Update: Photoshelter vs. Photodeck Review One Year Update
How do I feel after a year and half of using both? Read this review and then see the supplemental update at http://photoblog.velgos.com/2015/10/photoshelter-vs-photodeck-review-update
Photoshelter vs. Photodeck Backstory
This part covers why I switched. If you just want the comparison you should probably skip this section and go to Photoshelter vs. Photodeck.
First the disclaimer. I’m a photographer, not a professional reviewer. These are simply some of my notes and observations as a customer of both systems. And since I sell prints and stock photography the information here is slanted toward those offerings. Lastly while I try to be accurate I may have missed a thing or two.
I’ve had a Photoshelter website on their “classic” platform for a few years now. About a year ago I added a Graph Paper Press template to my Photoshelter website which I did a post about at http://photoblog.velgos.com/2012/12/new-photoshelter-graph-paper-press-website. Overall I’ve been satisfied with Photoshelter but a few things happened recently that made me start to look at other options.
The problems. I ran into another photographer and they asked to see some of my work. So I got out my iPhone and pulled up my website to try and show them some images. It was painful. I had to push, pull and pinch to get an image to display right. Then after all that maneuvering I clicked “next” and five seconds later the image came up and the push, pull and pinch started over again. I didn’t end up showing him much of anything. Later that month I got a call from a potential customer saying he’s trying to use my website to find an image using his phone and it was pretty difficult. “Not a huge deal” I thought. How many people really use a mobile device for serious website browsing? I checked Google Analytics maybe a year ago and mobile traffic was minimal. So I checked again. Wow! One-third of my traffic is from mobile devices. Of that, a little under half is IPhones and the other half is IPads with a small mix of other phones and tablets. So I then tried to use my website on my Ipad. The experience was better than on the IPhone but it was still pretty old school. Like on the IPhone I had to push, pinch and wait a few seconds for the next image to load. Yeech.
Time to start looking for some other website options. Just about every popular website system has the usual similar features like an image catalog, administrative dashboard, customer management, pricing configuration and so on. But I found a few things that I needed that not all systems had.
- Modern Design/Mobile: People are going mobile. Fast. Faster than I thought. If a website is painful to use on a mobile device I don’t bother with it. If I really need to see if then I’ll look at it on my laptop. I’m not sure when I turned into an impatient mobile user but I am one. I like some of the new designs like Pinterest and Flickr with infinite scrolling and touch based design. From what I’ve seen a lot of website systems are still old school when it comes to design and especially mobile part.
- Flexible License Configuration: A lot of systems have some sort of shopping cart that has configuration for Royalty-Free licensing, personal licensing, and some sort of print fulfillment. Not many offer a Rights Managed calculator or flexibility with configuration. I’m planning to start moving away from Royalty-Free so I needed RM functionality.
- Cloud Model: I found plenty of cheap or free templates and website software that I could host, modify and maintain myself. No thanks. I already learned my lesson there. I want someone else to manage the technology. I’ve wasted way too much of my life messing with technology problems. I’ll gladly pay extra for a system maintained by someone else. I look at it as an investment. I’m paying to get some of my life back in return. If an upgrade breaks something it’s not me working nights and weekends doing coding to fix it.
- Blog Integration: Specifically, WordPress blog integration. This is probably a personal preference but when I click the Blog link on a website menu I want the blog page appearance to be consistent with the rest of my site. I see so many photography sites where the blog opens in a new window and looks totally different from the rest of the website. Just not a real big fan of that. I haven’t found many systems that offer true seamless WordPress integration. They may say they do but when I test it there’s always something not quite right and not true integration.
So after checking out a bunch of options the only two that met all my needs were the same ones I found when I did my last evaluation. Photodeck and Photoshelter. And I’m already using Photoshelter. But to be fair I was using Photoshelter’s old school Classic version. In mid 2013 they launched a new option named Beam that has a modern user interface based on HTML5. And about a year ago Photodeck launched a completely redesigned system from top to bottom. So even though I looked at them a little over a year ago both released completely new versions since then. Time to take another look.
Photoshelter vs. Photodeck
Flexible License Configuration – Prints & Products
Up until recently a major difference between the two systems was with the print sales functionality but now things are a bit more even.
