The importance of the right plugin

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(Digital products online: the nightmarish EU VAT regulation can be even worse with the wrong one)

Setting the checkout page of an online shop that sells digital products in compliance with the EU VAT tax regulation can be a real challenge.

The EU VAT regulation

As you may know, while selling on line an e-book, an image or a piece of software to a private you must add to the net price the VAT in force in the EU country the buyer resides in. Companies resident in an EU country other than the seller’s one may avoid the VAT by providing their VAT number that you, the seller, are obliged to check against the company name and IP address. Non-EU buyers, no matter if business or private, are exempted from this ordeal.

No, please don’t ask! It wasn’t me who made this law. Such a task isn’t really easy to face, and I personally haven’t a very high opinion of the bureaucrats that enacted it, but a law is a law is a law.

At first I was tempted to write directly the code to do this VAT juggling, but then, considering my always busy schedule, I resolved to look for a ready plugin to complete Vintage Nostalgia, my Easy Digital Downloads shop.
Of course I didn’t expect to find such a plugin for free: making it entails a lot of patience, time and toil.

Looking for a ready plugin

For the first one I run into the creators were demanding an exorbitant monthly fee, so I kept looking. And eventually, after some pondering, I opted for a more affordable one-time-purchase plugin and installed it.
The first doubts arose as I was faced with two pages fraught with mandatory settings accompanied by obscure and confusing explanations that weren’t of much help. I perused the documentation, run some tests… but alas! I had no way to really check the outcome as there was no way to simulate a sale abroad. Well, I thought, maybe it’s my IP address preventing me from simulating a sale in the US… and crossed my fingers hoping for the best.

Disaster!

Someone said that optmists have plenty of bad surprises: the whole thing blew up in my face as my first customer from New Zealand was charged a German VAT, and so the next one from Tasmania. What the heck???

Solution found!

I hastily put my shop on hold and started looking for a smarter alternative – and this time I found Barn2 EU VAT plugin More or less same price, extremely clear, exhaustive and properly written online documentation, smooth installation, just a couple of settings – and that was it.
Test and simulation were astonishingly easy, the customer support was friendly and competent.
And, as a most appreciated bonus, it would produce a detailed sales report to export in Excel.
No issues at all with the next sale in the US.

Thanks Barn2, I owe you a big fat breath of relief! As hopefully my readers will too 🙂

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A pebble in the pond: a free Artists’ Marketplace

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For nearly a month (since the infamous 1st of June) a couple of disquieting questions have been bouncing back and forth within my skull:
what are we to do if/when the other agencies follow Shutterstock’s despicable example and start treating their contributors like beggars?
How come a fair agency like Picfair appears to sell nearly nothing even though they offer such awfully great pictures?

I do know all too well what it’s like to set up a photostock agency – I did it. Once you solve the technical problems (quite a hard cliff themselves) and get it to run fine, you find out to your dismay that keeping it up and running – server fees, updating, de-hacking, automation, you name it – is way more expensive (at least in time) than you optimistically thought when you started.

No, I don’t really think that setting up a new agency – with so many small ones out there struggling to survive – would be a solution. What we need is a new concept, something that would entice anyone who needs one or more images having specific requirements. The cue came from Alex Rotenberg as he told us how a customer, unable to find his images on Shutterstock any longer, got directly in touch with him.

So why not to put in contact clients and contributors, thus bypassing the agencies?
All it would take would be a surprisingly cheap and simple no-profit site, a sort of artists’ cooperative dedicated to illustrations, photos and video clips, where potential clients may freely ask for images having some specific features. Their requests appear on a board and get immediately sent per E-mail to all photographers who subscribed (for free).
A mother knows her baby, a photographer knows his/her images: the one who has an image that may satisfy the client (say, a kid playing in a puddle) replies uploading ASAP one or more watermarked images onto a page that only the client may access.

That would be really big news: a thoughtful human response, no AI at all, no 300 pictures of the same lonely puddle in the park taken from 300 different angles. And no time wasted on keywords ( do we all loathe them!)

