by John R. Hartman, M.Photog.Cr, CPP, A-ASP
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Every photographer seems to have an opinion of why you should or shouldn’t sell your digital files. I’ve listened to a lot of them over the years.
Those who do offer their files often cite the competition; “Everybody’s doing it, and if I don’t I won’t get the job.” Many who don’t offer files say it kills sales.
Much of the discussion centers around how selling digital files affects photographers and their business. But rarely does the customer’s perspective enter into the conversation.
And that’s a mistake.
Years ago, the prospect’s first question was often, “How much are your 8x10s?” Today it’s “Do you sell your files?” Both are questions that consumers have been programmed to ask, and neither question is necessarily pertinent to them becoming your client. A properly handled answer can make all the difference in the number of prospects you convert to customers, so it makes sense to consider and prepare an appropriate response.
Why would anyone want your files?
When a caller asks if we sell our files, I say, “Thanks much for your interest in our photography. I’ll be glad to help you. May I ask what you will be doing with these files?”
There are generally one of three responses, in this order of frequency:
1. “I want them for sharing on Facebook.”
2. “I’d like the ability to make my own prints.”
3. “I want to be able to archive them so I always have them.”
Let’s find a solution for each of these responses.
Facebook. The ability to share files electronically is very important to most of today’s consumers. The vast majority of inquiries regarding selling files originate with the desire to post images online. Those who want their files for sharing on their social networks should be able to do so, and I would be remiss as a professional if I couldn’t provide that service for them.
What I say is this: “We don’t feel you should have to pay for your Facebook photos. That’s why we provide electronic files of every pose you order at no extra cost. Each image is completely edited and enhanced, and then perfectly sized for Facebook and other social networking sites.”
(Translation: when you buy a photograph, whether individually or as part of a collection or grouping, a 720 pixel image of that photograph watermarked with our nearly-invisible embossed logo is posted to our Facebook page for you to tag.)
Self-printers. There are two types of prospects who want to make their own prints, and it’s important to find out which they are early in the conversation. The first and most common reason is simply to save money. After all, why should anyone pay your higher price when they can go to Costco or make them on their home inkjet printer? This person will most likely not become your customer, as they have not been able to discern (or has not been educated about) the difference between the final images you produce vs. what they think they can do. Raising your fee to compensate for the lost sales will only drive these people away faster.
The second and much less common reason is that there are people who have more sophisticated inkjet printing capabilities and skills who apparently think they can do a better job with your files than you.
For both of these inquiries I simply tell them, “The reason you were attracted to our work in the first place is at least in part because of the amount of personal talent and effort put into the final reproduction of every one of our photographs. Letting someone else make prints from my files is akin to having the waiter bring all the ingredients to your table and letting you prepare it yourself; it might be the same meal, but it certainly wouldn’t look or taste the same.”
“Additionally, having my name on a homemade print cheapens our brand and ultimately lowers the enjoyment you would get from owning our portraiture.”
(Translation: shoot and burn is a bad idea for both parties, at any cost. For this reason, we do not make printable files available for purchase at any price.)
Archiving. I’ve only received a very few callers who were concerned about the longevity of their image files. But I still have an answer for them: “Unlike many photographers who come and go or who take pictures on the side, we have been here serving two and even three generations of area clients for nearly forty years, and we intend to be here many more. We do offer a ‘piece-of-mind’ archival service where any files you order from us are retained in off-site storage, should the need ever arise where you would require additional photographs.
(Translation: if you want us to hold your files after your initial order, you can pay us to archive them to the Cloud for as long as they continue to have value to you.)
For each of the above responses, we have provided reasoned answers to their question that go beyond a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, while showing them how they benefit by having us create their finished photographs. To date we have not lost a single sale solely due to the fact that we don’t sell our files. I believe these answers address most of the underlying reasons that people ask about digital files, and they work for us. We don’t ever expect to book everyone, but we’ve converted many clients who would have moved on had our responses not addressed these underlying needs.