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WooCommerce is going after photography

Photography is a huge — and quite competitive — market. WooThemes has one nice advantage, in that they are quite dominant in the eCommerce space.

However, catering to actually selling photos is a whole new world. You're talking about competing with dozens of services, some quite vertically integrated (from website, to photo management, to photo fulfillment), to a very picky audience full of people with unique workflows.

I am not a photographer. However, last year I did a ton of research on photography product potential in the WordPress space. I was working with Range, and we were exploring creating our own photography product. I interviewed a dozen professional photographers in person, ranging in industry, experience, and company size.

I learned a lot during that research phase; and one thing I learned is that this is no easy venture.

The new WooCommerce photography extension does one thing quite nicely: it allows a photographer to create albums where customers can bulk purchase photos, and it allows the photographer to upload the photos for purchase, as well as protect the albums so that only the photography client can view them.

You can view a marketing video, walkthrough video, and screenshots for WooThemes' Photography extension on the dedicated product page.

Considerations for true professional photo management / sales

However, that is one piece of the puzzle. This plugin makes the client-side of ordering relatively painless, but there are other elements to think about:

  • Narrowing an album from a lot of photos to fewer photos
  • Choosing to make an album visible to a wedding party or others that may want to purchase, in addition to a client
  • Creating a more visual gallery of an album, versus a “purchase” view
  • Enabling uploads to be synchronous with an editing tool, like Lightroom
  • Enabling categorization, automated meta data, and various grouping mechanisms for photos
  • The ability to quickly send the same or select photos from a client-viewed album to a new gallery for a blog post about a client event
  • Integrating a photo fulfillment service, to actually print and deliver purchased photos
  • And much more

I'm sure WooThemes has done a good bit of research for this product. However, I think they've made a feature that's not yet ready for your every day photographer. Of the photographers I met, most lamented the experience of creating, managing, and selling photos and albums.

I think that there is a lot of room in the self-hosted photography space, and my reasoning is simple. Right now, selling photos and managing albums, client review, etc., on hosted services is super expensive. Plenty of services charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year, and/or charge massive per-purchase fees (like 10%+).

A self-hosted, WordPress-integrated photography management solution — built for WordPress professionals — could be a million dollar idea on its own. I think WooCommerce creating this add-on is an interesting start, but I believe the concept has major legs that could grow into something huge.

Here are some other players in the market

Let's start within the WordPress space:

  • Photocrati — a theme plus eCommerce, gallery, and other features (these are the folks behind NextGen)
  • Sell Media — Graph Paper Press's spin on selling media and prints. If I recall correctly, this is a fork of EDD customized for their photo-heavy theme collection
  • ProPhoto — hideous but one of the more “full service” photography website options, minus selling
  • Easy Digital Downloads — Out of the box, EDD could be used for selling photos
  • Exchange — Out of the box, Exchange could be used for selling photos

No WordPress product is really providing a full solution though. Plenty of non-WordPress products are trying. Here are some that are interseting to look into:

  • SmugMug — A compelling, hosted option. Probably the most interesting in the market.
  • InstaProofs — A widely used method for proofing, selling, and fulfilling photo orders. (Requires 8%-15% commissions!)
  • Pictage & ShootQ — The most vertically integrated options: from initial lead to photo fulfillment. These two are quite popular, but are expensive SaaS products.
  • There are loads of these, but these are popular ones, and give you an idea of what WordPress-oriented products are up against.

I don't envy professional photographers on the web

Professional photographers have a lot to juggle.

They've got to manage leads, their website copy, their contacts and CRM, their galleries and portfolio, their client albums and workflow, their events, their raw copies of photos and backups, the ability for clients to buy from them, and more.

Managing this entire setup online is possible, but right now a photographer with a WordPress website and a third party system for album reviews, sales, and leads is kind of lame.

I think WordPress can do a better job, and reduce expenses for professional photographers, while enabling them to have a more synchronized web experience for their clients. I think WooCommerce introducing a Photography extension is one piece of the puzzle, but it doesn't solve the over-arching problem.

I truly believe someone could create a theme and plugin shop that competes with these third parties. But it needs to have a lot going for it: beautiful display, an easy to use interface (I'm not sure the back-end of WordPress counts as this), help photographers not continuously repeat themselves during photo management, and generally make their life as a professional photographer easier.

Hosted services are tackling this problem. Those photographers managing their websites on WordPress may have more freedom and lower costs, but right now the experience isn't easier.