As far as prices are concerned, that’s all to be seen: fixed price, normal and premium, private negotiation… a matter of taste. However the cooperative rules must be simple and clear, and accepted by all subscribers; that’s important, the one who doesn’t play fair gets kicked out without ceremony.
The site would be extremely simple – though attractive – and wouldn’t require any special server performances, or large amounts of memory, or special skills to run it. The only costs would be:

  • annual server rent (not much).
  • software maintenance (not much if regularly performed, but it must be done weekly to keep the software up to date and to prevent possible undue intrusions, malware and hacking).
  • start-up software development and further expansions if the initiative is successful (affordable).

No commission on sales – we’re talking of a no-profit initiative and this way it shall stay, lest greed creeps in and shatters(tocks) it to crumbles 🙂

The expenditures above would be covered by all subscribers after their first sale; if some 1000 – 1500 artists gather and join, it would be a matter of a few $ each yearly – transparent management, all expenditures publicly documented, no hidden costs.

Of course there should be a page telling the cooperative’s history and its goals, with a nice name (how about “Shutterstock’s castaways”?) and some well-groomed galleries of monographic pictures about current topics, something like the Photocase’s ones.

Maximum publicity to all successful sales on the site.
No a-priori exclusive, though it may be individually agreed with the client case by case.

All the above should obviously be discussed in detail once (if) this initiative takes shape and color. Mine is just a stone I’m throwing in the pond, let’s see now if it makes any waves…

Artist marketplace – Un idea nuova

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E’ da un po’ che mi rigiro in mente diverse domande con inquietudine:
cosa fare se le altre agenzie seguono l’esempio di Shutterstock, trattando i contributors da pezzenti?
come mai un’agenzia “buona” come Picfair non vende, pure avendo magnifiche foto ?

So cosa vuol dire mettere su un sito tipo agenzia di fotostock. Pur risolvendo con successo tutti i problemi inerenti al suo funzionamento la conduzione è costosa in termini di server e in tempo per l’ automazione e aggiornamento.

No, credo che la ripetizione di un’ agenzia – con le piccole esistenti che già arrancano – non sia la soluzione. Ci vuole un’idea nuova che possa attrarre chi cerca una o più foto con specifici requisiti.
Lo spunto me lo ha dato Alex Rotenberg durante il Shutterstock boycott quando dice che un cliente di punto in bianco si è messo in contatto con lui.

Perchè non mettere direttamente in contatto il cliente con i contributors saltando le agenzie?
Basterebbe un sito no profit molto semplice e affatto costoso che si presenti come una cooperativa di artisti (illustrazioni, foto, videos), in cui un cliente può fare una richiesta in dettaglio su cosa cerca. Il messaggio viene messo su una board mentre la richiesta parte per email a tutti i contributors.
Chi ha qualcosa che corrisponde ai desideri del richiedente (es. bambino che gioca in una pozzanghera) risponde con una o più immagini con watermark su una pagina apposita a cui ha accesso il cliente.
Questa sarebbe veramente la grossa novità: una risposta mirata “umana”, niente AI, niente 300 foto di una pozzanghera solitaria in un parco da diverse orientazioni. Niente tempo consumato in keywords (come le odio!)

Per i prezzi al cliente si può vedere: prezzo fisso, due fasce di prezzi di cui una premium, a contrattazione privata… è tutto da decidere. Sono regole della cooperativa che devono venire messe in chiaro precedentente. Sono importanti, perchè chi sgarra o non è leale viene messo alla porta.

Il sito sarebbe alquanto semplice, non richiederebbe prestazioni particolari dal server, nè grandi quantita di memoria da gestire. Le uniche spese sarebbero:

  • affitto annuale (poco),
  • spese di manutenzione software (poco se fatta di routine, ma va assolutamente fatta con cadenza settimanale per aggiornare il software e anche per prevenire malware e hackeraggio),
  • spese di design iniziale e eventuali sviluppi se la cosa ha successo (contenute).