Photoshelter – If selling prints is your main business the Photoshelter system is really slick. They have several print vendors they work with (AdoramaPix, BWC Photo Imaging, EZ Prints, Loxley Colour, White House Custom Colour) that are fully integrated with the Photoshelter backend. In the configuration area you can pick which print vendors to work with by simply adding a price in a field next to each of the print sizes from each vendor. Each size shows the print vendor cost to you. Once you add your price that size option (e.g. 8×10, 12×16) automatically becomes available as an option for the user to pick in the Add to Cart function. When the user places an order you’re notified by email where you can log into the Photoshelter admin section and review the order. When you click Submit, the order gets sent to the appropriate print lab and they take care of processing the order. The order status is displayed in the admin section so you can see where it’s at the in the process. Once it’s shipped the order status is automatically updated with a UPS or USPS tracking number. The customer gets automated order and shipping confirmation emails and can check their customer dashboard for status. Totally painless, works great and the customers have loved the prints they’ve received. So far I’ve used AdoramaPix and BWC Photo Imaging and both have delivered quality products quickly with no problems. One thing to be aware of is that some vendors take extended holidays and shut down during that time but orders can still be placed through your website which can cause delays in orders being fulfilled. Photoshelter sends out notifications of upcoming vendor holidays so you can adjust your business accordingly.
Photodeck – Up until recently Photodeck’s print fulfillment was mostly manual. The customer could use a shopping cart to place and pay for an order. But it was up to the Photodeck website owner to create and deliver the print. Shortly after I started using Photodeck they recently announced they added integrated print lab functionality using One Vision Imaging based in the UK. So now where Photoshelter used to have a huge advantage, Photodeck now offers similar functionality. Like Photoshelter it displays a list of print sizes, the lab cost of each size, and a field for you to enter the price you would like displayed on the website. You also have the option of bulk setting the markup on print percentage (e.g. 200%) and also markup percentage on options. Since the new integrated print system is totally new I haven’t had a chance to go live with it yet and see how well the fulfillment works but this is a very welcome new feature. You also have the original option of creating your own products and manually fulfilling them using your preferred vendors.
[Update: The day I posted this review Photodeck added WHCC as a print vendor]
- Photodeck – At the moment offers one print vendor (and now two with WHCC)
- Photoshelter – Offers five vendors to choose from and you can use multiple vendors at the same time
Automatic Print Sizing
- Photodeck – Has an option that checks the photo dimensions and DPI and automatically offers the sizes that match the ratio and quality. So if you have one image shot with your old 5MP camera and another image at 24MP it will auto-detect that a 40×60” print probably isn’t suitable for the 5MP image and only offers smaller print sizes.
- Photoshelter – Doesn’t offer this feature
- Photodeck – Currently offers eight products: Canvas Wraps, Acrylic Ice Range, Beveled Edged Blocks, Box Frames, Coloured Edged Blocks, Fine Art Prints, Metallica Framed Print, and Professional Prints (uses Fuji DPII paper).
- Photoshelter – Offers a wide range of products. Each vendor product offering varies and some offer similar products (e.g. 8×10” print) and some offer unique products such as coffee mugs and puzzles.
- Photodeck – Offers full descriptions and pictures for products. This information can be changed in the administrative tools. The customer sees this information in while adding products to the cart.
- Photoshelter – Vendors provide information about products and no product pictures are included.
Flexible License Configuration – Stock Photography
Both offer licensing systems similar to most stock photography agencies. Buyers can download the images immediately after completing a purchase.
Photoshelter – Offers “Pricing Profiles” for Personal Use, Royalty-Free, Rights-Managed, and Image Packages.
- Personal Use – Offers sized based configuration for buyers who want to use photos for non-commercial use such as desktop wallpaper or a Facebook banner
- Royalty-Free – Offers size up to six size configurations with a description and price
- Rights-Managed – Uses FotoQuote (http://www.cradocfotosoftware.com) as its pricing engine. Can deliver Jpegs or original file formats. Can specify sales regions. Can bulk adjust pricing using a percentage if you want to increase or decrease FotoQuotes pricing. Can pick which usage rights you want to include (e.g. Advertising – Digital, Advertising – Prints, etc). The interface for buyers is similar to established stock agencies where the buyer is provided with a series of options to pick from and the price is automatically calculated.
