2021 Year-End Review: Good, Bad and Ugly

The year is officially over (see December 2021 earnings report) and it’s that wonderful time again to publish a comprehensive review of the year that was, while providing a glimpse forward to the new year.

To sum up, it’s been largely a year of frustration mainly due to a lack of travel but as always, I remain optimistic for next year, particularly when it comes to capturing book covers and drone footage. Let’s get started!

Knock-knock 2022…

Exactly this time one year ago I made myself 10 quite achievable goals for 2021. So I’ll take advantage and recap on whether I achieved them (or not). I’ll also make 10 fresh goals for 2022. Last and certainly not least, you’ll nominate the TURD OF THE YEAR AGENCY!

Check out my previous yearly-earnings reports

I’ve been happily publishing these year-end reports for a while now, see my respective 2020, 20192018 and 2017 year-end reviews. Loads of data to draw on!

Read on for 2021 results…

Supporting the blog…

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). You may also notice that I REFUSE to run annoying ads!

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:

-> Support the Brutally Honest Blog! <-

Otherwise, a comment below would be great to keep this community thriving, can be a critique, no worries!

Another way to Support the blog – check out the Top Shelf Camera Bag By Bevisgear!

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

Detailed review to come soon!

Firstly, How did I do on my ten 2021 goals?

Why realistic goal-setting is fundamental

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 and 5,000 clips in 2022 will just lead to burn-out, mediocrity and disappointment.

Looking back at the list from the corresponding post this time last year, let’s see now how I performed on those goals.

1. Goal 1 – 10 accepted book covers per month at Arcangel

Result: Although the year got off to a slow start (with up to 95% rejections), my acceptance rate quickly multiplied late in the year after kindly receiving personal coaching from Ignacio (Nash) Mascaro, Sales Director at Arcangel and putting the advice into practice. As well as digesting the content on their contributor page.

Overall, this goal was a huge success for me as I almost doubled the target with an average of 17 images accepted per month. My port started the year at a modest 959 and has grown to 1,180 (growth of 221 or 19%). I easily beat the 183 accepted in 2020 by a cool 38 images.

One of my favourite images from the year

2. Goal: Be accepted at Trevillion (Book Covers)

Result: Being accepted at Trevillion is something that I’m no longer interested in pursuing as I’m going all-in on Arcangel. Perhaps I was slightly impatient and instead of focusing on improving my craft on Arcangel, I was trying to quickly jump ship and hoped things would be better at another agency. If Trevillion did accept me, I would have probably encountered the exact same issues I was encountering in Arcangel.

As for giving Trevillion a go, it’s not something I’ve completely discarded as I believe it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket.

3. Goal: Travel in and around Madrid around the springtime

Result: After Covid restrictions were lifted in most of Spain during the springtime, I finally managed to venture outside greater Madrid and duly explored Alcala de Henares, Manzaranes el Real, Toledo and more recently Granada.

Toledo, Spain
Captured at Alhambra, Granada, Spain

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

Result: A poor year for POD uploads, only managing to upload some 12 images to Photo4Me. Sales were also predictably modest at only two at Photo4me and 5 on Fine Art America.

I was distracted with other pursuits. However, this is something that I need to focus more in the new year since it’s a relatively easy revenue stream.

Cascais, Portugal

5. Goal: Purchase a drone!

Result: I wish! I did, however, get loads of practice using my friend’s drone and hey, some clips have sold very well! I’m still studying up on all the regulations needed and it’s a bit of a minefield at the moment.

Drone pratice!

6. Goal: Publish 5 interviews with Stock-Wizards

Result: One of my top goals that I hit the ball out of the park, I published 13 interviews with various creative movers and shakers in this industry. Really great info and I thank each and every one of them for giving me their time and insight in what they do.

Thanks for taking part!

7. Goal: Keep practicing with my GoPro

Result: Didn’t get much practice with my GoPro this year, unfortunately, other than the occasional road-trip clip which none have sold. In fact, I don’t think I’ve EVER sold a GoPro clip. Perhaps a wasted $500 investment, although too early to tell though…I really do like some of the clips, such the one below, but probably much more than potential buyers…

8. Goal: Publish more freelance articles

Result: dozens of paid articles were published at both Stockstudio and Xpiks. Many more to come next year.

