When should you not sell photographs on disc?

Nov 21, 2008 | Business, Wedding | 21 comments

In response to the thoughts and discussions raised by my previous post on selling pictures on disc I thought I’d have a go at establishing the tipping point for the sell / don’t sell argument.

Bamboo at Westonburt Arboretum gave me just the 'film set' I needed to capture this study

Bamboo at Westonburt Arboretum in Gloucestershire gave me just the 'film set' needed for this demure portrait of one of my favourite clients. Taken at f/4 on my 70-200mm lens.

For the vast majority of social photographers who have clients that limit their order based on a predetermined budget or other cost factors selling pictures on disc can be very lucrative as it is surely the most profitable product they have to offer. An example: A portrait client that sets an upper spend limit of £1000 on products from their one hour shoot session that buys a set of pictures on disc would give the photographer in excess of £999 of direct profit (before fixed overheads). If however the client had more money to spend and could choose the items they wanted without the need to count the cost, it would be prudent for the photographer to sell multiple products like frames, canvases and albums. Some photographers I know regularly exceed £10,000 in orders from single portrait sessions. They could never do this if they offered pictures on disc. In fact one London photographer friend of mine earned over £18,000 from one portrait session last month alone.

I love the interaction between the star and the maple leaves. Sometimes the most beautiful pictures have a calmness and a sence of peace about them

I love the interaction between the star and the maple leaves. Sometimes the most beautiful pictures I take of children have a calmness and a sense of peace about them.

Here are my guidelines:

A) Photographers with budget conscious clients: By offering pictures on disc you may well be capping your income but you will be giving your clients what they want. By not offering pictures on disc you may well find it increasingly hard to get clients and a high percentage of your client spend will go to album, print and frame manufacturers.

B) Photographers with a unique image style and products who do not have to compete on price: These photographers attract the big money, their prints are often considered investments and their clients are fiercely loyal. For these photographers the print quality is king in maintaining the brand integrity. Giclee printing, alternative processes and individually signed photographs ensure that each image commands a high price. There is no logical reason for these photographers to sell their images on disc. They run many risks by doing so.

This high viewpoint combined with a lack of eye contact makes this image more graphic

This high viewpoint combined with a lack of eye contact makes this image more graphic and contrasts well with the intensity of the above image in the set.

I fall in between these two categories where some of my clients are fellow photographers and creatives and I want them to take ownership of my pictures. Other clients of mine want the full service and buy albums and frames custom designed by us for them. Our average portrait sale is between £4000 and £6000 and I suggest this is the point that the grey area between selling or not selling pictures on disc begins.

Please let me know your reasons for selling discs or not and other thought processes that should be being discussed here.

Damien

21 Comments

  1. THill

    Hello Damien (and all)
    Thank you so much for getting back to me personally! :) I see what you’re saying and that makes total sense. I’ve been very preoccupied with this lately and have gathered a lot of information from brides forums – unfortunately only on American sites, so I think it isn’t a true representation of the UK market, or indeed the standard portraiture market. There are some photographers being very helpful and candid and explaining that they “front load” their prices for weddings and at the same time “back load” their prices for portraiture (which would include engagement shoots). So they make a low fee for the portraiture session and hope to get it back by selling products. I kind of guess that means two different web sites, since I think clients wouldn’t get what would appear as a disparity (well if I working in the trade don’t get it???)

    I am normally not daunted about general business matters and I find this area sooo daunting & confusing. But ufff!
    I’m certain I have a lot less business experience in the field than a lot of others at my same artistic level, but I do have a lot of experience over the years working for myself (I started in design and fine art and strangely – although with similar difficulties of “what’s it worth?” as in all the arts – both feel a lot more straightforward to me than pricing for photography!). So I kind of feel others must be struggling with this area as much as I am.. Yes? Maybe?… Or am I just making myself feel better? How does the others less experienced and well known than Damien or other top-end artists deal with charging in the occupation/vocation; especially in the early years before they find their level.

    … ANYWAY
    (heheh, I can see this is turning into more loooong windedness, which I apologise for)

    MY QUESTION :
    1)What are other “high-end” UK photographers and what are other “lower-end” photographers charging for the disc when they back-load their prices?… And for those of you who front load your prices in digital packages (I mean no album, but offer products a la carte from digital galleries like me), generally how much are you allowing for the high res disc within a package??… Whether you allow for worst case scenario that once you sell them the disc in the package they won’t purchase a single print or albums direc, or like me: you “hope for the best” that they will buy at least a few products and consider the disc as an archival/security option… HOW MUCH WOULD YOU WANT TO MAKE OFF OF THOSE PRESUMED LOST SALES WHEN SELLING THE HIGH RES DISC?

