SmugMug's price increase is has been one of the hottest photography topics not involving hardware in quite a while. Many photographers have written off SmugMug as just another greedy vendor while others have come to the defense of this reputable company.
Still other think there is more than meets the eye. (Check out our post “Patents, Pixels and Trolls” to learn more.) But regardless of how you feel, the truth is that an extra $150 for Business users stings a little. That money could be put towards that light stand you've been meaning to replace or the camera bag you've had for 10 years.
I spoke to friend and professional wedding photographer Chris Newkumet who had this to say: “There are a lot of options out there, and a price hike like that will have pros looking around. Most of these services can be set up behind website walls, so customers don't know who the provider is anyway. In that sense, there's no magic in the SmugMug name for pros…in fact, just the opposite.” Considering that professional photographers are the target market for a shopping cart service like SmugMug, feedback like this can mean life or death for their business.
Photography is an expensive business and an even more expensive hobby for those of us that can't convince wives and girlfriends that all of this cool gear is a business expense. Saving a few bucks here and there while maintaining the quality of hardware, software or anything else is important and it can add up.
Though we've all been spoiled with free services for sharing images, there are not that many products that offer extensive services like a shopping cart and fulfillment. So if you are one of the many frustrated SmugMug users, check out the alternatives below but also make sure to listen to Frederick's interview with co-founder Chris MacAskill.
Equal or Better
The Premium Business plan is $250 per year and is comparable to SmugMug's Business offering. For photographers looking to fulfill their own orders, Zenfolio offers this option. They also use my personal favorite printer – Mpix – who has done an excellent job with everything I've ever sent them. Both offer very nice themes, galleries, Lightroom and Aperture plugins and shopping carts but Zenfolio also throws in an iPad app for client presentations for Premium($120/year) and Business users. All in all, you are looking at a very similar service for a similar price.
At first glance, you might not be impressed since the Pro plan is $49.99/month and certainly not saving SmugMug expatriates any money. Before you brush it off, take a look at their extensive list of features. You will quickly notice that you are capped at 1TB but you can upload RAW images.
You can integrate their shopping cart with WordPress and there is no size limit for individual files. This is an e-commerce tool, not a backup solution so buyers should understand that they better sell some photos to pay for this.
Pictage is one of the most robust portfolio, shopping cart and fulfillment services around for photographers but their Starter package costs more annually than a Business SmugMug account. With the Pictage Pro account ($99/month), you get the standard galleries and fulfillment but you also get access to ShootQ worth $79.85/month. (This was Sara France's pick of the week in episode #270.)
This is a business tool that helps you track leads, sign contracts and manage invoices. Together, Pictage and ShootQ make an excellent team and deliver enough services to justify the price.
Not Quite There Yet
If you spend as much time on 500px as I do, you'll be tempted by their Awesome plan. I invested the $50 and have been pretty happy with the experience. My photo portfolio lives there and since I'm not selling prints, it's been a good fit. You actually can sell gallery-size canvas prints or high-resolution downloads in their Market but it doesn't offer a true shopping cart experience and there is no customization.
It is, however, an awesome portfolio tool with unlimited uploads. I wrote a more thorough review of their service on my blog and received an e-mail from response from them within a day addressing the few concerns I had. I'm inclined to like them because of the inspiration I've drawn from their work but all things being equal, they just can't keep up with SmugMug, Zenfolio or PhotoShelter.
Flickr is absolutely not a professional competitor to SmugMug but they do have some great features. Flickr Pro users can upload an unlimited number of images (but no RAW files) for just $25 per year. There are Lightroom and Aperture plugins so you can just dump batches of photos into private sets for backup. (If you want to get the photos back on your local hard drive, you'll need a third party service like Flick and Share.)
For years, I've used Flickr as for backup but also sharing. It's an easy way to share photos that you don't want on Facebook and it's easy to embed them on your WordPress blog too. People can download your images or order prints directly from the site but there is no branding and no customization. All that being said, it rocks for the price.
This site is more focused on creating portfolios. Their templates are attractive and although most of them are Flash-based, they have introduced iOS-friendly mobile designs. The Professional package provides pretty basic features (Google Analytics access and 5 email address) for $399/year and it would cost at least $199/year to have access to a shopping cart.
They, too, focus mostly on design with an additional emphasis on SEO. Sites cost $1,000 up front plus $17/month for hosting. You do get access to their iPad app which can be used for showing clients your site, FTP access and, for another $350, APhotoClient which is a client proofing service. No shopping cart or fulfillment makes this a really expensive portfolio site.
Of, course there are free and paid options for everything in between like sharing, storage, prints, invoices and shopping carts. Despite their price increase, a look at the market puts SmugMug's value in perspective. They deliver a great product and the price is still very competitive. Is there a service we are missing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.