These were my top-4 favourite ones to research/draft (in no particular order):

Creating trending Cryptocurrency concepts that sell – also happy to report that Adam is now selling these clips regularly
Analyzing popular past & upcoming films / series to create profitable microstock concepts
Covid-Related Stock Opportunities in 2021 using Google Trends Analytics

As for the most popular two posts on this blog, in terms of views, during the year:

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

Result: Huge fail due to work-commitments in Spain. I was often in Portugal but only for short periods, so couldn’t venture too far, nothing like those 3-day trips back in the day. However, I did manage some bike-trips in and around Madrid, although I’m not in as great shape as I once was so they were short trips.

Heading to the hills near Madrid on a beautiful winter day

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

Result: Lol, although this current project in Oil & Gas is taking much longer than I expected haven’t (completely) turned into a corporate drone. I’m more worried that these past few years have brought out my “dark side”, which on the bright side, can be quite profitable for book covers!

Book-cover self portrait

Keep reading towards the end where I’ll outline fresh goals 2022!

2021 vs 2020 Earnings Detailed Breakdown

The following are some 2021 vs 2020 earnings comparisons at the major agencies (including Wirestock), notably: Adobe Stock, Alamy, Shutterstock and iStockphoto, starting with stills.

Agency2021 net earnings ($)2020 net earnings ($)$DeltaPort size Dec 2021Port size Dec 2020Growth in assetsDelta
Adobe Stock641898-2573,5543,53123<1%
iStock (up to Nov)8471,197-3507,008 6,8351732%
Total5,0005,314-314 35,75133,8571,8745%


Agency2021 net earnings ($)2020 net earnings ($)$DeltaPort size Dec 2021Port size Dec 2020Growth in assetsGrowth
Adobe Stock138177-393953158020%
IstockPhoto (up to Nov)10439+652021454723%
Deleted some non-sellers from SS and may re-upload again via Wirestock to get them a fresh lease on life…

Arcangel Book Covers

2018 Net Earnings$1,371
2019 Net Earnings$880
2020 Net Earnings$1,250
2021 Net Earnings$209
More on specific sales below

Grand Total Results 2021

Images (all agencies)$6,049
Clips (all agencies)$1,172
Print on Demand (Fine Art America + Photo4me)$104
Grand total$7,534

Total in 2021 = 19% year-on-year drop vs 2020 ($9,319 vs $7,534) which means my earning are back to close to 2018 levels

From the 2019 peak to 2021, there’s been a 32% decline…ouch!

Key yearly stats

Best month: August with $886

Worst month: January with $301

Monthly average: $628 vs average of $777 in 2020

Overall thoughts

So overall, it’s been a another year of working harder to earn less…sort of like being on a dystopian treadmill. In fact, 19% less despite increasing my assets by 5% in stills and 17% in clips respectively.

I feel like my existing microstock port of stills is like a once-top-supermodel that is relying on her former looks to earn modeling gigs. In other words, I’m heavily reliant on my former strong-sellers for my bread and butter sales, but most are well past their shelf-life and nearing the end of their life-cycle.

Ex-model relying on old looks to get by…

It’s game over for Microstock Stills…

I’m also deliberately not producing enough new content that is selling regularly and for interesting amounts (only 5% growth year-on-year for stills and most simply going to Wirestock). It’s not all my fault, as the microstock industry is simply dying and buyers increasingly expecting images for super cheap or even free (Getty did recently acquire Unsplash after all). In fact, it’s clear that the average return per download for still is in free-fall for all to see.

Massive drops in average return per downloads between 2020 and 2021

I’ll still capture stills along my way but these will be super dedicated to what will have a return on investment (including capturing the latest trends), such as the following highlighting the need for a Covid Pass to enter restaurant establishments in Andalusia, Spain.

