2020 Year-End Review: Good, Bad and Ugly

2020 is officially over and it’s finally time to publish a comprehensive review of the extraordinary (un)forgettable year that was, while provide a glimpse forward to the new year.

I’ve been writing these reports for a few years, see my respective 20192018 and 2017 year-end reviews. Most recently published is the December 2020 report.

In this comprehensive review I’ll recap on whether I achieved my ten 2020 goals and make fresh goals for 2021. Last and certainly not least, I’ll nominate the TURD OF THE YEAR AGENCY!

Let’s get started…

Every cloud has a silver lining…

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). In addition to the risk of Shutterstock shutting down my account for disclosing my sales on there.

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 by clicking on the following link below:

Support the Brutally Honest Blog

Firstly, How did I do on my ten 2020 goals?

Looking back at the list from the corresponding post this time last year, let’s see how I did on my goals. Before getting started, I must affirm that despite the unpredictability of the marketplace, goal-setting is important to focus the mind. Goals must be realistic, no point in having such a goal as uploading 50,000 images in 2021 when that will just lead to burn-out and disappointment.

So, how did I do?

1. Goal: Explore Madrid and visit surrounding cities of Toledo, Zaragoza, Avila and mountains…ideally by bike!

Result: Lol, that didn’t go to plan for obvious reasons! I managed to avoid the brunt of the Covid virus and restrictions by fleeing Madrid in early-March to the relative safety of Portugal. However, returning to Madrid in late-October offered me an opportunity to visit the nearby town of Chinchon, which is on the outskirts of Madrid limits (prohibited from leaving for non-emergency reasons), where I captured a shot of the ruins.

Ruins of Chinchon Castle, Madrid, Spain

2. Goal: Upload 20 clips a month. Footage to represent 25% of my net earnings by the end of 2020

Result: During the year, I managed to upload a total of 192 clips at Pond5 and 97 clips at Shutterstock, which were slightly short of the average of 20 clips a month, but can be forgiven that I didn’t travel much this year and shooting locally options were limited.

As for clips being 25% of total earnings, the yearly average was in fact 16% (11% in 2019) which isn’t too far off from the goal but technically still a FAIL! I fully expect it to be at least 25% in 2021 though.

3. Goal: Keep publishing monthly earnings and increasingly add relevant metrics to compare trends

Result: It’s been a great year for consistent earnings publishing and the reports have been increasing in detail and relevancy (including graphics), which I hope you’re finding them useful for your own business. PASS!

4. Goal: 10 accepted book covers at Arcangel per month

Result: A strong year with 183 images accepted, easily crushing the goal by over 50%. More importantly 7 book covers licensed at Arcangel for $1712 net total. HUGE PASS! More on this later

5. Goal: More YouTube collaborations

Result: Disaster year as not something I pursued. FAIL!

6. Goal: Devote more time to promote my Print on Demand ports

Result: Disaster. Uploaded a few dozen images to Photo4me (very few sales, also at FAA) but other than that nothing. FAIL!

7. Goal: Hire model(s) and work on urban lifestyle footage using gimbal

Result: This year proved very tricky for these types of collaboration due to obvious reasons not worth repeating. small fail!

8. Goal: Use myself more as a model for footage

Result: None whatsoever, no excuses. Huge FAIL!

9. Goal: Publish a keywording guide with Steve Heap and Clemency

Result: This project never got off the ground due to other commitments. FAIL!

10. Goal: Not turn completely into a corporate drone…

Result: Unfortunately everyday that I stay at my boring corporate job I feel more like a drone. So this has to be a FAIL! Good news is that it will soon be all over…

Keep reading towards the end where I’ll outline fresh goals 2021!

2020 Earnings Detailed Breakdown

The beauty of having loads of data over a long period of time is that I’m able to draw meaningful statistical conclusions and make profitable adjustments. I’ve been publishing my full brutally honest uncensored earnings since February 2019 so that gives me 22 monthly reports to work with – loads of data!

