2022 Year-End Review: Good, Bad and Ugly

The year is officially over and it’s time to publish a comprehensive review of 2022, while providing a glimpse forward to 2023.

To sum up, it’s been a YEAR OF THE DRONE, having recorded an impressive 47 hours of flight time (according to my DJI app) since April, including dozens of hours of footage and hundreds of stills in three different countries, notably Portugal, Spain and Brazil. Learning to pilot a drone from scratch takes some courage and I’m most happy that I didn’t hurt anybody or damage any property and hope to keep things that way! Let’s get started!

My Goals for 2022

In addition, exactly this time one year ago I made myself what I thought were 10 quite achievable goals for 2022. So I’ll take advantage and recap on whether I achieved them (or not). Read towards the end where I’ll also make 10 fresh goals for 2023.

Check out my previous yearly-earnings reports

I’ve been happily publishing these year-end reports for a while now, see my respective 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018 year-end reviews. I really enjoy putting them together as it’s always nice to look back at how I did and ways I can improve for the future.

Loads of data to draw on! Even after all the hard work I’m still not getting rich from this side-hustle but I’m enjoying the photography journey nevertheless, visiting new places and meeting great people. Probably sounds corny as fk, but it’s my purpose after all to share beauty and inspire others.

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!

How did I do on my ten 2022 goals?

Why realistic goal-setting is fundamental

Before getting started, I must reiterate 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 to microstock agencies, or 5,000 images to Arcangel or 5,000 clips in 2023 will just lead to burn-out, mediocrity and disappointment.

In fact, Gallerist (where I publish monthly guest-posts), published a piece on the “Importance of Setting Microstock Goals for 2023“.

My 2022 goals

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 – 20 accepted book covers per month at Arcangel

Result: Boy, did I get this one wrong. I’ve EASILY been able to have more than 20 accepted images, in fact, my best month (October) I had 117 accepted. The average for the year was 70/month! Although the year did get off to a slow-ish start as you can see below investing in a drone certainly helped as from May onwards it was “easier” to have shots accepted.

As for sales, things really picked up towards the end of the year and expecting many more next year – more on this later in the report. Note: Earning / sales type goals is something I avoid altogether as not within my immediate control, so I just don’t do them.

2. Goal: Dump some minnows

Result: Didn’t dump as many agencies as I would have liked…only 123RF felt my wrath but it’s only a matter of time before I give the likes of EyeEm and CreativeMarket the chop, at the very least! Results there are just negligible.

3. Goal: Island-hopping in 2022

Result: FAIL, the only island I managed to visit during the year was the UK and that’s hardly new for me. So, I’ve had to push back this goal until next year.

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 five on Fine Art America. Poor returns but can’t expect much when you don’t put in much effort.

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. I’ll take some lessons from Master Steve Heap as it’s something he’s written about plenty over at his blog!

5. Goal: Purchase a fking drone, finally!

Result: Definitely the stand-out goal of the year. After purchasing my drone in April, I’ve managed to rack up over 45 hours of pure flight time since. Lots and lots and lots of quality content captured. I admit that I was super nervous when I flew the first few times, but now I’m as relaxed as a Hindu cow…even managing to get only a few metres above the sea to capture stunning details.

6. Goal: Publish 5 interviews with Stock-Wizards

Result: Another 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 and more importantly, why.

7. Goal: Improve my Photoshop skills

Result: Between you, me and the rest of the world I still use an old version of both Lightroom and Photoshop (before they introduced the monthly subscription model) which really struggle with some of the actions that I throw at them.

Just goes to show that my workflow is quite basic for most of my work, but would be nice to up my game on the actions side so may need to upgrade soon. Nevertheless, I still managed to get some cool actions done that impressed the Arcangel reviewers, such as the following:

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

Result: This project never go off the ground, but something that I always have in the back of my mind to create. I’ve written quite a bit about the legalities of street photography, including some anecdotes (King of Salamanca, Flea Market Aggressor and Snowflake Café Worker). I’ll probably just put together some blog posts on this and if there’s enough material, perhaps it will be enough for a small handy e-book. Let’s see!

In the meantime, I have a document that I carry with me at all times when members of the public here in Portugal harass me.

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

Result: Huge fail and no excuse. I’m just not in that long-distance cycling vibe anymore that I had when I lived in the Netherlands and Italy. One main reason is that I don’t have a touring bike anymore…so perhaps it’s something I’m going to invest in one soon to push myself to do more trips. Let’s see!

