Should I offer digital or print products in my professional studio?
The question every professional photographer has to address.
So what's the deal: should I offer a print or digital to my clients?
The answer is, of course, everyone's favorite answer: it depends.
But here's why.
As acclaimed wedding, sports, and boudoir photographer Jermaine Horton of Jermaine Horton Photography exclaims, one of the most important factors of being successful is to "be yourself."
Some photographers like digital; others prefer print.
Yet for those on the fence, or thinking of a change, (or just curious for more about the age-old philosophical photography conundrum), consider the following:
- Why you should offer digital options for your clients (and why you shouldn't).
- Why you should offer print products in your studio (and why you shouldn't).
- Why you should and shouldn't offer both.
Why You Should Offer Digital Options for Your Photography Studio
Let’s take it one at a time. First, we’ll look at why you should offer digital options in your professional photography studio.
Perhaps this one is the most obvious. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to spell it out.
Like it or not, here we are in the 21st century. Well into it, in fact. Even the staunchest of Luddites, traditionalists, and photography print traditionalists must concede the fact that high-tech is here and is here to stay.
There’s no putting this genie back in the bottle.
Instead, it just keeps growing and infiltrating.
Those can choose to ignore it as they wish but don’t expect your clients to. The vast majority of people accept the conveniences and ease that often come with digital solutions. Those for photography are no different.
Digital options make sharing images incredibly quick and easy – a huge selling point as, concurrently, our connections are spreading further and further apart.
Digital options also make storing mass amounts of images in a compatible, practical size possible. Let’s face it. No client would be impressed if you dumped 1,000 printed images at their doorstep.
Lastly, digital solutions offer a variety of uses for the photography medium. Clients can choose to come back to you to have them printed in a traditional way – or do so on their own (gasp! I know). And they can use the photos for their online and social media needs without any real issues.
Truth be told, even as a printing lab, we don’t act with our heads in the sand and understand that this attraction to digital options for professional photography from the consumer public is reflected in the real-world marketplace.
In fact, internationally recognized, award-winning senior portrait photographer Nicki Hufford bluntly states, “…Digital files were really important [a few years ago], and they’re only triple as important now.”
She then emphasizes their demand from the public, declaring, “I feel like I get a lot of people that book just because I offer them.”
You can also look to people like Andria Lundquist, a tremendously successful photographer who only offers digitals for the fact it saves her time and actually plays into her experience.
In no way is she only offering digital doing harm to her business, popularity, or following.
Indeed, she has no intention of making a switch. Believe me I tried.
Yet, perhaps I’m preaching to the choir, as renowned boudoir photographer and educator Jenn Bruno Smith confirms as she posed to a live audience while on our platform, “What is the one thing you know your clients want the most?...”
She didn’t have to wait long as the chat box was inundated with a flurry of replies. Yet, all were the same. Thus, she confirmed,
So, perhaps you know this. And I might even know you know this, but it doesn’t hurt to make it clear and put it out in the open:
Offer digitals because, frankly, that’s what your clientele wants.
Why You Shouldn't Offer Digital Options to Your Clients
Yet, there are two sides to every story. This topic is no different. As clear-cut as it may seem when deciding about digitals, there are some reasons why not to offer them.
For one, it would be hard to justify a big price tag on a USB or a fee for accessing a server. Especially compared to a comparably priced printed product.
Despite us having careened deeply into the age of technology and having to be comfortable with a lot of abstraction, we are still left with the notion of ‘seeing is believing’ and tangibility goes a long way toward perceived value.
With a digital option, a lot of this – if not all of it, is lost. And, let’s face it, if the digital option is a mini-USB or memory card, its minor physical footprint actually works against it as it appears as something that *should* be cheap and not hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Yet, despite having said all this, the public still gravitates toward digital options like moths to bright light.
And, likely, it’s because of that.
Clients feel that with digital options, not only can they get the work they want – and what they see as the true skill they can’t do themselves but they shouldn’t be expected to pay so much if they’re ‘only digital files.’ Of course, then, add to this the real benefits described in the section above, and we can see how digital files can walk a fine line between symbiotic and parasitic for your business.
