eBay and Online Seller's Guide to Finding a Photo Host
By Greg Holden
I love to go antiquing, but more than once I've arrived home with a carload of purchases to discover I didn't have a good place to put them. eBay sellers can face a similar problem with photos: what do you do with your auction images after you take them and get them looking just the way you want?
An AuctionBytes article by Tom Shaughnessy summarizing the photography sessions at June's eBay Live conference explored many topics of concern to first-time sellers: digital cameras, editing software, accessories, and so on (http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abu/y207/m06/abu0193/s03). But one topic that didn't get covered was where to host photos to make them part of your auction descriptions.
In fact, you have your pick of plenty of photo hosting services - companies that make space available to you on one of their Web servers where you can post your image files. Once they're online, the files can be linked to your auction descriptions.
Perhaps without even realizing it you've made eBay's Picture Services into your host. That's what happens when you choose the option of adding photos when you're creating a description by filling out the Sell Your Item form. It's convenient, but there's a price to pay. The first image is free, but then Picture Services charges you fifteen cents for each photo you put online. This isn't a big deal if you're only planning to sell a handful of items at a time. But the costs mount quickly and start cutting into your profit margin when each item has four or five images and you start listing ten, twenty, fifty, or even a hundred items.
So let's back up for a minute. Your photos of your auction items have turned out great, and you've saved them as JPEGs. You remembered to crop them and save them at a low resolution so they are no more than 50K in size. You're ready to link them to your descriptions. Now what? Here are some steps you can follow.
Step 1: Look Close to Home
Start by looking at the company that already gives you access to the Internet and email: your Internet Service Provider. Nearly all Internet access accounts provide some sort of Web server space, which you can use to publish some simple Web pages. A DSL account with Earthlink gives each user 10MB of server space per email address; you can have up to eight email addresses, so you get up to 80MB of space. At 50K per photo, that would enable you to publish 1600 photos at a time with no extra charge.
I have a Web hosting account with my ISP, Speakeasy, which allows me to run a full-fledged commercial Web site with its own domain name. I also get 500MB of Web server space, and that's where I publish my auction images.
Also consider one of the popular auction-management service providers such as Auctiva, Marketworks and Vendio (http://auctionbytes.com/cgi-bin/charts/chart.pl?Auction_Management_Services). As part of your subscription package, you'll get plenty of storage space for photos along with tools for listing sales and doing business analysis. So by spending money, you may end up saving money in the long run.
Don't overlook eBay, either: eBay Picture Services has monthly subscription plans that compare favorably with those of other hosts. They start at $9.99 per month for 50MB of space (http://pages.ebay.com/sell/pictureservices).
2. Determine What You Need
If your ISP isn't an option and you don't use an auction-management service provider, the next step is to take stock of what you need so you can make an informed decision.
The more space you get on a server, the greater the number of image files you'll be able to store online. This is especially important if you have an eBay Store and you need to keep dozens or even hundreds of files available for months at a time. How much space do you need? Multiply your typical image size (say, 50K) by the number of photos you post each month. If you post 50 items per sale and each item has five photos on average, you need 250 times 50K, or 12.5MB, of space. While it seems reasonable to remove items as they are sold or taken offline, that's not always a good idea - you may want to relist one or more times.
Some photo hosts don't allow eBay auction images to be posted because of all the traffic they can attract. Other hosts restrict listings for specific kinds of merchandise, like eBay Motors items. You can run into trouble if you don't conform to other usage requirements. I've heard of cases where eBay sellers posted images of lingerie only to have them removed because the host considered them inappropriate. In other words, make sure your host will allow you to post images of what you want to sell.
Everyone knows that it's important to crop your photos and adjust the brightness and contrast as needed. But what if it's already midnight and you have another hundred photos to get online? Are you really going to open each file in an image editor? Some hosts will optimize the image for you before it goes online to make sure it looks good, or give you an easy image resizing tool (for instance Deadzoom.com). If you want to save time and your images often need such adjustment (perhaps your lighting isn't as good as it could be), finding a host that provides this service can be a godsend.
The process of moving your files from your computer to a remote Web server is called uploading. One method commonly used to transfer the files is File Transfer Protocol (FTP). But FTP applications aren't always user-friendly. If you find acronyms like FTP intimidating, look for a host that will give you a more familiar way to transfer files: using a Web browser instead of an FTP application. Auctionpix.com lets you email in your images or even snail-mail your printed photos so they can be scanned, for instance.
Photo hosts come in two flavors: you can pay a monthly subscription fee in exchange for space on a Web server, or you can find free server space. Your priority may be to get your photos online for no money at all so you can still make a profit on your eBay business. If that's the case, a few free hosts can be found. This might seem like an obvious choice, especially if hanging onto your money was the main reason you didn't want to pay $.15 to eBay Picture Services in the first place. But, there are often strings attached to server space that's free. You get a limited amount of space, for one thing. And there may be others. For instance, Auction-Images.com gives eBay sellers 1MB of space for free, but you have to contact them with your User ID beforehand to be approved, and you can't sell eBay Motors items (though you can with other subscription packages they offer).
If you need help and advice in working with photos, make sure your photo host can give you the support you need. Look for online tutorials that explain the process clearly. Also make sure the customer service staff is accessible when you need them (evenings and weekends) and speaks English.
Step 3: Start Looking
Online discussion groups are among the best places to get recommendations of photo hosts. Check out the forums hosted by AuctionBytes, or eBay's Photos/HTML discussion board. At the top of the Photos/HTML Board, check out the link to Bob's Tip Pages. Bob Bull (User id: bobal) dispenses advice on many topics, including finding a photo host.
Unless you are able to use your ISP as your photo host, it pays to think about the advantages of participating in a subscription service. My next column will cover more details on taking advantage of features offered by subscription services in general and one called SmugMug in particular.
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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