Pictage just posted an announcement on its website: they are changing their business model, in fact, they are restructuring their business entirely it seems. You can read the whole press release here, and you can read their more concise FAQ here.
The Details Of Pictage’s March 30, 2015 Major Changes
If you’re a social media butterfly and are presently thinking to yourself, “TL,DR”, here’s what it all boils down to:
- Certain images will be deleted starting in 30 days
(This seems to be entirely up to Pictage’s random discretion, based on “which images are profitable.” So, if you haven’t sold any prints for your weddings that are a few years old, they’ll probably be the first to go).
- No disc / hard drive in the mail options to get all your photos off their servers – internet download only
- You will have 30 days to request more time to download older jobs
(Downloads will only be provided in whole-year chunks).
- P3 (credit card processing) rate increase from 1.5% to 2.5%
(Still cheaper than Authorize.net’s 2.9%).
- Pictage’s print lab is becoming a different company, Photo Albums Direct
(In 60 days, Pictage itself will no longer accept any print orders)
- Photo Albums Direct will still offer free album design
(Similar to the original Pictage business model of free album design)
- No more phone support – email support only
Why Pictage Must Change Its Business Model
It’s not difficult to guess why Pictage has decided to change its business model in such a big way. In fact, in what is a breath of fresh air in terms of frankness, Mike Grant the owner of Pictage actually lays it out with no sugar coating: print sales are dying. Or at least they are not what they used to be, and never will be again. In Mike’s own words:
Companies like SnapFish began to grow and Pictage’s sale of prints began to plummet. That was a huge problem, because it was the profit on the prints that made the entire Pictage method possible.
When print sales started declining, these [free services provided by Pictage] all became money losers for Pictage and Pictage as a whole started losing money.
…despite the fact that the number of photographers using Pictage is at a historical low, we’re actually storing more photos than we’ve ever stored.
Thus, the company that seemingly started it all with its “PUG” community network and other highly beneficial photographer resources, now has fewer photographers, who sell less and host more photos than ever (Also remember, 10 years ago in 2005, most cameras had only 6 megapixels).
To me, this doesn’t come as sad news, just a sign of the natural progression of our digital-centric industry. If you didn’t see this coming, well, when was the last time you bought a 5X7 portrait of your own family from a professional photographer? (By the way, of course, I do hope that anybody who loses their job at Pictage in the next month or so will do well in their future endeavors!)
Why This Comes As No Surprise To The Photo Industry
In recent years, giants such as Smugmug have already had to make tough decisions and upset many of their users in the process. Smugmug‘s professional hosting package jumped from $99 annually to $299 annually, and they’ve always asked for a 15% commission on profits (They do have a $150/yr business plan, with slightly fewer business tools).
Zenfolio (a competitor to Smugmug) has similar $140/yr and $300/yr plans, and they ask for only 6-12% of your profits, but offer less extensive customization.
While both hosts offer unlimited photo storage, neither host has ever offered things like free album design or “white glove” phone support. Also, both are relatively small companies that use low-cost, high-volume hosting services provided by Amazon (From the sound of it, Pictage hosts some or all of its photos locally which can’t be cheap.)
What Should You Look For In A Photo Host?
All of today’s photo hosting sites have fought hard to find a balance between annual fees, feature offerings, and sales commissions. What should you do, as a professional photographer?
Whether you’re a pro or a hobbyist, in my opinion, the first thing you should do when looking for a photo host is consider your long-term plans. How important is long-term online archiving to you? How important are short-term speed and business profit-generating tools? Can you find one host that balances everything perfectly? Or should you consider something more complex?
The New Business Model For Photo Hosting
The hot new business model for photo hosting seems to be the “Shoot and Share” concept. The idea began simply enough: If print sales are dying, then why not just charge pro photographers a flat fee to host each individual event, deliver images to clients digitally, and then delete them after a year or two?
That business model worked as a bare-bones digital transfer service only, and most pros quickly realized they did still wanted to sell prints. Also, once you get a couple hundred weddings into your career you will face the same exact dilemma that Pictage faces today: Do you really want to pay $3,000+ a year to host the 100+ weddings that are probably done generating any sales? What if you rack up 200 or 300 weddings?
The business model is still evolving today. PASS, Pixieset, and ShootProof all offer different ways to pay: by the gallery, by the image, or by the gigabyte. They all offer 0% commission at one level or another, but may wind up costing quite a bit annually once you rack up a decade or two worth of jobs, or even just a few years worth.
CloudSpot, which our wedding studio Lin & Jirsa helped design and launch, offers both unlimited and per-gigabyte hosting options, 0% sales commissions, and an extremely fast, customizable professional workflow. (Click here to watch a video demonstration by Pye!) Their plans range from $240/yr to $840/yr, depending on how much storage you need, so like the others, it can become costly if you are not actively selling prints for all of your hosted galleries. One nifty thing that Cloudspot has that most other sites don’t have is, archival storage versus active storage. This allows you to host your older jobs much more affordably than other plans, while still being just a few clicks away from viewing or selling prints again.
The Best of Both Photo-Hosting Worlds
What do I think is the best solution? A two-fold strategy. One for short-term business profit-generating workflow, and one for long-term archival. This just makes the most sense!
Personally, I have almost 100,000 photos (275 GB) stored on my SmugMug page. The best thing is, when I decide to retire from professional photography, I don’t have to kiss that archive goodbye. I can simply downgrade to a very affordable $40-60 / yr plan, and I like to think my own children and grandchildren could continue to maintain or even build upon my collection. Like I said, you should think very long-term!
If workflow speed, digital delivery, and print sales are very important to you, then you might consider using one of the other hosts to profit from your most recent jobs, while maintaining a personal and/or professional archive on one of the relatively cheap consumer-oriented hosting sites such as Smugmug, or heck Amazon is now offering unlimited photo hosting for $12 / yr, or unlimited “everything” for $60 / yr. You really can’t beat that for long-term archival! (If you don’t need your photos displayed in a beautiful gallery format, that is).
So, Should You Give Up On Print Sales?
Pictage’s announcement is sure to invoke some industry drama or heated discussion. Are print sales truly dead? No, not at all. Despite giant HDTVs, “phablets” and smartphones, I think that physical prints will remain timeless. Discerning clients will not just want to look at their precious memories on an iPad. (Discerning grandmas will want more than just a cheap digital picture frame, too!) Even though there is a cheap photo lab at every drugstore and Walmart, even though most clients expect to receive high-res digital copies of their images, a good professional photographer will always find a way to help their client get photos on the wall, and get paid for their time and skill of course. (If you haven’t heard of cutting-edge mobile apps like Preveal, you are missing out!)
Just because the heyday of physical print sales has passed, doesn’t mean it can’t still be a significant aspect of your professional service.
What do you think? Were you surprised by this news from Pictage? What do you think the future holds for them, and for the industry of photo hosting in general? Storage and bandwidth costs are only getting cheaper, but then again we’ve got 50 megapixel cameras on the horizon. Your thoughts and comments would be greatly appreciated, as always!