Jan 2020 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Happy New Year and all that bullshit. Now, let’s get down to business…If you missed, here’s my 2019 Earnings Recap.


But first, 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 damn coffee (not as Starbucks though), by clicking on the following link below:

Donate Now!

You can also support me by purchasing one or more of my images as a wall-hanger for a friend / relative.

Alex’s Fine Art Prints!

January Blues

It’s normal to feel down at this time of the year if you live in the northern hemisphere. I haven’t been shooting much but have managed to upload some useful flag-composites – link to tutorial here. Many are starting to sell regularly.


Crisis = Opportunity (for those that choose to embrace the dark side)

Don’t shoot the messenger…here’s my latest creation…


The above two have been widely accepted as commercial as I sufficiently blurred the background, although I must admit that it wasn’t easy getting it accepted at Shutterstock as their rejections have been ridiculous lately….

Already some sales

Nice to see that some of my coronavirus composites have started to sell regularly:

Sale at Shutterstock only a few hours after uploading

January 2020 Summary

Since the first half of Jan has been slow-going for the past few years, I didn’t hold out much hope this year. However, predictably, sales picked up nicely towards the second half of the month as businesses returned to business.

The standout result for the month was surprisingly at iStock with $193 (for Dec), followed by a strong effort by Adobe Stock giving me a best-month-ever at $133. Shutterstock were average at a clean $300 and Alamy were predictably unpredictable at a disappointing $45 net, however I managed to sell a license directly with a buyer (more on this later).  Microstock Minnows sucked, even combined, except for Dreamstime which lead the field with $25, including a surprise clip sale. Am I dreaming?  Pond5 drew a blank, which isn’t the first month ever…

Detailed breakdown


Agency Number of Images in port (added Jan) Net Revenue for Jan (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF 4,445 (47) 6 0.33
Alamy 11,524 (134) 48 5
Arcangel 779 (4) 0 0
Adobe Stock 3,354 (29) 105 0.94
Bigstock 3,796 (30) 3 0.3
Creative Market 1,359 (42) 0 0
DepositPhotos 5,840 (27) 13 0.27
Dreamstime 6,690 (94) 15 0.68
EyeEm 834 (63) 0 0
Fine Art America 690 0 0
iStock 6,182 (47) 133 0.48
Robert Harding 383 (0) 41* 9
Shutterstock 10,190 (62) 260 0.56
Pond5 1,482 (98) 0 0
Picfair 5,498 (95) 0 0
Photo4Me 235 20 20
SignElements 1,189 (26) 5 N/A
Wirestock 62 0 0
Direct Sales N/A 60 60
Total 668

*Q3 2019. Q4 2019 out in a few weeks.


Agency Number of clips in port (added Jan) Net Revenue for Jan (US$) Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock 330 (15) 28 28
Dreamstime 100s 10 10
Pond5 1,269 (20) 0 0
iStock 148 (3) 60 60
Shutterstock 1,052 (22) 40 13
Total 138

Total = $806 vs 845 in December 2019

Looking at the long-run

Firstly, looking at the net returns per agency, we can see that Adobe Stock, as predicted, is showing promise, even with considerably less assets than the other majors. iStock showing some surprising strength and lately has been the second-best performing agency.

money new
Net returns per agency (majors)

Secondly, looking at the average return per download, we can see that Shutterstock has been on a small downward trend (yet a bit early to tell). This is worrying. The other majors seem quite consistent and nice to see a small up-trend with iStock.

Average net return per download (majors minus Alamy)

Now, I’ll break it down in more detail with each major agency.

Istock Rollercoaster continues

The standout sale at iStock was of a very very badly captured hand-held footage at the bottom of a giant volcano crater in Quilotoa, Ecuador. I remember that day very well (3 years ago), well before I started doing footage. Glad I uploaded it.

Link to clip on SS (same on as sold in iStock)

The above sold for $60 at iStock, which is a real mystery considering the lack of technical quality. I dug a bit deeper and by searching for “Quilotoa” within the iStock search engine, there were only 10 hits! For instance, the “Matterhorn” has 928 hits and Everest has 794 hits.


Competition is everything

The above sale goes to show that, generally speaking, by capturing a scene/concept which isn’t widely offered (even if done at a poor technical level), you may stand a better chance to have sales than shooting a very popular landmark at a high level.

It’s a complex topic with many variables which I’ll leave for another detailed analysis…just keep that in mind next that you’re traveling.

Other still sales at iStock

View of Sesimbra, Setubal Portugal on the Atlantic Coast.
Sesimbra, Setubal, Portugal on a beautiful summer day. Sold for $30

Adobe Stock

Strong month at Adobe Stock thanks to some relatively high-priced sales, including:

A fun timelapse of cars on a highway which sold for $28

Seems like my flooding series was in demand with the below selling for $15 each:


Despite a quite low month at $45 net, Alamy Customer Relations were kind enough to direct a buyer directly to me for sale of an editorial image commercially.  To make a long story short, after some negotiations and sending over my draft contract, we managed to close the deal for a Rights-Managed license (one-time-usage) for 50 euros / $60 net for this image captured in Utrecht, Netherlands:

Salvation lies within

Otherwise, a poor month at Alamy and only one really to report at just $10 net. of a man entering Estoril’s Hotel Palacio where Ian Fleming stayed during WWII.