Year on Year Comparisons (2019 vs 2020)

One report I’ve been looking to generate for a while are comparative reports, namely between my 2019 vs 2020 results for the major agencies.

I’m also curious to see what impact Covid-19, if any, has had on my sales from March/April 2019 onward, as well as how Shutterstock has performed since June when they decided to fuck over pretty much every single contributor with their cash grab.

Images (Major agencies)

The following are some 2019 vs 2020 earnings comparisons at the major agencies, notably: Adobe Stock, Alamy, Shutterstock and iStockphoto, starting with stills.

Agency2019 net earnings ($)2020 net earnings ($)Drop %Port size Dec 2019Port size Dec 2020Growth in assetsGrowth %
Adobe Stock967943(<1)3,3253,5312066
Total80065937Avg. -2631,02833,4752447Avg. 7.5
Shocking drops by Shutterstock and Alamy. Steady at Adobe Stock and iStock.
Covid had a noticeable impact on sales

Results for minnows + POD + RH + Direct Sales

I often rant that the small agencies, including Print on Demand, direct sales and RH, don’t work hard enough for the number of images but I’m probably being a little harsh. I’ve crunched the numbers and the non-major agencies in the end added up to a modest $1,121 for images alone (average of $95/month vs $579/month for the majors), with a slowdown from April onward. Overall, not bad considering it’s no real extra effort to upload to them using Stocksubmitter.

Still on the fence whether it’s worth uploading to them in 2021 as I do believe some will go bust in 2021. My bets would be on 123RF, Dreamstime and Bigstock.


The stock footage market, at least in terms of my own port, were largely unaffected by the global pandemic with a relatively small, compared to stills, drop of 15% on 2019 earnings despite an average growth of 12%:

Agency2019 net earnings ($)2020 net earnings ($)Variance %Port size Dec 2019Port size Dec 2020Growth in assetsGrowth %
Adobe Stock551663303153786316
Total1,171* 991-152,7593,13836912
*includes earnings from Storyblocks
Clips sales have been all over the place

Arcangel Book Covers

2019 Net Earnings$880
2020 Net Earnings$1,250
More on specific sales below

Grand Total Results

Grand total$9,319

Total in 2019 =  $11,143. Therefore, a 16% year-on-year drop

Key stats

Best month: July with $1779

Worst month: December with $461

Monthly average: $777

Overall thoughts

So overall, it’s been a year of working harder to earn less, hampered by earnings drops by Alamy and Shutterstock. However, looking back it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would have been when I was crunching numbers and making forecasts around the middle of the year.

Next year will probably be very much the same, I’ll make a modest unofficial goal of breaking the $10,000 mark.

Yearly Recap – The Good

Arcangel Book Covers

Hmmm, I had to think hard about this one but undoubtedly the highlights of the year were the 7 book covers licensed at Arcangel for $1,250 net total. Here they are:

Keep uploading…

I realize that this is also a numbers’ game and I managed to have 183 images accepted which corresponds to a 19% increase Year-on-Year. My top 5 favourite for the year (also ones that have a good chance to be licensed as book covers), include:

Give to receive

I’ve been dishing out advice to those looking for other opportunities outside microstock over at the Shutterstock forum under the New Opportunities Thread. I know what you’re thinking, that I’m probably making it more difficult for myself by increasing the competition, which is partly true. But I take a contrary view that what I stand to lose pales in comparison to what I may gain, not just financially, by helping others.

Overall, I believe that we’re much better off collaborating and sharing knowledge than working alone.

Footage volumes increase (with some sales)

I suppose I’ve done OK in terms of footage sales, having increased my port size by 13%, although there was a reduction of a measly $15 year on year. So overall it’s been a year of uploading more to earn less but the fall hasn’t been a stark as in the stills. I’ve tried to diversify and started experimenting with a GoPro8, although no sales yet.

Regular sales of some clips

Some regular sales of the timelapse prostitute and holy grail sky contributed to some healthy repeat sales. Was also great to see some surprisingly big sales show up at iStock and Adobe Stock.