Granada, Spain – December 28, 2021: Sign on restaurant window relating to Covid Passport requirement to dine in, a requirement in Andalusia since December 20, 2021. Customers sitting at window

Some bright spots

What I am investing heavily, however, are clips and book covers which I managed to expand my portfolio by 17% growth each. I’m forecasting I’ll increase the amount of those assets substantially in the coming year, perhaps 25% growth each.

I don’t have much data to draw from as my clip ports are still relatively small, but a quick glance indicates that the decline in clips average earnings is nowhere as steep as with stills, although the prevalence of lowly priced 4K clip sales on Shutterstock and iStockphoto (below $2) are a worrying sign of things to come…

For those with larger ports, would be interesting to draw some conclusions…therefore, please comment below.

Fun forecast/projection for the next three years

With the above hesitancy to focus on producing microstock images in mind, I’ve put together a fun forecast for the next three years in terms of my income…most interesting will be the breakdown between microstock stills, clips and others.

Therefore, my strategy from 2022 onwards is to try to slowly make clips, print on demand and book covers a greater part of my total income…eventually being 60% by 2024. Is it possible, sure!

Now, lets move onto the Good, Bad and Ugly highlights of the year that was…

Yearly Recap – The Good

Arcangel Book Covers

Undoubtedly the highlights of the year were the number of book covers accepted at Arcangel at 203. Sales weren’t great at only three for net $209 (vs 7 for $1,250 in 2020) but I remain hugely optimistic that next year will a great year as I’m finally hitting my stride.

Footage volumes increase (with some sales)

I suppose I’ve done OK in terms of footage sales, having increased my port size by 17%, leading to a year-on-year increase of $226 (doubling my earnings at Pond5 year-on-year). Also adding some drone footage to my arsenal thanks to my friend’s drone (see below).

Regular sales of some clips

Again relying on my past glories to make up the sums, regular sales of the timelapse prostitute and holy grail sky contributed to some healthy repeat sales.

One happy addition to regular sales was a drone shot overlooking Madrid captured during the summer that has sold regularly. Makes me optimistic that going down the drone route can be highly profitable.

Alamy sales have picked up

Alamy was on my “bad” list this time last year but have nicely recovered from a poor $728 in 2020 to a more respectable $1,126 in 2021. There were some super nicely priced sales, including the following which earned me $100 net.

Yearly Recap – The Bad

The growth of free-download sites/turds such as Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay is strong and will only get stronger. A few months ago Getty announced that they acquired those Unsplash turds. This will add further pressure to already low-priced Microstock images. Still can’t believe that some people think it’s a good away to give those away for free in return for “exposure“.

Adobe Stock at least has seen an opportunity in the free-download market and as already discussed, around the middle of the year, gave a chance to contributors to volunteer their non-sellers for $5 up-front. I’ve placed this in the “bad” section because it’s still not clear how this would impact sales on those images for the rest of their life-cycle – they’re probably useless..

About sums it up…

Yearly Recap – The Ugly

I suppose there was nothing truly “ugly” about the year that was. Declines in earnings were both depressing and frustrating but predictable. I’d be a fool to get trying to make something happen from an industry that is in decline. Adapt or die.

I guess the “ugly” was that Shutterstock has sent everybody back down to Tier1.

Back to Tier 1

A year on, I still can’t believe that Shutterstock thinks it’s somehow a wise decision to place everybody on Tier 1 from January 1st, 2022 and 2023 and so on.

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

Popular Contributor Forum shut down

Shutterstock in 2018-2021 should be used as a case-study at MBA schools throughout the planet on how not to handle their PR. One shock came in the middle of the year when they shut down their popular contributor forum, where I’ve invested literally dozens of hours. Their justifications were truly bizarre.

Fresh 10 Goals for 2022

Owning to my soul-crushing yet life-giving paradox corporate day-job soon coming to an end (likely at the end of March), I plan on traveling and having more free time to dedicate to this business, particularly book covers and drone footage.

To keep up with the latest technology, I’m also seriously eyeing investing in new gear, including the Nikon Z9 which can shoot up to 8K and 120fps at 4K (to be later sold on Shutterstock for $2, no doubt lol).

