September 2020 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Welcome back to another detailed monthly report during these increasingly strange and desperate times! August proved to be a terrible month but can be somewhat forgiven for traditionally being a holiday month, as well as everything else that’s going on. For a recap on August 2020 earnings, click here. 

However, no excuses for September! Back to work and sales!

Winds of change…

Back to Business September

In ordinary times, September until December should be the best months of the year for stock sales. Last year, September produced one of my best months at $1,051 ($555 from SS alone), and August was superb at $1,075. Things were really looking up then! Now for September 2020…but first…

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 coffee, 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:

Alex’s Fine Art Prints!

Detailed Earnings Breakdown

Starting with stills:

AgencyNumber of Images in port (added Sept)Net Revenue for Sept (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF4,996 (21)70.26
Alamy12,094 (48)268.6
Arcangel903 (36)00
Adobe Stock3,505 (9)490.79
Bigstock3,870 (1)31
Creative Market1,498 (3)1717
DepositPhotos6,235 (76)220.5
Dreamstime6,843 (0)190.95
EyeEm274 (2 Partner)11
Fine Art America69088
iStock6,561 (22) – August740.39
Robert Harding384 (0)31
Shutterstock Editorial761 (0)123
Shutterstock10,529 (5) 2160.62
Pond51,728 (0)00
Picfair5,632 (0)00
Photo4Me324 (1)00
SignElements1,213 (1)2N/A
Wirestock230 (31)55
Direct SalesN/A00
Total 464 

As for clips…

AgencyNumber of clips in port (added Sept)Net Revenue for Sept(US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock369 (8)2727
Pond51,431 (25)00
iStock162 (0)00
Shutterstock1,118 (15)6112
Total 88 

Total: $552 net in Sept vs $524 in August

Looking at the big picture

RPI at least recovered at SS with $0.61/download, which was offset by a massive drop in Istock halving to $0.39 compared to August. Steady for Adobe Stock but volumes were low at only 63 stills downloads vs 71 stills downloads for August.

Stills: Year on Year Comparisons (Sept 2019 vs Sept 2020) – Majors

They say a week is a long time in politics, well in stock photography, a year might as well be an eternity. To think that a year ago I would have been earning half what I earned in Sept 2020, while having 10% more assets in stills and 30% in clips is really beyond words.

Although agencies aren’t to blame for the global economic slowdown (less volumes), they surely don’t make our lives easier by selling our assets for cheaper and cheaper.

The following is a year-on-year comparison between the majors:

AgencySept 2019 ($)Sept 2020 ($)Difference
Adobe Stock7549-33%

During any given month weird things happen so I’ll be doing the same analysis for ALL agencies at the end of the year to see once and for all how much harder I’ve worked to earn less. Lots of number crunching that should be interesting. At the end I may even drop a few agencies which are just wasting my time with little returns.

Closer look at the demise of my portfolio at Alamy

I ran out of patience with Alamy this month and published an appropriately named blog post “I Love You Alamy, but I’m Breaking Up With You!“, which has been well-received.

Since publishing the article mid-month, sales on there have trickled in ending at a pathetic $26 net (8x less than SS) on just over 12,000 assets. I dug deeper and wanted, out of curiosity, to compare Alamy Measures stats year-on-year, which makes for disturbing reading:

Key metrics (Sept 2019 vs Sept 2020)
Rise in images (from 11,195 to 12,094) = +7%
Drop in sales (from 7 to 3)
Drop in views (from 6,642 to 4,634) = (30%)
Drop in zooms (from 29 to 10) = (66%)
Drop in CTR (from 0.39 to 0.18) = (54%)

Alamy Responded

Alan Capel, Alamy Commercial Director gave the following interesting statement in response to my blog post:

Our business is in good health, even during these challenging times, with investment and growth plans in place as part of the PA Media Group.

Alex has raised some interesting points but we don’t see his experiences as representative of all our contributors. As with any large-scale diverse platform, there will be peaks and troughs for content creators. Many factors play into that, including the quality and diversity of imagery, visual trends, comprehensive metadata and crucially, demand from customers. 

We will continue to listen to our photographers and contributing agencies and build a business that rewards great photography and meets the needs of our current and future customers.

