Ah, this is such a controversial question in the industry today. And, it is a difficult business decision as well.
Before the digital age of photography, it was completely unheard of to hand over your film negatives to a client. Clients went into the photography studio, were presented their images, and then had to choose what they wanted to order. Whatever they didn’t order was thrown away after a period of time.
Now, this process, in my opinion, had its shortcomings for the client. While it was very profitable to the photographer, it was an extremely expensive investment for the client. And, the client could not make any additional copies of those photos or obtain access to the ones they did not purchase.
Personally, as a consumer, I was not a fan of this business model.
Enter digital photography. How the age of digital impacted the industry? It has had a profound effect. The ease of use of the digital camera (coupled with the widespread use of the internet) created a very little barriers to entry into the photography industry. The digital camera was so automatic, anyone could pick up a camera and take photos in automatic mode.
Gradually, this technology has made it easier and easier for anyone to enter the market, no matter what your training or business knowledge is.
I will say that even though I did have training with an all-manual film camera, I am one of these photographers who entered the market due to the ease of use of digital and the internet. There is no way I would have ever done this if digital photography was not available. There is too much that can go wrong with film, and I did not want to take those risks while shooting.
Along with a surplus of photographers, digital photography has also introduced the “shoot and burn” photographer. If you haven’t heard this term, it’s basically a photographer who shoots your photos and hands over all of the digital files for a flat fee.
This seems to be a really popular choice for consumers looking to have their family’s photos taken. It’s quick, simple, and you have the freedom to do what you want with the images.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a photographer may decide to not sell the digital images at all or make the customer invest money in prints to obtain access to the digital images.
So, which choice is right for your photography business?
That is the ultimate question, right? 🙂
|“Shoot and Burn”||
|Separate session fee and print/digital packages||
As you can see above, there are advantages and disadvantages to both business models.
In order to help you decide, ask yourself these questions:
- Which model will your market support best?
- What model is your competition doing?
- How much time and money do you have to invest?
- Which business model would your clients prefer?
The answers to these questions will determine which is the best and most profitable path for your business. Now, that may change in the future, but this will give you a good starting point for your photography business.
What I do for my photography business…
I know what I like for my business, but it isn’t for every photography business. I started out with a shoot and burn model, but quickly realized that I myself was getting burned out due to working too much and not making enough.
Last year, I did try doing a session fee and a print minimum. I felt it was OK, but personally was not a fan of it, even though my business did well enough. I missed the simplicity, ease, and low cost of offering digital files.
So, this year, I decided to split the difference. My pricing structure has two different session fees, and then gives clients the option to purchase digital packages of images, either 3, 8, or all photos. This gives a different price point for them to choose from, as well as a chance for me to up-sell more images to the client.
I still do not have a higher earning potential like I would with print packages, however I will take the time and money savings at this point. It does take more time and money to do a session fee with a print minimum. It’s a trade-off. Assess the time and money you want to invest, as well as the market and client base that will sustain whichever model you choose.
Where is the photography industry heading?
You hear about how “film is dead” and the push for people to have their photos on their walls. While film still has its place in the industry and people should definitely still frame and put their photos on their walls, the photography industry is shifting.
I see it as a very similar situation with the shift in music and movies to digital. I remember the days when the only way you could purchase a song if it wasn’t a single, was to purchase an entire album. There was not an easy and cheap way to access the songs you wanted to listen to. When there is a consumer demand for something different, people will find a way.
Look at what Napster started (even though it was illegal), and how iTunes ultimately profited from it with their $.99 songs. Obviously, the music industry did not like this at all. The shift to digital meant lost revenue for the entire music industry.
Ultimately, those that did not adapt to the changing trends in consumer preferences were doomed to fail.
Similar to the music industry, there is fast growing consumer demand for digital images in the photography industry. For photography businesses that do not offer digital photos for purchase, there is still a place in the industry, for now. However, it will be interesting to see how things shift over the next few years.
Will the film shooters emerge as the higher-priced and couture photographers? (Now vinyl records are starting to make a comeback in the music industry!)
What do you think about those photography businesses who do not offer digital photos for sale? Will they be forced to do that under consumer demand?
Will the price of custom photography trend downwards in relation to the surplus of photographers selling their digital images for a lower price?
Which business model have you found works well for you?