Dopo prima vendita personale gli artisti contribuiscono alle spese (gestione trasparente!) con pochi dollari all’anno se si tratta di almeno 1000 – 1500 artisti che aderiscono all’idea.

Ci sarebbe una pagina che descrive la storia della coop, con un bel nome tipo “i fuoriusciti di Shutterstock” e qualche galleria ‘curata’ di foto monografiche su argomenti di attualità tipo quelle di photocase (https://www.photocase.de/) che mi piacciono molto.

Nessuna percentuale sulla vendita.
Massima pubblicità alle vendite condotte con successo.
Nessuna esclusiva a priori, ma può far parte della trattativa col cliente.

Tutto da discutere nei dettagli, la mia è una pietra buttata nello stagno, vediamo se fa cerchi…

How to build a personal stock images website: essential technical points solved

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For a long time I’ve been wondering how much would it cost, as toil, money and time, to set up a
working microstock website – maybe prodded by the mischievious but inevitable question “how large a share of my money does a microstock agency really deserve for selling my pictures?”.
Eventually I succumbed to the temptation and accepted the challenge.

As I keep seeing on Microstockgroup forum more and more question on this topic, I think it won’t harm to share what I’ve learned from this experience.

Building https://vintage-nostalgia.com

Server

The server has to be very fast (you need speed to show your images!) and with enough memory,
not necessarily a dedicated server. Problem solved with A2 Hosting *), more expensive of the usual shared server but yet affordable. Competent feedback.


Basic shop

I’m using Easy digital downloads *) with WordPress. It is free and good enough.
Some years ago I gave a try to Symbiostock and didn’like it: too bulky, few automation, many flaws.


Automatic process to upload pages, files, categories and tags

Put out of your mind to upload manually your images and their corresponding pages.
This is the biggest challenge to face and I didn’t find any reliable solution out of the box: I tried and discarded all what I found ready on the market.
You must be able to prepare some hundreds of images and their pages in few minutes, stripping the keywords out to build categories and tags essential for the SEO and the internal search engine.

I decided to solve the complete automation offline with specifically written dedicated software, uploading thereafter the images per FTP and their pages & all related paraphernalia with a unique csv.file
Solved with satisfaction 🙂


Internal search engine

Statistics tell that stock agency customers don’t go usually far more than two pages searching for an image, in spite of millions of them stored. Therefore is of paramount importance that the website search engine works well tuned. The WordPress built-in search is not very good. I have found Relevannsi by Mikko Saari quite exceptional, sharp focused as long as tags, categories and descriptions are …relevant.


Compliance with EU regulation

A big pain in the ass: cookie consent, privacy policy, VAT calculation or exemption for different countries, VAT confirmed by IP Adress identification… ther’s enough for a headache.
As a web professional that’s my thing. I confess that I’m not complete satisfied by the checkout procedure, it must be smoother and friendly, needs still some thoughts about.


Smart photo galleries

The easier task: there are many excellent options out of the box to choose, I’m happy with Show posts pro


Anti-hacker protection

You cannot go around without a valid defense: more than in other websites we have to protect very valuable stuff.
Some years ago, even if “protected“, all my websites were brutally hacked.
The second time it happened I was prepared: I was aware of an unidentified back door in a website of mine. To this end I deployed several different anti-malware softwares on my server, all they assuring to be able to detect and defend, but only one was successful.
It scared me that most of the others didn’t even realized the issue (or only partially) and the possible consequent danger. They were only pretending!

Since then – honing my weapons even further – I was always able to protect myself and my customers from brute force attacks and similia.
Sorry for not giving away my solution, it took me a lot of stamina and effort to develop an exclusive active protection package.

*) If you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.


Shutterstock’s treason

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Remember, remember!
The first of June,
The Shutterstock’s treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Shutterstock’s treason
Should ever be forgot!