WooThemes is making a good first step. I'm not sure that they are the right team to really go 100% though. I'd be interested to see another company build something integrated into this product from WooThemes (or another WordPress eCommerce product) and really solve professional photographers' workflow grievances.

Like I said, I interviewed about a dozen photographers from different backgrounds. None of those interviewed felt particularly satisfied with their web workflows. There is room in this market. My question is: who will fulfill their needs?

I think it can be a self-hosted product or hosted product, or both. But I think WordPress should be an excellent tool for photographers, and right now it's not.

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23 Comments

  1. I totally agree! As an amateur photographer and blogger, I would LOVE to see theme that can somehow highlight photos, but still makes text look good. It’s a tough balance, but it would be a great combination in a theme!

  2. Hey Brian – nice to finally meet you at Pressnomics!

    Thanks so much for the Photocrati mention above!

    On NextGEN Gallery, I wanted to emphasize that NextGEN Pro (an extension for NextGEN Gallery) offers robust ecommerce and proofing specifically designed for photographers. The interface and logic is similar to non-WordPress photography solutions like SmugMug. And it’s been hugely popular, with about 13,000 sales since we launched it last year.

    http://www.nextgen-gallery.com/nextgen-pro

    The combination of NextGEN + NextGEN Pro will replace Photocrati’s built in ecommerce solution this year. Photocrati users will be able to buy/install NextGEN + Pro along side the theme.

    If you want any more details on it, just ping me. Thanks again!

  3. Awesome!! This is such an additional welcome opener of the small business space for ecommerce by Woo yet again. They rock 🙂

  4. Hey Brian, thanks for this post. My wife is a professional photographer and, based off of her network, I work with a lot of photographers in my area.

    I was really interested when I saw this announcement this morning but when I looked into it further I was a little confused as to the real utility at this point. I agree, it seems like a good first step into the market, but the biggest missing piece that I saw was fulfillment.

    Another omission that I saw from the Woo plugin was print sizes. I watched the demo video and it seems like this could be handled via the product add on’s extension but I’m not seeing how it could pull users away from services like Pixieset, or Instaproofs.

    For example, my wife uses Pixieset to handle image sales. It’s a really gorgeous interface and presentation for her work. Each event gallery can be sorted by tags, like “Highlights”, “Getting Ready”, “Ceremony”, etc. She offers 4 different products for each photograph: Prints, canvas, mounted prints, and metal prints, each of those with roughly 7-10 options for print size.

    Can you imagine setting all of that up in Woo Commerce, for every event?

    On the backend all of her products are synced directly to her lab, so she’s able to see the labs prices right there, set her markup, and add the products that she wants to sell. Purchases go right to our Stripe account and she can even do direct fulfillment, so the system sends her orders directly to her lab.

    Additionally, there’s no user management. We design a gallery card with a simple URL and password, the card goes out at the event, and end users just provide their email address and the simple password to login.

    I’m not suggesting that my wife is representative of the entire professional photography market, but she is quite happy with the platform she is using.

    I don’t know, I hadn’t planned on writing this much and I feel like I could go on and on, but it does seem like this plugin has a long way to go.

    I’m sure a lot of this stuff could be handled by WordPress, but does it really need to be, should it be, and if it were would it really be a better solution than a dedicated third party service?

    You’re right though, if someone can pull it off properly it will definitely be a million dollar idea.

    Have a good one!

    1. Great points. I’m wondering how some of these services and their (potentially available?) APIs might be integrated through some simple plugins, along with Woo, and a greater WordPress connected ecosystem (at the very least).

      Great thoughts!

  5. Maybe i read the article and the comments too fast, but there is one HUGE point that needs to be addressed and that is the 800 pound gorilla on this topic that none of the comments nor the post itself touched upon..

    As with the fight for Kenya to not have to sell its roses via Holland; or coffee or chocolate producers to starve, while middlemen from Europe and N. America control the market..

    How can WooCommerce, perhaps in conjunction with another technology, integrate the independent photographers? Even a simple integration would be fine, this is not so difficult.. where from a SPORTS category of Photographer A I can get randomly get to SPORTS category of Photographer B. It can be a random jump, or, better yet, a search tool or wiki that will integrate all WooCommerce tools..

    This will be the digital equivalent of FreeTrade coffee.

    ciao,
    adriano

    1. I totally agree with the author.

      IMO, the 800 pound gorilla (or pink elephant as I like to say), is…hosted vs. self-hosted, which leads to, WordPress.

