All posts tagged: ktools.net
shopify versus photostore from ktools.net
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I’ve been experimenting recently with different ways of licensing my templates and illustrations, and after weeks of searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are only two products that photographers and illustrators should consider: Photostore from Ktools.net, and Shopify. Both platforms are pre-built and ready to run right out of the box, which is perfect for busy people like me who would prefer to spend their time creating content rather than tinkering with code. Both feature powerful selling tools which makes it easy to organize products in any way imaginable. But the important question is this: which one of these two is best for selling stock photos and illustrations? I’m actively using both platforms at the moment (I’ve even compared Photostore to other products in the past), and I’d like to share my thoughts on the matter.

Setup

Winner: Tie
I can sense you all rolling your eyes at me now – you’re probably reading this article in hopes of finding out which product is the clear winner, but I honestly believe that the amount of effort it takes to get both Shopify and Photostore up and running is about the same. The difference is the process.

With Shopify, you don’t need to know a single thing about how to set up a website. They host your store for you, so you don’t have to purchase hosting space, you don’t have to mess around with FTP clients, and you don’t have to don’t have to pray that your web host is configured properly to run your store. You just fill out some forms, upload your products, and you’re in business. But it’s not that easy: it took me an entire afternoon from the time I created an account to the time my store was online with a handful of products. There are a lot of steps to get a Shopify store up and running.

The Photostore setup process is a little different. You do have to sign up with a web host such as Hostgator or Bluehost (or whoever you want to use). And you have to upload the store files to your server yourself via FTP. But the online documentation is simple and easy to follow – it’s not that hard to do if you follow their directions step by step. And even if this self-setup process sounds scary, you can feel good knowing that Ktools will install Photostore for you free of charge. How easy is that?

Uploading photos / illustrations

Winner: Photostore
By default, Shopify is not set up to sell digital products. Every item you upload is referred to as a “product”, and you have to process each one (adding price, keywords, etc) manually. You’ll need to install a free app called Digital Downloads in order to sell photos and illustrations, but the setup is simple. Once it’s installed, you just attach a digital download to your product and Shopify takes care of the rest. This is fine if you only have a handful of products to sell, but this manual processing would be far too time-consuming if you have 1000’s of images to upload. This is precisely the reason why I only sell templates on my Shopify store.

On the other hand, Photostore was designed from the ground up to handle large image collections. You can batch upload through the admin area or via FTP, and the software will process the images and create all the sizes you need automatically. Just assign licenses and pricing to the batch, and let Photostore do the rest. Easy.

Batch editing

Winner: Photostore
The biggest downside to Shopify that I have seen so far is that there are very few batch editing tools that will allow global changes to similar products. That’s a big problem for me, especially since I’m always tweaking my licensing and pricing model to adapt to market needs. So what happens if I want to change the price of every image in my Shopify store? I’ll need to do it manually, one by one. Ouch.

Shopify admin section showing product listing

This is the listing of my products from within the admin section of the Shopify store – it’s a bit difficult to see what’s there just by a quick glance, and there are no options for batch editing

With Photostore, global pricing updates are simple. In the admin area, simply go to Library > Digital Profiles to change the price of each size of image being offered. Since I only have four digital profiles in my store (Royalty Free, Extended, Editorial, and Rights Transfer), the time it takes to change prices site-wide is just a matter of a few clicks.

Ktools.net photostore media gallery screenshot

This is the admin section of my PhotoStore site. Big thumbnails make browsing easy, and as you can see, there are quite a few batch editing tools in the top nav

Visual design (look and feel)

Winner: Shopify
Now here’s where Shopify really shines. I love good visual design, and it’s painfully clear that Shopify has a top-notch design team who cares. The entire user experience (front end and back end) is slick and refined, and there isn’t a pixel out of place – anywhere. This attention to detail spans across the wide variety of themes they offer, and I didn’t have to change one line of code to make my store look the way I wanted it to. It was beautiful and slick right out of the box.