    2) For those who do not sell on a high res disc EVER, how do you explain that to the client?

    3) Is there anyone (UK) who charges individually per high res image, or a combination of flat price per group of images, plus extra per additional image?… AND IN THAT CASE WHAT DO YOU CHARGE PER IMAGE?

    So….Can anyone else share their direct experience on this matter? I mean with some specific numbers of prices for session for private non-commercial clients & what they charge for high res disc (front or back loaded prices)… Oh yes and give me some idea of weather they are Aston Martins or Puegots or Golfs or Mercedes etc (or at least what your clients are driving). :D

    If anyone can say I really appreciate it thank you. (I think it helps us all)

    Reply
  2. THill

    Also, thank you in advance to anyone who responds with their experience and advice (sorry it was so long winded). :)

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Thill,

      I understand you and thank you for taking the time to write such a valuable contribution to the debate/ issue of pricing.

      I must say that 90% of potential customers can’t afford top portrait photographers in the same way they can’t afford a AMG Mercedes or Aston Martin. However, the sales of Aston Martin have never been better. The thing is, you need to establish who your likely clients are and develop products that excite them and deliver them at a price they can afford. There is pleanty of money to be made at the bottom end of the market as well as the top for those photographers who get the numbers game right.

      I’ve just bought a Fiat 500, a small ‘affordable’ car but one that is very profitable to produce. It doesn’t have to have a big price ticket to be profitable. In the case of the Fiat I paid more money than sence would allow because it is so cute. The percieved value of the Fiat 500 is way higher than the Nissan Micra and they probably cost the same to make.

      Yes there are photographers charging and getting serious money for their portrait commissions. Their clients include stockbrokers, oil traders, footballers, scrap metal dealers, owners of haulage firms, Software developers, housing developers, government consultants etc. Probably the same customer base as Aston Martin, AMG Mercedes, Gucci, Louis Vuiton etc.

      Your observations of your potential client base are probably correct. It’s a numbers game so if you get the product right you could shoot 10 – 20 portrait sessions a week. If each earns a profit of £300 then you have a great business. That’s how a high street studio might trade.

      Kind regards,

      Damien.

      Reply
  3. THill

    Soooo? Am I missing a few things here? Are these all London photographers? Could someone (if not a several “someones”) be more specific about some of the points discussed here related to selling images on disc:

    1 – how much do you charge for images on disc? I mean not just for wedding… but for those of us who also do the various shorter sessions like portrait work for example (very different kettle. For me, unless it’s a corporate client, most of my clients are on some type of a budget – even if they aren’t broke – or maybe it’s just the expectation that they have already paid for the photos to be taken. They get paying for prints, but not on disc. In my business, I really feel charging anything above £50 for a disc afterwards would mean that I lost many clients.

    2 – If the client requests a disc and you DON’T sell if, how do you get out of it?
    …I think explaining to clients about the quality of pro prints definitely works in the beginning for their own prints, but in the end my experience is they all want a disk (their friend hired a photographer and they got a disk afterall). Invariably they taking it to Boots, or Walmart – or wherever – to make cheap prints for all their extended family. Or they copy & send the files to the extended family and they go to Boots or Wallmart.There is a client expectation (even if you try to educate), that once you finish the shoot, that’s it. So what I see is, most people don’t plan on or expect to spend 1000’s on a session + prints & products, even if they aren’t that much of a budget… and no it doesn’t help that some photographers (actually some very good ones) work for very little and then there is an expectation everyone will. On the other hand I don’t personally know anyone who makes the numbers the author Damien and some other photographers quote (not doubting it, just don’t know how they command it with so many people working for far less).

    which brings me to…

    3 – Is there really anyone regularly making 10,000 – 18,000 regularly on sessions?? I was charging £175 for basic 2 hour shoot (with images on disc), which I need to raise… Unfortunately I found so many far more experienced UK photographers offering the same 2 hours session at £95-£100, + meetings/consultation at studio before and after. I had to reprice lower… Which is what brought me to this blog. HOW MUCH ARE THESE PHOTOGRAPHERS WITH LOW SESSION PRICES CHARGING FOR IMAGES ON DISC? OR, DO THEY REFUSE TO PROVIDE A DISC (UNLESS AT A HIGH PROFIT – £900, for example if they are expecting to make £1,000 per portraiture client.

