Review: LiveBooks photo site

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Short version: LiveBooks is a website designed to provide a platform for photographers and other artists to display and sell their work online. It’s an interesting alternative to the other sites out there in that it’s relatively easy to use, and the standard design templates are extremely well done.

Features:

  • No upload limit
  • Drag and drop image management
  • Password protected portfolios; perfect for clients

Pros:

Cons:

  • Some loss of image quality during re-size
  • Can’t easily change design template; requires help from support

There’s no shortage of websites out there designed for photographers. The problem is, most of them aren’t that good, or are intended for the mom & pop crowd. For example: Flickr. Nice site, but it’s not exactly for pros, and you have to pay for what pro functionality it has. Picasa albums aren’t as popular as Flickr, and certainly don’t have the same sense of community. Smugmug, on the other hand, is considered to be one of the best. The problem with SmugMug is that it requires a little too much tweaking. Sure, you can set it up to look really nice, but that requires a knowledge of coding and can be quite complicated. LiveBooks however has a really elegant interface that’s easy to use, easy to customize, and easy to manage.

Setting up a site is easy: just go to LiveBooks, and then select the type of website you want to set up. There is a myriad of templates to choose from, broken down into different themes. Each template has its own style, and can be customized for an additional fee. You can browse through the templates based on vocation, thumbnail type, color scheme, or name. The initial trial period is for 14 days, and during that period you can easily change themes. After that 14 day period, however, you must contact customer support in order to get your theme changed, so make sure you’re happy with your site. Once the theme is selected, you can customize the text about your company, yourself, and the galleries and titles that you want for specific pages. It sounds complicated, but LiveBooks made it pretty simple to populate all this information.

Once you get the information populated, it’s time to upload your images. LiveBooks uses a lightbox style interface for organizing your photos, and that’s where things start to get a little less then ideal. It’s important to remember that LiveBooks is intended as a virtual portfolio, and not a high resolution web album. Where sites like Flickr make it easy to share multiple sized high resolution images, the LiveBooks sites emphasize a sales sample, instead of a product the client can print out for free at home. Be aware that depending on the template you choose, you are somewhat limited in the size of the files that you can display. You can resize your images manually, or allow the uploader to do it, which unfortunately can result in image quality issues. Once you get your images uploaded, however, the end user interface works extremely well. It’s fast, smooth, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Another point worth mentioning is that LiveBooks recently announced that they will be rolling out a new interface that will work with the iPad. As a photographer myself, I can’t help but think that this an ideal use of the iPad, and I’m looking forward to seeing the product in action.

One of the things that really sets LiveBooks apart is their search engine optimization. The site that the end user sees is Flash based, and extremely elegant. While this is great for the end user experience, it cripples your search engine optimization. LiveBooks has come up with an effective solution to this, by cloning your site into standard HTML to allow web crawlers to keyword your site.

I was also very impressed by the level of support provided on the LiveBooks site. They have an extensive area dedicated to everything from customizing your site to the best way to optimize your Google juice. I moved my personal site over to their hosting, just to see how long it took. LiveBooks contacted my domain registry company for me and updated the DNS information. The entire process took about 8 hours (excluding the normal propagation time).

Conclusion: LiveBooks is a significant step up from sites like Flickr and Picasa albums. It’s not as significant a step up from sites like Smugmug, but the interface and theme design make it a more practical choice for the photography professional, or the “enthusiastic amateur” like myself. At $39 a month, it’s not cheap, but when you consider the quality of the site and the level of support, it’s worth it.

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