Screenshot of my Shopify store

I like the look of my Shopify store quite a bit – and it required absolutely no tinkering on my part to get it looking good

Photostore, on the other hand, was built by extremely talented developers who know how to write flawless code – but don’t have the eye for design that the Shopify team has. Photostore themes just don’t have that same level of polish, thus requiring me to tinker with code to get things looking the way I want. The trouble with that is I don’t really enjoy dealing with coding issues, and I’m not talented enough to modify the themes enough to get them looking really good. I’ve had to settle for a style that’s “good enough for now” which kind of bugs me.

My ktools.net photostore homepage

I’m not quite as satisfied with my PhotoStore homepage. Things don’t fit to the grid very well, and it’s a bit too cluttered for my tastes.

Support

Winner: Tie
The technical support experiences for Shopify and Photostore are both quite good – but different. With Shopify, online support is available 24/7 via chat. Most of the time they’ve been able to help me resolve issues, but other times I feel like the people I’m chatting with don’t have enough knowledge of the system to help me do what I want to do. Being available around the clock is nice, but resolution is hit or miss.

Photostore support is a bit slower, but top notch. Responses to tickets usually take about 24 hours, but these guys know their code and they’ve always been able to resolve issues quickly without a lot of back and forth. I never stress whenever I run into an issue (which I should say is rare) because I know Jon and the team can fix anything.

Running my business

Winner: Photostore
There’s something to be said about the “ownership” of each platform. My Photostore site is mine. I own every aspect of it, and I can do whatever I want to it. I can host it wherever I want, and I can change the code to my heart’s content. Best of all, I’m not locked into Shopify’s fee structure and rules. I set my own prices, and I never have to worry about being screwed if Shopify changes the rules or goes out of business. I’ve spent a lot of time uploading and categorizing my images and templates on Shopify, and part of me cringes at the thought of spending so much time on a platform I don’t own.

On the other hand, Shopify does offer a great user experience with super-fast site speed, so I’m willing to suck it up and pay their fees for those kinds of perks. But I’m much more comfortable knowing that I own the Photostore side of my business.

The overall winner

I use both Shopify and Photostore because there are things about each that I really like. But when it comes to selling large collections of photos and illustrations, Photostore can’t be beat. It’s powerful batch upload and edit features are worth more to me than the slick user interface of Shopify, which says a lot considering how nit-picky of a visual designer I am. My urge to make everything I produce look as good as possible can be crippling at times, but I can live with some of the minor visual quirks of Photostore if it allows me to market my illustrations in a fraction of the time it takes in Shopify.

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I wasn’t planning on mentioning my latest shopping cart software, but I couldn’t resist. My workflow has been greatly improved since I upgraded my store to PhotoStore 4 from ktools.net and that (most certainly) is worthy of a few props thrown their way.

Those of you who have been following me for the past few years know that I have been a loyal PhotoStore user since the beginning, despite my brief detour with Photo Video Store from cmsaccount.com a couple years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that I made a mistake by switching, and the rock-solid shopping cart scripts written by Jeff and Jon over at ktools.net lured me back – with my tail between my legs.

Since then I’ve been chugging along with version 3 of PhotoStore, until about two months ago when I upgraded to version 4. Holy moly! Talk about a night and day difference. Not only is the front-end modern and clean, the back-end content management system is very powerful and dynamic – there are so many more features available over the previous version that make it worth every penny of the cost. But by far and large the best feature: service. Every new purchase comes with 1 year free support and free installation, and support tickets are answered very quickly. I had a few problems installing v4 when I got it (they were server issues), and Jeff solved the problem for me real quick.

If my gushing isn’t enough to convince you, let me just say this: If you’re a stock photographer or illustrator like me, do yourself a favor and break away from the major online agencies with a pre-made store script such as this. Take control of your work – sell it on your own terms and at your own prices. No, it’s not easy – but great tools like PhotoStore 4 make it a lot less painful than you think it would be.

