Comparing Earnings Stats since 2017 at Largest Microstock Agencies

Following on from the post, 7 Reasons Why Microstock Photography is (Probably) a Waste of Your Time, today I decided to crunch some numbers to analyze if in late-2022 it’s still worthwhile to submit your images to Microstock agencies. In this stats-heavy post I’ll be analyzing both volumes and returns per agency of my respective ports (since 2017) for the major agencies in alphabetical order. Let’s get started!

Small disclaimer: These results are specific to my port and style of photography and may not reflect on your respective ports.

Adobe Stock

Analysis: Adobe Stock seem to be bucking the overall downward microstock trend with steady average returns per download, certainly aided by the $5 up front deal they set up so buyers could use images for free for a year. Volumes have dropped off slightly since 2020 but not as drastically as we can see at other agencies.


Analysis: My largest port of all is at Alamy with over 14,000 (they almost never reject my content). Therefore, with such a large port (and growing every week) one would expect to see increased volumes, which is indeed the case historically. However, the average drop in average returns is drastic, from the 2018 peak at over $12/image to currently in 2022 (up until mid-October) at just over $4/image. It’s obvious that the late-month Alamy sales to China at sub $1/image are having a considerable impact.


Analysis: iStock average return per image have always been extremely low (even for Microstock standards) at between 42cents/image to 49cents/image. See the blog 2018 post – iStock’s 2cent Royalties – What’s Going On?. However, what has hurt me for the past few years are decreasing volumes since the 2019 peak. Double-yammy.


Analysis: As you can see above, up until last year the average return per image held relatively steady (other than the strange year that was 2020) at between 58cents/image to 79cents/image. However, in 2022, such earnings have collapsed to currently 29cents/image, due to the abundance of those 10-14cent downloads which would have been 36cents in 2019. No matter how strong volumes are it’s going to be difficult to catch up to the 2019 peak.

Is it still worth it?

Not really. The clear trend at the major agencies is down down down down. Not sure even Adobe Stock will be able to resist the downward pressure and those $5-upfront deals are becoming rarer.

Therefore, it’s probably a good idea for us to devote less time to this industry. When we do decide to invest in microstock, do so with a greater aim in mind. For instance, in my case some of my leftover rejected book covers (non-similars) may be uploaded to microstock agencies. Likewise, if you’re shooting commissioned work, be it real-estate or wedding….sometimes the generic images may work well for microstock. The important thing is that you’re already paid for your time.

I would like to carry out a similar analysis as the above with clips and see if there’s also been some downward pressure on there (I suspect so). Just waiting for some more drone clips to start to sell and they already have, which I’ll discuss at the end of the month.

Perhaps your niche is different?

As mentioned in the disclaimer, the stats above are specific to my port. Perhaps you have a different and more profitable niche that is going strong. Also perhaps you’ve seen a steeper drop than me. Either way, would love to hear from you and please comment below.

Update: Thanks Steve for putting together your quarterly analysis, here’s the post over at BackyardSilver.

Until next time!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Lisbon, Portugal, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. 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.

Most recently I’ve gone all in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images. Oh and also recently purchased a DJI Mavic 2s drone and taking full advantage.

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. sales have completely stopped this month for me across all agencies (the last DL was on Shutterstock 4th Oct) This is extremely unusual even for my small port. I have an average of about 1k photos in each one

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having a small portfolio, just over 2k photos, my statistics reflect graphs similar to yours, with the difference that downloads are going up in Adobe and Istock, but the average per image is going down in all agencies! This last couple of months I “search” for the photographs thinking of covers instead of microstock.
    The agencies did not read the fable of the chicken, by Aesop (chicken, in Spain), and I think it is too late for them… Sad

    Liked by 1 person

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