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Gear & Apps

Business – Online Printing & Proofing (Pictage, Zenfolio, SmugMug, & more…)

By Pye Jirsa on November 25th 2008

Online printing and proofing comprise the second half of your clients’ experience with your studio (with the actual photography time being the first half). There are only a handful of companies out there offering full online solutions making it difficult to find the “perfect fit.  And while there’s no simple answer, after doing our research, we believe the best solution depends on your studio’s specific needs. Our studio started with Pictage, but was shocked at how much of our bottom line they were eating up. So, we looked around, tried out other services and researched many options only to end up back with Pictage. This article explains why we choose to stick with Pictage.

[Recommended:Online Proofing Tips]

Our primary issue with Pictage lies in the price of the service; not so much the monthly studio fee, but more so the cost of prints and the 15% markup commission. Pictage’s monthly studio fee is $100 which includes unlimited events and uploads. However, Pictage’s print pricing is where they truly stick it to you. A basic full service 4×6 print starts at $2.00 cost to photographer, anywhere from 8-10 times more than other labs! In addition, they charge a 15% commission on your markup to your clients. For example, if the retail price of your 4×6 is $5.00, Pictage would take $2.00 for the cost of the print, and another $0.45 for the commission leaving you with a measly $2.55 of revenue. Taking home only 50% of the revenue from a sale is really the main reason why we started looking for other solutions.

Our research in looking for other full service solutions lead us to Collages.net, Zenfolio, Exposure Manager and Smugmug; mainly because there are not that many professional full service solutions out there.

Beginning with the area of price, the differences between Zenfolio, Exposure Manager, and Smugmug are negligible. All have annual fees ranging from $100-$150, offer 4×6 prints starting from $0.21 to $0.30, and have markup commission fees ranging from 10% to 12%, etc. Collages.net is priced more closely to Pictage at $70 a month for the membership fee, though they take a whopping 30% off the top of any sale for their commission, service fee and credit card processing. Right off the bat we were shocked that we found 3 solutions so quickly that were far cheaper and seem to be much more profitable than Pictage.

While originally we were very excited to find so many other solutions, the wind left our sails when we started comparing the overall services provided with each solution. Is Pictage worth the high monthly fee and expensive print costs? The short and simple answer is yes; and here’s why starting from our number one reason:

Credit card processing – Pictage has a feature they call P3 (Pictage Payment Processing), which enables photography studios to run credit card payments for your wedding packages, your album purchases, or anything else you might bill a client for (with a minimum of $100).

While all of the other companies allow clients to purchase products with credit cards, none of them allow studios to accept credit cards for custom transactions, such as wedding packages, frames, etc. If your studio wanted to set up its own credit card processing system, the credit card processing fees would range between 2-3% and would often include monthly membership fees, POS (Point of Sale) terminal leasing fees, etc.

So, let’s assume we find a processing solution with a low 2% and scrap the monthly fees all together. The fees from these credit card processing solutions would surpass the $100 monthly Pictage membership fee after $5,000 a month. So if your studio would normally process anything over $5,000 in credit card payments, the P3 feature alone is worth the monthly fee. Now whether or not you need credit card processing is debatable; but we feel that it adds to the customer experience by making payment convenient. It can also add to the overall confidence of a client in hiring a “legitimate” studio.

That said, is Pictage worth the expensive print prices and the 15% commission? In all honesty, it’s hard to justify paying 10 times the price of some of these other sites. Pictage charges over $2 per 4×6, while these other sites charge a fraction of that. As we discuss the features that Pictage offers, keep this in mind, as this is definitely the biggest drawback of Pictage and may tip the scale for some studios. For us, we believe that Pictage’s high costs are (just barely) worth their additional features mentioned below.

Offsite Backup – Backing up your events is critical. Pictage offers unlimited storage and will always keep a backup of your uploaded events. Thus, Pictage is also a wonderful offsite backup service. None of the other companies mentioned above offer unlimited storage and data archival. Similar offsite backup solutions with unlimited space and archival cost more than the $100 Pictage monthly fee alone.

