November 2021 Brutally Honest Earnings Report

Welcome to the November 2021 detailed monthly report during these increasingly dystopian times. Just when things seemed to be going back to relative normal we receive some bad news with this new variant. Anyway, let’s try to be optimistic and hope you enjoy this Brutally Honest Earnings Tale for November!

Looking west from Madrid towards El Pardo

November Highlights

The Brutally Honest Guy was super busy month this month and highlights include:

Must be a self-portrait of Kerem in the Metaverse…
  • A super relevant piece, “Get Ready for the Metaverse“, where the virtual and real world are soon to merge! With all the silly Covid stuff happening, looking forward to escaping in the metaverse…

Recap of previous Earnings Reports

If you’re interested to see how I did in my October 2021 earnings,. In fact, you can see all my earnings going as far back to February 2019! The more data the better in my opinion to analyze whether I’m / we’re going in the right direction…and/or simply to see how far some agencies are willing to fk over contributors (and cut them loose, such as BigStock which I’m keen to drop at any moment).

Don’t miss out on updates!

So you don’t miss any of the monthly earnings reports and blog posts, register for the email news alerts!

Golden Turd Nomination – October 2021

For the second month in a row, congrats to Shutterstock for “winning” the coveted Golden Turd of the Month Award for October:

Read until the end as you’ll have a chance to nominate the Golden Turd of the Month Agency for November (will SS take the crown again?)!

Check out the Top Shelf Camera Bag By Bevisgear – 15% off limited-time offer!

I’m excited to promote the Top Shelf Camera Bag by Bevisgear, which I just got my hands on. It allows me to access almost all of my gear in the push of a button. Full review coming soon, but you can get your hands on one now, just follow the link above, with a limited-time discount.

Detailed review to come soon!

Putting Arcangel Nash’s Tips into practice – Book Cover Photography

You may recall how in my October report I briefly touched on Nash’s 4 tips for book-cover success at Arcangel. I’ve also had a chance to look over some of their new material on the app and David Wall’s useful tutorials (see screenshot on his pre-upload checklist):

Nash’s Four Further Tips

I had a super useful follow-up meeting with Nash almost exactly a month after the initial meeting to see how I’m progressing. We went through some of my recent batches, including rejections and as always, I took mental notes and happy to share with you some further insight the form of Nashs’ further four tips:

Tip Number 1: The shape of a model matters

I can certainly identify with Nash’s style, which is brutally honest. It’s a no-brainer that the best-selling images on Arcangel feature at least one model, but it should not be just any model(s). Nash suggested that to increase an image’s salability it’s best practice to use slimmer models of an average or above average height. A small minority of people may be offended by that but honestly, it doesn’t matter as the market is the prevailing force, not snowflake political correctness on overdrive.

The advice came further to uploading some images of a work colleague who is on the heavier side (one such example below) and although a similar image from the series was accepted at Arcangel, it’s probably not the body shape book publishing designers are looking for…

My model needs to stay away from those delicious croquetas which are famous in Madrid

Some examples of body shapes that are more “saleable”

Going through some of my accepted batch featuring people, Nash mentioned that the below model’s shape works well and just happened to be me, so thanks for the compliment 😀 (must be from all those cycling trips back in the day, although office work has taken its toll).

Yours truly!

Nash also mentioned that her shape works well for book covers…

Nice shape + nice view!

Tip Number 2: Book Cover Photography vs Microstock

I’m still getting some rejections but not even close to as nearly as many as before. Nash reiterated the need to upload truly premium content and not the sort of generic stuff that would get accepted at Microstock agencies to be licensed for subs.

It (almost) goes without saying that the pricing points, without going into details, at Arcangel are vastly superior to Microstock. Therefore, with that logic in mind, as images on Arcangel sell (on average) for 100+ times what they would sell on a Microstock agency, such images need to be at least dozens of times better than a standard Microstock image in order to justify this pricing premium.

Premium content only, people!

Now, for those going into this niche market coming from Microstock, such as myself, it may be difficult to make the adjustment as we’re used to rushing through our workflow and uploading in bulk. Also, the post-processing is vastly superior as well as the dimensions with the final book cover in mind.

In summary, Arcangel only want the best work and will not settle for less.