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

Result: Huge result! After the my latest office-job ended in early-April, I’ve gone back to pretty much doing what I want when I want, which is great. I’ve lost some 5kg and packed in some muscles as now I spend most of my days walking around and got back to doing martial arts (Brazilian jiu-Jitsu).

Sure, I’m not earning even close to as much as I was in my office-job but I’m happier and that’s the most important. I can’t discount the possibility that I may have to go back to legal / corporate office-work sometime in the future so that’s why working so hard to try to make this side-hustle and others work. Always the optimistic!

Keep reading towards the end where I’ll outline fresh goals 2023! Now let’s discuss my earnings breakdown for the year.

2022 vs 2021 Earnings Detailed Breakdown

The following are some 2022 vs 2021 earnings comparisons at the major agencies (including Wirestock):

Agency2022 net earnings ($)2021 net earnings ($)$DeltaPort size Dec 2022Port size Dec 2021Growth in assetsGrowth
Arcangel2,135209+1,9262,0171,12983942%
Alamy4961,126-63014,28212,9941,2889%
Adobe Stock730641+894,0373,55448312%
Shutterstock1,6712,217-54611,21310,6185955%
iStock (up to Nov)798847-1107,8797,008 87112%
Wirestock171169+21,9671,57739020%
Total3,866*5,000-1,13441,39536,8804,46611%
*Does not include results from Robert Harding, Shutterstock Editorial and the minnows

Clips

Agency2022 net earnings ($)2021 net earnings ($)$DeltaPort size Dec 2022Port size Dec 2021Growth in assetsGrowth
Adobe Stock46138-9266539527041%
Shutterstock535393+1421,5071,16234523%
Pond5111571-4601,9921,52846423%
IstockPhoto (up to Nov)51104-5348320228158%
Wirestock210+21103495452%
Total7641,206-4424,7502,7591,99142%

Arcangel Book Covers

2018 Net Earnings$1,371
2019 Net Earnings$880
2020 Net Earnings$1,250
2021 Net Earnings$209
2022 Net Earnings $2,135

And…here are the 7 that sold (one is pending publication):

Grand Total Results 2022

Images (all agencies, excluding Arcangel)$4,980
Clips (all agencies)$743
Arcangel$2,135
Print on Demand (Fine Art America + Photo4me)$90
Grand total$7,948

Total in 2022 = 6% year-on-year rise vs 2021 ($7,948 vs $7,534)

Key yearly stats:

Best month: August at $1,399

Worst month: January at $363

Monthly average: $662

An Important Note on High Inflation in 2022

Unless you’ve been living in a cave (with good wifi connection) during the past year you’ve probably noticed that pretty much all prices have gone up. Some places more than others, as well as certain products. But overall, it’s been a year where the consumer has been squeezed and the term “cost of living crisis” has become commonplace in the news outlets.

I won’t get into the reasons why inflation is so high here, although COVID and more recently, the war in Ukraine have been factors. Nevertheless, from a quick research, on average, it’s been about 10% on average across the Eurozone and expected to stay high for next year.

Thinking about costs within your Stock Business

So why am I bringing up inflation? Well, I’ve just disclosed my yearly earnings but as a business I need to also factor in certain costs, such as depreciation of assets (gear), travel and now the latest being inflation.

It’s really a double-whammy for us contributors when agencies decide with their “exciting news” to cut our commissions because we should really be receiving a pay rise to mitigate the high inflationary new world.

Overall thoughts on the year that was

With the above high inflation reference in mind, a 6% year-on-year rise in net earnings is really a ~4% loss. Nevertheless, it does feel like a year where I’m building up to something bigger and greater, notably the book covers (44% yearly growth) and stock footage, most notably of the aerial kind (42% rise). These should bring in some good coin next year and I’m cautiously optimistic that I might break the $10,000 mark by the end of 2023, although I would never be silly enough to make it one of my goals as who knows what “Exciting News” the new year will bring…

Reiterating that it’s game over for Microstock Stills…

I must reiterate that it’s almost game over for Microstock stills. That’s why I’m also deliberately not producing enough new content of that kind. When I do, the images just aren’t ranking well to sell regularly. Just seems like the images get lost in the algos beyond the first pages…a symptom of oversupply.

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. I made the below forecast and it’s pretty much holding true as the average return per download in 2022 was around the 60cent/download mark down from 73cent/download in 2021.

Massive drops in average return per downloads between 2020 and 2022

Rise of the AI machines

One development that I didn’t forecast one year ago that has taken the industry by storm is that of AI-learning. Naturally agencies are concerned about copyright risks and most have outright prohibited the use of machine-learning AI-generated content, with the exception of Adobe Stock that tried to mitigate such risks.