Full Resolution Uploads – Pictage, Zenfolio and Exposure Manager allow you to upload full resolution images that are archived indefinitely. Smugmug only allows you to upload full resolution files once the client has ordered those particular prints. While this method is quicker in the initial upload, it often ends up being much more time consuming later since with each order you must select and upload the ordered image. Collage.net allows full resolution uploads, however each event is only available for 3 months and not archived for backup.

FTP upload Smugmug and Zenfolio do not support FTP upload, while Pictage, Collage.net and Exposure Manager do. We find this useful because using FTP software will automatically pick up where it left off if there is any sort of disconnection during the upload. In addition, we can control the bandwidth of the upload. While Smugmug and Zenfolio’s image upload process is easy to understand and use, they are not as passive, and that can be an issue when uploading thousands of pictures.

Website Appearance – While we like certain things about the user interface and appearance of all the solutions, we found Pictage to have the best match between form and function. It should be noted that Exposure Manager does allow you to customize your own interface, however, this is another relatively time consuming process that your studio must handle on its own.

Marketing – Also important is the marketing aspect that Pictage handles for us. While some say that they “spam  their customers with “two for one prints,  or “last chance to purchase  emails, we’ve found that the majority of our purchases are immediately following the release of these emails. So while they may not appeal to some customers, they are serving as useful reminders to those who have it on their “to do  list to purchase the images but may have forgotten. The other companies do not offer email marketing services.

Client-side Favorites Folders – We upload thousands of pictures per event. Customers don’t typically purchase during their first visit to the site simply because it takes time to browse through everything. Pictage’s “Favorites Folders  is important to the user experience with the proofing and purchasing system since it allows them to store all the pictures they like for later purchase. Smugmug, for example, does not offer this.

Categorization and Navigation – While the other sites allow you to categorize images, none allow you to categorize in an efficient manner. Through Pictage, we can categorize everything in Lightroom prior to uploading. In addition, while you can categorize your images with these other sites, the list of categories is not presented in a menu on the right side at all times for the client’s ease of use. Therefore the overall navigation and client usability suffers significantly.

Hidden Pricing – Pictage and Collage.net pricing is only available to professional photographers while anyone can view the pricing for the other services. With the margins for prints as high as they are in our industry, we don’t always want the client knowing exactly what their “$1,000 print package” is costing us.

Gift Credits – To get the guests of the events onto the site, photographers offer Gift Credits toward their purchases. This is a service not offered by any of the other solutions.

Customer Service – Pictage gives you a customer service representative, available directly via phone or email during regular Pacific Time business hours, while the others respond (quickly) via email only.

Name, Image, Brand – While we never like to follow blindly, the fact that almost all top photographers use Pictage (with varying degrees), adds legitimacy to the brand and thus your studio. In addition, simply from a marketing standpoint, the name Pictage sounds higher end than the other services such as Smugmug.

Bottom line, because of these reasons, along with several other perks like free album design, an exclusive contract with the makers of the Willowbook Sequoia, customer satisfaction guarantee, Pictage User Groups (PUGS), etc – our studio has decided to stay with Pictage. However, if there is another solution out there that can offer the same or better service without the price tag, we will be happy to consider it =).

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About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Scott Trombley

    Has anyone found anything better in the last few years?

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  3. Daasebrephotos

    I am wondering if you are still writing on this site; your article is dated 2008.

    Anyways, have you done any latest research on the same companies?

    Thanks a lot

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  4. Mike V.

    You should definitely check out the Photobiz Shopping Cart. I know a ton of people that swear by it. When it’s time to end my run with Zenfolio I will be going to them(they also are who I use for website templates and such). Also they will be updating it very shortly so that you can then choose from multiple vendors. It’s gonna be, and is already great!

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  5. Bryan Myhr

    Thanks for the great tips, Pictage was really pushy when I gave them my info, I’m happy to read about other options.

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  6. Martin

    your calculation is not accurate, Pictage charge 15%, but they do it before they charge for printing, so you get $ 2.25 (not $2.55), so they are even more expensive,,,

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