In fact, perhaps this explains why professional photography forums are rife with anecdotes of proclaimed ‘awakened’ ‘IPSers’ or ‘product ’togs’ who ‘converted’ from the ‘traumatic’ shoot & burn method to selling tangible products in-person (there was much rejoicing) after seeing the proverbial light, but the literal bottom line goes from a scathing scarlet to a cool black.
Look no further than Danish wedding photographer Angelina Devine, who proclaims her switch took her from ‘starving artist to the European highstreets,’ earning over $9,000 in one sale after ditching the digital and embracing the IPS / print model. She is just one example, but for those looking for a specific example, she is a good model reference to represent the library of similar situations.
So, should you shun digital in your offer? Or should you get a grip on the 21st century and embrace it? The choice is yours. Only be weary, my friends.
Why You Shouldn't Offer Print Options to Your Clients
After all, let’s be fair. The grass is NOT all emerald and lush on the other side in Print Product-land. There are some reasons NOT to offer print.
For one, they are a more significant up-front investment.
As much as we wax over here about how good our prices are for high-quality professional print products – and they truly are – they can’t compete with the cost of a digital option.
Then, there’s the (supposed) time-consuming design. A LOT of professional photographers struggle with the need to design photo projects to use in products like an album. With a digital option, there is no worry about this. It’s a simple drag-and-drop of the photos – sometimes even unedited!
And that’s a sub-point worth elaborating on. You can find some shoot and burn photographers who will use unedited images in their digital options. If you, the photographer, are going to take the time to choose, design, and pay for a professionally printed product that will last generations, be shared, and be shown off at every possible moment, it sure better includes images that are edited and absolutely top-notch. Thus, offering print products can often be more time-consuming of an endeavor than simply offering digital.
Well-edited and well-designed photos are worth their weight in gold!
Of course, we haven’t even mentioned the sample stock necessary for offering print products. You can’t expect to sell a physical product you don’t physically have to show off and boast about. Therefore, if you offer print, you have to invest in, take time to design, and order samples of the products you want to sell to your clients. And, be sure to take inventory every once in a while to make sure you’re not displaying something that’s seen better days or has fallen out of fashion.
Then, you have to think of what to even offer to your clientele – pro tip: less is more. Don’t offer too much.
It can be an effort to keep up with a solid print product offer.
Of course, just to address the elephant in the room, no photographer wants to realize their nightmare of investing all their resources into print and renting a decent space to display their print product samples only to have them amount to nothing more than expensive paperweights.
Why You Should Offer Print Products in Your Photography Studio
Yet, fear not.
Let’s not go too far with the print product ‘doomsday’ talk, either. Because the reality remains that print products offer you the best chance of reaching that big money potential in your line of work.
Remember what we said, ‘...a significant up-front investment.’ Keyword there: investment.
Like all good investments, print products are designed to give back in the long-run. And, boy can they ever!
Yet, before we devour that tempting apple, let’s reiterate on a few other reasons to offer print. Like, offering print can in fact improve overall client satisfaction.
Earlier we mentioned how our minds still appreciate and appraise value largely by what is physical and tangible, so handing them a significant, well-made, hand-crafted photo album flush with all their most precious memories will certainly take them aback with appreciation.
Moreover, these print products will last. They will be easy to access and digest. Your clients won’t have to worry about remembering any passwords, keeping up with any ‘latest software’, stumbling upon inappropriately placed images in the gallery, or accidentally deleting the wedding—etc., et al.
Print products are an investment.
This is true for you and your business and for your clients as well. As much as your clients will gush when they receive them, they will only appreciate them more as time goes by. [And, they'll appreciate you as well for having suggested them.]
Another point to consider in favor of offering print is that it will set you apart and have you and your services appear more professional.
Consider this: according to the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA), from 2012 through 2021, there were over 82 million DSLR camera shipments worldwide.
At that same time, according to the CIPA, all still digital camera shipments eclipsed 340 million units.
Moreover, Statista illustrates that smartphone end-user sales from 2012 through 2021 period were over 13 billion units!
That’s a lot of photography hardware out in the (wild?) - public.