    ** And before anyone explains to me that there’s money to be made in prints/products/reprints. Yes! Hahaha, I know that :) That’s my point for visiting today. Because I can see the benefit, but I can’t see how I can afford to – maybe I’m just a chicken, but I can’t see how I could get out of offering on the disc and keep clients… Or at least I can’t see clients wanting to pay more than £50 for a disc. And there are too many people working for £100 or less for a session. I know I’m repeating myself, but I’d just like to be clear on what I’m asking: Looking for more specific details if anyone is willing to give them on how & what the charge specifically & what their terms are for these charges if they are unusual. It certainly would stop alot of people setting clients expectations too high (or low s the case may be), if we were all a little more transparent about pricing and T&C.

    Reply
  4. Helen

    Thanks for the enlightening response Damien – me thinks we are spending too long on post production.

    The thought provoking idea of a disc is something that we have wondered about for a while.

    You look around and see so many people asking for disks. The world evolves, things change and we have to move with it, with the development of social media maybe we should embrace this change and work with it?
    Great topic!

    Reply
  5. david cooke

    The new busines model you suggest is a great idea Damien, not sure how easy it would be to sell to the client, but nonetheless worth a thought or two.

    I have removed the free disc offer from all of my packages, and replaced it with a slide show set to music, I will now wait for the client to bring up the subject of a disc with high res images, if they dont great, if they do I will make the offer to sell the disc at that time, believe me not all clients ask for a free disc, but if you offer one they wont say no will they, so in other words all you photographers out there who advertise “free disc with every package”, you are not even giving yourself the chance to make more income, think about it.

    Reply
  6. damien

    Hi John,

    I’m glad you enjoyed that one:) It’s a bit of a back of an envelope business plan but it is out there to make people think. Is this really posable? who is doing it and if not why not? The truth is the wedding business in this country is still very buoyant. There are just as many weddings happening and by cutting out a lot of the time and expenditure you can offer a sub £2k service and make a good income. So many photographers are being sucked in to providing £600+ albums and all the hassle that goes with them for little or no more reward.

    Yes, there are many bitter and twisted photographers out there with all the skills and ability who are struggling. They will blame the economy, the start ups shooting for nothing, uncle Harry, in fact just about anything except themselves. Business doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to be an amazing photographer to make good money. You absolutely do need to have a positive mental attitude and understand your weaknesses. There are so many great photographers out there who run poor businesses. They often don’t understand the need for a USP, their products look like everyone else’s, and because they have to compete on price they set their fees too low to make a good profit. If they do have a good unique product they often don’t market themselves effectively. There is always another way to trade and this article is out there to make people think.

    It’s what Julie and I did. We created a unique product that was different from anyone else’s and put it in front of our prospects. Our product ran it’s course and remained virtually unchanged for 10 years. I see photographers out there struggling to peddle the same products today that were fresh and new way back in 2001.

    I’m concentrating on working with a small group of motivated and focussed photographers to realise their true earning potential. Many of them lack shooting experience or business acumen but that can be taught and a high percentage of them will succeed to be happy people with photography funding their lifestyles. I believe wealth is about more than money, it’s about happiness.

    Regards, Damien.

    Reply
  7. Helen

    Hello, interesting topic.
    Question: Based on the model of the three day shoot. How many images would YOU hand over to your clients on disk? How many would they expect to have? Th reason I ask is we are just trying to decide whether we over-post produce or not, in so many words we fiddle too much and the profit goes down the pan.

    Cheers
    Helen

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Helen,

      We spend about 90 seconds per image in post production and we only show a maximum of twice the pictures that the client will buy. So we would edit 250 or so images if we thought the client will want 150 or so in their album. For pictures on disc we edit the number thew clients have bought. If the package was for up to 30 shots from the pre wedding shoot we’d cut down to say 32 and edit those. The client still gets more than they expected etc.

      I hope this helps, Damien.