- Image Packages – Allows you to bundle pricing profiles together to offer a package.
Photodeck – Offers Image Downloads and Stock, Video Clips, Documents and Packages.
- Downloads – A simple price list for downloads where you can create line items products and specify the sizes and prices. Allows you to set resizing options based on pixels min or max, KB or MB.
- Royalty Free – Also allows you to create a list of products based on size and is full configurable. Has slider tool to adjust all prices up or down.
- Rights Managed – A pricing engine based on a configurable list of options (e.g. Magazine, Book, etc) where you can specify a base price for each. Also has a slider tool to bulk adjust pricing.
- PLUS Rights-Ready – Uses PLUS (http://www.useplus.com) as its pricing engine and is based on PLUS Rights-Ready packs.
- Video Clips – Offers licensing options for Royalty Free and Rights Managed video clips.
- Documents – Offers ability to sell documents such as PDFs.
- Packages – Offers the ability to create a package from multiple products
Well, they’re both cloud based software systems. They host and maintain the website. You just rent it.
Photodeck – They offer three plans. Studio ($79.99/month), Pro ($29.99/month) and Lite ($9.99/month). Each includes a varying degree of features for each plan and they offer add-ons for more storage and other features.
Photoshelter – The also offer three plans. Pro ($49.99/month), Standard ($29.99/month) and Basic ($9.99/month). They also offer add-ons such as for additional storage.
- Photodeck – All plans include their recently upgraded system and interface
- Photoshelter – Only the Standard and Pro plans include the new Beam interface. With the Basic plan you get their Classic system and interface.
- Photodeck – They don’t take a percentage of your sales. You pay the monthly fee and that’s it.
- Photoshelter: You pay a monthly fee and they also take a “Transaction Fee” which is 8%-10% of your sales depending on what plan you have.
- Photodeck – Supports video uploads and embedding
- Photoshelter – At the moment only seems to support embedding
Both systems support mobile devices but the user experience is different. This probably boils down to personal preference on which you prefer.
- Photoshelter “Classic” – This is the traditional old school version of their interface. On a desktop it’s clean and works nicely. On a tablet it works okay. On my iPhone it’s usable but pretty clunky.
- Photoshelter “Beam” – This is their new interface. It works pretty well on just about all technologies I’ve tried. It’s simple, clean and fairly easy to use. The one thing to note here is that there seems to be two different page styles. One is a “portfolio” style display and the other is the actual image page. The portfolio display provides the modern full-screen-image nearly instant swipe experience. But to actually buy an image the user must click an “I” (for information probably) to get to the actual image page where they can buy it. Kind of confusing. You can opt not to have Portfolio style pages so users just go directly to the image pages themselves but the swipe experience is a little different. Here, the user can swipe but it seems to be just a different way of clicking “next” where it takes 2-3 seconds for the next image to load. Not really instant but not bad either. Overall it’s a huge improvement over the Classic version.
- Photodeck – If you like the modern Flickr style wall-of-images infinite scrolling model then this is for you. It works great on all devices I’ve tried it on. The design is clean, easy to use and instantly fast. On an iPhone the experience is very similar to viewing images on your Camera Roll. When you bring up an image it views full screen and looks fantastic. When you swipe you get the next image right now. Pretty impressive. Not sure how they made it so fast. On the Ipad, same thing. Images load full screen and look amazing. Swiping to the next image is instant.
Both provide blog integration options but handle it differently. The bottom line for both is that if you want the appearance and functionality that your blog is a seamless part of your website they both deliver.
- Photodeck – They offer two options. You can create new pages in a blog mode and the result looks like a blog. The second option is a WordPress Template export which after I set it up it works really well. In the administrative section there’s a function to export a WordPress Template. You then import the template into your WordPress site and your blog design looks identical to your Photodeck design. You create a new Photodeck navigation item that links to the blog. They may be separate sites but visitors won’t know the difference. This isn’t what I had in mind when I wanted blog integration but it accomplishes what I wanted with a simple and pretty darn slick method. A couple of things to note here. If you make changes to your Photodeck design you may need to do a template import/export to WordPress to update its design. And I have my own hosted WordPress.org site. According to Photodeck this isn’t supported by WordPress.com sites. The bottom line here is that the blog integration works great and you still have total control over your WordPress blog.