Nevertheless, the trend is too strong and presents an outright threat to creatives who don’t adapt accordingly. Back in August I began experimenting with DALLE-2 and blogged about it.

My logo as designed by DALLE-2

Yearly Recap – The Good

Drone opportunities

Investing on a drone and subsequent training / qualifications has been one of my smartest business moves that I’ve made. Small regret that I didn’t do it earlier but made up for lost time with a huge effort capturing some unique angles with many more to come.

Aerial panoramic view of Pena Palace, a romanticist castle in the Sintra mountains of Portugal – UNESCO World Heritage Site

Also some awesome top down clips, maybe this one will feature in the next season of Narcos Brazil!

Arcangel Book Covers

Undoubtedly the highlights of the year were the number of book covers accepted at Arcangel at 839 (average of 70/month) which is almost 4x more than in 2021. Although I often write that it takes a while for book covers to sell, some started selling within a few months of being uploaded!

A. Published covers

In total, this year I had 7 sales (see below the final version, with one pending publication) and perhaps I’ll break double-digits next year. Doesn’t sound like many sales, compared to micros, but the average prices are some 500times higher.

B. Special thanks to Ignacio (Nash) Mascaro

I feel that I must give a special thanks to Ignacio Mascaro, Arcangel Director for all the advice he’s kindly offered me so I could be a better book cover photographer. Must not have been easy to have to go through all my rejected images over the years! 😀

AI Machine Learning Progress

Again, I must reiterate that this is a huge opportunity for creatives if we can adapt accordingly. We’re in such the early days of technology with a massive scope. As mentioned in the December 2022, earnings report, Shutterstock has introduced a new category called “Contributor Fund” for use by clients of AI-generated imagery. More info here. Still confused – detailed forum discussion on the MSG Forum.

Yearly Recap – The Bad

Pond5 Disaster

I really don’t know what is going on at Pond5. In 2021, I earned a quite respectable $571 from 16 downloads (average of $36/download net). Fast forward to 2022, sales collapsed at only $110 from 5 downloads. Despite an increase of 464 clips, which is a year-on-year increase of 23%.

Would you say you’re also experiencing similar drops? Are buyers migrating to less expensive portals? Has SS’s acquisition of Pond5 having an impact? More questions than answers.

Alamy Disaster

Despite a year-on-year increase of 1,288 images which constitutes a 9% rise, my earnings dropped a massive from $1,126 in 2021 to $492 in 2022. See below the historical earnings graph (gross earnings):

Yearly Recap – The Ugly

Fking expensive to travel nowadays

This year’s “ugly news” is unrelated to the stock industry but very much related in some ways.

So, I’m in Brazil now while I write this and I paid $1,300 for a return ticket from Lisbon to Rio. Last time I was in Rio, back in 2019, to cover a poker tournament, I recall that I paid $600 return. Then there’s the cost of accommodation that went through the roof everywhere and food is so expensive (as mentioned earlier ~10% year on year inflation increase in the Eurozone).

Less expensive times back in Pre-Covid 2019

Anyway, enough bad news, let’s look to the future with some positive goals!

Fresh 10 Goals for 2023

Goal 1 – 40 accepted (quality) book covers per month at Arcangel

I’m going full-steam ahead with Arcangel to maybe, just maybe, be my top-earning agency for 2023. I think it’s super possible both owning to declining returns in microstock-land and that I’m also naturally putting in less effort there.

Therefore, I’ll boldly more than double my 2021 goal for book covers Accepted at Arcangel to 50, which should hopefully take my existing port up to close to 2,600 by year-end. They’ve really begun being more selective with my submissions (70% rejections on average) so those 600+ new images should all be worthy of prospective sales.

Goal 2 – Publish one TikTok video per week

If you’re not so familiar, TikTok is now the most popular social media platform, particularly among Millennials and Generation X. Therefore, I’ve tentatively joined the network and uploaded some content with my niche being “all things Top 5“.

Really not sure the end-goal just yet so I’m experimenting. Perhaps at the end of 2023, with some 50 new videos I’ll have a massive following and be able to monetize the content and get some new gigs haha. Let’s see!

Goal 3 – Island-hopping in 2023

Bucking my lack of travel in 2022, by the end of 2023 hopefully my passport will be well worn out as I’ll maintain my goals for some island-hopping to the following:

  • Azores
  • Madeira
  • Malta
  • Cyprus

I’ve already mentioned just how expensive everything has suddenly become (not just flights) so if I can manage just two of the above destinations I’ll be happy.

