Yesterday Woo announced a photography extension for WooCommerce that, in their words, is
designed to assist professional photographers with the day to day management and sale of their images
Could this be a long-awaited fully featured WordPress photo ecommerce system? No. It falls short in many areas. Brian Krogsgard over at Post Status wrote a good article about Woo’s entry into this field, and he notes some of the shortcomings and areas where the current WordPress photo systems fall short.
Non-WordPress Photo Commerce Options
Brian noted (and perhaps underestimated the power of) several non-WordPress photo commerce platforms that are available (generally as hosted services for varying price points)… we’re talking players such as:
These services all offer varying feature sets, but at a high level they’re relatively similar. Nothing in the WordPress world comes close to the photo commerce options of these systems.
Features of Web Photo Commerce Systems
To look at what’s missing in the WordPress world, let’s take a look at features needed by serious photographers looking to sell prints or digital downloads, as well as some of the nuances of the photo industry. As someone with a background in software development who has also worked as professional photographer in some capacity for six years, I feel comfortable in outlining a set of user requirements for a full-featured photo commerce system.
- Easily upload images, ideally with integration into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Aperture (or the replacement Photos app).
- Galleries of images that are either publicly accessible or password-protected.
- Dynamic galleries driven by metadata.
- Digital download sales with the ability to sell multiple image resolutions (to sell high-res and low-res versions).
- Manage download limits or expiration dates for digital downloads.
- Integration with professional printing labs that will print and deliver physical images. Think WHCC, Bay Photo, Miller’s / Mpix, etc. More on this below.
- Proof delay for print orders so that a photographer can review/prep orders if desired.
- Self-fulfillment print ordering where the photographer handles all of the printing and delivery – this is the only delivery method supported by the WooCommerce extension announced this week.
- Allowing clients to make picks or a list of favorite images prior to a sales presentation.
- Support for multiple pricing lists such that different prices could be applied to otherwise-same products.
- Support for offline invoicing and payment.
- Photo rights protection features such as server-side watermarking or download obfuscation.
- The ability to offer public galleries with individually-shareable photos much like one can share or embed an image from Flickr.
- Embeddable slideshows so that gallery images can be shared elsewhere.
- Per-gallery options as to whether or not photos appear in search engines.
- Collect sales tax and VAT appropriately to comply with regulations.
A WordPress solution wouldn’t need to have all of these options, but realistically it would need most of them to compete with the current marketplace of non-WordPress options.
The killer feature (that will help such as system gain traction) is the pro lab integration – which is also the most complicated and expensive to implement. Professional labs offer their own catalog of products, with various options. In addition to getting a photo printed on multiple sizes, you can choose from multiple paper types. Or a surface (such as a metal print or canvas) that’s not even paper at all.
Editor’s Note: See this followup article on WordPress print lab integration.
A WordPress photo commerce system would also need to handle how the payments work as money flows from the client and is then split between the lab’s printing fees and the photographer’s profit.
With WordPress, Looking Forward
While I love WordPress for many uses, one question that ought to be asked is whether or not WordPress is the right system to handle online photo commerce. As a content management system, WordPress (and other WordPress plugins) provides features for adding and managing various information and products, so while it could be done with WordPress (and a ton of work to build all of the missing parts), the question is whether it should be done with WordPress, or whether some of the specialized features noted above are better handled by dedicated third-party services.
The new WooCommerce extension is a step forward, but it is a small step. NextGEN Pro offers some commerce capabilities, but is missing some major pieces (namely any sort of lab integration). Last weekend at Pressnomics I had a chance to chat with Erick Danzer from Photocrati (the maker of NextGEN) and we talked about some of the challenges and opportunities in the space. They’re looking at it… but it’s quite complicated as noted above.
WordPress is a great option for a photographer’s website and blog, but at this point (early 2015), solid photography ecommerce solutions are best provided by a non-WordPress hosted provider who has the infrastructure required to serve the photo-specific needs of photographers.