      The biggest advantage that hosted solutions offer are the robust hardware, and software. Imagine an event photography bulk uploading 600-800 photos at a time from the weekends sporting event. Each photo loaded with image meta, which is parsed, read, and databased.

      Then move onto bulk managing a large set of images, and meta, client and orders, etc. thats where an elegant UI/UX is paramount, which, hosted solutions win here; they have “newer” technologies they can leverage, i.e., node.js, and other languages, which aid for a much smoother UI/UX. Heck, look at the UI/UX for hosted WordPress(com) vs. self-hosted(org).

      As hosting becomes cheaper, web users become better educated with web technologies. I feel strongly that we can see a strong push for a self-hosted WordPress products catering to photographers.

  6. Thanks for this post Brian!

    After reading it we are highly motivated on finishing a first version of our own plugin in the photography space. We have many photographers as friends and clients, many of whom use WordPress as their portfolio sites. But as you were writing, there is still much room to use WordPress not only as a presentation tool for their work, but also to make it part of their workflow. Our plugin will help with that. You can find a little bit more about it here:

    http://picu.io/

    We are right now releasing an alpha version to a small group of our photographer friends and hope to have a public beta ready by the end of February. Stay tuned!

    Thanks again!

  7. Would love for anyone interested to check out the loose draft/beta that’s been my pet project on and off for a while:
    https://github.com/SteveHoneyNZ/wc-pwinty

    Essentially WooCommerce + Pwinty API with bulk upload etc.
    Works seamlessly with the Image Watermark and PixProof plugins to provide pretty much all the functionality being discussed here.

    Seems like you all would be a great group to get feedback from. Please bear in mind I literally just did more than 50% of the work in the last 72 hours with no definite brief in mind and too much coffee…

    Cheers

  8. I agree with commenter Jimmy. I first saw the email announcement and thought WooCommerce was going to completely change things for photographers. But once I dove into the plugin, I don’t see how it has any features photographers can actually use for working with clients. This will also mean photographers have to purchase several different plugins (this Photographer plugin, payment gateways, something that doesn’t yet exist for favorites, print lab integration and more). PixieSet is a great platform.

    To Steve, many photographers don’t want to have to install tons of plugins, configure each one and hope they all work together seemlessly. They want one single solution they can install and move on with the work they really love, photography, instead of figuring out a website. A single solution is what they want.

    I am also a developer of a competing plugin to the WooCommerce Photography plugin called Sunshine Photo Cart, http://www.sunshinephotocart.com Not sure how this was missed for this article since we come up in every search related to WordPress Photography. This article says no WordPress plugins provide a full solution, ours has (almost) all the features photographers are looking for in a single plugin: Selling prints at any size, password protected galleries, private galleries for only specific users, favorites, sell digital negatives, payments online with PayPal, Stripe or offline methods, packages (sell 3 different products as a single product which almost every client photographer does). There is not any proofing system that has every single feature though, WordPress or not. Looks like we have A LOT of people in this race 🙂

    1. I often can’t find every thing out there. And fwiw, your site definitely doesn’t show up for “WordPress photography” in Google for me 🙂

      1. Sorry, I meant searches like “WordPress photography” + anything relevant like “plugin”, “cart”, “commerce”, “client galleries”, “client proofing”, “selling plugin”.

        Any way, I realize my comment sounded harsh – was not intending to start anything. Just annoying something I have been building for 2+ years in this field got no recognition when it’s got a great following, great features and doing well in the space.

        1. Any way, I realize my comment sounded harsh – was not intending to start anything. Just annoying something I have been building for 2+ years in this field got no recognition when it’s got a great following, great features and doing well in the space.

          I’m happy to shed light on things, as I discover them. I’d just never heard of it.

          1. Feel free to introduce yourself via the contact form. I try to stay pretty aware of the various product businesses out there. And am happy to chat with folks.

  9. @ Derek:
    I think the crux of the issue (my opinion from looking at a lot of plugins and hosted solutions) is shown when you say photographers don’t want to install a bunch of plugins – ie one plugin should do everything.

    My philosophy with plugin development is basically do one thing well and do it in the least obtrusive and most concise way you can. The biggest missing pieces here are product creation/management (I really hoped WooThemes would nail that bit with the photography extension in a way I could extend) and API interaction, so that’s what I wrote. I looked at image water marking but why would I bloat my plugin when there’s an established and freely available plugin that does the job perfectly already?

