Monday, March 30, 2015

Pictage: Should I Stay or Leave?

Pictage's CEO, Mike Grant, finally released a full explanation of what's been going on with the company over the last 12 months and what the changes mean for the months and years ahead.  Personally, I'm relieved that I'm finally hearing from the CEO, because it's been far too long since he has made any public statements about these changes, why they are occurring, and what it means for the future.  To have this knowledge and know what I need to plan for is better than not having any knowledge.  If you haven't seen the announcement, I've posted a link at the bottom.  Here's my take on what this means:

If you are NOT a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • As a professional photographer with a resale number, you now have direct access to high quality professional prints, canvases, and albums through Photo Albums Direct, a new spin-off company that separates the Pictage printed services that used to only be offered to its members,  by using the ROES ordering system.  If you already have these services in place, you probably have no desire to switch. If you don't have these services in place, read on to see why you might want this one.
  • Non-members also have free access to the FREE Album Templates and FREE Album Design Service that used to only be available to Pictage members.  Having a free album designer can save you up to $400 on each album.
  • Non-members have always had the ability to use ShootQ, which was once combined with Pictage service, and has now separated again
  • Pictage has changed their service offerings and tiered packages, which may work better for you if you need a more hands-off retail gallery or if you're frustrated that you're paying more than you thought you'd be monthly under your current system:

If you ARE a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • SERVICES: Pictage is separating into several different companies: ShootQ already separated, Photo Albums Direct will be the future source for all wholesale orders placed by photographers, and Pictage will remain as an online gallery that offers P3 payment billing plans, unlimited galleries, and unlimited image storage* (still need confirmation on how long this unlimited image storage will last now that they're starting to take down archives), and online galleries with regular sales tax management for client orders, direct shipping to clients, the excellent email campaign marketing that has made their photographers additional funds during holidays and anniversaries, and the private community where only members get to vent and help each other solve problems.
  • DISCONTINUED SERVICES (updated 6/18/15): Pictage recently announced their full chart of continued and discontinued products and services direct through Pictage galleries.  Some of the services that I found to be the most convenient and unique to Pictage versus every other service out there, are now being completely eliminated.  I'm pretty sure this is one of the things that will put the nail in the coffin for Pictage's existing membership, and perhaps the future of the company entirely:
  • RETAIL GALLERIES: If you're like me and have 10 years worth of images stored with Pictage, and have always relied on them to keep those images online, you NEED TO ACT IMMEDIATELY regardless of staying or leaving Pictage on the request to Return Images Galleries to you by April 29, 2015, or you may lose your archived galleries completely from the server.  Personally, I will be requesting that ALL of my galleries become available for the Image Return so that I can have more than 30 days to make a decision about ANY of them, as well as having MORE than 30 days to download them to another cloud storage option if needed.  This part of the changes is likely to cause the most panic among members, but your galleries should be safe if you take the time to act as they have requested.
  • P3 BILLING: One of my favorite time-saving features with Pictage was being able to use the P3 payment system rather than having yet another site to jockey orders and payment processing through.  Being able to take credit cards is a huge advantage, and being able to spread payments out over time with pre-approved payment plans and automatic reminders and billing makes it easier on everyone, especially long-term wedding clients.  Good news, if you keep your Pictage membership, you still get this service as well.  The change is that Pro Members are no longer afforded the awesomely low 1.5% that was well under every other billing service available.  They are still providing a small discount at 2.5% for credit card processing, which keeps the option to do billing in a Pro Account lower than finding another third party solution at the typical 2.9% with transaction fees or 3% available in almost any billing service. 
    • If you accept LESS than $2,000 a month in payments using P3, use the Starter Plan as you need it because it's still cheaper than many of the other gallery options out there.
    • If you accept LESS than $10,000 a month but MORE than $2,000 per month in payments using P3, the Premium Plan is for you unless you have multiple photographers.
    • If you accept MORE than $10,000 a month in payments with P3, and/or you have multiple photographers with their own gallery sites and access, than the Pro Plan is going to be the best option to save on monthly fees and credit card fees.
  • ALBUMS: Having the separated wholesale from retail services is kind of a pain in the butt when we've been so used to being able to do everything in one place from the retail gallery.  I'm also going to really miss having the Online Album Design service available to me, rather than having to volley back and forth with an Album Designer for small changes, even if that design service is still free, and the new albums are actually less expensive.  However, this is no more challenging or difficult than every other Album company or online gallery service out there, unfortunately.  This was one of the biggest advantages that Pictage had over its lab competition, and they just pulled one of their hidden ace cards out from under their own winning hand.  In the end, you're still probably better off with the free design service included with this newly separated company rather than having to do the design on your time or hiring out for the design services on top of the payment for the albums.  As of this posting, the album pricing is publicly available, which I'm not a fan of for any wholesale-based professional-only product since it does not reflect the time and creative investment of the professional imagery that fills the pages of those albums.  Good news- more profitability with these new album prices.  If you plan to continue using Pictage and the high quality albums they offer, I would suggest finding a Pictage buddy or PUG Group nearby and making a date to figure out the new wholesale ordering system together.  The reality is that even if you decided to leave Pictage, you'll need to spend time learning a whole new system anyway that may have it's own set of unknown limitations and problems, so decide what is going to be the most efficient use of your time both short term and long term.
This covers the biggest changes to the service as I understand it from the long extended description that was provided in today's open letter about the changes, please visit the site and email Pictage directly for any further clarification.  If you think I've gotten some info wrong, please let me know so I can correct it immediately.