- Photoshelter – For their Beam system they provide a PhotoShelter Official Plugin for WordPress that provides integration between your PhotoShelter site and WordPress after you set it up. This is actual integration where WordPress is running within your site and looks and works pretty seamlessly. A couple of things to note here. Like Photodeck, this also only works with your own hosted WordPress.org site and doesn’t work with WordPress.com sites. And while for the most part the integration is pretty seamless the one thing I found is that my blog displayed nicely within my website but when I clicked on a blog post link it opened in a new window. I’m not sure if this is because of the way I had it configured but I couldn’t find a way of changing it.
Both allow you to upload custom images for watermarks and configure the position.
- Photodeck – Once you apply a watermark if you want to change it you must submit a support request and they manually update it. If you change your watermark after submitting images it only applies to newly uploaded images. So lesson learned is it’s probably a good idea to finalize your watermark before uploading images to Photodeck.
- Photoshelter – allows you to change your watermark at any time and the changes can take a few hours to a few days to update all images.
Both provide website addresses (e.g. yourname.photoshelter.com and yourname.photodeck.com) if you don’t have your own custom website address. Both also allow you use your custom domain name (e.g. www.yourname.com) and change your domain name provider’s CNAME to point to your website. But, what happens when you decide you switch from the Photoshelter or Photodeck address to your custom address is handled very differently between the two. Is one method better than the other? It’s probably personal choice.
- Photodeck – Photodeck uses a consistent website address whether you use yourname.photodeck.com or www.yourname.com. Meaning if you have an image with a website address of yourname.photodeck.com/my-image.jpg and you switch to using your custom domain name, the new address will be www.yourname.com/my-image.jpg. On the upside the entire website will having consistent URL naming. One thing to consider is that when you make the switch from the yourname.photodeck.com address to your custom address, the yourname.photodeck.com address is no longer valid and that website goes away. Why is this noteworthy? Because Google and other search engines will have indexed all of your content at yourname.photodeck.com and that website will no longer exist. Any people using Google that click that old link will get a “this page no longer exists” type of message. So if you create a site at yourname.photodeck.com and keep it for months or years and then switch to your custom domain name, you’re starting from scratch with your website appearing in search engines. The result of that is if you’ve built up a lot of website traffic it will probably drop significantly. Lesson learned is that if you decide to go with Photodeck it may be a good idea to make a decision early on about if you plan to use their website address or your custom address and stick with one.
- Photoshelter – Photoshelter handles website addresses differently. Whether it’s good or bad is going to be personal opinion. For images, the website address will always be yourname.photoshelter.com regardless if you use the Photoshelter website format or your own custom website address. So if you switch to using www.yourname.com visitors will land on your Photoshelter website homepage at that address. If they navigate to one of your images the website address will change to yourname.photoshelter.com such as this example from my website http://paulvelgos.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Chicago-Black-and-White-Photos/G00008BFBZXJflAQ/I0000mmMAPJ19Urk/C0000YCUrp0JBAfU. I’ve seen negative comments in Internet forums about this. On the downside some people think it looks unprofessional or that they don’t want visitors seeing “Photoshelter” in the address. Something to think about though is the address for your galleries and images will always stay the same even if you switch back and forth between yourname.photoshelter.com and www.yourname.com. So if you have a site for months or years with the yourname.photoshelter.com format and switch to www.yourname.com your entire website will still be indexed by search engines and your website traffic may have little to no change. So lesson learned is you have some flexibility with domain name format. If the flexibility or URL format is more important is your personal choice.
Both systems provide an extensive set of options to configure your website. Most changes can be made with simple tools that most people can use and doesn’t require technical knowledge or programming skills. There are a few differences to note:
- Photodeck – Has a huge number of configuration options and the entire system is modern and pretty slick. You can pick from several site design templates and then make color or layout changes and also add custom CSS. There are literally too many configuration options to cover in a review so I’d suggest setting up a trial to explore the different settings.
