WooCommerce is going after photography

WooThemes announced a new product today, aimed at selling photography with WooCommerce. This is a good first step, and I’m excited to see an eCommerce product target the photography super-niche. That said, there is a ton of room in this market, and WordPress isn’t really solving photographers’ problems yet.

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.