Your Photo Lovecat,
Anne Ruthmann

PS. If you want my personal take on how I'll be handling this situation for my own account, or want to share how you use Pictage and see what my assessment would be for you, click on the comments link below to read more.... the story continues...

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.


  1. Here's what I'll be doing and why:

    First off, my business has become 95% commercial and corporate with only digital image usage required for ALL of my clients over the last 16 months since moving to NYC. Due to errors in Pictage billing and accounting over the last year, and my commercial clients having different needs, I had already switched my commercial billing to 17Hats, but was continuing to use the fabulously low 1.5% credit card rate for my Photo Consulting clients who wanted extended payment plans so that I didn't have to manage the payment billing or reminder after entering it the first time.

    Pictage has still been profitable to me because I did receive a surprise $3,000 print sale in January from one of those marketing emails that Pictage sent as a Holiday re-release in December. AND I just had a client from 7 years ago ask for renewed access to her images so she could order prints and fulfill a remaining credit in her contract that I am legally bound to offer under state law for 7 years after the contract was signed. I wouldn't have had the extra $3000 in my pocket and it would have been a huge hassle for me to try and upload an entire wedding of images from backup on to a completely different service I'm not familiar with using and don't have my account set up with yet. So, for this reason, I'm going to make the following decisions for my account with Pictage:

    1. Requesting all my archives be returned to me, which basically just means they won't be deleted from the server because I intend to download them *at some point* but not immediately

    2. Move my account from a Pro plan to a Starter plan since I no longer bill more than $2,000 a month through the P3 system (all other clients are on 17Hats now which gives me immediate access to funds through PayPal- but the rate is higher at 3% for credit cards, but people can also use their paypal account if they prefer). It's worth the cost for me not to hassle with moving all of my archives immediately and having immediate access to any future client requests that come my way. I'll keep it in this starter plan for a couple years to see if any progress is made. With the life I've had, moving every few years, I know that commercial work is strong in NYC, but if I had to move again and transition back into portraits or weddings again, I'd want a service like Pictage handling everything they did for me again. They have been one of my keys to profitability and additional print sales I wouldn't have had otherwise with other services. While I don't like all of the changes and how they've been communicated and handled, I recognize that it's not easy transitioning a 10 year old digital elephant into a new realm.

    3. Even though I'm not planning to sell albums over the next year or two, I will likely still at least become familiar with their new album ordering system so that I know its limitations and can decide if I want to stay with them and the continued free album design and lower album pricing, or if I'd prefer to take that business elsewhere.

    Hopefully you're making decisions that are appropriate for your own business rather than just freaking out and pulling the plug without realizing how much work it will take to move to another system and what you might be losing in that transition. Just think it through and research your options as well as asking people what problems they've experienced over the last few years. No system is "perfect" but depending on how you manage your business there may be a system that is better for you.

  2. Oh yes... I've also notified my past wedding clients that they need to double check their back-ups since some of my hard drives have failed and pictage is now removing their online lifetime archive. This is good to do anyway since clients need to own responsibility for their images, but I've always sold my services for weddings with the intent that pictage would always archive those images and make them accessible to clients even if I suddenly died.

  3. Update: 6/18/15

    While the FTP download window was open, I was unable to access the FTP information. I submitted several help tickets to Pictage and none of them were returned with time to download my images from their bulk ordering service.

    I'm now paying an assistant to go through the tedious process of requesting each event individually through Pictage. Most events seem to still be available to me, however, I cannot confirm until I have access to the FTP server once again.

    Pictage is no longer offering any pro-support, not even on the dedicated hotline they used to provide PRO members, which gave us a live person immediately. The phone message simply states that no phone support is being provided and any help requests must be submitted through the website. This is a HUGE pain in the butt, as I shoot on location so much, and now I've had to hire someone else to manage it for me.

    They also recently announced their discontinued products and services, some of which were huge conveniences for me. I think this puts the nail in the coffin for me with regard to my relationship with Pictage. I'll be seeking a new solution in the months ahead because without the phone support, and the dramatically long response time on email support, there's really no "service" in this "service" that I'm still paying for, even if it's on a starter plan.

    Once I've been able to successfully transition my images to a new cloud server, I'll also save all of the additional information I have stored on Pictage, such as client orders, accounting information, testimonials, guest blog posts for PhotoLife, etc.

  4. Your last report has quickened my decision to leave Pictage. It confirms my two most recent experiences with them - the inability to get an answer in a reasonable time. Four days for an email response broke me.


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