Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Experiment 12: setting up your on-line microstock store

In this article, I will be sharing my experience setting up my online stock photography store on Smugmug. For those of you who never heard about Smugmug, it was founded in 2002 as a family business and a picture and video hosting site. It has rapidly grown and is now hosting more than 700,000,000 pictures. To put it into perspective, Flickr has more than 4 billion now.
Smugmug offers three levels of membership including a Pro account which allows you to license and sell merchandise from your pictures. A lot of pro photographers are using Smugmug as a platform to sell products to their customers after a shooting session or to market their pictures.

Below is my list of the PROS and CONS having a Smugmug Pro account:


• No domain name or annual hosting fees, no website design fee ($ 149.95 annual fee all included).
• Customers do not need to register before buying your product; they just can pay by credit card.
• Friendly webpage customization (graphic themes, CSS and Javascript).
• Unlimited storage for your photos and videos.
• Password protected galleries and custom watermarks.
• Reactive customer service
• Ability to set your own prices and retain 85% commission on sales.
• No image reviews
• You can sell three sizes of digital prints (1MP, 4MP and original) but also merchandise (T-shirts, mousepads, poscards, mugs, etc….), prints (glossy, matte, metallic) and canvas (rolled, wrapped).
• Display of HD 1920x1080 videos (up to 10 minutes and 600 MB long)


• Payment only by paper check in US dollars so far … (direct deposit is coming but only for US photographers)
• You are paid monthly if your profit exceeds $500, otherwise you are paid once your balance reaches $200.
• The photo licencing agreement is not as clear as on microstock agencies and extended licences are not available.
• The website is only in English.
• There is no option to sell HD videos yet.
• And of course… you have to do the marketing yourself

Is a Smugmug pro account really for you ?

I think the first thing to consider is that if you are willing or not to promote your portfolio. If you are not ready to do that, the Pro offer is not probably for you as you cannot count to get the same volume sale of Istock for example. Also I believe you would need a quite large portfolio (more than 2000 pictures) to begin with.

How do I use my Smugmug pro account?

I uploaded more about 2500 pictures so far online. Ftp is not available but uploading via the web browser is quite fast and IPTC data are read automatically.
Since sales volume are low, I priced my pictures has the following: $20 for 1MP, $40 for 4MP and $60 for the original (10MP). I have also a macro RF section as well  as Macro RM even if I don't have an e-commerce section for the later.
Stock  pictures are organized in different galleries: people, food, architecture, transportation, nature landscape, textures and backgrounds.
I have also  a special collection of more artsy pictures which would do well on microstock and some pictures I decided to sell at a higher price and are not offered on microstock agencies.
If contacted directly by a client for a special request, I upload the product to a password protected gallery where he or she can proceed to a secure payment. You just receive a confirmation e-mail when the payment is completed.

Some tips

Smugmug provides some stats but those are quite limited. It is however possible to track your visits using Google Analytics. To do that, go to contol panel, advance site customization and copy paste the code into the head tag.
Smugmug has integrated some social network tools: you can easily share a gallery on twitter and facebook for example. Digg, Stumble Upon and MySpace are also available.
You can link your Smugmug pro account to your own domain name and it is done in few clicks when you have already a domain on godaddy.


Smugmug is a friendly and fast platform to share and sell your digital images. It can be a good complement to your microstock activity if you already have a client base and/or are willing to market your site. However payments for European users are not straightforward since only US dollars checks are emitted.
So far, I’ve sold one digital print (by direct contact) and one print (no direct contact) . This wouldn’t sound like much but it was enough to recover more than 50% of my Pro account cost.
More than 4000 galleries of stock images are already on Smugmug. If you want to join, you can save $5 on a Pro account by entering the following coupon during your registration: 5CnHScGMAvPuA.

You can visit my online store following this link.


Peter said...

I'm currently working on my own web gallery which would be installed at my home server. It is a Gallery 2 running on my Microsoft Windows Home Server.

It is currently installed at my "test" server at home which is why I can't show it now. Until now everything works including payments over PayPal, issuing invoices,... One thing that I work at for the moment is the web page design. The Gallery 2 is an Open Source which means the design isn't really nice. I'm working on a more professional theme design now.

MicrostockExp said...

I chose the easy and expensive option then:) Please put your link here when you are done with your project, and .. good luck!

Luis said...

Thanks for sharing, I guess I must have a bigger and better portfolio to create something like that..!

cheers and have a nice December!

Marek said...

Hi Laurent,

I see that you created a new domain for your smugmug gallery. I wonder how would be possible to integrate the smugmug gallery into existing domain/website. I believe it is what Holgs is doing (

Anyway, I am playing with smugmug for the next 14 days ...

I noticed that you watermark is very weak, almost invisible on some pictures.


MicrostockExp said...

@Marek yes Holgs is doing the same for his website. I will strengthen my watermark a bit, easily done with Smugmug thanks for the feedback!

Marek said...

Does SmugMug support model releases?

MicrostockExp said...

No Smugmug do not support model release, I just keep them in file in case

The Pear Project said...

I have made some money on with some photographs combined with a few design elements. I will be interested to see how your earnings turn out for this site.