Sarah is an event photographer in Portland, and like many photographers who shoot volume events and sports, she currently has a website where folks can go online and order prints of the images from her events. After the event, you go to Sarah’s website, pick out your images, and can easily buy a 16×20 wall print, or a 5×7 for your desk, or any other number of products. Sarah was chatting with me last week as she’s going to be having a new website built with WordPress and she wondered if she could better integrate photo lab ordering into her WordPress website.
There are a lot of pieces to online photo commerce in place in the WordPress ecosystem (various WordPress web hosting options, themes such as Photocrati that are focused on photography, commerce systems such as WooCommerce that can be used for sales) but the big piece that remains missing is integration with print labs. WordPress photo lab integration is tricky. Focusing on that specifically, this is a bit of a followup to an article I wrote earlier this year that explored the state of WordPress photo commerce.
Selling digital files is possible, but most financially-successful photographers know that the real money comes in selling valuable physical products such as wall prints, canvases, metal prints, or other products delivered by a quality lab. Whether your business model is one of volume or scarcity, working with a pro lab such as White House Custom Color, Bay Photo, or Miller’s is an important bit of the photo product pipeline.
Earlier this week I had a long conversation with a company that has some things in the works, but right now there’s not a great solution for those using WordPress websites and galleries.
An Interim Recommendation
Until something comes along in the WordPress world, there are several companies that offer photo galleries and online systems that integrate with print labs. When it comes to flexibility, support, and the general vibe of “we’re photographers who get it” I find myself returning to, and frequently recommending, SmugMug. With four levels of account (ranging from around $3 to around $25 per month) they offer packages that are a good fit for both a casual hobbyist or a serious professional.
You can create photo galleries, customize the styling, and even use a custom domain name to offer a more seamless experience for those coming from your main website. When it comes to print lab integration, you can choose from EZ Prints (consumer) or Bay Photo, WHCC, or Loxley Colour (pro). Personally I’ve had great results from Bay Photo, but I have several colleagues who use WHCC and are pleased. Heck, SmugMug will ship you free sample prints to help you decide.
Why WordPress Photo Lab Integration is Hard: Payments
I suspect that a big reason why we don’t yet have a solid print lab option for WordPress users is the commerce aspect. When things are a simple as having a customer pay you, it’s easy. WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, or any number of other plugins make that simple. But let’s look at what’s involved with photo product transactions involving a third-party lab:
- your customer wants to make one transaction
- some of that money money needs go to the print lab to cover your cost on the item
- some of hat money will be profit for you
- there will probably be dynamic shipping charges based on their address
With third-party photo hosting and commerce services such as SmugMug or Zenfolio, they take care of this payment processing. In SmugMug’s case, the photographer pays SmugMug a yearly fee. The photographer sets prices that include markup above the product’s cost from the lab. When a customer makes a purchase, they pay SmugMug, and SmugMug keeps 15% of the difference between the cost and the marked-up price. The remainder of the profit goes to the photographer.
This probably isn’t going to work without some sort of third party in the WordPress world. Whatever plugin facilitated the purchase would need to understand how to talk to APIs from any labs that it could use. Photographers would have to figure out some sort of pricing split with their lab. Realistically, labs aren’t going to negotiate pricing agreements for these splits with individual photographers.
I suspect that if it were easy, we would’ve seen a solution from Envira or Photocrati or one of the other WordPress gallery plugins.
There’s an opportunity to make this work, but the coordination aspect between the photographer / website owner, the print lab, and the software used as orders is the complicated part. One simple solution would be for print labs to offer the plugins directly, but I haven’t heard any rumblings of that being something they’re thinking about. That said, that might be a good question for me to ask when I visit the huge trade show at ImagingUSA in a couple months.
In the meantime, SmugMug, Zenfolio, and Photoshelter are likely to continue to handle the majority of online print ordering business.
some of the cheaper SmugMug plans don’t allow for markup/profit, but that’s not core to this explanation ↩
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