October 2020 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Welcome back to another detailed monthly report during these increasingly strange and desperate times! September proved to be a terrible month as the travel industry (my niche) fails to recover. Finding motivation can be difficult but we must keep looking around for opportunities as there plenty if you know where to look.

It’s that time of the year again…

Back to Madrid (WTF ^&$@#$?!)

I’m back in Madrid for my non-photography work (really don’t know why but long story) after a long stint in Portugal. I’ll make the best of it and soon capture newsworthy content related to the “new normal”, including anti-government protests, when I get some time outside the office.

Should be staying until March 2021 or so unless the pandemic situation rapidly deteriorates, which could happen…

Let’s get started on the October report, amigos!

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 Oct)Net Revenue for Oct (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF5,023 (27)30.3
Alamy12,138 (44)747
Arcangel928 (25)584584
Adobe Stock3,509 (4)520.73
Bigstock3,870 (0)50.55
Creative Market1,499 (1)44
DepositPhotos6,264 (29)190.38
Dreamstime6,842 (0)70.57
EyeEm274 (0) – (Partner)22
Fine Art America69000
iStock (Sept)6607 (56)1390.45
Robert Harding384 (0)31
Shutterstock Editorial761 (0)00
Shutterstock10,561 (32) 1880.54
Pond51,729 (1)00
Picfair5,632 (0)00
Photo4Me324 (0)00
SignElements1,213 (0)2N/A
Wirestock288 (58)33
Direct SalesN/A00
Total 1,085 

As for clips…

AgencyNumber of clips in port (added Oct)Net Revenue for Oct (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock378 (9)00
Pond51,458 (27)2121
iStock166 (4)00
Shutterstock1,120 (2)00
Total 21 

Total: $1,106 net vs $552 net in Sept

Looking at the big picture (Majors) – Photos-only

Major agencies have converged in the past two months around $0.60/download

As for the net returns per agency (photos-only)

The gap between Shutterstock and the rest has been closing for the past 6 months…more on this…

Shutterstock, no longer a microstock-leader?

Almost ignoring the usual corporate-bullshit spin (SS Q3 2020 Earnings) that I have no time/energy, my earnings from SS, despite constant uploads, is steadily declining. I waited some months until I had enough data to work with to be able to draw meaningful stats, which I trust you’ll find useful.

Since my port is heavily-travel related and as mentioned in previous reports, the whole travel/hospitality industry is on life-support, it’s no surprise that my sales have been affected:

Average for entire period is $317

Key metrics:

  • March 2019 – March 2020, average earnings: $380
  • April 2020 – October 2020, average earnings: $199

Looking at the average $ per download:

Average for whole period is 71cents/download. I draw a red trend-line on the support which is showing a steady decline

Key metrics:

  • March 2019 – March 2020, average download: 77cents/download
  • April 2020 – October 2020, average earnings: 59cents/download


My port at SS is being hit with a double-whammy of lower volumes and cheaper sales (despite 30 uploads/month on average). The other major agencies: iStock, Adobe Stock and Alamy (to a lesser extend but still pretty bad) have also seen declining earnings but none have been as fast and drastic as Shutterstock.

Are small agencies still worth it? Revisited

For a long time I welcomed small agencies’ earnings as a sort of bonus. At one point, they were combined steadily earning some $60-80/month, which is still nice. I’ve decided to revisit their earnings as I’ve also seen a drastic decline in their earnings.

AgencyNumber of Images in port (added Oct)Net Revenue for Oct (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF5,023 (27)30.3
Bigstock3,870 (0)50.55
Creative Market1,499 (1)44
DepositPhotos6,264 (29)190.38
Dreamstime6,842 (0)70.57
EyeEm274 (0) – (Partner)22
Pond51,729 (1)00
Picfair5,632 (0)00
SignElements1,213 (0)2N/A
Wirestock288 (58)33
Total 45 
My images under-performing at these small agencies

Should I drop some of the minnows?

I’ve decided to drop some of the above now instead of waiting for the New Year. I won’t deactivate my port on there (unless they start offering my images for free), but will just stop uploading to the following:

  • Bigstock
  • 123RF
  • Picfair (already stopped uploading long ago)
  • SignElements
  • Pond5 (photos only)
  • Robert Harding (already stopped uploading long ago)

The rest I’ll keep on watch. The above won’t be missed.