    The whole premise of plugins is to allow those who want the control of a self hosted solution and the ability to build/tinker/customise as they like, a modular system. It’s what makes WooCommerce the market leader, I wouldn’t dream of writing ecomm functionality from scratch when something so easily extended and robust already exists.

    To be blunt I think where plugins like Photocrati, SellMedia, Sunshine et al fall down is they are attempting to be a SmugMug etc competitor with a fraction of the resources.

    It’s clear from reading many ‘wishlist ‘ articles like this and hearing endless combinations of requirements from photographers that one size doesn’t fit all. What we’re missing isn’t a killer plugin it’s a ‘suite’ of plugins (and themes) that will play well in any combination.

    Having said all that Sunshine does genuinely look better than a lot of similar options, and I’m sure it is a good fit for a percentage of the market.

    1. I actually agree with not trying to cram every feature into a single solution when it comes to WordPress plugins. Take ProPhoto for example, they have built an entire CMS as a WordPress theme which clearly overkill. SEO, menu management and many core WP features are part of their “theme”. When I started Sunshine I actually built it so everything is “addons” – favorites, packages, digital downloads, watermarking, discount codes, shipping methods, payment gateways are actually separate plugins but just automatically included within Sunshine at the moment. I did this so at any time I could change my business model to match WooCommerce, EDD or other similar setups. After speaking with many photographers before initially releasing Sunshine almost all said they wanted it simple – one plugin. At the onset that seemed fine, Sunshine didn’t have all the features it has now. And now I am actually considering switching and having a core plugin and then individual addons for the very reason of bloat. Thankfully for me to do this, code wise at least, would be just a matter of a few minutes (marketing site of course would have work to do).

      1. Hi Brian,

        Thanks for the well-researched overview of the photography space. I think you are right about the huge market opportunity here. Photographers are still not well served (almost everyone who starts switches over to advertising rather than subscription like Flickr or Google or indirectly Facebook). I expect part of it is that the opportunity is so obvious and so huge that free players start a rapid race to the bottom. If you are over a certain price point, you become niche and hence your solution ends up being a bit creaky which means a lack of traction which means more people enter the market which becomes more fractured until…today’s situation with no single good solution.

        Hi Derek,

        Your Sunshine photo plugin sounds great. I’m going to check it out for my own work, as I’m less and less happy with Smugmug (since their v2 which broke all URLs, trashed all SEO and deep sixed all traffic).

        Your idea about keeping it simple is really solid. Most photographers will only need two or three from your list:

        favorites, packages, digital downloads, watermarking, discount codes, shipping methods, payment gateways

        We have a similar issue with FV Flowplayer. Our clients want too many features. In our case, allow user uploads, playlist, playlist captions, HTML popup, redirections, autoplay, loop, splash end, embed, subtitles, ads, mobile video, align, controlbar, additional live stream.

        With all of these options turned on at the same time, posting a video is of course excruciating. The issue is not dropping features: a significant number of publishers need each of those features. So what we did instead is added a simple “Post Interface Options” block in FV Flowplayer’s Settings screen.

        Most people only turn on two or three (only two are turned on by default). This system might work well for your photography plugin as well.

        1. A large portion of photographers want all the features actually. But an large portion do not. Our basic version has significantly less sales even though it is much cheaper, but we do get requests on occasion asking if just one feature can be made available instead of the whole thing. For every 1 person that contacts you with a question, there are likely many more who simply don’t take the time to reach out.

          Sunshine right now includes all the files for each feature, but only uses the code if the setting is enabled. Also, most of the features are built as standalone plugins meaning they do everything off hooks/filters built into Sunshine and so only run when requested.

  10. I just ran across this, well, my wife mentioned it to me today.

    Looks like someone has been hard at work on a tool to fill that ‘do it all’ gap in the photography industry. This is still in the works, but the features page looks really interesting. High price point (relatively speaking) but it could be a really useful tool if it delivers. I know my wife is very interested to see how it plays out.

    It’s supposed to handle “studio management” (think 17Hats), online galleries, album proofing, and sales galleries.

    Here’s the product page – http://getsproutstudio.com/tour/features/

    The product site is running WordPress, but it’s hard to tell what platform the app is being built on.

    Here’s a blog post by the team that’s building this – http://sproutingphotographer.com/sprout-studio-announcement

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