Tip Number 3: Research your locations beforehand

I mentioned to Nash that my plan is to go to Granada / Alhambra in Andalucía during the Christmas period (but who knows for sure anymore with the way things are going…) and we discussed the types of shots I could do with my girlfriend (wearing a Islamic headscarf) on Moorish themes, including the uses of arches as a nice bokeh background:

Types of arches in Alhambra, Granada

We discussed the subtle poses that we need to be aware. Once I’m back (assuming that I go in the first place as things are getting silly again), I’ll show some examples on here. Perhaps something like this that I’ve taken off Google but more facing away:

Tip Number 4: Contributors, Do the Fucking Work!

Following on from Tips 2 & 3, contributors need to do the fking work in order to have images accepted (they have stringent QC) and ultimately receive regular sales. The fact that they’re reaching out to some contributors while publishing loads of useful content on their blog / social media is great. Therefore, there is no excuse not to digest all the content and updates regularly to improve your craft.

I admit that I acted quite entitled for a while expecting sales while uploading poor/mediocre content. Arcangel offer an industry-leading 50% commission + they do the keywording in-house, so I admit that I became a bit complacent, expecting lots of sales without putting in a lot of work to improve, including market research.

You/we need to upload quality content regularly and stay on top of the trends….and most importantly, have patience!

Checking out some book covers at my local supermarket

Time to up my game (even more)

Here are some examples (December highlights), including some behind the scenes of extremely high-level work that I’m aiming to create one day…at the end of the day it’s really up to me to push my boundaries (no excuses!)…

With the above advice and inspiration in mind, November was a superb month for accepted images….

62 Accepted Images in Arcangel in November, a new record!

No sales to report in November but as mentioned above this is a long-term game and I’m in not in a huge hurry (fortunately I have a boring corporate day-job). Rather to keep focusing on uploading quality content.

Nevertheless, super happy to have the following 62 images accepted in November (with not so many rejections)…here they are in no particular order….

You’re probably tired of me going on and on about Arcangel 🙂

You’re probably sick of me talking about Arcangel, but I must stress that I really identify with the agency both in terms of how they work (and are helping me) and the style of images they’re looking for. By now you probably know that I’m not a big fan of microstock, especially the lifestyle stuff so doing something artistic / creative and getting paid for it is a huge win for me.

Anyway, enough about Arcangel…I’ll move onto something else now….let’s take a look at the usual detailed earnings for all agencies I currently submit images to:

Detailed Earnings

As always, starting first with stills:

AgencyNumber of Images in port (added Nov)Net Revenue for Nov (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
123RF5,021 (0)70.35
Alamy12,972 (54)454.25
Arcangel (exclusive)1,117 (62)00
Adobe Stock3,562 (1)340.72
Bigstock3,870 (0)10.27
Creative Market1,521 (2)99
DepositPhotos6,633 (10)110.30
Dreamstime6,888 (21)110.35
EyeEm281 – (3) (Partner)00
Fine Art America69000
iStock (October)6,951 (5)680.54
Robert Harding (Q3 2021 monthly average) – exclusive385 (0)202
Shutterstock Editorial
(formally REX Features)
857 (0)00
Shutterstock10,735 (9) 2390.80
Pond51,755 (9)00
Picfair5,632 (0)00
Photo4Me335 (2)00
SignElements1,215 (0)7N/A
Wirestock1,453 (68)90.75
Direct SalesN/A00
Total 450 

Moving swiftly onto clips…

AgencyNumber of clips in port
(added Nov)
Net Revenue for Nov (US$)Avg Return Per Download (US$)
Adobe Stock395 (0)00
Pond51,528 (18)7024
iStock197 (1)22
Shutterstock1,158 (10)12015
Wirestock41 (0)00
Total 197 

Totals: $647 in November vs $624 in October

Now, as usual, lets break it down with results for the major agencies…

Poor month at Alamy

Unpredictable Alamy was predictably underwhelming in October with $45 net on 12 relatively small downloads, including a 10cent commission…wtf?!

Adobe Stock, poor month

Also a very disappointing month at Adobe Stock with a year-low $34 from just 47 downloads. Perhaps giving away those images for “free” wasn’t such a great idea, but need more info….

No sales above $4 to discuss so nothing to show here. Let’s move on…

Sticking with Adobe Stock, Mat Hayward recently published the following post about a new trend emerging…perhaps you’ve spotted one of these in your neighbourhood and if so, time to upload these editorials!

iStockPhoto – continued disappointment…

Another quiet month at iStock with only $70 and again 54cents/download on average (October 2021).

Just one “major” to speak of of an Italian breakfast on a table that I captured in 2015, which earned me $20 paying for a few briochi and cappuccinos.

Table setting with croissant and cappuccino at breakfast

I’ve been struggling at iStock since the August peak of just over $100. The problem is that volumes are just too low and average return per download is quite a bit lower than both SS and AS.