The whole microstock world is talking about it: since June 1st 2020 the Shutterstock royalty system has changed.
For better or worse? Obviously for worse, and (surprise, surprise) the news were broken just a few days before.
In a nutshell: if until the end of May 2020 my basic income was 36 cents/download, now Shuttestock has decreed that 10 cents/download must be enough.
Sure, in case of special sales I might still get something more – but anyway less than half as before.

No problem though, thanks to Shutterstock’s magnanimity I can still yearn for better earnings provided that I have a lot of images and they sell quickly and easily: the more I sell, the (little) more I get.
But there is a small catch: such a privileged “top seller” status is reset at the end of every year, and on every January 1st I’ll have to restart from scratch. Isn’t that great?

Well, it might be due to the COVID-19, and Shutterstoch must face some heavy financial loss…
Nope: according to information gathered around they seem to be in full bloom, no debts, several millions $ cash, premises on the Empire State Building… pity those poor devils!
No, alas, apparently it’s just good old greed.

The new Shutterstock royalty system punishes mostly the small contributors, those with few thousands of images to sell and those that count on Shutterstock’s monthly payments for their survival.

Not a very nice surprise indeed.

As a matter of fact $ 0.10 per download is a slap in your face: just think that you plan or stage your shoot, inspect your pictures at 100% size to detect any possible flaw, process them with Photoshop or whatever, swear on the keywording (an obnoxiously boring job, as you know) paying great care to put in front the most significant keywords and highlight the 10 most meaningful ones to comply with the agencies idiosyncrasies… a hell of a work.
Try offering 10 cents to a cleaning lady and see how much you get cleaned in return.

Someone doesn’t know that in this bizarre market the royalty for the same image can range from a few cents to over $100, depending on the agency policy and the buyer’s options.
No seldom occurrence, it happens quite often.
Then you may rightfully wonder if cashing those 10 cents will make you lose a way bigger earning somewhere else, and bite your own fingers. Do you really want to be your own cheap competition?

Like this you start deleting an image that might sell better elsewhere… then all the others with some sales potential, and eventually leave on Shutterstock only the oldest ones, uploaded when you had little experience in post-processing… you can tell now that they were a bit ugly… okay Shutterstock, you may try to sell them for the glory of 10 cents 😀

And to complete the job you remove from your blog, your website, etc. the links to your Shutterstock portfolio.
Then you can breathe again!

Il tradimento di Shutterstock

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Nel mondo microstock al momento non si parla d’altro: dal 1 giugno le percentuali delle royalties di Shutterstock sono cambiate.
In meglio o in peggio? Direte voi.
In peggio naturalmente e comunicate con solo un paio di giorni di anticipo.

In sostanza se il giorno prima prendevo 36 centesimi di dollaro per download ora sono retrocessa a 10 centesimi per download.
Se vendo tanto posso aspirare ad avere di più, ma all’inizio di ogni anno si riazzera il vantaggio creato dalle vendite, si riparte da capo e devo rimettermi a correre.
Ci sono è vero anche le vendite speciali che ogni tanto ti portano in tasca qualcosa, ora comunque anche quelle più che dimezzate in valore.

Non c’entra il COVID o una perdita di Shutterstock. Da quel che ho raccolto in giro la società è in fiore, non ha debiti, ha parecchi milioni di dollari in cassa e sede nell’Empire State Building a NY.

Il nuovo sistema penalizza al massimo i piccoli contributors con qualche migliaio di immagini in vendita, che poi sono quelli che maggiormente dipendono dalle royalties spesso anche per la loro sopravvivenza.

Insomma una bruttissima sorpresa.

