when changing lenses on your camera, and that is a pain to remove in post-processing if your computer is not powerful enough.

    Great FAA came alive and brought you some sales. Alamy should vacate the place of the most inconsistent stock agency and the title should be given to FAA.


  2. Congrats on the FAA print sales. Indeed those prints were an absolute bargain for the buyer…even had the dimensions been in cm when they’re in inches! My bro-in-law recently sold a 2m canvas print (self printed) for €300 which I noticed is approximately in line with those online PoD shops, so your Bosco Verticale print at 48″ was really cheap.

    Liked by 1 person

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