David Vaaknin

New Website on a New Platform

Welcome to my new blog, which has a new home - the Format portfolio platform.

My first blog post is dedicated to the reasons for which I chose to move from the older platform, Squarespace, to Format.

I know, most of you out there are probably wondering why you should care if this guy moves from one website builder to another. You’re right - and unless you are photographers or designers, you probably shouldn’t care too much. However, I do believe there is something to be learned from this blog post even if you have nothing to do with photography or design. This post ultimately deals with many issues we all encounter in our daily lives: Hi-tech, the World Wide Web, multinational corporations/small businesses, the gig economy, privacy issues and more.

Here’s a TL;DR version for those of you that wish to stop reading now and are in a rush to check out the rest of my new website ;-)

I chose to switch to Format following a recently announced partnership/integration between Squarespace and Unsplash. The latter is a website dedicated to sharing stock photography under the Unsplash license, which is almost similar to a Creative Commons Zero license. The former is a website builder, a very big company, one of the leaders in its field of expertise, catering and promoting to creatives and small businesses. Can you guess which creative profession is at the top of its list of customers (on their website)? Yes, it’s photographers.

To put it mildly, I consider this a blatant disregard for professional photographers’ business models on behalf of Squarespace. That’s why, as a photographer, I chose to stop being its customer. On the bright side, I’ve discovered Format, and I have to say that it seems like a much better option for creatives - more on that later.

For those of you that are still here and want to learn a bit more - here are my main issues:

For the past 5 years, I’ve been a loyal Squarespace customer, and I’ve also recommended its service to many colleagues, friends, or other people that needed a website, since I found the platform relatively easy to use and operate, its templates appealing and flexible, and the overall set of tools the platform gives for building a website was good and reliable. Small business owners like myself know that in today’s world, a website is your storefront - It should be clean, neat, fast, reliable and to the point. The light needs to constantly be on in your virtual storefront, it should look great at all times, as you get clients from all over the world coming in to check your services. That’s why, for a lack of a better word, this feels to me like a betrayal of trust.

Perhaps it is a bit naive on my part – Squarespace is a very big business with many different kinds of clients, and its main purpose is, of course, to make a profit. Surely a lot of its non-photographer clients will find (or have already found) the recent partnership beneficial, which in turn, will most probably increase its profit. However, I find it hypocritical that the company actively promotes to photographers, whether it’s directly on their website, or through other channels and platforms dedicated to photography - while undermining the entire professional photography industry by partnering with Unsplash.

Now, as for Unsplash. Where do I start? Let’s skip past the obvious.

Many small businesses, or even larger companies, don’t fully understand the risks they are putting themselves in, simply by using Unsplash photos for commercial purposes. Unsplash photos are not model and/or property released - this means those businesses that opt to use Unsplash photos are in danger of being sued (I’m not even talking about the photographer that chose to expose himself to this risk by giving away his photos for free).

If you’d like to know more about why Unsplash is so bad for photographers, certainly not just for stock photographers, check out this great video by Zack Arias on his blog DEDPXL (despite its length, it is worth seeing or listening to the whole video). There are also a couple of useful articles about the problems with this Squarespace/Unsplash partnership is, on Fstoppers and on Photoshelter Blog. While I have many issues with Unsplash, similar to the ones raised by Zack Arias and specified in the articles linked in this post, my main problem here is with Squarespace, as I am its paying client, not Unsplash’s, and I expected something in return. Wait, let me rephrase - I was its paying client, and as a paying client, I did not expect to have my livelihood and passion become eroded and debilitated by its actions.

In case you’re wondering than no, Squarespace’s actions did not hurt my business directly. Not that I know of. But in my opinion, its move seriously hurts the professional photography industry and I can’t be a part of it. No matter how small my part is.

This brings me to the alternatives. In the past few weeks, I’ve explored a few worthy alternatives to Squarespace and eventually chose Format. The website was quite easy to set up (I’m trying to take the perspective of a person with basic knowledge and know-how regarding website design here). The entire design process was fast, easy and intuitive - switching themes or templates is a breeze and you can preview how your website will look with a new theme before changing. Uploading photos and organizing the galleries is a much simpler process than in Squarespace, thanks to the Lightroom plugin which makes life easier. The same goes for SEO features. There are also store and client proofing features which I’ve yet to try but hope to do so soon.

I’m not sponsored by Format, but I think the Format platform is superior to Squarespace’s, especially for creatives. Actually, I’m still paying for my Squarespace account until September of next year, since the payment plan I chose there is not refundable once canceled, which goes to show you that I did not plan to change anytime soon and was happy with the platform. But despite the extra cost, I still chose to end my business with Squarespace as a matter of principle. Squarespace hasn’t replied or commented on this issue on social media, although many comments and messages were sent by me, as well as by other photographers. I think the company is ignoring the whole issue altogether, hoping it will blow over.

I can only hope that many other photographers will stand up for what’s right and switch to another platform, one that actually supports professional photographers, or at the very least doesn’t hurt them, despite the hassle and cost involved in this change.

To start fresh, and with some optimism, let me conclude by including selected images I can finally share - a visual travel guide through Israel from a commission for Fattal Hotels. More images on the commissions page of my website.

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Using Format