Albumless Bride, Productless Portraits - Benefit or Not?

by Kathleen Hawkins

August 01, 2011 — As we travel around the nation consulting with studios, we are discovering the shocking evolution of what appears to be referred to as the "new albumless bride." Years ago, our studio and many others found success because we had the distinct ability to offer more to our clients then images alone. Studios once had the ability to separate themselves from their competition by providing a seamless production process along with high quality albums and frames in an award-winning style. They now face the challenge of their competition using those qualities against them.

What is an "albumless bride?" Amazingly, many of the photographers who took pride in the fact that they were artists and not business people are now seeking the quick and easy sale, with the evolution of digital photography. What challenged them in the past (production, sales presentation, organization and customer follow up) is now eliminated with quick captures and the release of a master file DVD/CD.

Is this simply another shift in our industry? It's hard to speculate at this point in the journey, but nevertheless major corporations throughout the industry are examining the effects and studying the change. But regardless of how it will affect our industry as a whole, how is it affecting our customers? Our own studio has had several brides over the last year come to our studio wanting us to design an album of photographs from their wedding. But we didn't photograph their wedding!

There is still a need for high quality heirloom products beyond digital files. The couple might not fully realize this while they are still in the bridal budget mode and wedding planning stage, and so what they think they are ordering might not be what they actually get. To better understand this, let’s explore three product-marketing concepts:

Basic Product
This is what is given to the client and covered by the contract. For instance, in our industry, this could be a Master DVD with very large image files and little to no artist rendering.

Anticipated Product
This is what the customer thought they were purchasing. For instance, people buying personal computers for the first time expect them to come with a monitor, when most do not. After all, how else could you use a computer?  In our industry, the customers most likely think they can create the same images you might display in your gallery by taking the prints to their local 24-hour, 17-cent print lab. They are most likely not educated about the workmanship and importance of an heirloom album, or assume it is easy to find and create independently.

Amplified Product
This is the product created to give the customer maximum satisfaction of their buying objective. In our industry, this would be created by the studio that focuses on a finished product for their clients, but also appreciates the customers' desire to own their images for longevity's sake. Going back to the computer analogy, an amplified product might be a package offering the new personal computer buyer a computer, monitor, software, a printer and even service help. After all, if a client needs all these things, not offering them may make it appear less expensive but in the end leaves the customer frustrated and unfulfilled.

What Studio Owners Think About This Challenging Change…
Calvin Hayes of Calvin Hayes Photography

Baltimore, MD www.calvinhayes.com

1.) How does your business feel about giving away master file DVDs? Do you or would you ever consider giving a client a high resolution file and if so, what would be your policy and price range?

Calvin’s response: “I am not happy with the practice at the moment, but would suggest instead of focusing on the DVD, the professional photographer learn how to sell his or her work properly and take control of the sale. If you pre-design a finished album and let the customer know up front that you produce a finished product then that is what they will expect." Calvin believes if you feel you have to sell a high resolution DVD, it should be consistent with your album prices: for instance, a price range of $3000–$5000 dollars, depending on the nature of your clientele.

2.) Why has this change come about? In your opinion, is it due to an increase in consumer driven advertisement for digital products and technology, or to photographers not wanting to take the time and hassle of production?

Calvin believes it is a combination of the consumer market and the photographers that are not willing to put in the time on the back end to provide the additional service that is required to accommodate clients who appreciate service. Calvin believes this way of thinking lowers our value as photographers and as a result causes many photographers to work on raising their profiles.

After all, Calvin explains, “Giving away your company files cannot help or enhance your company’s profit. Letting them print what they want only leads to taking it to the cheapest lab available and then calling you to complain when the color is not right or their computer crashes!”

 
Stewart and Susan Powers of Powers Photography

Gainesville, Florida www.powersphotography.com

1.) How does your business feel about giving away master file DVDs? Do you or would you ever consider giving a client a high resolution file and if so, what would be your policy and price range?