Perhaps Alamy’s business is healthy, but I can’t say the same about mine. In addition, I don’t agree that “my experiences aren’t representative of all contributors”. I’ve submitted a total of 1,222 Rights-Managed exclusive Live News images with little success. Anyway, you can see for yourself whether my port on there is “representative” – link to port here.

Simply look at their end-of-the month thread on sales and you’ll see veteran contributors with 50,000+ exclusive assets earning less than $1,000 net. Do the math and you’ll see how unsustainable it is to rely on Alamy for consistent sales. See the “How Was Your August 2020?” and for now “How Was Your September 2020?”

Best-sellers for the month

Even if it was a pathetic month all-round, I’ll try to take some positives by showing you some of my best sellers as an indication of what’s perhaps trending.


None worth mentioning. Don’t care.

Adobe Stock

Pretty average month over at AS and only one photo and clip stood out.

Sold for $10. Captured during a flash flood need Belo Horizonte, Brazil


No book cover sales this month for two months in a row, which is fair enough as they tend to be quite high-priced when they do happen. Fingers crossed for October. Was busy uploading to them all month and managed to have 36 approved. A good result and on pace for my year-end goal of 1,000 images on there. See link to my port – currently at 903 with 8 being keyworded.

The following are 8 of my favourites that I’ve uploaded / been accepted during the month of September.

Which is your favourite?

I’m still thinking about a strong re-submission to Trevillion after my first batch was rejected…currently brainstorming concepts with the help of Pinterest!


Happy to report that I finally popped my EyeEm cherry!


Slow month at iStock with only $74 at $0.39 per download, but can be forgiven that since they report a month behind and August is traditionally a slow month. Let’s see in Oct when they report on Sept sales. Nevertheless, here are some of the better-sellers on there:

Rollercoaster ride continues at iStock…

I honestly have no clue how much October sales will be!


Shutterstock earnings recovered in Sept with a more respectful $216 / 0.62 RPI for stills. A far cry from Sept 2019 but it is what it is in this new normal.

$14 for this genuine happiness – I wrote about this shoot here

Clips at SS

Clips sales were OK at 5 clips for a total of $61, including one clip sold for $3.18, which was inevitable!

$14.53 for this clip
$14.22 for this boring clip captured in Madrid
$15.80 for Cascais alleyway gimbal shot
$12.75 for this simple clip of people entering a bus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Fine Art America

Always nice to have sales when you never expect (how my attitude has shifted at Alamy). This month had a $7.50 sale on Fine Art America, which is probably a good indication that I should just fork out the tiny $30 yearly subscription to grow my business on there.

Budapest Hungary

Creative Market

Creative Market is another that I don’t expect many sales. September was interesting because I had my first Extended License sale on there.

After taxes this only earned me $17.50

Staying on theme of Standup Paddle (GoPro)

Staying on the theme of Standup Paddling, I’ve been putting it to good use while mounting my newly-acquired GoPro8 onto the board! Naturally, I’ve been uploading all these clips to the usual suspects and hoping for the best.

Here’s my favourite clip captured yesterday paddling in-between quaint fishing boats.

Slightly on the long side but I think that’s OK – captured in Cascais, Portugal – accepted on Shutterstock

On another day, I mounted my GoPro to the paddle and managed to capture a cool cinematic clip of open-water swimmers. Too bad that the paddle is so visible and there were tilted horizon issues.

Pending acceptance on Pond5

Point of View (POV) on Bike with GoPro

Getting quality clips on standup paddle proved to be a challenge but eventually I got a hang of it! On the bike it’s been quite a bit easier, with interesting and very stable results (especially on flat surfaces).

Offroading at Guincho, Portugal – link on SS

Speaking of flat surfaces, really like this clip cycling towards Cabo da Roca, when I managed to find a few seconds where no cars or pedestrians went by ensuring it’s licensed commercially (although SS has frustratingly rejected it for noise – on my to-do list to re-submit for the 5th time):

On the way back into town, I put together a hyperlapse (quite impressed), although those fuckers rejected it for noise even after resubmitting four times:

In town, some really cool effects when cycling down narrow spaces (also rejected for noise and distortion by SS):

Perhaps a little bit too wide to be widely appealing for commercial usage (recommended to shoot in “linear”)

Shutterstock rejections of GoPro clips driving me crazy

As usual, Shutterstock reviewers, human or not, are making my life miserable. Overall, having a really difficult time having my GoPro clips accepted mainly for noise rejections.

