I Sold a Photo on Adobe Stock and… Earned Pennies

Something just happened that shocked the hell out of me. I made my first sale on Adobe Stock and was notified that I earned a commission of 18 cents.

First, I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it​ ​clear​ ​from​ ​the​ ​start​ ​that​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​claim​ ​to​ ​produce​ ​world-class​ ​photos,​ ​nor​ ​do​ ​I desire​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​living​ ​from​ ​photography (I’m an aerial cinematographer).​ ​My​ ​fear​ ​is​ ​that​ ​once​ ​money​ ​becomes involved,​ ​I​ ​might​ ​lose​ ​the​ ​incredible​ ​enjoyment​ ​I​ ​get​ ​from​ ​photography.​ ​At​ ​various​ ​times​ ​in​ ​my life​, ​it’s​ ​been​ ​my​ ​rock​ ​to​ ​cling​ ​to​ ​when​ ​all​ ​around​ ​has​ ​cast​ ​me​ ​adrift.​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​more​ ​at​ ​peace​ ​out taking​ ​photos than anything​ ​else​ ​I​ ​do​ ​in​ ​life.

At​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time,​ ​as​ ​we​ ​all​ ​know,​ ​it’s​ ​an​ ​expensive​ ​hobby ​with​ ​an​ ​ever​-increasing​ ​wish​ ​list​ ​of new​ ​gear,​ ​travel​ ​destinations​, ​etc​. So​ ​if​ ​I​ ​can​ ​make​ ​a​ ​couple​ ​of​ ​dollars​ ​along​ ​the​ ​way, ​I​ ​am​ ​happy to​ ​do​ ​so.

For​ ​a​ ​while​ ​now​ ​I​ ​have​ ​been​ ​posting​ ​photos​ ​with​ ​several​ ​different​ ​stock​ ​companies.​ ​I​ ​do​ ​not​ ​sell that​ ​many,​ ​maybe​ ​one​ ​or​ ​two​ ​a​ ​month​ ​if​ ​I​ ​am​ ​lucky.​ ​Usually, a​ ​shot​ ​earns​ ​me​ ​somewhere between​ ​$15​ ​to​ ​$30​ ​depending​ ​on​ ​the​ ​license​ ​that’s​ ​purchased.​ ​Certainly, it’s ​no​ ​great​ ​income​, ​but​ ​it’s something…​ ​and​ ​it’s ​usually​ ​more​ ​a​ ​morale​ ​booster​ ​to​ ​think​ ​someone​ ​liked​ ​my​ ​photography enough​ ​to​ ​want​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​it,​ ​and​ ​it​ ​helps​ ​push​ ​me​ ​out​ ​the​ ​door​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​shooting.

Not​ ​long​ ​after​ Adobe unveiled Adobe Stock,​ ​I​ ​started​ ​uploading​ ​photos​ ​to the service.​ ​From​ ​what​ ​I​ ​could read​, ​the​ ​split​ ​offered​ ​on​ ​sales​ ​seemed​ ​in​ ​line​ ​with​ ​the​ ​other​ ​companies​ ​I​ ​sell​ ​through,​ ​and​ ​given that Adobe​ ​is​ ​a​ ​huge​ ​media​ ​related​ ​empire,​ ​it​ ​seemed​ ​like​ ​another​ ​good​ ​avenue​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​couple​ ​of dollars.

I​ ​awoke​ ​two​ ​days​ ​ago​ ​to​ ​see​ ​an​ ​email​ ​from​ ​Adobe​ ​saying​ ​congratulations​ ​I​ ​have​ ​sold​ ​an​ ​image. I​ ​opened​ ​the​ ​email​ ​to​ ​see​ ​this…

It​ ​took​ ​me​ ​a​ ​while​ ​to​ ​process​ ​what​ ​I​ ​had​ ​just​ ​seen.​ ​As​ ​I​ ​said​ ​before,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​consider​ ​myself​ ​to​ ​be a​ ​great​ ​photographer,​ ​but​ ​18​ ​cents​ ​in commission​ ​really​ ​knocked​ ​me​ ​back​ ​in​ ​my​ ​seat.

As best as I could tell, purchasing a ‘standard’ license of a photo cost $9.99 and an extended license cost $79.95. If we base it off the standard license sale of $9.99, then 18 cents in commission is less then 2%.

I​ ​decided​ ​to​ ​do​ ​some​ ​investigating​ ​to​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​how​ ​my​ ​commission​ ​could​ ​end​ ​up​ ​being​ ​so ridiculously​ ​small.​ ​​​My​ ​first​ ​stop​ ​was, of​ ​course, Adobe, ​and​ ​to​ ​be​ ​fair​ ​I​ ​received​ ​a​ ​very​ ​prompt​ ​and polite​ ​response.

