The importance of the right plugin

la013CARIC-500 by .

(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 🙂

la260-350 by .

A pebble in the pond: a free Artists’ Marketplace

stock3 by .

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…

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

vintage-stock-500 by .

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.


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.

stock by .

MY OWN STOCK IMAGES WEBSITE, ALL MINE!

WOMAN-POSTER2-300 by .

For a very long time I’ve been dreaming of a site of my own where I could sell my images.
Not that I hadn’t tried in the past, but the results weren’t very encouraging: updating and maintaining such a site proved way too burdensome even after automating (well, partially…) the image uploading procedure.

As it is I gave up on it and put away that dream in a drawer – until recently a number of ideas (see below) induced me to dust it off and try once more.
And this time I made it!
Now to sell my own stock images I finally have a fully automated website, easily maintained and – if I say so myself – functional and enjoyable to use.
To get started I chose a pretty profitable niche product I particularly like: beautiful venerable images from ancient books (that I keep collecting maniacally), scanned at a very high resolution and then processed to spotlessness using a set of tricks and procedures I’ve perfected during so many years of experience.

A FEW CONSIDERATIONS TO START WITH:

  • In these days the stock images market is saturated: just anyone can take excellent pictures today using a cheap camera or even a cellphone that does most of the thinking for them. Supply and competition are overwhelming.
  • The stock agencies work with tens of millions of images (to say the least); to rummage through them all in search of the ‘right’ one is definitely no easy job for the customer
  • IMO too many images produce a sort of boomerang-effect: after 4-5 online pages full of pictures and/or illustrations, the visitor’s attention tends to drop drastically. I’m wondering if the many thousands of images I’ve uploaded myself to the agencies’ sites are found at all despite all the care I took (and all the time I spent) to choose painstakingly the most appropriate keywords.
  • To back up that doubt there’s the fact that, although I lately added another few thousand images to my accounts by the fistful of agencies still worth posting to, my return in terms of royalties hasn’t changed appreciably. Where did my images go?
  • As I then read on the Wailing Wall the specialized forums have become, I cannot help getting a dark thought: not only are the current royalties quite measly, but also there’s no way to know how many of our images are actually sold – but for what the agencies themselves tell us.
    Shall we really trust them?

Giving free rein to the fantasy brought up the thought of a very decent way to get out of this nasty pickle: an online cooperative of artists residing on a virtual mega-site where each one has an own site-space and an own personal specialty-niche.

Not really mine as a matter of fact: in a way this was also the basic idea behind Simbiostock, that apparently for some reasons didn’t work out – which should be ascribed more to the way it was implemented than to the idea itself. Their original intentions looked actually good: I even got to use their free image management plugin, although it looked somewhat cumbersome.

However that notion may be (with some luck) a promising second step but hardly the first one: the first one has to be an independent niche-centered stock images site that, once it’s working fine, can merge with ‘sister’ sites and grow up with them.
Thus, like a dog gnawing at a bone, I growled and faced the problem of a fully automated personal stock site by breaking it down to a number of simple well-defined tasks to be munched one by one.

THE WEBSITE MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS

  • The site should be fast. Otherwise it wouldn’t be competitive and the search engines would penalize it – if not snob it at all. As such the host should be chosen with the greatest care.
  • The site should use a safe connection: nowadays the SSL protocol is indispensable for any well-bred site, in particular for a virtual shop.
  • The site should abide by the EU directives in matter of privacy and tax clarity.
  • The storage space should not be limited to a few gigabytes – images take a lot of space.

THINGS TO BE OPTIMIZED AND AUTOMATED

  • The images should be uploaded by chunks per ftp, the fastest available connection between your computer and the online server.
  • The metadata should be extracted from the images offline and automatically; in particular the keywords, extremely important as TAGS to optimize the web pages for the search engines and crucial to locate an image amid millions of others.
  • All the data (prices, keywords, sizes etc.) required to populate the web pages must be loaded automatically by means of an auxiliary text file. Generally used to this purpose are the Excel-generated .cvs files.
  • The .cvs files in turn should be built offline upon the data hidden within the images and all the other parameters required by the shop web pages, of course still automatically.