Is he James Bond?


Relatively quiet month at SS (especially during the first half) with only one really stand-out price for stills:

$8 for these delicious tapas / pintxos

For footage, only three clip sales for a combined  $40 and staying on the topic of food…this clip of Italy’s first-ever Starbucks that I captured in late-2018 sold for the first time earning me $15, which at Starbucks prices won’t get me very far…

I published a blog post about this shoot, where I was almost kicked out of Starbucks lol – see Fortune Favours the Brave.

The other standout sale was a pretty lady outside my window back when I lived in Milan, which sold for $18:

Link to clip

Microstock Minnows

Very quiet with other agencies, including the Microstock Minnows. Only significant sale was at Photo4Me for this cool shot of a village on Lake Como, Italy which earned me $20:

Print available here

Really not much more to say about these struggling agencies. No sales yet at both EyeEm and Wirestock.

Dreamstime dream?

Nice to see Dreamstime leading the Minnows pack with a $25 month, including a clip sale of the following  lively scene captured at the foot of the Lapas arches in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Link to clip 

Started using a new wide-angle lens

Unrelated to results, quite happy to test out my new wide angle lens (9-18mm on the micro two-thirds). Going ultra wide will give me some freedom when I start capturing some lifestyle shots in the springtime while navigating the narrow streets of Madrid.


Here’s an example of a recent clip captured using this fantastic lens.

wide angle
Link to clip

In fact, for stills it’s pretty good – recent book cover image accepted at Arcangel using this lens:

Post-apocalyptic Madrid

Turd of the month

Considering that the following agencies all drew blanks (in alphabetical order), it’s a really difficult month to choose a golden turd:

  • Creative Market
  • EyeEm (bit early but should expect sales soon)
  • Picfair
  • Pond5



If push comes to shove I’d nominate…………PicFair.

Which would be your choice?

I’ll dominate them all! I’ve been trying to put together a poll so you may nominate your Turd of the Month agency but been having some IT issues (as a self-confessed technophobe). Hopefully will have this setup for next month.

Fame at last!

Happy to see yours truly featured on a German book on stock photography, which was published just a few days ago – link here. Deutsch sprechen?

german book

Unfounded Optimism

That’s it for a relatively quiet month. I remain optimistic that even if February will be a short month, sales should pick up and I’ll easily break the $1000 mark. In any case, days will be longer and warmer so I’m already planning some trips in and around Madrid!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, 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


    • Same here Darrel, but for me it is a first time ever when Adobe Stock crushed Shutterstock. What is truly impressive is that Adobe Stock did without big slaes, just steady traffic and good sales. Another impressive thing about Adobe performance, my port is twice bigger on SHutterstock, yet AS won the battle. I’m looking forward to AS increasing their sales.


  1. Thanks for the report Alex. My port performed similar – very slow January start, but ended up with $960 across all agencies.


  2. Seeing the same trend. Average month on SS with decent amount of sales, but the fact that the vast majority of them were subs makes it a below average month in earnings. Above average month for IS (December figures), and AS is rising, also significant higher RPD values there.


  3. I have a question about EyeEm, if my photos make partner and end up on Getty, should I upload same images to Istock/Getty?


  4. Has it been tough adjusting back into “corporate drone” mode? How has it impacted your desire to increase stock income?


    • Good question. It’s certain taken away pretty much all pressure to increase my earnings with stock since I almost earn in a day what I earn in a month with stock.

      I know my project will end in a year or so (with no guarantee I’ll be hired for a new one) and I may have to rely on stock earnings so it’s something I do hope to do continue…especially on the footage and fine art side.

      As for my corporate job, it’s annoying. Much rather work for myself anyway of the week. Not a fan of the minefield that is office politics either.


  5. My most successful site is Alamy. I am just focusing on them now. I have cut off the other sites that sell my images for peanuts, and steal my sales from Alamy. Even if I may possibly make more overall by submitting to all the sites, I find it very satisfying starving sites that don’t price my work appropriately.

    Selling on Shutterstock, istock, adobe ect is just as bad in my eyes as giving your work away on one of those free stock sites. It really works against us in the long term. Produce great work and only make it available to those willing to pay a good price for it.


    • I think it is a deeply flawed approach, but it is definitely your call where to submit. My experience tells the oppsite – microstock sites don’t steal images from Alamy. they just enhance sales. I had multiple sales of 400$-per image on Alamy and yet the same images sell on regular stock agencies for regular sub prices.
      IMHO you shooting yourself in the leg, but you seem to be pretty set in your ways, so what can I tell – good luck. Who knows maybe your approach works for you 🙂


      • Yeah. It may be deeply flawed for you. As you say, maybe it works for me, which it does. I am am totally fine if I dont extract every last dollar if it means I am not actively participating in driving down prices and letting people use my work for silly prices. I am lucky I suppose that I can take that approach as this is a hobby for me. That approach gives me satisfaction. Everyone’s portfolio is different and successfull (whatever success means for each person) strategies for each person may well differ.

        Liked by 1 person

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