Arcangel Book Covers

Now finally onto the good news for the month, which is an Arcangel book cover sale earning me a net $584:

Those Who Are Saved on Amazon

Therefore, considering the sad state of affairs at the micros, I’ve continued to push for uploading book covers to Arcangel, with 25 accepted in October – quite happy with that and as you can see, I’ve made good use of my 300mm DX lens. I’ve shortlisted my favourite 11 accepted:

Unfortunately, it was a rejection from Trevillion (second time). So I’ll do some more studying to analyse what they’re buyers are looking for.

I’ve also stumbled upon a useful blog post by Arcangel on before and after book covers, to get into the mind of book-cover designers.

Alamy (small) Recovery

After under-performing so so many months, Alamy sales finally alive and had a relatively decent month at 10 sales for $74 net. Some highlights, include:

$43.60 gross for this image captured on my 2018 visit to Ecuador – I blogged about my trip here
“Old normal” view of a street corner cafe in Milan, Itlay sold for $39.44 gross

iStock remains strong

September sales at iStock were quite strong at $139 / $0.45/download with strong volumes and overall have been quite steady, bucking the trend of the other major agencies. Some highlights include:


I discussed the overall downward trend at Shutterstock earlier and don’t want to repeat myself. Only one “major” sale:

$13.25 for this street food scene in Ecuador. Funny coincidence, same day I shot that other image that sold on Alamy

The rest have been the usual lowly subs and occasional ODD which isn’t worth mentioning.


One Brexit-related clip sale to report at Pond5 after many many months of nothing.

I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Sold for $21.48 – link to clip

Hopefully some of my summer GoPro clips will start selling soon to pay off my investment…

Adobe Stock

Nothing worth mentioning. Quiet month at only $52. Hope this will be the lowest it will go or I might have to start giving them away on Adobe Stock lol (just kidding)…turds…

Hey, That’s My Pic!

Going on with the segment where I’ve spotted my pic somewhere online, I’ve shortlisted 5 I’ve spotted this month. This will hopefully help you see the end-usages of stock images and guide you in creating sell-able concepts.

Turd of the Month – October

With 5,023 images, I managed a whopping 9 sales for $3 on 12$3RF! Wow!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain (don’t ask me why), 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). 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. I’m glad you managed to made a sale on Arcangel that saved your month. It would be great for you to made at least 1 sale every month there from now on.

    I finally made an account on FAA, but I didn’t uploaded anything yet. You said in the past that you had a premium account there, which now is only free. What is the difference? Are you allowed to sell more than 25 images, if you are not extending the premium membership? I see you still had 689 pics there, and it looks like all of them can be bought. I wonder what happen when you made a premium account for a year, upload all you images, made a website on their platform, and then don’t extend for the following year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi,

    I’m allowed to sell all but earnings would be limited on extras like accessories/frames.

    Actually I think greatly diminished earnings since I sold a 80cm on longest size print and only earned peants…wtf?! I have my margins all correct according to Steve Heap’s recommendations on his blog.

    All the best


    • I don’t know what the margins are, but I see you have much lower prices on Art prints than on canvas or framed prices. Some are at 23, some at 18 $, and some even at 14 $. Maybe you had sell one with the lowest price. Also, I think I will ask on their forum, maybe they know better.


  3. Hey Alex,

    Hope you are safe in Madrid. Thanks for your great updates – as always. We see similar trends here too. Only Adobe shows an uptrend in the general downloads numbers. Adobe now gives us 3x the $ per download compared to SS. Imho SS is sinking fast and will get assimilated by another player. If you have good Adobe-like content, add it to your portfolio. They are selling fine.

    We to got rejected at Trevillon (1st try), despite employing a pro from another cover agency to prune our sample portfolio. Also Arcangel rejected us (2nd try). As we had extensive help from a pro who sells covers on a regular basis, I assume Arcangel and Trevillon have simply shut the door for amateurs. They will only take now work that is extensive and ready to sell. Too bad, as I love messing about with strong graphic concepts.

    Take care, stay safe, keep on posting!


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