That would be a subscription image purchase. Subscription customers receive a set number of images per month based on the subscription plan. This only applies to still core images and not video.

It looks like there was a $0.07 withholding. Have you submitted tax documents to your account? I can put you in touch with contributor relations if you have further questions.

So​ ​the​ ​good​ ​news​ ​is​ ​I​ ​was​ ​actually​ ​paid​ ​25​ ​cents,​ ​I​ ​shall​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​dine​ ​out​ ​tonite! I​ ​asked​ ​for​ ​my​ ​inquiry​ ​to​ ​be​ ​sent​ ​along​ ​and​ ​a​ ​little​ ​while​ ​later​ ​had​ ​this​ ​reply;

The top plan is $200 a month for 750 regular assets a month. Large subscriptions pay $0.27 to $0.57 an asset. The minimum payout guarantee for still images is $0.25.

You can find a detailed table showing royalty details at this link. https://helpx.adobe.com/stock/contributor/help/royalty-details.html

Upon​ ​viewing​ ​the​ ​links,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​reminded​ ​that​ ​the​ ​royalty​ ​rates​ ​they​ ​pay​ ​are​ ​33%​ ​for​ ​stills​ ​and 35%​ ​for​ ​video.​ ​Something​ ​I​ ​was​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​when​ ​I​ ​started​ ​uploading​ ​to​ ​Adobe​ ​Stock​ ​and​ ​a​ ​rate that’s​ ​in​ ​line​ ​with​ ​what​ ​many​ ​other​ ​stock​ ​companies​ ​offer.​ ​​​What​ ​I​ ​really​ ​wasn’t​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​was​ ​how the​ ​artists​ ​are​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​who​ ​will​ ​suffer​ ​because​ ​of​ ​their​ ​‘subscription’​ ​service.

If​ ​I​ ​go​ ​by​ ​the​ ​basic​ ​‘yearly’​ ​plan​ ​of​ ​$29.95​ ​a​ ​month​ ​for​ ​ten​ ​downloads​ ​per​ ​month,​ ​that​ ​makes each​ ​photo​ ​worth​ ​$2.95.​ ​33%​ ​of​ ​that​ ​equates​ ​to​ ​roughly​ ​$1​ ​commission​ ​for​ ​the​ ​artist.​ ​Their top​ ​plan​ ​is​ ​$199​ ​a​ ​month​ ​and​ ​that​ ​gives​ ​you​ ​750​ ​downloads​ ​per​ ​month.​ ​This​ ​means​ ​they​ ​are effectively​ ​selling​ ​photos​ ​for​ ​26​ ​cents​ ​each.​ ​This​ ​explains​ ​why​ ​they​ ​consider​ ​their​ ​25​ ​cents minimum​ ​commission​ ​to​ ​be​ ​generous​, ​I​ ​guess.

Adobe​ ​is​ ​a​ ​company​ ​who​ ​makes​ ​software​ ​primarily​ ​for​ ​the​ ​creative​ ​community.​ ​They​ ​make really​ ​good​ ​software​ ​that​ ​has​ ​allowed​ ​me​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​as​ ​an​ ​artist.​ ​In​ ​general, I​ ​can’t​ ​imagine​ ​the artistic​ ​community​ ​existing​ ​without​ ​many​ ​of​ ​their​ ​programs.​ ​​​So​ ​why​ ​is​ ​Adobe​ ​devaluing​ ​what the​ ​creative​ ​world​ ​does​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​their​ ​profits?​ ​How​ ​are​ ​we​ ​expected​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​paying​ ​them monthly​ ​fees​ ​for​ ​their​ ​software​ ​if​ ​they​ ​are​ ​driving​ ​down​ ​what​ ​we​ ​can​ ​earn​ ​so​ ​dramatically?

What​ ​Adobe​ ​is​ ​doing​ ​is​ ​simply​ ​following​ ​the​ ​market​ ​trend​ ​of​ ​paying​ ​the​ ​creative​ ​community​ ​less and​ ​less.​ ​Perhaps, however, Adobe​ ​can​ ​rethink​ ​their​ ​pricing​ ​with​ ​the​ ​understanding​ ​that​ ​if​ ​we​ ​the creative​ ​community​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​have​ ​our​ ​work​ ​devalued,​ ​eventually​ ​that’s​ ​going​ ​to​ ​come​ ​back and​ ​bite​ ​them​ ​because​ ​we​ ​won’t​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​pay​ ​for​ ​their​ ​software.

P.S. I​ ​understand​ ​I​ ​am​ ​free​ ​to​ ​post​ ​my​ ​photos​ ​wherever​ ​I​ ​like​ ​and​ ​no​ ​one​ ​forced​ ​me​ ​to​ ​sell​ ​my​ ​work via​ ​Adobe.

About the author: ‘Alan Smithee’ is a photography enthusiast and professional aerial cinematographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.