Chances are, one of the following is true:
a) You know a shoot-and-burn photographer.
b) You used to be a shoot-and-burn photographer.
c) You’ve lost business to a shoot-and-burn photographer.
d) You are a shoot-and-burn photographer.
If you fall into categories A, B, or C, we’re probably preaching to the choir, but feel free to share this anyone you know who needs a little nudge.
If you fall into category D, hi there! Don’t worry, we’re not going to yell at you. We’ve been in your shoes, and we know you probably have reasons for selling your disc cheap. But we want to explain why putting a rock-bottom price tag on your most valuable product can spell disaster for your bottom line…and your reputation…and your ability to do this thing you love for a living.
Ready to hear us out? Great.
First, a quick definition: The “shoot and burn” label generally implies that files are sold at a deep discount, with minimal or no editing done to the images. The problem is, once your clients have those files, they have no reason to buy anything else from you. They can make prints anywhere. They can find a Groupon for a good-enough canvas. They can put your images into Christmas cards, and calendars for grandma, and coffee mugs.
To paraphrase Stefon, once they have the digital files, THEY…HAVE…EVERYTHING.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that in order to be a successful photographer, you have to stop selling digis altogether. Plenty of well-respected photographers are willing to sell digital images. Here are a few perfectly good reasons to offer the full disc:
• You put your heart and soul into your work and feel like deleting unpurchased images would be like painting a picture and setting it on fire.
• You’re a lifestyle photographer whose images tell a story, and you want to offer clients the complete story.
• You get an influx of new prospects every time one of your clients shares those digital files on social media.
• You’re a tech geek who gets the obsession with digital products.
But while these are all fabulous reasons to offer digital images (if you want to!) they’re also the exact same reasons your images are way too valuable to be sold for double-digit prices.
• You put your heart and soul into your work. How much time and energy have you invested in learning how to produce those images? How much did you invest in gear, gas, and/or childcare to make this session happen? In the big picture, what have you given up in your pursuit of photography?
• Your photos tell a story. There’s a reason your clients chose you over the other 10,394 photographers in your area. Your vision sets you apart. Don’t underestimate it.
• Your images attract new prospects. This means your work is good and should be priced accordingly.
• You’re a tech geek. If you can’t imagine hiring a photographer who doesn’t sell digital files, then you understand their worth.
When you price your disc low, you’re ignoring the work that goes into it. You’re not simply shooting and burning. You’re learning, investing, researching, practicing, marketing, insuring, emailing, traveling, shooting, editing, burning, packaging, and delivering. You’re investing more time that you probably realize. Let’s be real, right now you could be curled up on the couch with tea and Netflix -- but instead you’re reading about business models. You’re committed. It’s time for your pricing to reflect your commitment.
A disc of digital files isn’t worth $50 or $75 or $99, no matter how you slice it. It’s your most valuable commodity, and it should be the most expensive item in your product line. If your disc were in a jewelry store, it would be the showpiece in the locked case with a burly guard standing next to it. You invest time and energy and talent and actual money into each and every session. If all that hard work culminates in a $99 sale, your business won’t be sustainable. If you truly love photography, and you want to still be in business in five years, you need to recognize your premium product and charge a premium for it.
We’ve all heard the argument: But a blank disc only costs a dollar, so it’s all profit. Nope. You’re not selling blank discs. (Unless you’re running a Best Buy, in which case, carry on.) You’re selling images -- your images. Normal cost-of-goods calculations are pointless, because the “goods” are the images themselves, not the disc or thumb drive onto which they’re burned. In other words, selling your digital files for pennies simply because discs are cheap is like Vivienne Westwood selling a gown for $40 because she only used a couple yards of fabric. Clients are paying for the art, not the medium.
Now, here’s the panic-inducing part: When you raise your prices, you’re going to lose some clients. But even if you wait a few years until you’re the most amazing photographer in your area, the minute your raise your prices, you’re still going to lose clients. It’s inevitable. So instead of working your butt off to build your reputation among clients who just want a bargain, why not bump up your prices now and start building your reputation among clients who value awesome photography? If you need to take baby steps, you can always announce that your current “introductory” pricing will be ending on such-and-such date, and your new pricing will go into effect for all sessions taking place after that date. Then update your pricing page to reflect that new price, so potential clients can start getting used to it.
Or incentivize your print sales by establishing a policy that clients can only purchase digital files after they’ve spent a certain amount on print products.
Or skip the baby steps, and just take the leap to charging what you know good photography is worth.
Your price should reflect your artistry, your impeccable service, and your ability to consistently knock off proverbial socks. If you can offer those three things, people will save up to splurge for you. Don’t sell your disc short.
~ The F Stops Here is an exclusive collection of articles by Design Aglow, designed to be used and shared by photographers. Look for this column twice monthly here on the Design Aglow Blog and feel free to grab & share on your site, blog and/or social media pages with a byline and link to DesignAglow.com.
From a very early age I loved taking pictures and looking at them in magazines and books, but the art of photography captured my heart when I was a teenager, on my first overseas trip to Wales. From that point, I began shooting with a little film SLR and having my friend model for me. In college I took some digital photography and visual communication courses as part of my communication studies major, and decided to pursue a career in photography. I became a legal business and took my first paid client at age 20, and it's been quite a journey and adventure over the past nine years.