Obviously uploading the images and preparing the single ‘product’ web pages by hand is still possible, but it would hamper lethally the swiftness of the daily site updating – as well as swallow plenty of one’s precious time that would be better devoted to sorting, processing and keywording new images. Firsthand experience, you may take my word for it 🙁

LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

A last most important requirement is that the initial financial investment be modest: even if you can afford it, you certainly do not want to put too much money in such a website until you see some promising return. Thus for now watch the costs: once your own agency takes off you’ll be able to loosen the purse strings at leisure 🙂

Next article: HOW TO GET STARTED AND BEGIN SELLING WITH $170.99 (no bul***it, it worked for me 😀 )

Feel like buying a lake? (EN)

Yes, nothing wrong with your eyes: a LAKE! And a damn beautiful one too, with a wonderful view on the Bavarian Alps, a complete immersion into unpolluted nature, clear waters, plenty of fishes, and as a topping an antique though entirely restored inn right on the bank, enjoyed for holiday and relax (among so many others) also by Sigmund Freud.
All included in the package (well, except for the Alps…)

Thumsee lake

Such an opportunity doesn’t really occur every century, nor does it having to design a website for it.
Et voilà: the Thumsee lake in Germany, near the Austrian border and 20 minutes away from Salzburg (does the name “Mozart” ring a bell?).

Thumsee Wewbsite
Fotos by Kurverwaltung Bad Reichenhall

The adventures of a web hosting wanderer (EN)

After my massive malware attacks at HostGator (see my previous post) I decided to change host provider.

The first condition to do it freely is:
always register your domain names by a registar indipendent of the host.
This way, when you want to change host, you have simply to point your domain to the new DNS severs and it is done, no permission to ask.
Several hosts offer you to register your name for free but then, when you want to change host, they keep it as hostage (bad pun, huh?) and make all sorts of trouble before releasing it. Beware…

Since many years I use directdn.com: I appreciate their fair prices, their smooth service and the easy way to manage my account.

After a look at one of the countless web pages “2017 Most Wonderful Web Hosting Services” (most of them quoting for some reason HostGator at the top) I landed on IPage, attracted by their low prices – though most hosting providers offer impressive discounts at the beginning and then double or triple the price the following years.

Alas! soon after paying my invoice I found out that it was impossible to set an email of the kind me@mywebsite.com (only me.mywebsite@ipage.com was allowed). In order to get a service provided for free by any other host I would have to pay a considerable monthly external fee to Google – once for every one of my 10 email boxes, of course… okay, IPage was definitely not my host of choice: money back, run away and try elsewhere.

My second landing was at InMotion, and here I hope to stay: the customer service looks helpful and nice and they offer a lot of useful literature about all the ghastly things that could happen to your website, their causes and the possible remedies. In case I need something to read before sleeping…

It’s about time for restyling (EN)

I just spent two hellish weeks on my 5 websites, which suffered a massive and repetitive attack of malware at Hostgator.

Repetitive I said: it had to be a backdoor on my hosting place – or, as I suspect, on the whole server – because a few hours after a complete cleanup all sites were infected again. And again. And again.

I decided to:

1) change host

2) dismiss completely SiteLock, which proved absolutely useless (no alert, no communication whatsoever). Only after the disaster, as I was seeking help by Hostgator, I was put in touch with their people instead, and all they did was try to sell me a manual cleanup (! ! !) for $99/month. Some help!
So please think twice before donating your money to them, there are better and fairer alternatives.

3) park my stock images websites elsewhere at the moment, for further consideration

As I’ve been changing so many things, I decided to start from scratch with this blog.
I was looking for something funny and nice for the home page and I run into this lovely movie clip by Jeffrey Wilson. I couldn’t resist, I bought him a coffee and grabbed it 🙂

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies/ visitando questo sito si consente all'uso dei cookies more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close