Yearly Recap – The Bad

Alamy disappointment

As mentioned earlier, Alamy sales were hugely inconsistent, combined with a year-on-year drop of 35%, despite asset increase of 8%. This is the first drop in earnings, year-on-year, since I started uploading on there back in late 2015.

Alamy historical gross earnings year-on-year since 2015

In September, I threw in the towel on Alamy and promised myself that I wouldn’t care about them anymore, although I’d still keep uploading as normal. Since then they’ve given me no reason to regret my decision as sales continue to be sluggish.

In 2019, in total I managed to license 103 images for $1262 net, which is $12/image. In 2020, in total I managed to license 85 images for $841 net, which is just shy of $10/image, despite an increase in port size of 8% year-on-year. If you recall, back in February they reduced contributor royalties for non-exclusive images from 50% to 40%.

Alamy sales have been disappointing and hope they rebound in 2021

At least some large sales on Alamy this year

Earlier in the year there were some large three-digit sales of the following, $377 and $186 gross respectfully, although the last part of the year has been slow:

I won’t even go into the detail anymore about the Personal Use license issues which remains unresolved.

Rejections at Trevillion

I’ll put this under bad because I was looking to expand my book cover collection to another premium agency, Trevillion. I tried twice and both times rejected without any feedback, which is frustrating.

I’ll put together another batch in 2021 and curate carefully. Perhaps even draft a blog post on the subject and explain why I chose a certain concept, how I post-processed, etc…would that be interesting?

I’m sure this type of image is what Trevillion are looking for…

Yearly Recap – The Ugly

Licensing dispute resolved

Last year, I mentioned of a licensing dispute I had with a friend and fortunately nothing came of it as we settled amicably. Don’t want to go into details here. The lesson learned is that there’s a big market out there for satire news that not everybody may find funny.

Shutterstock’s demise as the leading microstock agency

The Ugly of this year was clearly Shutterstock’s demise in terms of earnings, down year on year –37% on stills and –33% on clips (despite increasing port size by 5% and 9% respectfully). They can be somewhat forgiven as they were not at fault for businesses struggling due to Covid-19.

Back to Tier 1

However, they cannot be forgiven for their shocking decision to place everybody on Tier 1 from January 1st, 2021 and 2022 and so on.

This should read, “When you sell more, you earn less.”

On the stills side, my earnings were compatible with 2017 earnings despite much fewer images and no clips. Disappointing but should hopefully rebound as people start to travel again in the springtime 2021 as more people become inoculated and the number of cases drops.

Public Relations Disaster

The way Shutterstock handled the whole ordeal by spinning the news as somehow something positive to contributors didn’t go down well, followed by completely ignoring dialogue from the Stock Coalition. A lesson on PR management by a once respectful but now turdy agency.

Shutterstock is going after contributors for publishing their earnings

Then more recently they’ve gone further and warned/suspended a small contributor’s account for disclosing his earnings on YouTube.

I realize that I’m taking a risk here by disclosing my earnings but how else may I have a brutally honest blog…? So please support it!

New 10 Goals for 2021

Owning to my soul-crushing yet life-giving paradox corporate day-job, my time is limited to shoot for stock. Looks like I’ll be spending a lot of time again working for someone else in 2021. This is combined with a bunch of travel restrictions due to Covid-19 that often arrive from nowhere (new strain for instance, negative PCR tests, etc). However, as more people are inoculated, leading to a heard immunity, the number of new cases and inevitably deaths should fall.

Cascais, Portugal

Nevertheless, I’ve put together the following 10 goal for 2021, which I’m happy to share with you. I can’t stress enough how important goal-making is to focus the mind:

Goal 1 – 10 accepted book covers per month at Arcangel

I’ll continue with this goal as it’s important to keep uploading to the one of the few stock agencies that promises real and long-term returns. Plus it’s fun embracing the dark side.

Recently accepted within the exclusive Arcangel collection

With all these lockdowns, the book market (both digital and physical) must be booming!

Goal 2 – Be accepted at Trevillion (Book Covers)

Third time lucky? I’ll try again with a stronger and highly-curated batch. It’s frustrating that they don’t offer feedback on rejections but I have the feeling they really want model-released subject-matter.

