Shutterstock Vs. Adobe Stock

Evidence indicates that Adobe Stock is emerging as a strong contender to soon overtake Shutterstock as a stock-photography cash-cow for many contributors.

In this exclusive stats-heavy blog post I’ll explore potential trends emerging in this rivalry for the coveted first spot in contributors’ hearts and wallets. This way we can try to draw an accurate picture of what is the reality other than pure speculation. Let’s get started!

AS vs SS

1. First evidence of potential overtaking AS > SS

First sign of a convergence in earnings is within the MSG Forum Poll results:

msg poll#
Huge reported earnings differences between the top 3 and the rest

Now, this is a voluntary poll and prone to inaccuracies at best and manipulation at worst. Also, not sure about the sample size. Click here if you wish to contribute to this poll for January results.

2. Second evidence of potential overtaking AS > SS

Second evidence are my own stats. From my Jan 2020 results, I have the following assets for sale:

Agency SS AS
Stills 10,190 3,354
Clips 1,052 330
Total assets 11,242 3,684

With the following results, also as per my last monthly report (January 2020):

Agency SS AS
Stills 260 105
Clips 40 28
Total earned 300 133

Still way behind but there seems to be some convergence in the past few months, even if it means that SS results are decreasing:

monthly earnings

Harmonizing the number of assets

At the moment it’s like comparing apples and oranges since I have 3x as many assets at SS than AS, mainly because AS don’t accept editorials and I was late to the game uploading my stuff to Fotolia prior to it being acquired by AS. Although they do take a liberal view on accepting potentially unreleased content, such as the following:

St. Paul de Vence, France

Taking a shortcut and making some assumptions, if I had as many assets on AS as I do on SS, my results may look like the following (at the least since commercial content is slightly more valuable than editorials, on average):

Agency SS AS (similar number of assets as SS)
Stills 260 315
Clips 40 84
Total earned 300 399

Looking at the big picture (Return Per Download)

I do need many more assets on AS because it’s accurate to report that their average return per download, in my case, is consistently higher (on average around 15%) than at SS:

12 month average: AS = 87cents/download vs 78cents/download SS

3. Third evidence of potential overtaking AS > SS

Steve Heap and Elijah have kindly provided some of their owns stats to back up the hypothesis. So let’s examine them.

Steve Heap

Looking at Steve Heap’s 2019 year-end report, we can see that his 2019 earnings from AS were about 52% that of SS ($11,000 vs $5,750). He’s kindly provided me this graph breaking down his past 12 monthly earnings:


At the end of December, Steve had 14,080 assets on SS and 10,343 on AS. This includes 490 videos on SS and 320 videos on AS. So using the same harmonizing logic, if Steve had the same number of assets on AS as he does in SS, his results would be similar between the two agencies.


Elijah has kindly provided me with his earnings stats on SS vs AS for January 2020 (but had cold feet before publishing them, which is understandable). In fact, chatting with him lately is what inspired me to draft this post since he’s boasting better results on AS than SS lately, even with a smaller port on AS.

“AS really impresses. It is the first time when AS overtook SS in earnings and what makes it even more impressive, it was done without big sales. What is the most impressive though, AS port is only 7K, while SS is twice bigger – 13.5K. The fact that 7K images can beat 13K images on SS is also impressive.” – Elijah

Here’s a link to his SS port and AS port accordingly.

4. Fourth Evidence – Google Trends

Looking exclusively at what people are searching for on Google, we see that the term “Adobe Stock” is for the past 5 years picking up steam relative to SS’s which is staying about the same. This may suggest more buyers are turning to Adobe Stock.


Does all this analysis even matter?

I do have a sort of reputation of talking round in circles, but I really do want to try to draw meaningful and actionable conclusions from this analysis.  After all, most of us just click one button on Stocksubmitter which uploads to all and then forget about it…so isn’t this all just purely academic? Not quite.

Portfolio management

Often, I take the view of my stock business as I would as portfolio manager at a hedge fund. Some assets will outperform others but as long as the final result is in line with projections/growth, things are OK.

However, once in a while I do like to bet more heavily on one agency more than others (as a hedge fund portfolio manager would with a certain asset class), and cut laggards behind. If you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know that I recently stopped uploading to Robert Harding (until results improve) and have invested more heavily in Arcangel book covers.

Betting heavily on all things Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock  management appear to be making the correct business decisions and also properly rewarding contributors with respectable RPD prices. Therefore, we may want to bet on them more heavily going forward, including to consider applying for their premium collection at Adobe Max.