Nevertheless, I’ve put together the following 10 goal for 2022, which I’m happy to share with you. I can’t stress enough how important goal-making is to focus the mind:

Goal 1 – 20 accepted (quality) book covers per month at Arcangel

I’ll boldly double my 2021 goal for book covers Accepted at Arcangel to 20, which would take my existing port up to close to 1,500. Simply adding volume is a bit of silly though since the most important factor is quality, not quantity, therefore I added “quality” in the description.

Goal 2 – Dump some minnows

Finally deleting 123RF, Picfair and Bigstock with perhaps more to come soon…

Easiest goal of all is to dump the low-performing microstock agencies. Already on the way to dumping BigStock, 123RF and Picfair, with others on notice. Surprisingly, some agencies make it quite difficult to close the accounts, I know that Dreamstime keep your images up for 6 months – WTF?!

You may argue, why not just leave it since I put in a lot of effort to upload in the first place. It’s a fair point but honestly I don’t care about $10/month on average which is what they’re producing. There’s a risk they may team up with one of those free-download turds like Unsplash.

Goal 3 – Island-hopping in 2022

I feel like 2022 will be the year of islands as I’m looking forward to visiting and staying for a little while in the following islands – not sure I’ll manage them all though but let’s see:

  • Azores
  • Madeira
  • Malta
  • Cyprus

I should be super tanned by the end of the year!

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

Many of the Arcangel book covers lend themselves to print on demand wall-hangers, with no licensing conflict. Therefore, I might as well dedicate myself to this pursuit and simply fork out the $30 yearly membership at Fine Art America so I can upload new content.

Helping Israelis sleep well since 1948 – link to product at Fine Art America

Goal 5 – Purchase a fking drone, finally!

Yes, I’m serious! This should happen around the springtime, but which one? I won’t be shutting down any airports though as I’ll need to keep in line with the rules and regulations and this means getting my proper licence. So, need to research carefully my options.

Goal 6 – Publish another 5 interviews with Stock-Wizards

I’ll keep interviewing “Stock-Wizards”. Fun way to get in the minds of the brightest, most hardworking and creative bunch in the industry. Already have one lined up soon for January!

Goal 7 – Improve my Photoshop skills

On my to-do list is to really improve my Photoshop skills, notably blending, layers and actions, as these will help to ensure more sellable images on Arcangel.

Envato Elements offers a full set of actions/presets that will enhance my work and something that may be worth checking out for your own workflow as well.

Goal 8 – Begin drafting a new e-book on legalities street photography

I casually mentioned this on an earnings-report and happy to repeat here that my goal for next year is to begin drafting a new eBook guide on rules and regulations to watch out for when shooting in public relating to various countries.

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

I’ll postpone this goal as 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.

Guincho, Portugal

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 and 2021 has taken a toll in my mental health. Haven’t left the Iberian peninsula since April 2019! I’m sure most of you haven’t done much traveling during the past two years either as the restrictions bite.

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, of course. But that will certainly change in 2022 as I look to spend much much much more time outdoors.

Capture of a corporate drone in action…

Turd of the Year 2021

It’s time to vote for your TURD OF THE YEAR agency. I’ll publish the results at the end of January.

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!

Happy New Year from the Brutally Honest Guy!

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 Alex, incredible post, very interesting to read with tons of data. Glad your footage is doing ok and this one of the few bright spots for me as well.

    I agree with the assessment that things are not looking great for this industry. It is sad when the measurement of our success is based on our ability just to stay afloat as opposed to being able to grow earnings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Alex, good to see you get back to traveling again! I am trying to focus on more video sales as well. maybe i will get into some book covers this year, kinda depends on if i am feeling creative enough. I have been a drone of my own making i working on my back catalog of images/videos and trying to build my other travel website.
    How much time do you devote to taking and processing imagines and videos each month? Do you see that changing in the coming year?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Joel,

      Video only makes up about 25% of my time in processing but trying to get it up to 50%. Too focused on book covers these days 😀

      Hope to send less time this year on micro photos and more on videos and book covers.

      All the best!


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