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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Visual design (look and feel)
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.
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.
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
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.