Shutterstock – strongest month since March 2020!

OK, now finally for some good news…I had the best month at Shutterstock since the Chinese virus took hold (March 2020), which gives me some hope that things are finally picking up…and for photos, $239 with 80cents average a download is pretty impressive. Some best-sellers include:

Best-ever-month with clips at SS

However, the cheery on top was my best-month ever in terms of clips at $120, including these beauties…

The super sweet $64.85 timelapse clip (first thumbnail) was captured almost two years ago to this day in Segovia with the historic aqueduct in the background. Link to the clip here.

When I advise that this is a long-term game…this is precisely what I mean, you literally have to wait years for some content to start selling, but fortunately once it starts it may rise up the keywording ranking and sell more regularly.

Good month at Pond5

Continuing with footage success at Shutterstock, Pond5 didn’t disappoint in November with some decently priced sales for also content that is many years old. Two are of variations of a boring timelapse overlooking a Lidl supermarket in Milan. Boring yet useful stuff sells! The best-seller of the month at P5 was another timelapse of a busy intersection, also in Milan, I recall it was shot over 2 hours.

How one clip sold for $4,200 (wish it were mine)

Staying on the topic of footage that sells, I recently came across a blog post by the Microstockguru, Daniele Carrer, who discussed the inspiring tale of Delbo Andrea, an Italian contributor that earned $4200 on Shutterstock with a short clip of a father and son playing football in a city terrace during lockdown:

You’re probably quite curious to see the clip, well here it is…

Screengrab of the sales on Shutterstock

Here’s what Delbo has to say about the clip

“Thanks to the lockdown and an interesting subject like a child by my side, I started boosting my earnings, and I uploaded my work to various microstocks.

One video gave me great satisfaction, and having sold it right away gave me the enthusiasm to continue quickly towards the growth of my portfolio.

He is my son, and I filmed from inside the house, playing football on the balcony with a mask.”

What’s the lesson for us?

Obviously the lesson here (although some many choose to ignore) is not to copy literally…which if you do, it’s probably too late anyway. The real lesson is to create technically-excellent simple lifestyle concepts that are “zeitgesty”…in other words, trending for that moment and may go viral. Then keyword it to an excellent level.

Hey, that’s my pic + 1 clip!

Spotted 7 of my pics here used in various publications…

Also, very cool that I spotted one of my sold clips for the second time ever (just casually surfing the net)….being used by the World Economic Forum, likely sold via Pond5 but the sales price hasn’t come through (I’ll send them an email):

Link to clip on Pond5

The above clip is a very good example of the types of stock clips that sell and how they would fit into a timeline project.

Goldfish Award – November 2021

With great hesitancy and purely by looking at financial results, I nominate November 2021 to Shutterstock, even if they’re run by turds…

Goldfish Golden Award goes to Shutterstock!

You Nominate the Golden Turd of the Month

We’re back and again you will nominate your Golden Turd of the Month Agency!

Until next time…

How did you do in November, please comment below!

Stay tuned as I’ll be presenting a year-end 2021 recap with goals for 2022 in a few weeks with loads of stats.

2022 here we go!

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 my current corporate job ends (soon!). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer. 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. Thanks for sharing!
    In my case, I appreciate that you tell your experience with Arcangel, since I am also disappointed with microstock, more and more, and I keep trying to have a higher approval rate in Arcangel, although it is difficult. I’m still working, now I’ll try to upload a photo shoot with models to Arcangel rather than microstock. I hope to get lucky

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the post. Great to hear your approval rate are Arcangel is improving. Great company to work with, amazing support and very good vibe and resources sharing with contributors. In my case the only thing that is not working are sales. With close to 2000 images online still no sales since I started. I have built now a portfolio to evaluate in the future if it is worth producing images for them. Since January I will be going back to shoot video work. As much as I like working with them I need to pay the monthly bills 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely love your detailed monthly reports and all the other info you share. I hope you start to see the book cover sales coming through. All the best

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am about to give Arcangel a third go and hope by putting more thought into my submissions, I’ll get in. Very frustrating. I’d love to know what I am doing wrong or right! But I have 225 Partner selections on EyeEm (5 in the past week or so) so I remain hopeful.


  5. thank you Alex for all,
    I have a question about prices in
    i cant find the exact prices of images and clips.
    for example in august i have one sale of video and i cant find out the price i sell it. Thy give simply a summary of the whole sales of the month.

    how do you know the prices in that site (per video) or per image? if you have mixed content..


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