- Photoshelter Classic – Classic is Photoshelter’s original system that they still offer. The Basic plan comes with one template but the other two higher plans offer more templates plus the option to use Graph Paper Press templates or create your own custom template. Photoshelter Classic offers a lot of flexibility with configuration and customization. For a while I used the Graph Paper Press Albedo theme and after working out some kinks it was very nicely integrated. One thing to note is that Classic is exactly that. Some of the technologies it uses, like Flash slideshows, may be considered a bit old-school for some people. But that’s why Photoshelter now offers “Beam”.
- Photoshelter Beam (Beta) – This is Photoshelters new user interface and is still in what seems to be long term Beta. Fort the most part the administrative backend is similar to Classic but the front-end that your website visitors see is totally different from Classic. It’s clean and simple to use. You have the option of choosing from a few design templates and some basic configuration. Beyond that there’s not a whole lot of options to make changes to the interface. So if you like to tinker with CSS or make a bunch of interface design changes there’s not much flexibility. Another thing to note is that when I switched from my Classic Graph Paper Press WordPress configuration to Beam my traffic dropped like a rock shortly after. I’m aware that Google has a soft spot for blogs but I was surprised at how big of a change in traffic there was. To be fair, after several months my Photodeck site hasn’t come close to reaching the traffic levels of my Photoshelter Classic Graph Paper Press WordPress site either. I recently switched from Beam back to the Classic Basic non-Beam plan.
Marketing and Promotion
Neither Photoshelter nor Photodeck actively market your images. Promoting your work to drive traffic to your website is your responsibility. But, there are a couple areas where Photoshelter is unique.
- Public Image Portal: Photoshelter pools all of its website member images into a centralized database that is publicly searchable. So, if a buyer goes to the Photoshelter.com website and does a search it will display images from multiple contributors much like a traditional stock photo agency. The buyer can then directly buy your images.
- Virtual Agency – Photoshelter also offers an option known as a “Virtual Agency” where you can combine images from other member’s websites that you would like to work with. So let’s say you specialize in selling wildlife photos and you would like to create a wildlife stock agency website. You can have other Photoshelter members join who also have wildlife photos to create a large wildlife photo database.
Both offer integrated payment systems allowing buyers to submit payments when ordering but each offers a couple different options.
- Photodeck – Offers Offline Payments, Paypal, Authorize.Net SIM, Moneybookers, and Auomen Verkkomaksut (and Stripe as of 5/27/14)
- Photoshelter – Offers Paypal, Stripe, Authorize.Net, and Netbilling.
[5/27/14 Update: Photodeck added Stripe as a payment option with a noteworthy difference. With Photodeck you can choose to offer multiple payment options at the same time so a buyer could see both “Pay with Paypal” and “Pay with Credit Card”. As of this update, Photoshelter only allows you to offer one payment option at a time.]
As of this writing I’m still using and evaluating both systems. I don’t think one is “just better” than the other. They both offer excellent platforms with each having some advantages over the other. At some point I’m planning on selling video and right now only Photodeck fully supports video so that’s one of the biggest differences I’ve seen. Which is better will probably depend on your needs, personal preferences, and the type of work you do. So here’s a quick summary of both systems.
Are excellent website platforms for photographers to manage images and sell prints, stock photography, and other types of imagery directly to clients.
- Offers more print vendors and products
- Supports WordPress templates with certain plans
- Top plan is less expensive
- Offers a public portal of all member images
- Can create a Virtual Agency
- Doesn’t charge a transaction fee
- Supports video downloads
- New interface is included with all plans
- Phone and tablet experience is more natural
- All plans are highly configurable
If you found this information helpful and you decide to go with either of these systems we can both get a discount if you use the referral information below.
Photodeck: 50% On Your First Month
Coupon Code: YG@UZPOYI
Photoshelter: $5-$50 Discount
Promo Code: PA5VE65V6N
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My Photodeck Website: www.velgos.com
My Photoshelter Website (Classic): paulvelgos.photoshelter.com