Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Does it Cost So Much. A public service for professional photographers.

These days there is a lot of confusion with regard to consumer preferences for digital file vs printed product distribution. The good news, and the reason I’m not going to address that here, is that both markets are actually growing quite dramatically. (with specialty printed photo products growing at a rate of over 40% per year).

So this isn’t a discussion of whether people want digital or print, it’s just a public service for professional photographers whose clients clearly want prints, but who want them cheap.

I’ve written this specifically so that you can use it whether you are a Pictage client or not. If not, simply replace Pictage with the name of your lab or your site if you’re using another proofing and purchasing environment. (and ask yourself why they don’t do this kind of thing for you!)... You can also replace Canvas Prints with Photographic Prints, etc. I’ll write a separate version for Photographic Albums.

Go ahead - use this. Just copy and paste it. It will make your life easier. Ultimately, that’s what I’m here for.

What to do when your client says, “I just want to print it myself.”

Hey, I got your note. I'd love to send you the digital file but I think there is a misunderstanding with regard to pricing that I'd like to clear up. If I send you the file the cost is likely to be pretty close to the difference between a discount canvas printer and the pricing you see on Pictage (my site). Here's why. The price on Pictage includes a series of prep and editing fees that go into preparing the image to be printed on a format as large as a canvas. I do some of these and Pictage actually does a bunch too. If the file is to be printed by another vendor I still have to do my steps, but I can't guarantee that the image is going to look the way it does when you see it on your computer.

Most people have a hard time understanding this so I'll explain. A printer is not a printer. Printers are calibrated to monitors, etc. Consumer grade canvas manufacturers gear their printers to consumer grade images. Consumers make a lot of photographic mistakes (no offense!) so the printers are designed to even things out. They reduce contrast and saturation, etc. in effect, making the images dull.

I've actually worked with Pictage to calibrate my monitor at home to their printing process and this extends to their canvases. I use them because I know that what I see is what I'm going to see when the orders come back. They do a bunch of other stuff too, like ensure the canvases are properly treated to be resistant to light damage, beefed up frame construction, including all of the hanging hardware, making sure the canvas ships ready to hang, etc.

I hope that helps ... Like I said, if you still want me to provide the digital file for your use in printing one canvas I can, I just wanted to make sure you understood that you probably won't end up actually saving any money. (and if you do you might be sorry!)

Your helpful photographer.

Now, there is some discussion around why you would even want to do this. There are two answers. And again, this is for all photographers whether you use Pictage or not. The first is that for any professional photographer the sale of products related to their photography is an extremely important revenue stream. In fact, most estimates suggest that as much as 1/3 of a studio’s revenue must come from the sale of products in order for the studio to be successful. (there are always outliers, but this is based on the industry average fee structure). So learning to sell these products is important.

Second. The fact is that your client is likely to go ahead and print some of the images you provide to them digitally. They do this because one of the biggest challenges consumers face today is the understanding that it is far too easy to lose track of all the content they have on their computers, etc. They certainly don’t want every image printed (as a rule), but they want the best ones. That’s why the specialty photo products market is growing so fast. When they print through their local cheap printer, the same image compression occurs and it is not uncommon at all for the images to look dull. If that’s the way you want them to see your work, no worries. If not, then this is helpful.

It is here that a professional photographer must make a choice and a lot of it is client dependent. Do you want to provide the service of creating those products or do you want to leave your clients to do it for themselves. If you choose the first path you must learn to sell these products. If you choose the second path you need to make sure you have enough shooting opportunities to fill in for the lost revenue.

The choice is obviously ultimately yours. I just know that professionals are frequently asked why professionally fulfilled products cost a lot in comparison to consumer products and that having the answer above in your hip pocket will be helpful when the time comes.

Tomorrow I’ll create a different version of the response specifically for photographic albums. That one will be generic too ... Cut and paste away.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The lesson of Moneyball

The Lesson of Moneyball...

I read the book when it came out. I didn’t read it because anyone said it was good. I didn’t read it because I thought it would be particularly interesting. I read it because I was flying home from Florida and I didn’t have a book and it was the only one I saw on the non-fiction rack at the airport bookstore that looked remotely interesting. I read the whole thing that night on the plane. It changed the way I think. I saw the movie this weekend and it did the same thing all over. Here’s why.

For those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie the story of Moneyball is pretty simple. Billy Beane is the coach of the small market Oakland A’s. He’s tasked with fielding a team that is competitive in spite of a payroll that is a fraction of his competition’s. His scouts and advisors try to do it the old fashioned way and he knows it won’t work. In a chance meeting with Peter Brand, he discovers a new way.

The story isn’t really about baseball. It is about taking chances. It is about knocking over the apple cart to see if there isn’t a better way to stack the fruit. It is about trying to understand the real cause and effect relationships that make the difference between success and failure and then when you discover they’re different than you or anyone else thought they were, it is about having the courage of your convictions.

The hardest part of this for any business, large or small, is deciding to try to look at the business and its key drivers in a new way. There is a great line in the movie when Beane asks Peter Brand (his out of the box thinking advisor and assistant GM) what he is doing that is so different. Brand says, ‘you guys spend all your time trying to draft players, I think you should be drafting wins.’ It turns out he’s right and when they adopt this method and make the hard decisions about fielding the team accordingly they start to win.

Spoiler alert, if you want to see the picture and you haven’t seen it yet stop reading here...

The team wins 20 in a row. They become the first major league team to do so. Then they lose in the playoffs to the Twins. There are two ways to measure success. There is the ultimate success, a world series win, wealth beyond your wildest dreams, etc. Then there is practical success. In the world of major league baseball the simple fact is that the team with the most talent in all areas is likely to win. They have to put it all together and there are a lot of variables but at some point the math just works that way. So are Beane and Brand failures because the A’s are eliminated in the ALCS playoffs? No. The fact is they should never have gotten to the playoffs at all. To get there they had to beat teams with payrolls many times their size. For the A’s success is a competitive season, not a World Series ring.

You have to measure success the same way in your market and if you are unhappy with what you can potentially achieve, then you have to change your market altogether. That’s a story for another day. From this story the big question is, are you asking the right questions? Are you sure?

Onward ...