Goal 3 – Travel in and around Madrid around the springtime

This one doesn’t depend on me as nobody really knows how this Covid will shape out but my prediction is that by spring 2021, there will be a loosening of restrictions and authorities will allow tourism to flourish (with restrictions of course). Therefore, I’ll continue with my goal to visit nearby Avila, Toledo and Zaragoza. No bike this time, unfortunately.

Goal 4 – Devote more time to promote my Print on Demand ports

Another goal that I’ll keep as I’m keen to invest, in particular at Fine Art America, Zazzle and Displate (application pending). Might as well just fork out the $30 yearly membership at Fine Art America.

Goal 5 – Purchase a drone!

Yes, I’m serious! This should happen around the springtime. Any tips on which one?

Was tempted!

I won’t be shutting down any airports though as I’ll need to keep in line with the rules and regulations.

Goal 6 – Publish 5 interviews with Stock-Wizards

Perhaps you’ve noticed the new header at the top “Stock-Wizards Interviews”. Well, I”m keen to regularly interview the best, brightest and richest in the industry to draw some tips. Some are lined up and will be sharing you soon.

Market Wizards but for Stock Contributors!

Goal 7 – Keep practicing with my GoPro

I know this is a generic goal but I hope to really start producing valuable clips. Therefore, I’ll keep creating GoPro clips and uploading regularly. Yet to have my first sale soon.

Goal 8 – Publish more freelance articles

Watch this space as on top of regularly publishing on this blog, I’ll be writing regular articles at Stockstudio.io . Really excited about this opportunity! See my first article on there entitled “Covid-Related Stock Opportunities in 2021 using Google Trends Analytics – Part I”


Goal 9 – Get back on my bike and visit some cool spots in Portugal

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a bike tour as I did in while in the Netherlands and Italy. Being brutally honest as always, I really miss it! Looking forward to getting back on the saddle, burning some calories and exploring some new spots.

Al Qadra cycling track near Dubai in the UAE

Goal 10 – Reverse being a corporate drone and try to enjoy life again

Working in the corporate world has taken away some of my zest for life, so I’m trying to unplug from the Borg machine. Also, a lack of travel in 2020 has taken a toll in my mental health. Not much of a travel photographer if I’ve had to spend most of my time close to home or even worse doing mind-numbing corporate work, although it could be much worse. But that will certainly change in 2021.

Travel will feature more heavily in my plans for 2021

Turd of the Year 2020

Considering that Shutterstock decided to cut out earnings in the middle of a pandemic and throw everybody back at Tier1, then try to spin it at something that’s beneficial to contributors, I’ve had no choice but award them as TURDS OF THE YEAR!


That’s it for this report. Happy New Year!

How did you do this year? Did you reach your goals and what would be some of your goals for next year? Please share below!

Until next time and happy new year!

Cascais, Portugal

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (mid-2021??). 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). 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

One comment

  1. Hey Alex,

    Happy New Year and all the best for all 2021 and beyond! Let’s hope new things come our way and let’s hope we create more, share more and make people lives better!

    It is a bummer with Trevillon! I think they are full up and do not accept new authors. We tried too. No success. I think they may be accepting only the very best now. So do try again and- fingers crossed you – are there. We will try again too. (My bet is: those half-turned female figures …. ) ;-))))

    I will not comment on Alamy and Shutterstock fails which are obvious. We feel the way out is towards more custom, on-demand work. The microstock niche has been exploited and now only huge factories that churn out 3D Studio-like images, and sell them as photographs, make money. Do not ask me how they get their thousands of images accepted at SS while most real thing photographers face rejections and USD 10c (before tax) sales. Clearly being a photographer is not as important as being family and friends with Shutterstock.

    So let’s hope we will do better in 2021. You never give up. Never. Use your intuition, experiment, create, and share.

    Thank you for all your blogging and sharing work in 2020 !!!

    All the best to you!!!


    Liked by 2 people

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