Add to that how 15 years ago already, we worried about the capabilities of Photo Shop and how it could make fake images so believable to now where we can literally cut and paste a person's face on another body and have it match frighteningly well, that is to say, editing tech is certainly coming up to snuff.
What does all this mean?
Well, a wise man – by the name of Daniel Usenko (you may recognize him as a co-founder of the Pixellu suite) opined on this himself, and he concluded:
“Nobody is printing anymore. So, now a printed product is a very unique proposition that people haven’t had. Couples from 10-20 years ago had books, so offering them an album, a book, wasn’t that special. Whereas now it is special, and it is something that makes you stand out as a photographer….”
“There is so much competition these days – it’s so easy to pick a camera for $500 and be a ‘professional photographer’ – because of that, photographers are going to be forced to be better at selling the books and to be presenting the books because there is so much competition that they’ll have to stand out and they’ll have to find a way to make more revenue, and albums is a good way to do that.”
So, Daniel - a professional photographer himself, it should be added - believes offering print is both a way to stand out amongst the fray as well as earn what you need to make a living as a professional photographer.
And thus, we get to a crucial shift that is taking place right under our feet in the world of professional photography. In which in the eyes of the consumer public, it is no longer (just) the skills and talent of pros in taking pictures and editing that makes them attractive and unique, but the product they provide additionally; as well as the experience they offer
That is not to say a pro’s skill is irrelevant. It always will be relevant; simply, the more significant perceived value and unique offer are now that in the realm of tangible, professional quality print and the overall experience a pro can offer as opposed to only the good-looking pictures.
Consider again our friend Jenn Brunno Smith, who argues point blank that you want to bring attention to the experience and your work. The value comes from the experience and how you make someone feel. It’s not from the investment [products offer].”
Yet, when thinking about those investments, remember that the average Joes and Janes are not able to access much of the pro-level quality print products you, as pros, are able to access and deliver.
Certainly, at nPhoto Lab, we do not do business with the general public, only with verified professionals. So, these are ultra-modern, of the highest quality printers – which do make a difference – are still things unattainable to those without the title and credentials of ‘professional photographer’.
[And, don’t believe the hype put out by home-sized, personal, professional printer marketers. They still can’t compete with legit, room-sized, professional-grade printers most labs utilize. It’s a bit like comparing the output of smartphone cameras to DSLRs.]
And that doesn’t even get to the quality factor of the products themselves. Professional labs not only print pictures to put into products but also design and craft exquisite quality products themselves. Products purposefully created - at least those created and offered by us at nPhoto -to last a lifetime, allow for easy access, and best accentuate and complement the imagery it contains. It’s unlikely an end-user is able to find a comparable product through the channels at their disposal.
Then, we get to the experience factor.
There is the raw experience in and of itself devoid of the how the images are delivered.
Yet, concurrently, taking into account the added ambiance that print products can offer to the overall experience. Whether that’s for family portraiture or boudoir photography or any other genre.
Remember, too, what Jenn had said about this. And, she is one...well, OK, I’ll get that last point in a minute.
Getting back to that idea of perceived value, print products CAN elevate the pleasure of a professional photography ‘experience’ for your clientele.
The Myth of the Arduous Product Design
The days of time-consuming and stressful product designs are gone.
There are so many options available today that are quick and easy solutions to help you design albums and other products in minutes.
For example, Fundy, SmartAlbums, AlbumStomp, and DG Flick (just to name a few) are some companies made for this very reason: to help pros save time designing projects for print products.
It doesn’t hurt then that all these companies listed are partnered and compatible with us, meaning using them, and us as your product provider makes your product design even easier and quicker.
Then you can even find labs these days that offer easy-to-use, intuitive design solutions of their own. *cough* *cough*
It just so happens that we have such a solution - known as our nDesigner. Better yet, in addition to all listed above, it's for the best price: FREE.
But it doesn’t stop there. These days there are not only programs that will help you design products but also sell them to your clientele.
Platforms like Pic-Time can literally do both – save you time AND make you money. Talk about a great deal.
So, all those reasons of yesterday rife with anecdotes of time loss and major stress while offering print are largely gone.
