Why I Left PhotoShelter

Leaving your longtime service provider is like breaking up with a co-dependent partner, you’re breaking free from familiarity and trying something new. Sure there are memories of the good times, you see a picture of them on your phone and you think about calling to “just see how they are doing”. Until you meet someone better, whose light shines on the glaring imperfections and misgivings of your ex and you see things clearly.

Today I ended my service with PhotoShelter, whose service I had been using since 2011. At first, things were great! I had a website and people started placing orders, I was excited and they could do no wrong. They promised newer big things in 2012 and mostly delivered with a slew of new templates. But around them, the internet was evolving and changing. As e-commerce grew and grew, a photo-specific solution seemed less and less needed. With the rise of sites like Shopify, Squarespace, and others, suddenly having that photo-specific service put you at a disadvantage. Do you want integrations? “No.” Do you want to host a blog on your store? “No, but we’ll allow you to link to it.” You want simple and easy to use URL slugs? “No. NO. NO!”

Lack of Updates and Communication

And yet, I stayed with their service as updates grew fewer and fewer. Then they removed the changelog from the public eye because it was being updated so infrequently it became a bad look for them. Meanwhile, I was beginning my career in e-commerce and digital marketing consulting. Photography was less of a focus and I was happy to just pay the monthly fee to have my store up and available, I would get a few sales a year and I would justify the cost of the service with those sales.

In the summer of 2017, I was growing tired of PhotoShelter’s service and was looking for a change. I decided to voice my displeasure to their CEO Andrew Fingerman and to my shock, he responded to my email. I hadn’t emailed him to complain or to bemoan their service, on the contrary, I wanted to help improve their service by taking what I knew from my e-commerce consulting and applying it toward helping PhotoShelter improve. My reasoning was also quite simple, PhotoShelter takes a commission of every sale that photographers make using their service. That commission ranges between 8-10% depending upon your service level. Mine for the last 8 years was their professional service level and they took 9% of my sales. So my reasoning was that if I could help them improve their service, photographers would make more money by having an e-commerce-optimized website and PhotoShelter would make more in commissions. It was truly a win-win.

Except Andrew never responded again to my emails. Weeks and months went by without a response. I followed up several times, I emailed other people on their leadership team and was met with the same response; silence. Then I started to wonder if PhotoShelter wanted to get better, if it was in their DNA to be continuously improving or if they had plateaued. As months with updates, emails, or communication from PhotoShelter went on it seemed to be the latter. My ideas for their service weren’t mind-blowing and had probably already been mentioned but they are proven to be successful.

After being an account manager at an advertising agency, I learned a very simple rule; when clients stop communicating with you, the end isn’t very far away. The same can be said across all relationships though, a lack of communication is rarely a good sign. In business, it means there is nothing to update or there is something that one party doesn’t want the other party to know. I don’t remember when the last time I heard about planned updates for their system or better yet, what is the next evolution of PhotoShelter’s service. After all, if you aren’t growing, you are dying.

So today, I left PhotoShelter after using their service for 8 years. There are still things that I like about their service too, one of the biggest was their ability to apply bulk pricing profiles. That is something Squarespace hasn’t figured out. Bulk editing was one of the main tenants about their service that I enjoyed. The other was licensing, though it was so infrequently used that I couldn’t depend on it for much. Their negatives outweighed their positives though. The biggest joke was when their big update for 2017 was favicon support, that was when I knew that they had jumped the shark so to speak.

It’s really a shame because their service had so much promise. Their marketing says that nearly 80,000 photographers use their service and I can’t help but to wonder how many of those 80,000 are happy with their service. Or if they were like me and were just settling because there isn’t anything else out there that is tremendously better. So, for the time being, I’m going to be using Squarespace. Their e-commerce isn’t as robust but everything else is far superior to what I knew before. It doesn’t make sense to pay $29/month for a service that you continue to pay because “where else would you go?”.

Sidenote, if there are any developers out there who want to build a photo-specific CMS, please hit me up. I have lots of ideas about what not to do!

What content management system to do you use? How happy with it are you? Have you used PhotoShelter before?