Selling the digital files - to do it or not to do it?

Opinions and practices strongly differ on this topic.

When it is all said and done, it comes down to your target market and demographics - who you're selling to, and what their needs are.

As you probably know by now, when it comes to portrait photography - the high end, boutique model - I like to reffer to Alicia Caine's "Easy as Pie" pricing guide. Tons of wisdom and knowledge in her books.

Here is an excerpt from "Easy as Pie", on selling digital files (with Alicia's permission):

"You know there was someone, hundreds of years ago, who thought pumpkin pie was a flash in the pan.  Ummm...gourd innards with sugar...who would eat THAT!? We all know that pumpkin pie is still around, much loved, and arguably the greatest pie filling of all time.

While many photographers scoff about the trendiness of offering digital files, let's face it: the CD, like pumpkin pie, is here to stay. And selling those files could be the best business decision you've ever made.

I was hesitant to sell digital files until rather recently, when a client put this whole CD debate into perspective for me. She said, "The digital files are so important to me...this is a time that I can't go back and recapture.  If my prints were lost forever, I would pay anyone anything to go back in time and reclaim those lost memories for me. The files are, without question, the most important product you offer because they secure those memories."

Let's face it, folks. This client isn't a penny-pincher. She isn't going to get prints made at Costco for 12 cents each after forking out a few thousand dollars for the files. She'll happily take my printing advice to ensure that any prints she chooses to make look fabulous.

She didn't kill the sale by simply buying the CD. The files were a nice add-on to a fabulous order, and helped to boost my profits tremendously.  Now, she can use the files in her new digital frame, create a screensaver for Grandma, make a 4x6 of an image for Billy's latest school project without calling the studio, scrapbook to her heart's content, order a portrait mouse pad for father's day, and post those bad boys to Facebook, too. I've given her freedom -- and for that, she'll give me repeat business.

I'm not willing to sacrifice a large sale because I'm holding on to my artistic integrity. I know, you don't like giving control of the files to your clients. I know, you don't want Grandma and Grandpa to have prints your clients give them. I know. And yet, digital files are still on my pricelist.

It might sting a little, but it hurts less with each wave of cash that hits your bank account -- promise!"

Alicia Caine is the author of Easy as Pie, the common sense pricing guide for portrait photographers. For her secrets and wise words on pricing digital files, building portrait collections clients actually buy, and adjusting your pricing to attract the perfect clients for your business, buy the book here

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photo credit - © Nichole Van ValkenburghYou might remember the issue of the Rangefinder, featuring the image on the right.

I was really excited, at the time, to receive in the mail Rangefinder's August 2009 special issue - it was on Children and Seniors, and it had one of Nichole Van's well know images on the cover. 

But the real treat was to find an article on Nichole Van Valkenburgh - "Pez Dinspensers and Disney Princesses"(pdf file download) inside. It talks about her art, and mostly about her pricing model and how she came to decide what was right to charge for her and her clientele.

I think it was for the first time that I came over that pricing model and saw it explained so well.

It truly is a great article about her CD Shooter business model and why this is the right model for her.

"Pricing is about two things: market and time. I want to attract the clientele I enjoy working with, and I want to be paid a good hourly rate. [...] I look at profit per hour, rather than total dollar amount earned per client. A lot of photographers don't really stop and examine this aspect. The price you charge is only one part of the entire machine. A photographer should look at their enjoyment and find ways to price for their market in order to earn the maximum amount possible."

Nichole Van Valkenburgh - Pez Dispensers and Disney princesses, by Martha Blanchfield, Rangefinder Magazine, August 2009