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Since launching norebbo.com back in the fall of 2007, I’ve experimented with several different formats for the site. I started out with a simple HTML/CSS template, and then I tested the waters with a pre-packaged photo store script several months later. I eventually got fed up with that after about a year, and decided to try a blog. Not happy with the results of that experiment, I went back to a store format and tried two different pre-packaged scripts: PhotoStore from ktools.net, and Photo Video Store from cmsaccount.com. Which one is better? Having spent a lot of time working with both, I have some opinions. But first, here are my impressions of both:

Ktools PhotoStore (v3.8)

This template has been around for a long time, and it shows. The design is very “2002”, meaning that it offers very little in the way of interactivity and a rich user experience. The template is built on a dated HTML/PHP platform, some of which is very difficult and confusing to tinker with if you don’t have a moderate understanding of PHP. However, those negatives aside, it’s a rock solid script. They development team is actively refining this product, and there are frequent updates and patches. Ktools.net also hosts an active user forum (only accessible by those with an account) where you can get help or interact directly with the developers.

Here is what I liked about PhotoStore:

  • It’s a very stable script, and I never had browser compatibility issues. It worked perfectly from the first time that I set it up, and I didn’t need help to get things working perfectly. It works as advertised right out of the box.
  • Organization of my images and galleries was easy and simple to understand (for both myself and my customers). Plus, the ability to create nicely organized sub-categories was a big plus for me.
  • Batch uploading, and batch editing. Worked like a charm, every time.
  • The back-end content management system was very well organized and contained many features. It made setting up my site for the first time very easy! I like the stats area as well.
  • Site performance was good, and I didn’t notice any sluggishness when browsing categories with a lot of images.

This is what I did not like about PhotoStore:

  • The front-end design just looks so old, and there are very few alternate templates available. If you want something that looks halfway decent, you are going to have to do it yourself.
  • The shopping cart (and other text/data pages) looked like an afterthought. Of course they worked flawlessly – but they looked very poorly designed. This was very important to me, because as someone who buys things on the internet, I am not comfortable buying from a cheesy looking site. And I sure didn’t want my customers to feel that way either.

Photo Video Store

The main advantage that cmsaccount.com’s Photo Video Store has over PhotoStore from ktools.net is the  appearance of the front end template. I’ll be honest – the biggest reason I purchased this script was because I was absolutely sick and tired of the dated look of PhotoStore v3.8, and I desperately wanted a change. It simply looks better, which I believe makes for a better user experience.

Here is what I liked about Photo Video Store:

  • The visual design was very good, and there are a lot of different free templates available to change the look of the site. And the nice thing was that some of these templates changed the look rather dramatically.
  • It’s extremely easy to sell content other than photos – the script contains good support for selling other types of files such as vector graphics or Flash media.

This is what I did not like about Photo Video Store:

  • Support documentation is very poor, and I couldn’t get it to work exactly as advertised without a lot of help. The first problem I had was that clicking on an image would take me to a dead link. This is because when uploading the script to the server for the first time, I didn’t see that there were hidden files that needed to be included. Adding these hidden files fixed the problem. Then I couldn’t get the “purchase” button to work – again, it would send my customers to a dead link. Support eventually solved this problem for me (it was an .htaccess issue). And finally, I never could get the “blog” section working, and support had no solution for me other than to contact my hosting company and ask why the server was blocking access to certain strings in the .htaccess file. I will give the support team credit though – they were very helpful and responded quickly to my questions.
  • Using the batch upload feature in the back-end content management system would strip out the IPTC data (keywords and titles) from my images. So my only choice was to upload everything one by one, or upload via FTP.
  • Batch editing of images that had already been uploaded and categorized was not possible.

So which one is better?

Definitely PhotoStore by ktools.net – but only by a slim margin. While the visual design (appearance) of the interface is very dated, the script is rock solid. Everything just works. It’s easy to upload photos, organization of the content is made to be very simple, and the template is highly configurable. The back-end content management system is also very good, allowing easy batch-editing of photos and galleries. The only thing that keeps PhotoStore from blowing away  cmsaccount.com’s Photo Video Store is that there is very little support for other content such as vector or Flash media. If you want to sell anything other than photos, you’ll have to zip them up – and sell your customers those zip files. But for me (who only needed to sell jpg’s), the script was perfect for my needs.