SmugMug vs. Shutterfly Pro Gallery

In the Beginning:

I started selling event photos right around two years ago. When I made the decision to do it, I needed to act pretty quickly. I'd been doing primarily contract work and I'd had no experience with the ins and outs of event sales.

As I went to look for that first service to use (I sure wasn't going to go make the prints, then mail them – a logistics nightmare), I went with a pretty common name at the time – Shutterfly. They had a great reputation with fulfillment of personal users' orders, seemed to have a good price structure, and I knew early I needed the pro level with the unlimited storage. I pulled the trigger and was pretty happy overall with the service I received.

There were some issues early that I wasn't too happy with – but I was hopeful that Shutterfly would respond to the input from their pro usrs as I felt that my suggestions were going to be the same things that other pros want: 1) better customization to get the look/feel of Shutterly's site to match the look of a Pro's "main" site; 2) The ability to sell image downloads online; and 3) the ability to put bib numbers into the system so that events w/ bib numbers could easily find their photos.

As Time Went by:

After some discussion with the head of the pro gallery for Shutterfly some things did change. They launched a forum for Pro users to discuss things and to receive news about what Shutterfly had in the works. They launched a carry over from the shutterfly personal sites for the pro users – a more attractive "main" page that would only let you post galleries - but not let you sell images from those pages – you still had to funnel folks to the usual pro gallery pages. Changes came, slowly and not in areas that meant the most to me.

Finally – a month ago – about 4 weeks before I had to make a decision – they announced in an email that they were going to open up the ability for customers to buy digital images. But this, like the landing page, left me wanting more. Their catch? Customers could only copy image files over to their personal Shutterfly accounts. They could not download a file themselves.

This makes sense in one way – the photog will know that the user can't get the full res file and can't mis-use the file and not pay royalties.  On the flip side – it isn't getting the customer what they really want – the file. Perhaps I put a wee bit too much faith in my customers; but I do think I may not offer full res images for all my events – some of my better shots may only be avail as prints – but I do now have options.

The Search Begins:

Well – with none of my three key things addressed, I began a search a few weeks back to review other options. Since I launched with Shutterfly – I had seen write ups about numerous other photo sharing services. Some have since gone under (I read about it) others I either dreamed up or just can't find, or they went out of business again too. One that struck me as a nice option was a service that had you pay for storage as you added data – but that you would never pay for that storage again. Seemed like it may have been better than $200/year (Shutterfly's rate) or other renewal fees.

Speaking of fees – Shutterfly will waive your renewal fee (of $200) if you exceed a $2,500 of profit via their site – which is a nice perk if you can hit that level – but I don't make event sales the main component of my photography. Contract work is a much more lucrative avenue than event photography and I do the event work more to give back to the velodrome and cycling community – not as a main moneymaker.

I soon (from web recommendations and those from a few friends) looked into SmugMug, the free 14 day trial had me setting up a prototype site with SmugMug.

Short version – I'm going to stay with SmugMug and the "shop" link above will take you to my new sales site. I've posted a few galleries, and will post both view only and sale galleries there moving forward. I've also posted a HD time lapse movie that I did as a testing of their video hosting capabilities.

All About Branding:

The fact that my site is now uniform, that my site, blog, gallery and sales site all have the same style banner, uniform header links, etc – is the biggest early win. Take a look at these two examples – which one looks more professional? The first is a Shutterfly pro gallery – the first page you see after entering the gallery – the second is what my new SmugMug site looks like.

1-old

2-new

Which one do you think uses the common larger monitor sizes more efficiently? Both screen shots were from a 1280 x 1024 monitor. The SmugMug site does a great job with resizing and adjusting the size of the preview and thumbnails without having to re-load the page. The Shutterfly site just looks old school.

The customization process was easy to get the major things done, but I did have to lean on my geeky side (years in the IT industry) to be able to get down to the details. I will most likely do some posts on where to find some of the trickier things. The custom watermarks? Really easy, and I think a great touch to the site.

More Than Just a Pretty Face:

The larger selection of print formats, high quality Giclee prints, panorama printing options, framed canvas prints, and so on, and so on, and so on!

Digital downloads – and (tho I most likely will never use it) – the option to sell commercial use license downloads as well. The "personal use" downloads come in three resolutions – 1meg, 4meg and original resolution – and I can set prices for (and choose to offer or not) each of these sizes. As for the commercial license download – I'd use a stock photography for my stock stuff, and I want to keep my finger on the commercial use of my editorial and other photos.

Video posting as well – the "pro" level with SmugMug gets you 720p HD file hosting for files up to 5 min in length.

Compatibility w/ some mobile devices as well – I'm far from an iPhone a-holic, but the fact that there is a way to view galleries and hosted video on an iPhone (and most likely the iPod Touch – tho I've not tried that yet) has me wondering if I can get an iPhone to work off my blackberry server… hmmm….

Conclusions:

I'm stoked about SmugMug so far – I'll soon (I hope) see how their payment structure works (shutterfly was great on this – prompt bank transfers every month). I also have some prints coming in from the pro lab from SmugMug (tho you can choose to get prints from a highly rated pro-sumer lab), I'll let you know how well that works too. Till then – I'll be fleshing out my new shopping site – arranging the galleries that show on the main page.

Hey – if you want to give SmugMug a shot – you can get a discount by clicking hereand then signing up. Oh, and don't hesitate to ask setup/config questions – more than happy to help.

Thanks for reading!