Parents Only Want Digital Files

It has been a dark time for the wedding and portrait industry over the last ten years. A time where “digital only” became a thing; a “thing” so pervasive that it changed the face of the industry forever.

Today, studios and customers alike are still recovering from this fad. We call it a fad because the market is realizing that “digital only” is not now (and never should have been) a “thing”. We’re using a lot of finger quotes right now because we need to really drive the point home. The schools and sports industry can avoid the same fate as the wedding and portrait industry. Learn from the history and mistakes of the past, or we are destined to repeat.

Are we advocating a world where no digital files are delivered to clients? Of course not. Underscore that last sentence. We are advocating a world of balance. A world of service. A world where we think past this moment and plan for longevity.

There is a reason the wedding and portrait industry is returning to a product mix for their clients. People want something tangible; something to place on their walls, homes, refrigerators. And of course, something they can also share on social media with friends and family around the world.

Last week we released a blog post, The Elephant in the Room, where we brought some misconceptions to light that are spreading throughout the professional photography community. If you haven’t read it, take a minute to do so. It’s a good read.

One of the misconceptions running fast and loose is that parents only want digital files. We disagree. Let’s get started.

Parents only want digital files.

Actually, this is not accurate at all. Are you a parent? With a house? A desk? A wall? Where do your digital files get placed? Are you hanging thumb drives on a wall? Yes, we realize how utterly ridiculous this sounds and that’s because it is! Parents DO NOT just want digital files. Not now. Not ever.

The fact is, parents are spending money on physical products. We know this from actual volume photography data. In underclass school, team, and individual sports photography, when given the option of ordering a physical product package side-by-side with a digital image download for the same price, parents are only choosing the digital download 5% of the time.

So, where is all this #fakenews coming from? You really need to check your sources. The people propagating this message just might have an ulterior motive. We believe in letting the data speak for itself.

One might make the argument that we have ulterior motives as well. I suppose that argument could be made, but when you consider 95% of consumers see more value in a print package than a digital file when given an equal choice of the two, it does make you wonder: Do we have ulterior motives or are we just presenting facts?

So, needless to say, this statement is, without a doubt, false. Parents will spend money when you offer them quality products. Are you sure you want to offer digital-only or even digital-first as a solution to your clients? I would think long and hard on that.

Image downloads are as old as the internet. If you google how to download an image, you will get about 8.6 billion search results. Volume sports and school photography is not the first to grapple with the proper offering of the digital file. 12 years ago, wedding photographers battled with an industry coining terms like, “shoot and share,” and, “shoot and burn”. The industry has been struggling to recover ever since. During that time, carnage wreaked havoc on the industry as photographers around the world struggled to find balance between digital-only and selling products to clients.

Today, that industry is finally on the path to recovery. The result? Clients want a tangible product. There is a reason companies like Shutterfly and Snapfish are multi-billion dollar entities. People want product.

Let’s move beyond the question of “should you offer digitals?,” because the answer is yes. Instead, move on to questions like:

“What type of photography are you doing?”

“What is the true value of the image download that works for both the client and the professional photographer?”

“How can good business be made with offering both prints AND digital files?”

Jeff Edwards from Scholastic Reflections of Milwaukee, WI, said this about the school underclass and team and individual sports portrait business:

“I believe best practice is to sell packages first. Remember, once the customer has the digital files, they feel like they have the minimum they need. You lose control over the revenue stream and stop the sale. If you sell a print package first, you get the revenue and profit from the package, and then can get the incremental revenue and profit from the digital files as a second or additional sale. You may want to try selling packages with a digital download included for a premium price as an option to get customers to buy up.”

You also want to consider the long-term value of a physical print. The mom of a high school senior trying to find images of her graduate’s 13 years of school and athletic portraits for their graduation party; or the benefit to the professional photography studio when the physical print can still be shown over time, rather than falling off the social media news feed in 24 hours like a digital file. The physical print is still the best long-term archive of important memories.

The truth is, parents want physical product (specifically prints). Over the last few years, we’ve seen studios who sold prints first, increase their secondary sales an extra 12% when offering another chance to buy more prints. What are they doing different? They are selling the package first, and then offering the digital files as a bonus or second-sale option to incentivize further engagement.

Check out our new “Get in the Game” T&I Sports Prepay Program. It was created from the successful, business-growing sales methods of studios using H&H Color Lab.

Notice how the digital files are offered. It is a bonus offer for anyone who first purchases a package. Also notice how it is listed for a higher price in the add-ons section.

The photographer is now in control and defines the value of the digital files. An industry best-practice is to incentivize parents who want digital files to purchase a package in order to get the files at a lower price.

But it doesn’t stop there. With zero studio effort, H&H Color Lab’s automatic post-to-online sale system allows anyone who purchases the image download to easily login to download their image. This sets the photographer up to offer additional products for sale, and also captures the parent’s email for future marketing. That is where the potential of an extra 12% in profit comes in.

In addition, these orders are all auto-fulfilled and shipped “direct-to-home” by H&H Color Lab. The parent sees only their image(s) in a secure, private gallery. They select their favorite pose, the product (at the price you set), and the crop (where they see a WYSIWYG rendering of the final product). They simply enter their information and submit their order. Our system immediately processes the credit card, and sends the order to be produced. H&H then ships the order direct to your customer’s home. Sound too good to be true? Here are the details.

So what’s the solution for “parents only want digital files”?

By adopting a sales model where the physical product is offered first and the digital file second as an add-on, you will provide a package of products where mom sees value at a price point that is both profitable and sustainable for the photographer.

Don’t let #fakenews alter the course of your business and our industry. Use common sense and actual data to make your decisions. In the end, we all want a healthy and prosperous industry.

What do you think? Tell us below.

Team H&H

H&H Color Lab is not only the market leader in the sports photography business, we are your partner. We’ve been helping independent sports photographers run profitable businesses for 49 years.

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