      Reply
  8. damien

    Hi John,

    We release the images the client has paid for on CD at high res. It saves them the hassle of photographing each print in their album. They always do photograph the album prints if they don’t get jpegs. Facebook is full of wedding pictures reshot from prints. Like you, we just ensure we charge enough for the image in the first place :)

    Cheers, Damien.

    Reply
  9. Chris Hanley

    very shrewd analysis John, couldn’t agree more, and as our profession is manipulated by the forces in your last sentence we have to adapt. I don’t like it anymore than you do and we try very hard to in how we now market our files.
    Industry regulation required me thinks

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Chris,

      Perhaps a new business model for wedding photography is needed along the lines of a commercial photography model. All expenses met plus a shoot day rate of lets say £2000, a post production day rate of £500 and hand over of all files and responsibility thereafter. Then a wedding would take 3 days to produce at an income of £3000 plus expenses. I think 40 of those weddings a year would generate a great lifestyle. A 3 day week, really long holidays and a good income. Hmm sounds too good to be true.

      Damien.

      Reply
  10. Henry Aarvold

    Hi Damien,

    an interesting and oft discussed topic this one.

    I think the biggest problem with the ‘disc of images’ product, especially for those new to professional social photography, is that the direct cost is so low. So there is always this feeling that “it cost me peanuts, I can’t sell it for much”. It’s so easy to forget that we aren’t selling the disc we are selling the images on it and all the energy, skill and time it took to create them.

    I used to actively discourage new wedding togs from selling digital versions of their work. I’m still not that happy about it if I’m honest. However, if we are going to sell images on disc to “meet the needs of our clients” then we should all take responsibility for ensuring that this format isn’t seen as a cheap option.

    Hmm, I appear to have fallen off my soap-box so I’ll shut up now.

    thanks for a great blog Damien, it is appreciated by many including me.

    Reply
    • damien

      Thanks Henry,

      Wise words indeed. We have always charged by the image irrespective of it’s mode of delivery wether on a bit of paper or on a CD. The price remains the same.

      Thanks again for your contribution. Regards,

      Damien.

      Reply
  11. martyn norsworthy

    I tend to only offer a Cd of images at Viewing size, even then I talk my way out of selling it, as I’d rather they had quality prints and framing. Im not charging enough but my local area is tough. a 24″x13″ frame with three 6×9’s is offered at £225 the sitting fee is £50. OMG !!!! i need to change a few things!

    Reply
  12. Richard King

    One point to add here is the “when” Our clinets do get the disk, bit they dont get the disk untill we have supplied the first wave of products (including the album). As we all know, that takes time.

    I would argue that the further you are away from the event/wedding/portrait session, the more unlikley it is you will get an additional sale. The disk, in the end, serves as the couples archive backup, because they had all the products they wanted from you in the first place

    Reply
  13. dave cooke

    I think the lower budget clients will always want a disc, and the higher end clients will always come to you for there reprints as they can afford it.
    thanks for this ace site by the way

    Reply
  14. Anna S

    Hi Damien,

    Really useful follow-up to your previous posts.

    I’m just redoing my portrait prices at the moment for next year and am now thinking of offering a series of packages with, say, a top package where clients get all the images on CD, plus other bespoke products such as a coffee table book etc, priced accordingly (so £1,000+), and then a series of other packages that don’t include the CD option, but just framed products etc – so a combination of the two different offerings.

    Would be interested to know if you think this sounds workable, as am finding the whole pricing thing a bit of a minefield for someone who’s only previously done corporate photography!

    Thanks for the brilliant blog too.

    Anna

    Reply
  15. David Lowerson

    Hi Damien,

    Firstly, love the blog and the useful articles that you so kindly post for us fellow professional photographers.

    Secondly, I currently sell my images to the client on disc, if that’s what they want. Otherwise the client may go elsewere. I do however make quite a healthy profit from doing this.

    The flip side to this is that if I sell the images on disc, the client may go and print the images on their home desktop printer or at the supermarket lab and the quality could be quite poor. This could result in my work being presented at a substandard and could be detrimental to my professional reputation.

    Therefore, when I sell my own reprints the client gets quality every time and my images are displayed as they were intended.

    Dave

    Reply
  16. Wing Liu

    btw, the photo of the little girl is so much better than the boy – love the out of focus few pieces of bamboo – f4 is just the right amount that created more focus on the little girl.

    Reply
  17. Wing Liu

    Great follow up to the last SELL BY DISC acticle. Makes complete sense now.

    Reply

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