Powers Photography's response: “We offer to sell [clients] the files as an archive of their event after they get their album—and only if they spent $5000+. There is no logical reason they should not have them—in their safe deposit box—after we deliver their album. Our clients are busy professionals who do not want to make their own albums. They do not have the time, plus that would be why they hired a professional in the first place.

“We also have two ways they can buy the files: a resized to 4 x 6 file of every photo that they have in the collection or a full size file (including the artwork) of every image that they bought or selected for their final album. This is to encourage buying all the photos they love or adding pages to their album. File sets cost $600 per set of files.”

 Susan has asked clients beforehand what they plan to do with the files. “When they say they just want to print a lot of 4x6s for friends and family I have offered to sell them a bunch of small prints at crazy low prices. A limited time offer – like $2 per 4 x 6 – but this is for undreds of prints. We also offer a "100 4x6 special" for $695 for two months after the event and we sell a few of these.”

2.) Why has this change come about? In your opinion, is it due to an increase in consumer driven advertisement for digital products and technology, or to photographers not wanting to take the time and hassle of production?

Powers Photography believes there are two reasons. The influx of "soccer moms" and "digital Uncle Bobs" as wedding photographers that shoot and burn to keep their involvement low. There are a lot of photographers who do not want to go to the trouble of making an album. In consultations with prospective wedding clients, Susan likes to mention that this says a lot about the quality you can expect from such a photographer. She explains that her studio works hard to get good color, digitally masters their files, offers retouching, and have a graphic artists on staff.  They proudly exclaim, “We complete the job–the album tells the story, the heirloom!”

Jeff Hawkins, of Jeff Hawkins Photography

Longwood, Florida www.jeffhawkins.com

1.) How does your business feel about giving away Master file DVDs? Do you or would you ever consider giving a client a high resolution file and if so, what would be your policy and price range?

At first, Jeff’s philosophy was no way, never! Then, in time, he says, “We started exploring ways we could offer the hi-res or low-res files while keeping our business profitable and maintaining the integrity we wanted to uphold. We have added the High Resolution Master File DVD and all the artwork to our premier package (our price for this level is $10,000). We figured, with this type of investment, it would probably be less of a liability to turn the responsibility over to the client when they picked up their final product. We also have an a la carte option where clients can opt to purchase low-res or hi-res images for a price. It is basically a set fee that covers preparation time. It ranges based on if the image is hi-res, low-res, an original file or a retouched image.

"Then there is typically an additional $25 for each image. For instance, this would mean, if a bridal couple wanted 100 to 150 artfully mastered images on a DVD, they could get it, but essentially, it is the same price as ordering the album. The same goes for our portrait clients. The basic fee is the same cost as our portrait session average, so each $25 image included is extra revenue for us. It pleases the clients and still helps maintain control. It also weeds out the lower end clientele that doesn’t appreciate the quality of work we do anyways."

2.) Why has this change come about? In your opinion, is it due to an increase in consumer driven advertisement for digital products and technology, or to photographers not wanting to take the time and hassle of production?

Jeff believes this change is predominately because of the increase in consumer advertising from vendors promoting products and services that are appealing to younger couples. He explains, “Top that off with a high school or college Photoshop class and they think they can electronically create whatever we do. The downside to this for the clients is that, without educating them on the differences and how much work actually goes into artfully mastering an album or a portrait masterpiece, they don’t discover the difference until it is too late for them.”
Conclusion

The bottom line is this—if you are working and making money, you do own a business, so no matter how much you might just want to be an artist, your clients needs the benefits of a business. In a society where relationship marketing and customer service are the pulse of most successful businesses, then why would making less, giving less and doing less for your customers be the correct way to help your clients preserve their family heirloom?  Answer: It's not. Amplify your products–if you don’t give your clients what they are looking for, some other company will!


Kathleen and Jeff Hawkins operate Jeff Hawkins Photography, a thriving business in central Florida. Kathleen is the operations director for the business. Jeff shoots all of his upscale weddings digitally. Together the team has authored Professional Marketing & Selling Techniques for Wedding Photographers, published by Amherst Media. The Chamber of Commerce recently nominated their business as the Small Business of the Year.

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