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I Said Goodbye to SmugMug

If anyone paid attention last week, you may have noticed that the Portfolio link disappeared from my blog's menu bar. It used to launch a separate browser window to my SmugMug Pro site. My annual renewal date was coming around on May 19th, so I took time to reflect on just what I was getting for my $150 for SmugMug service.  Unfortunately, the only conclusion I reached was “Not Much.” With that in mind, I killed the account and I'll look for another solution.

I could not think of a single thing that SmugMug was doing for me that I could not do just as well – or better – on my own blog, and for less money per year.  In every conceivable metric that was important to me, SmugMug was a failure.

Traffic

I receive for more views of my photos here on my blog than any other site. In order to get traffic to my SmugMug site, something has to drive it there.  The conclusion I reached was that I would have to drive it from my blog. Well, why in the world would I want to attract traffic to my site, only to send it away to another site, to view my photos? It made absolutely no sense to me.

Brand

One of the things that SmugMug advertises is that you can brand your SmugMug site. That's true.  Trey Ratcliff had a guy do a great job of customizing his site.  I've seen other photographers who also have great brands on SmugMug.  However, you have to leave SmugMug to continue that brand.  There's no blog feature there.  The built-in templates are horridly unfashionable and awkward to use.  In order to brand it, you need to delve into some custom code.  Why?  I can customize a WordPress site with far less effort and, once again, far less cost. I'm still scratching my head as to why someone would want to put his or her brand on SmugMug, rather than keep potential clients on their own site with everything at their disposal. It breaks the immersive experience that so many folks strive to achieve.

Photo Sales

This one isn't big for me, but I know that one of the key reasons that people use to rationalize their SmugMug site is to facilitate photo sales. Personally, I never sold a damn thing on SmugMug. I didn't try to generate sales, but the feature exists. I think this particular feature is no longer the value that it was in the past. With WordPress and Fotomoto, you can integrate a photo sales system right on your own web site.  There's no need to drive traffic OFF YOUR SITE to SmugMug to make this happen.  FotoMoto provides a seamless, integrated sales mechanism right in your own blog. You can sell prints inside your posts, create a gallery for sales, or any other place that photos exist on your site.  Buyers don't know they're dealing with Fotomoto.  They think they're dealing with you.  Now isn't that a much more desirable brand experience?

Unlimited Storage

Yes, you can backup your photos on SmugMug.  Big deal. I get unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth from HostGator for $7.99 per month. A little quick math will tell you that costs just under $96 per year – 1/3 less than SmugMug.  Mind you, I'd still have to pay for HostGator or some other provider for my blog.  SmugMug doesn't help me there at all.

Social Interaction

I was hoping that SmugMug would have a good community experience, but it doesn't. Outside of developing a community on your own site, Flickr is still king of the hill for interacting with other photographers. SmugMug has the ability for folks to comment on your photos, but it's still awkward.  In order to submit your photos to a group, you have to build a separate gallery devoted to that group.  If I want to put a single photo in a group dedicated to landscapes, then it's not enough to just add that photo to a group. I need to have a separate gallery for it, too.  Now think about how that impacts the viewer experience when they come to your site.  They may wonder why you have so many different galleries.  Why do they have to wade through these galleries, rather than just viewing your photos as a stream, or more logically assigned galleries?  It's because SmugMug forces you to make these stupid galleries to participate in a weak social experiment, so most folks forego any effort at community on that site.

It's Not for Me

Those are my reasons for ditching the service.  Perhaps others have very good reasons for sticking with them, and that's great.  I have no animosity toward the SmugMug folks.  I just couldn't rationalize dropping another $150 on a service that seems to have very little to offer that I want or need.  Your mileage may vary.

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4 comments

  • Hunter Hillegas May 16, 2011   Reply →

    Interesting.

    I use SmugMug for my Vegas photos, with a slightly customized interface:

    http://photo.ratevegas.com/

    For me, it was a buy/build decision. I make extensive use of the SM API for moving photos around for my app Vegas Mate, to and from Flickr, etc… While I could have built my own photo system (which I’ve done in the past), since I needed some advanced features, it would have taken me a fair amount of time and I’d rather pay someone else to provide that and work on other things.

    That said, I do feel like they are behind on several things, including their default skins and some of the commenting stuff, as you suggest. I would have rather just used Flickr for everything but they won’t let me put ads on my pages or customize them in any way.

    • William May 18, 2011   Reply →

      It sounds like you have a good use for SmugMug, and that’s great. One other site that’s getting a lot of attention lately is 500px.com, though I don’t know if they allow ads on their site, either. I understand it’s supposed to be customizable, but I’ll have to dig into it a bit more. For my needs, I’m looking for community interaction with other photographers. Flickr has that, but it’s not quite the community I want. Too many awards and too little discussion about photography.

  • Anthony June 6, 2016   Reply →

    Thanks William, informative post.
    Can you send us an update? Are you selling any prints?
    I’m from The Netherlands and I’m considering Fotomoto as well, but I’m not sure if the shipping costs will be a deal killer for potential buyers.
    I read that some products will be printed in Germany, for EU customers that will be great.
    Thanks in advance for your update!
    Warmest regards, Anthony
    http://www.anthonyverolme.com

    • William June 7, 2016   Reply →

      Hi, Anthony

      I do sell prints, but I don’t use a service to make my sales. Instead, I concentrate on using SEO and existing relationships to sell prints to art buyers. My customers have been US based, as I am. Basically, I customize the print to the person who wants to buy. Some are canvas, some metal, others on fine art paper. The price varies by size, material and which image I’m selling. Some images simply command a higher price than others if I have an uncommon shot.

      Typically, I’m selling prints over 24×36 for $1500 & up (depending upon the factors mentioned above). I find that customers are much more satisfied when I can offer something personalized for their taste or needs, rather than putting up a menu of options on a site like SmugMug.

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