"Photographers love this because it is low risk to them-they only pay if they make a sale!" says BECKY ORSER, marketing manager, ExpressDigital. "The fees start at 15 percent commission, plus a 3 percent e-commerce fee. The commission rates even go down the more you sell."
All financial transactions are handled on the site, and ExpressDigital pays photographers every two weeks. PhotoReflect.com storefronts are managed through any ExpressDigital Darkroom software, including the free Darkroom Web Edition. "Darkroom software is easy to use and offers a complete solution to running your photography workflow," says Orser.
PhotoReflect.com has more than 29,000 professional photographers using the service. "It is a perfect solution for portrait, wedding, sports, event, and school photographers looking to make money from online sales," states Orser.
The photographer completely manages the look by selecting from more than 100 templates, posting the images on their site, and handling the orders. For those worried about the security of putting their images online, Orser says precautions are taken. "The photographer can set passwords for customers to access pictures, and end users cannot right-click and copy images," she says. The images are shown at low resolution and can include watermarks as well.
"ExpressDigital collects payment by credit card or check, hosts the site, provides management software, and pays the photographer on the sales they made," says Orser.
Simplicity is Key
Tafota is a template-based company that features a content management system (CMS) that allows the photographer to modify his or her site without having to learn how to use any special software.
"We do leases, sales, or custom designs," says owner GRANT OAKES. "Most customers are going with a lease because they can get in for little money."
There is a $100 setup fee, and then to lease it's $40 per month with a 12-month minimum. If the photographer decides to purchase a template, it's $695, and that includes hosting for the first year. After the first year, hosting is $100 per year. "I think the break-even point is roughly 18 months," says Oakes. "After that, they start saving money if they purchase as opposed to leasing."
Oakes has seen a trend in the industry toward sites with CMS. "A lot of photographers would rather not have to manage their site, but then again, they don't want to have to wait for weeks for a developer to get back to them or charge them an arm and a leg to make small changes," he explains. "The idea is simplicity. Let them manage their own site whenever they want to, quickly and easily, and have it not cost them anything other than a little bit of time."
Ease of use is a big selling point for Tafota. With the company's iManage system, the user clicks on where it says to add photos, names the gallery, and uploads the images, and it's done. "It's easier to learn how to manage our sites than it is how to use a cell phone," states Oakes. "My very first customer built her entire site and put it online in three hours. It's that simple."
Another feature at Tafota that is popular right now is the ability to add a blog to your site. "I think most people are pretty aware of the power of a blog, because it gets people coming back on a regular basis," says Oakes. "I highly recommend everybody get a blog."
Oakes says that while blogging is hot right now, video is the wave of the future. "I think we're going to see a growing number of websites with video, which adds another dynamic feature to your web presence," says Oakes. "I would look at it as more of a web marketing trend. Obviously, pictures tell a very powerful story. But you can convey even more with video."
Oakes cites a couple of examples of web marketing through video. One idea is to post a video of the photographer in action. "I just shot a wedding, and I actually paid the videographer a little extra to come a little early and stay a little late and to bring a second cameraman just to videotape me," says Oakes. "We're going to turn it into about a four- or five-minute video clip that's going to be to die for. It will be a really cool video promotional piece that will tell a client a lot about who I am and what I do and how much passion I have about what I do."
Another example was done by a local Denver photographer friend of Oakes who created a gallery for every venue he photographs. "He can activate up to six galleries at a time," says Oakes. "So if he gets a phone call from a potential client, he'll ask where the wedding will be; if that particular gallery isn't activated, he can log in while he is chatting with her, change out one of the galleries, hit ‘Save,' and tell her to refresh her browser. She can do that, and just a few seconds later, a gallery will appear and she can look at a wedding that he shot at that venue. That is a great marketing tool."
To sum it up, Oakes says, "Blogging is where it's at. And I think the next trend is going to be video. That's going to be hot. But a content management system, a system that allows users to manage their site content quickly and easily, is still very, very important."
Steps to Success
Reps from liveBooks spend a great deal of time talking to potential clients to help their photographers find out what will work and what will help them get work. From those conversations, liveBooks has developed six important elements to a great website. With comments from Tricia Gellman, VP of marketing, liveBooks, these elements are:
1. Size and Speed. Make sure the images are a good size, but that they also have a really quick speed-people don't want to spend 35 minutes waiting for images to download.
2. Intuitive Navigation. This is an area where people really go wrong. They try to come up with some really cool, imaginative navigation scheme, but for the person who is looking at thousands of images every day, they don't have time to [spare]. Intuitive navigation is really important.
. A Clear and Present Brand. Make your site unique and distinctive to help differentiate from others in the market, but make sure it aligns with your work. Does it look like the A-level photographer that you really want to be perceived as?
4. Easily Updatable Content. One of the things about photo buyers is that they go back to sites frequently. You don't want the person who's deciding whether they want to work with you wondering if you've done any work in the past 10 years.
5. Clear Contact Information. Photographers spend a lot of time getting their images on the site, then forget to provide the proper contact information. Clients want to see a name, address, phone number, and email.
6. Search-Engine Optimization. Keywords, keywords, keywords! The keys to search-engine success are listed in order of priority. For the website: the site title and URL must contain complementary relevant keywords. Site keywords, image titles, image comments, and site description also must contain relevant keywords. You need good use of keywords associated to relevant links driving deeper into the site. For the image data: Search engines can't see images, they read descriptions. Therefore, name the JPEG file name with a keyword, make sure the image description contains keywords, and include keywords with the Alt-tag. Have well-ranked sites with similar content linked to your site.