Resubmitting until it hurts

The usual tip of resubmitting until my HD burns up sometimes works, but lately I’ve dug deeper and changed some of my GoPro settings to be more “neutral”, such as less sharperning and built-in colour corrections that sometimes cause noise. Thanks, Theo for your patience! Results have improved but still getting loads of rejections.

GoPro has been a fun investment

Nevertheless, I’m enjoying my new toy and capturing some unique angles. Makes for a great travel addition which fits right into my pocket, unlike my 100-300mm lens + full frame body lol I’ll keep playing around and looking at more accessories I can purchase with the assistance of Theo!

The next logical step would be to purchase a drone and I’m aiming for spring 2021.

Is possible to earn a reasonable amount with stock photography in 2020?

Steve Heap asked this very difficult question on his blog and I recommend you check it out.

My take on the question is what does one consider to be a “reasonable amount?” This depends on a number of factors, such as location, amount invested on gear / travel and time.

Certainly, the situation has changed in the past 6 months with Covid being a game-changer and we all need to re-think our strategies in these more challenging times. I’ve also grown increasingly spoiled and stick to fun concepts and shoots as an escape from my comparably boring yet much higher paying day-job. I suppose I’ve downgraded from a professional photographer at one time to a semi-professional and the way things are going maybe I’ll just be an enthusiast!

Ultimately being a travel photographer who doesn’t / cannot travel internationally (at least for the time-being) is a problem. I’ve tried to mitigate this by shooting book covers locally with some success. I’ll think about it some more!

It’s often a lonely path being a microstock photographer…

What’s in store for the next few months?

I’ve been super busy with my day-job and have had little time/energy/patience to devote to this blog. This has to change and I have a number of articles I want to publish soon, including:

Turd of the Month – September

With so many turds to choose from, it’s been quite a challenge to select this month’s MEGA-TURD…the one that backs up your whole street’s sewage system.

Alamy was a strong contender, continuing to super under-perform. Pond5 was close with a blank month, but the potential is there for big sales. So after much deliberation, the super turd of the month is…

Congrats Big TurdStock on paying out $3 from 3,870 images!

Hey, that’s my pic! has been postponed until October.

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Portugal (fled Madrid to escape the brunt of this nasty Coronavirus), on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (September 2025??). I’ve devoted eight 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, although been recently let go, although they got me back in at the last minute!). Anyway, 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. Actually I have a very low threshold to bullshit answers from companies – in this case Alamy response.
    I had a first 0$ month on Alamy in years, so with all due respect – screw their ‘Alex experience is not representative of other contributors’.
    Dear Alamy, your business is not in good health as evidenced by my earnings as well. And that’s on a 10K port with pretty decent mages.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Question about EyeEm that I can’t seem to figure out – I went on an uploading binge and uploaded about 1000 of my photos to that site. I have a large stock portfolio in general (11,000+) on all the major sites but I think I read somewhere that it’s against TOS to have the same photos up on iStock and even Adobe Stock(?! really) that you have on EyeEm. Is that true? I did all this uploading back in June and then I read that and got nervous.

    I haven’t sold anything on EyeEm yet. I don’t mind uploading to another agency but that makes me nervous. Any insight?


    • EyeEm doesn’t care if you have pictures somewhere else. Their partners do. Getty removed some portfolios from their database after finding out that people uploaded the same pictures on Istock. As most of the sales on Eyeem are from Getty Partner collections it hurt those who were affected pretty bad.


    • 9.4 EyeEm Market – Grant of Rights
      With respect to Content that you added to EyeEm Market, you grant us the non-exclusive, transferable right to offer such Content for licensing through EyeEm and our distribution partners worldwide. This includes the right to reproduce, distribute, publicly display and promote such Content and to grant non-exclusive rights of use to third parties.


  3. I’m reading your month review at the beginning of every month, and I can see things are getting worse in the stock industry. Maybe other photographers in other niches weren’t hit so bad as you, in the travel niche, but I think is not worth to continue with stock photography anymore. I started a few months ago, and I had about 60 photos on SS, and I only sell one for 0,1 $. I’m thinking to start with Fine Art America, it looks better than with stock photography sites.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a strange and extremely challenging. There is still money to be made but not for mediocre generic shots, if you have a strong trending concept you may capture uniquely, you’d probably do really well. Submitting to Print on Demand sites is a good idea to diversify.

      Good luck,



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