Today’s web-based photo services can market your images while they store them.
Greetings from Cambodia! I’m in Phnom Penh working on a project, and my situation here highlights the premise of this article. I have multiple backup facilities and procedures here in the field, yet if something happened to my luggage or equipment, some or all of my images could be lost.
This also could happen to all of us at home, if we experience a fire, flood, burglary, computer virus, earthquake or other disaster, natural or otherwise. No matter how good your backup and archiving plan is, if everything is in one location, you still have all your eggs in one basket.
Many photographers have started keeping copies of backups in off-site locations: safe deposit boxes, their homes, their studios, or a friend or family member’s home or office. With the advent of high-speed, reliable Internet connections, we can also store images online. This gives me the advantage of being able to take my best images from my time here in Cambodia and upload them to a safe location.
Many companies today offer online backup and storage. There are also value-added companies that not only will store copies of your images, but market those images online for you. The available services for professional shooters can be broken down into two categories: online backup and storage, and online storage and marketing.
Back it on up
Online backup and storage comes in two flavors: backup programs, which typically have client software that has to be installed, or web interfaces and network drives, which, once configured on your system, look like just another hard drive.
Most of the backup services have free plans, but the amount of storage space is limited. To get the amount of space needed for a decent archive, you can expect to spend $500 to $1,000 per year. Four services worth mentioning include XDrive (xdrive.com), GoDaddy’s Online File Folder (godaddy.com), IBackup (ibackup.com) and Mozy (mozy.com).
XDrive has been around for quite a while and has been very popular with IT professionals and business- people who do a lot of global traveling. It provides both a desktop client and a web interface. Both portals have a tendency to be a bit buggy, though. I’ve gotten several errors and failed backups when using either of XDrive’s interfaces. Also, if you want to transfer files to another person, XDrive requires both parties to have accounts.
Wouldn't you like to have more control over your online presence without ahving to resort to your own online catalog that requires maintenance and support?
I have found IBackup to be very reliable. In particular, I like the company’s IDrive feature, which allows me to map the IBackup service as a network drive on my system, so I can just drag and drop files in either direction. IBackup also provides a versioning scheme, so I can upload a file with the same name multiple times and keep each one as a separate version. (This comes in handy when working on projects like this article; I can store several drafts without having to give each one a different name.) You can also use IBackup to share files with your home office, clients, or even family and friends, none of whom need to have an IBackup account to participate.
Mozy is a relative newcomer – as of this writing, it is still in beta-test mode – but it looks as if the site will become a good competitor to these other, more established services. Their pricing is competitive, and the software and service is easy to use. They are also going to be providing a professional-level product, called Mozy Pro, which is geared toward giving businesses the ability to back up data for their entire enterprise automatically. That sounds like a lofty ideal, but if the company can pull it off, it could be a boon to many businesses, including photographers.
Two percent solution
With the services available currently, I don’t yet see any of these as a place to store all of your image files. One thing I have discovered over the years, however, is that most photographers with extensive catalogs of images really submit only a very small percentage of those images.
I did a study of this several years ago for a North American Nature Photography Association workshop, and I found that, usually, less than 2 percent of photographers’ catalogs generates 90 percent of their incomes.
So here’s an idea: What if you kept that top 2 percent in an online folder that you could access from anywhere? Then, if you got a request from a client, you could submit the images to them, even if you are visiting, say, Angkor Wat. You also could have your office upload selections for a client to an online folder and make a final edit.
Taking this scenario one step further, suppose you could pay someone to do this for you. Now we enter the new world of online storage and marketing. “Well,” you might say, “isn’t that what Corbis and Getty do?” Yes, but have you tried submitting images to Corbis or Getty lately? As their huge libraries get bigger, it is becoming more difficult to get submissions accepted. Wouldn’t you like to have more control over your online presence without having to resort to your own online catalog that requires maintenance and support?
Currently, several consumer-oriented online marketing services focus on delivering final products to consumers – prints, T-shirts, coffee mugs and so on. Companies like Printroom (printroom.com), Pictage (pictage.com), PhotoReflect (shutterfly.com) are excellent examples. This type of service is great for photographers who do event photography, such as school sporting events, graduations, conferences and weddings.
Direct to buyers
Now, there also is an emerging second tier of services for professional photographers: online marketing to image buyers. At the moment, there are several players in this group, but two of them stand out from the crowd: Digital Railroad and PhotoShelter.
In the words of Evan Nisselson, founder and CEO of Digital Railroad (digitalrailroad.net), this type of online service connects photographers to image buyers “with all the convenience of a large stock agency or newswire service.” Originally, Digital Railroad focused on the photojournalism market, although their photographer pool is now trending towards 50 percent commercial and 50 percent editorial.
The tools that Digital Railroad provides for managing images and workflow are intuitive and efficient. The site recently formed a partnership with the Advertising Photographers of America, which enables their members to use Digital Railroad’s services. Digital Railroad supports individual photographers, as well as several small but prestigious agencies, such as VII and Redux Pictures.
Nisselson, who is also a Digital Railroad customer, looks at his company’s services as a “digital business hub that [customers] can access from anywhere in the world – storage, workflow, distribution, marketing and sales.”
PhotoShelter (photoshelter.com) focuses on “building an industrial-strength archive” and providing “independent distribution and sales.” Customers can archive more than 400 different file types; create galleries that can be public or private; sell prints; and license image rights or royalty-free images to clients.
PhotoShelter galleries also can be customized so that they appear to be a regular part of a photographer’s web site. The site even has a virtual agency option, whereby a group of photographers can pool their images and act as their own agents. PhotoShelter also has worked with Photo Mechanic (camerabits.com) to provide a way for photographers who use Photo Mechanic to upload their images directly to PhotoShelter.
Both PhotoShelter and Digital Railroad have plans to expand their services, and I have no doubt that other major players will enter this potentially lucrative market.
As broadband speeds get faster and web-site technology gets more sophisticated, who knows how we will be marketing our images in the future?