E poi quello schiaffo dei 10 centesimi, quando ogni foto la progetti, la ispezioni al 100% per vederne i difetti, la processi con Photoshop o simili e poi ci fai sopra le keywords (lavoro noiosissimo ed odioso) stando attenta a mettere davanti le più significative o a delineare le 10 più importanti per l’idiosincrasia di qualche agenzia. Un casino di lavoro.
Forse non lo sapete, ma in questo mercato così bizzarro per la stessa immagine puoi ricevere una royalty da pochi centesimi a 100 dollari o più a seconda dell’agenzia e dall’opzione di acquisto scelta dal compratore. La situazione non è una rarità.
Allora non puoi fare a meno di pensare “questi 10 centesimi mi fanno perdere la vendita più sostanziosa da un’altra parte”.
Così cancelli da Shutterstock quell’immagine. E poi tutte le altre con un qualche potenziale di vendita e lasci solo le tue prime quando avevi poca esperienza di post-processing e in verità sono proprio bruttine… ma forse per 10 centesimi possono anche venderle…
Poi per completare l’opera togli i links al tuo portfolio di Shutterstock dal tuo blog, dal tuo sito, ecc.

E finalmente ti senti meglio!

Life at corona virus time

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Strange days now, at corona virus time. My web job runs as usual but I find more time to rediscover the nature and the apple blossoms: the spring air is crystal clear and I enjoy immensely my bicycle tours around, appreciating what is often taken for granted.
I also took the opportunity of revisiting my local shoots and processing some of them as watercolors. It is a loving tribute to this little university town with a healthy rural flair, so near at a magnificent big city like Munich.

La vita al tempo del corona virus

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Con questa storia del corona virus i giorni sono diversi dal solito.
Il mio lavoro sul web non ha subito scosse, c’è più tempo però per riscoprire la natura e i meli in fiore: l’aria è più cristallina ed è bellissimo andare in bici nei dintorni.
Insomma c’è più tempo per guardarsi attorno ed apprezzare quello che si ha vicino a noi. Ho preso in mano alcune mie foto locali e le ho “acquarellate”, un mio tributo di affetto a questa cittadina universitaria dall’aria sanamente rurale ma a solo 20 minuti di metro dal centro di Monaco.

Stock images: is it time now for a drastic change?

Mishmash objects with statue by Luisa Fumi.

The state of the art

Just to feel the pulse and the vibe of the moment, I visit pretty often the wailing wall, a site well known to the photographers that sell images through the microstock agencies. Most of what I read there is mournful whining about the professional degradation and the brutal royalty cuts. Nothing constructive.

Due mostly to the steadily improving quality of cameras and smartphones, the images market is flooded by offers ranging from fair to excellent, a flood swelling like wildfire. The stock agencies, no fools, take full advantage of the situation by constantly shrinking the royalies – offer and demand, inevitably. A tough competition is going on too among the agencies themselves, and not surprisingly the smallest ones succumb.

What’s the use of 100 millions of images?

One microstock agency can count on tens of millions of images (at least). But how could a customer find his way through them all?
How will customers get to the “right” image they are looking for? According to statistics, most of the users while searching give up after the first page, and very few clench their teeth and hold out up to page three.
Rumors have it that the stock agencies, in order to offer a different image variety for the same search, sort them part random, part according to other criteria adjusted and twitched from time to time

I’ve been wondering long if it was worth wasting so much time and effort on the keywording ordeal, by far the most boring and time consuming task of image processing, if the agencies use just a small part of it. And above all: what’s the point for an agency to collect zillions of images when people give up searching after a few of them?
I’m smelling here another crisis looming in the air.

A possible way out?

Now it could be really the right time to reinvent the personal website where one can sell images without the support (?) of an agency.
I am not talking about a website meant to sell generic images the way small agencies do – and are now going through difficult times.
No, I’m thinking of a monographic website to offer many thousands of images focused on a theme of general interest or social relevance.
A well designed site, cleverly divided in sub-galleries, with an own shop. Something very user-friendly that a visitor looking for a picture of sport, touristic European regions, vegan lifestyle, sustainable energies, rock concerts, steampunk art, you name it… could easily navigate almost instinctively.
Perhaps also supported by a blog to make it more lively and interesting.

Think of your passions, of what you mostly love to shoot: in your (digital) drawer you’ll certainly find many thousands of images on the subject. 2000 to 4000 of them could be a good start for such a website.