These days there are a plethora of aid options available on the marketplace and at your disposal.
But what about that tempting money apple we were supposed to discuss?
Why Offer Both Print and Digital Products in your Photography Studio
But what about those digital options?
After all that’s been said about them, they certainly can’t be forgotten.
This is a valid point; thus we now explore why to consider offering print AND digital options in your studio.
It might be trite, but it’s impossible to escape the cliché here that print and digital really might just be the best of both worlds.
We’ve established the fact that if you’re a professional photographer these days, you essentially HAVE TO have digitals (in some capacity). Yet, we’ve also witnessed how that alone can limit and stunt the raw potential possible of your business. Print helps to realize that potential – and then some – but lacks the immediate draw and practicality it once did, and certainly so, in comparison to a digital offer.
So, we’re naturally left with the conclusion of both. But does it really pay off [no pun intended]?
Well, confession time: we highlighted people like Nicki Hufford and Jenn Bruno Smith in our section about ‘why to offer digitals,’ which they do. But the real truth is...they offer both.
And it is in this way that Jenn is able to reach over $100,000 in sales in one month.
In fact, the quote of hers we used earlier is not false or misleading but does carry on to a tune like this:
“....They want digitals, and they want albums. So, you start the digitals in the collection that is the lowest that you want to go. If you start your digitals in your very first collection, you’re going to sell that: all the time. So, you want to start your digitals in the collection you actually want them to purchase.”
So, in the end, she makes it clear that her offer is a hybrid one. Yet, she also introduces an interesting strategy to play with while offering both prints and digitals to use them to your advantage as a photographer and business owner.
She shares her point and numbers when she first introduces digitals so that she’ll at least break even. Yet, she expresses how often her clients end up spending much more, how she often well exceeds that baseline number anyway, and, thus, how her average sale is high above that ‘break-even’ mark.
The moral being, Jenn has a tremendous point to do yourself a favor and use digitals as an incentive and not offering them at a point that will incur a loss, but also have faith that just because they’re out, there doesn’t automatically mean that your clients won’t spend more beyond that point.
Scratch one up for the print AND digital.
Then we get to Nicki.
A similar story...
Yes, she does say such things - and means it; things like:
“I think it’s almost like a given – you gotta be offering these [digitals] to your clients. At the right pricing. You gotta make money on them, obviously.”
But the more complete picture reveals how she offers them, how she makes money on them. How she just includes“...the USB with the nPhoto Folios or the albums.”
Nicki continues to lay out her digital strategy, explaining, “I also give them an online gallery where they can download them as well. But they can only get digitals if they order one of those albums from me.”
This strategy, however, serves a practical purpose beyond simply placing a lure, or carrot, on a more expensive package. It also educates and exposes clients to the art and power of print, preserving the medium and motivating future purchases down the road.
Once the album/product requirement for digitals is done, Nicki elaborates, “So, number 1: they know what it’s supposed to look like now. They have a correct color image in their album or their Folio Box of what that digital file is supposed to be. Plus, they’re never gonna put their USB stick into their computer and show their pictures that way. They’re going to open up their Folio Box, and they’re gonna go, ‘Oh my gosh, look at these amazing pictures!’”
The question we have in this post is then, perhaps, misguided. Instead of "Should you offer print, digital, or both?" It should be how you should offer your print and digital options.
After all, we can also factor in people like Stephany Ficut, who can earn over $10,000 in singular sales sessions with both on offer.
Or, Sam and Rayana Sacramento, who’ve reached the pinnacle of professional wedding photography while having been offering and believing in the power of print every step of the way, but also not shunning digitals.
Or, the renowned maternity and newborn photographer and educator Ana Brandt, whose studio earns more than a cool $40,000 on just a single annual mini sessions shoot while offering both print and digital options to her clientele.
The evidence is overwhelming and certainly convincing. Indeed, the original question may have missed the mark: it’s not which to offer but how to offer (with print and digitals).
Oh, and for those astute readers wondering where the header ‘Why Not to Offer Both Print and Digital Products’ is, well, frankly, I can’t think of any reasons not to.