Adobe Max

Adobe Stock is calling for artists to apply for their exclusive program featured at Adobe Max.. More info available on the MSG group forum thread,

Regular Adobe Stock

On their regular microstock account, it may mean that you can devote more time to creating subjects for Adobe Stock and then keywording more carefully for them. Keep in mind that they care very much about the keyword order within the first 10 words, unlike the other agencies which don’t differentiate in this regard.

Pay more attention to their buyers’ needs

For instance, I have inside information that still life flat lays do considerably better at Adobe Stock vs SS.  You may also want to start paying closer attention to their briefs on which subject-matters are trending.

Observations & Conclusions

From the above, we may be able to draw the following conclusions:

  • Adobe Stock are making an effort to keep average returns per download relatively attractive for contributors. Where they have struggled was on providing volumes but as discussed above, this seems to be picking up.
  • Convergence between SS vs AS results is likely coming more from a drop in Return per Downloads from SS than any significant pick-up from Return per Download at Adobe Stock. This is a complex matter and there are more factors at play including portfolio size and subject matter.
  • Video sales at Adobe Stock, in my case, are still lagging behind SS even when taking into consideration that my video port is 3x smaller. Adobe Stock is yet to emerge as a strong video-centered agency relative to the likes of SS and Pond5.
  • It’s a pity that Adobe Stock don’t offer pure editorials, but they’ve recently taken a positive first step in offering illustrative editorials. If and when AS do start to offer editorials, they may be strong contenders for that coveted first place cash-cow spot. Since 60% of my portfolio consist of editorials, that would very much be a welcome move!

How do you see the battle between SS vs AS in your own stock business? Comment below!

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


  1. Yes, the lack of full editorial is a big downfall at present. I think part of my growth in earnings in the second half was because they opened up for Illustrative Editorial. I’ve had quite a number of sales of those


  2. Another thing that I like about Adobe is that it doesn’t ‘sleep’ most of the the weekends, there are some sale on saturdays and sundays, some are as high as regular days. On shutterstock weekends are dead days.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Adobe has been earning me more than Shutterstock for a few months now. Even though there is still lots of time left this month, as of now Adobe is in the lead by double of my Shutterstock income and I don’t expect that to change much so, yes, i am pretty certain adobe is overtaking Shutterstock.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well … but if you upload the same images to both, your Adobe port will be smaller BECAUSE Adobe is far stricter on technical standards than Shutter. By at least 25% (in my humble case).

    Also, in my case, Adobe average return per download is only 2 cents higher. Probably statistically insignificant.

    To sum up, for my port, Adobe IS catching up, but this is so due to a clearly downward trend at SS, rather than any Adobe magick.

    Then think of SS recent management shift announcements.

    Look at your SS trend. You may be making on Adobe what you are losing on SS, and that’s that. Zero sum game 😉

    Good job of yours, as always. Thanks and regards,


  5. Hey Alex,

    Let us not forget about another big feature of AS. Clients can buy directly from Adobes Photoshop in the Library section (or File > Search Adobe Stock) and they can just buy/insert the file diretcly. This way, new clients who have a Adobe account and buying stock for the first time, don’t need to open a new account on SS. They don’t have any motive to buy from SS.

    Let’s just look at how many people use Photoshop as their main editor? Alot.


  6. Great post, Alex. AS is a rising star, no doubt about it. I am 85%+ travel, most with incidental people, here is my port so I really wish Adobe would accept editorial content. I am planning to shoot model-released lifestyle during our all-too-short summer if that works out will have AS in my sights. Just one thing holds me back when it comes to hiring models: Shutterstock has (I believe) dropped the box a contributor can check to opt-out of ‘sensitive content’ use. Many of us have used friends, colleagues or relatives for shoots, now, imagine a young female, a daughter of a friend, winding up on an escort service website, or a man you know from your golf club endorsing Viagra on a magazine ad. That’s one scenario I don’t want to deal with. So it would seem to rule out many sources of inexpensive models, a shame! (I just realised I may have unintentionally hijacked SS vs AS thread, sorry). Thanks again for posts, there are so informative and detailed with all the charts and graphs. You, Steve Heap, Darrell and Nichole Glass are a great inspiration and encouragement to all of us who work in stock photography.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What would it take for you to commit to their Adobe Premium program? I’ve always shied away from exclusivity from any stock site, but I must admit…the amount of work it takes to submit to several has began to wear on me.


    • Since i shoot mainly editorials, not sure the Adobe premium program would be for me. I would have to do some further research to see if there is any merit there for lifestyle contributors.

      Pond5 exclusivity seems like a no-brainer these days with the demise of Storyblocks and Shutterstock.


  8. What would it take for you to commit to their Premium program? I must admit, I’m starting to get tempted to pick one stock agency’s exclusive program simply to make my life less cluttered. Would love to hear your thoughts on which ones are looking the best for the future!


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