Like this the awfully boring and demanding work of keywording them all would not go wasted: extracted as page tags, the keywords would be used by Google or duckduckgo to locate exactly your pictures. Take my word for it, I tried it on my own skin and it works 😀

Upon a second thought, why just one website? Along the same lines you could create several others centered on different themes – as many as your interests.
Cheer up: we don’t need million of visitors, nor to spend a fortune on online ads, while we can afford a better alternative and thus pocket the whole loot rather than just a minuscule slice of it.

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Stock images: è giunto il momento del sito personale?

Mishmash objects with statue by Luisa Fumi.

Riflessioni sul microstock

Stato dell’ arte

Frequento non proprio ogni giorno ma quasi il forum microstockgroup popolato dai fotografi che contribuiscono con le loro immagini alle più conosciute agenzie di microstock. Così, per sentire il polso della situazione. Per lo più ne escono alti lai sul deterioramento della professione e sulle percentuali delle royalties sempre in diminuzione.
E’ vero, per i contributors la crisi c’è ed è in un buco nero.
Complice la diffusione di macchine fotografiche e smartphones sempre più perfezionati, il mercato è inflazionato: l’ offerta è enorme, di qualità da sufficiente a eccelsa. Le agenzie ne approfittano, i compensi calano. La concorrenza fra le agenzie stesse sembra sempre più spietata e le più piccole soccombono.

A cosa servono 100 milioni di immagini?

Le agenzie ora possono contare su perlomeno diecine di milioni di immagini.
Ma siamo sicuri che la scelta del cliente funzioni al top?
Come si fa ad arrivare all’immagine “giusta” se le statistiche dicono che la maggior parte degli utenti in una ricerca non va oltre la prima pagina o al massimo guarda le prime tre?
Sembra che le agenzie per non fare uscire sempre le stesse immagini in una data ricerca le ruotino, in parte random, in parte seguendo criteri che vengono aggiustati di volta in volta.

Mi chiedo se valga la pena di sprecare tanto tempo nel keywording che è la parte più noiosa dell’image processing. Ma soprattutto: che senso ha per un’agenzia possedere tante immagini se poi è come se ne avesse solo qualche migliaio da far vedere ?
Mi domando se non siamo anche qui in un buco nero di crisi.

Una via d’uscita

Forse è giunto il momento di rispolverare con altri criteri il sito personale, dove il fotografo vende da solo le proprie immagini.
Non un sito generico però, altrimenti ci confonderemmo con le piccole agenzie che hanno già vita difficile.
Un sito monografico su un argomento di interesse piuttosto ampio, che possa contenere qualche migliaio di immagini, ben studiato, diviso magari in gallerie secondo sub-categorie, facile da sfogliare dagli appassionati del genere: da chi cerca ad esempio immagini di sport, di difesa personale o alpinismo, di una certa regione Europea alquanto turistica, uno stile di vita vegano, concerti rock, energie sostenibili e altri temi molto attuali oppure un po’ retro tipo steampunk.
Magari aggiungendoci vicino un blog, che male non fa.
Pensate un po’ alle vostre passioni, a cosa vi piace fotografare di più: nel vostro cassetto (digitale) sono sicura che avete immagini in quantità.
In questa maniera le tanto sudate keywords estratte e divenute tags delle vostre pagine non vengono sprecate ma verranno usate da Google (o ancora meglio da Duckduckgo) per far trovare nelle ricerche proprio le vostre foto.
Parola mia, provato sulla mia pelle e funziona! 😀

Le vostre 2000 – 4000 immagini abilmente presentate e SEO ottimizzate possono farsi valere tutte e piazzarsi bene da sole con i motori di ricerca.

E poi perchè limitarsi ad un unico sito monografico? Sulla falsariga del primo potete crearne altri.
Coraggio, che forse una via di uscita c’è.

Dopotutto non occorre attirare milioni di visitatori e spendere follie in pubblicità quando ci si può permettere di tenere tutto il ricavato.

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