Do I Need to Sell Sports Photos Online Like Shutterfly?

There is no arguing that we, as a society, have moved toward using our mobile devices in many aspects of our lives, including online e-commerce. I have been selling both online pre-pay and proof programs in schools and sports for years. It has increased my sales. It saves time and labor. But I’ve had to learn some lessons along the way. Here are some questions I’ve been asked or had to figure out on my own.

iPhone Prepay

Do I need to sell image downloads or packages first?

The choice is up to you. I have found best practices are to sell packages first, then offer image downloads second. Remember once the customer has the digital file they can use it wherever they want and whenever they want. You lose control over the revenue stream. If you sell a package first you get the revenue and profit from the package sale and then you get more revenue and profit from the digital file when offered as a second, additional sale. In looking at our own numbers and talking to other photographers and labs, I’ve found that when packages are sold that DO NOT include image downloads, the addon sales that include an image download is between 10% to 12%. While the additional sales are nice, I don’t want to sacrifice the profit from print sales to get it. You may consider selling packages with an image download included for a premium price as an option to get customers to buy up.

What is the tradeoff between a limited initial sale period and making your images available forever?

Have you heard the old saying, “out of sight out of mind”? The same principle applies to online sales. Selling online firstly is a convenience to the customer. While I do want to stay focused on being easy to do business with, I am NOT looking for a way to defer payment for an extended period of time on work done. I have a business to run and employees that want to be paid now; not after parents decide months or more later to buy from me. On a related note, we’ve all seen those ads for free books from all those free books from companies like Shutterfly, Snapfish etc. The unfortunate thing is the abandonment rate (books not redeemed or order started but not finished) is over 80%. But let’s get back to the question at hand. The fact is, most photographers look at online sales after original picture day as “found” money. Unfortunately, if the customer is not motivated to buy immediately, you lose all the advantages of volume flow. Those late orders must be handled as a single orders. And it will cost you more to handle between all the other work done in the studio. In my mind those late orders need to be higher priced than original day pre-pay or proof sales because they are costing more to fulfill. Even Amazon is looking at fulfillment cost and either charging more or dropping products that don’t cycle a high number of times.

Shutterfly is working hard to drive families to move their school and sports pictures to their Shutterfly account. How does this affect the school or league? And how does this affect the independent school or sports photographer?

Shutterfly has stated their goal for the acquisition of Lifetouch was to move those 15 million families’ EMAIL addresses into the Shutterfly eco system to market their products to those families. The most powerful strategy they have is to get those images into storage on the Shutterfly site every year a student is photographed. To encourage that, Lifetouch has priced digital downloads at approximately $15 for one image and $22 for multiple images.

But how does this affect the league or school?

Let’s do some math here. It is true that Shutterfly offers the school 8% of sales, 8X10’s are at most approximately $3 each. So, mom buys her digital for $15.00 dollars. The school may get commission on that. Or they may not. Then mom uploads it to Shutterfly and buys 4 units (4 X $3=$12).

The school/league gets roughly 96 cents. As opposed to whatever percentage of your most popular package would have totaled.

Hmm… I wonder how many school administrators have done the math on that?

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How does it affect the photographer?

Do we really want to train customers to buy a digital file for $15 and take it where ever they want instead of buying our most popular package? In my case “NO!” Some people say, “But the consumer wants to buy it that way.” And that may be true. I want to buy a Tesla that’s $80k but I only want to pay $50k for it. Do you think they are going to sell me the car for that? Of course not! They control their market and business practices; our industry should be no different.

How can I improve the experience of families in school and sports pictures?

I would suggest better photography, poses and product offerings. If you get a great image that is lit great, posed well and has some updated border or template, then they will sell. Our labs are getting better at updating volume templates and products. But be wary of those offering the stuff that we had since the ’70’s without refreshing the look.

When should I photograph one image and when should I photograph many poses?

Really, that is between you and your customer. And should be based on the amount of time and logistics presented by the school or league that is hiring you. Obviously, parents like choice. And we try to give that to them based on multi-pose or even multi-crop of the same image for a different look. But I have had some schools tell me we are not running a photo studio here, you need to do one photo and get to the next student. If they have the time or the room for extra cameras for you, you can offer it. But remember, every time you add a camera to shoot you have really added cost that must be paid out in the end. So be smart. Remember you are running a business. One that has competed with the large national companies for years. And if you are open to small incremental changes that give parents what they want, while you get what you want. You will to continue to compete. And win. Now for my shameless plug. I have been an H&H Color Lab customer for many years. They offer mobile-friendly sites with digital download delivery options, all built into a one button post. And they have done so for several years. We have been able to scale our business and workflows because we work with one piece of software instead of having to hop between a bunch of different applications to get parents what they value. This significantly speeds up our workflows and simplifies training of your employees. If you are not using them you should check them out. Even if it’s to just educate yourself and compare to what you are doing now.

Jeff Edwards

This article was written by Jeff Edwards. He is a 40 year veteran of the volume business as well as a speaker at numerous conventions and workshops. He currently operates his own business and his company photographs over 130 schools a year.

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