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. I’ll also research other agencies that may be suitable for my style of photography.

Goal 5 – Upgrade my drone qualifications

Although I already have my A1/A2/A3 drone qualifications under the “Open Category”, which is valid throughout the European Union, I would like to keep studying up and eventually obtain a STS qualification to obtain clearance to fly under the “Specific Categories”.

These include higher risk scenarios such as: flying beyond visual line of sight, at night and in urban areas. These qualifications, when they become available, can be useful when pitching for new gigs – see next goal.

Goal 6 – Get some Drone Gigs

Outside of microstock and book covers I’ve used my drones to impress clients with some cool content, mainly in real-estate photography and even in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – no-gi variation! I hope to expand on this in the coming year with more ways to monetize my drone.

I hope to expand on this in the coming year with more ways to monetize my drone.

Goal 7 – 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. I’ll focus on trying to get some interviews with some movers and shakers within the industry, in other words, people within key positions in agencies. This may help to get the pulse of the industry.

Goal 8 – Keep up to date with the latest developments relating to Artificial Intelligence machine-learning

Even if I have no plans (even if I legally can at Adobe Stock for instance) to use any of the AI-generated content to actually license content, there’s a huge amount of scope when it comes to this technology. For instance, blog writing / brainstorming can be made so much easier using Chat GPT, for instance. Here’s an example of a search-based query and the result for a possible blog post.

Brainstorming ideas for shoots using AI

In the photography side, DALLE-2 and Midjourney offer opportunities to brainstorm possible scenarios for shoots. For instance, here’s an example of a brainstorming search using an old green suitcase and the final result, which was accepted at Arcangel.

Goal 9 – Publish at least one monthly earnings report on YouTube / TikTok

I’m kind of introvert and write better than I speak, but in 2023 it makes more sense to publish my earnings report as a video on YouTube / TikTok than on a blog. This is a bit scary and not something I’ve ever done but in the spirit of pushing myself outside my comfort zone this will be one of my goals for the year!

I see that many contributors are publishing their monthly reports on there and getting traction, including J. Whyte, RandomHartz, TheTeachingDoc, Andrew Balcome.

Thanks for the mention, Jeff, as well as encouragement!

Perhaps I’ll start enjoying putting it together and have lots of views that I’ll begin publishing every month (and also a version in Portuguese), alongside a traditional blog post.

Goal 10 – Just shoot for fun

Now that I’ve unplugged myself out of the borg corporate machine, my next goal is to go back to more innocent times of just shooting for fun and nothing thinking about it as a business.

Therefore, I want to dedicate some time / effort into just enjoying shooting for the sake of shooting and not as a business with a monetary end-goal in mind. Perhaps this will help me to explore an even more creative side of photography where I’m free to experiment with all sorts of techniques.

For instance, I’ve been researching doing some halo drone long-exposures at night. Here’s a tutorial:

I’ll probably still end up putting these for sale but the point is that I just want to try new techniques for fun.

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! I’m off to the beach, later all!


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

3 comments

  1. Super report as always Alex. Thank you.
    Hope you are enjoying Brazil.
    Huge congratulations with your Arcangel success.
    This line encouraged me: ‘They’ve really begun being more selective with my submissions (70% rejections on average)’.
    I thought you had very high acceptances now, so perhaps I’m not doing so badly.
    You are very encouraging with your indefatigable enthusiasm.
    All the best for 2023.
    Onwards and upwards!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Alex, very comprehensive report, thank you and Happy New Year!

    I’ve a very different mix of stock as I’m image exclusive on iStock, with clips on P5, SS and Adobe and RM on Alamy, plus a few POD… but I ended 2022 with about the same earnings as you!

    My P5 was actually up on last year, SS about the same, Adobe up but Alamy and POD way down, with iStock pretty much the same as before – more downloads but lower RPD.

    Very interested in your experiences with the drone – maybe I shall have to get one…

    Seeing your reports, I tried Arcangel but I think I overdid the processing, and they rejected my application. They said they prefer only light post processing, which makes sense but I was trying to do stuff similar to that I see on their site! I shall have to bear that in mind and get some more pics for them for another try sometime.

    Anyway, thanks again for all your reports and all the best for 2023.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Arcangel are super picky about who they take on and what assets they accept. Yes, for sure light-touch processing is recommended. Sometimes I go a little overboard and need to reign myself in and go for a more natural look.

      You can always try again with a fresh batch!

      Thanks for reading and wish you a successful 2023!

      Like

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