What is Your Digital Strategy?

Digital frames of all sizes will eventually replace the need for printed photographs.

A couple of years ago I blogged about a “not so distant future” where the portrait photographer Debra has an all-digital operation and a camera that makes it brain-dead easy for her to get beautiful images. A lot of people labeled it “doom and gloom.” I found that very interesting since nothing in that post suggested I thought that future was a bad thing. (I guess it all depends on your perspective. One person’s “doom and gloom” is another person’s hey day.) As those predictions start to come to pass (e.g. Animoto integrated into desktop software; the ease and proliferation of photos posted via mobile devices) I pose this question to my readers: what is your digital strategy? You do realize that the days of print are numbered?

This is not doom and gloom. It’s just the way of things. It may not happen in the next two years, but I would be so bold as to predict that in 5-7 years, except in the most rare occasions, the majority of consumer photography (and video) services will be delivered 100% digitally. No wallets (who needs wallets when you have iPhones,), no 5x7s,  8x10s or wall portraits (digital frames), and as the Pixar generation reaches child-rearing age, you may even see a decline in physical albums.

But even before we reach that day, in the meantime the number of requests by clients to have digital negatives will be significant enough that you will need some sort of competitive strategy to offer it. The three key areas you need to figure out are pricing, distribution, and copyright management. Do you know how you will manage these three in an increasingly digital-only world?

This isn’t just something photographers have to figure out. All those labs out there making millions on prints will need to have a digital plan too. It will be curious to see how the Pictages, the PickPics and the H&Hs of the world are going to adjust. How will they continue to empower photographers to offer services in a world where high quality printing is no longer required (or at least not as much)?

More of a Filmmaker’s or Commercial Photography Model?

In many ways, this is an area where the photo industry can take a lesson from the film and video industry. The bulk of a professional video producer’s rate is in the creation and execution of our vision as opposed to DVDs (which would be equivalent to prints and albums in the photo world). If someone pays me $6,000 to shoot a video, 99% of the time, that’s all they’re getting, is a digital copy of that video. Commercial photography is pretty much the same deal. It’s in wedding and portrait photography where I see the biggest changes will need to be made. If you make a lot of money on multi-thousand dollar albums or wall prints, a time is coming where those sales will dry up.

So, do you have your strategy in place? How will your business look in a world like the one portrayed in this video below. (The future is not as far away as you may think). (Note: I did not make this video. Though I wish I had. 🙂 )

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, click here.

14 thoughts on “What is Your Digital Strategy?

  1. I have no problem with a completely digital model if you structure your compensation to emphasize your time/talent rather than relying on a marked up product to provide your fees. If a family only wants a disk of high res, fully finished and retouched images from a portrait session, fine….but they’re going to pay almost (if not more) than what a large wall portrait package would cost. If a bride wants an all-digital wedding album that she can load to an iPad, no problem, but I’m still going to get paid for my design time. All digital is fine, photographers just need to understand that it’s ultimately their most valuable product option because it’s really what’s in the most demand right now.

    1. You’re absolutely right Jay. One challenge though will be a paradigm shift for consumers to put a value on all that work when they’re so used to getting tangible goods.

  2. Nah, prints will alwys be around. They will get more expensive as they get harder to obtain and less popular, but they will be. There is nothing like a print. I think eventually in the future people will start to get tired of everything being a “TV”.
    Although, if your talking from a pro selling point of view, digital is it.
    Good post,

    1. Thanks for the comment John. I agree with to an extent. But even the clients who want prints will increasingly also want digital files as well. And I think there’ll still be a market for fine art prints.

  3. Intersting post. I think a good parallel is that of vinyl records. They are still around and the last couple of years have seen an increase in the numbers sold. I suspect we are on a road to more and more digital prints, but there will always be a market for physical prints and this will wane in and out of fashion.

    1. I love your analogy Stuart. I didn’t mention this in the post, but I think we’ll see fine art prints still “printed” for artistic purposes. I think the consumer photogs who continue to thrive in with the sales of printed photos will be the ones offering a very high end product and this on par with fine art. HOWEVER, I think even their clients will still want digital negatives as part of their packages, so that will still need to be factored in. IMHO.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Great post. It’s easier to accept change when we’re so used to it already. I think a lot of the resistance does come from what we knew in the past, and understandably so since many of the veterans (my dad included, as he was a darkroom developer and salesman for over 40 years) took a LONG time to not only hone their craft, but purchase extremely expensive products that should have lasted them a lifetime. Now, everything is so disposable (figuratively) that we go through computers, cameras, phones and gadgets in less than two years in some cases. Not at all the same models between shifting generations.
    Also I think the comments about fine art prints not going anywhere hits the nail on the head, but we need to begin to shift our focus and realize that they are almost becoming a niche of the industry instead of the main product.
    Great post Ron!
    Lastly…that was an awesome video. And I will be buying up stock in Windex now. 🙂

    1. I think you’re right about the niche thing John. And, you’re the first person to comment on the video. Yes, it was awesome indeed. 🙂 I felt it was a little long for what it needed to be. They could have made this video 2.5 to 3 min and still communicated the same thing. But I digress… 🙂

  5. Right on! Again! ..and the struggle with those print labs is…well…they are print labs. 🙂 It would be like Starbucks switching to sell coffee in bags for brewing and home and not by the cup in a community environment – they’d have to change everything… and good luck switching that in the mind of the consumer. They’d have to start a new brand.

    ..and prints “may” be around forever in the same way that 8 tracks and records are still around. 🙂

    It’s a digital world and innovation only moves in one direction – forward and faster.

    1. The good news is they have time to figure it out. But, like Blockbuster, no one can afford to rest on their laurels. I think the most obvious strategy is continuing to offer online backup and storage. Beyond, creating a slick distribution pipeline to facilitate getting digital photos from the photog to the consumer. Or, just allowing consumers to purchase digital files directly from the “lab” who handles credit cards, etc. Some of them do that already. But, given the percentage of revenue generated by actual prints, at some point in the future, that revenue stream will need to be re-evaluated. IMHO. 🙂

  6. As always, an interesting read with a great video at the end. One of the issues of such glass screens is that they will not sit comfortably in many of our period homes over here in UK. Great in a modern apartment or house.

    As a stills photographer, doing mostly event work, I am looking into ways of providing digital images onsite at events. My customers can already buy low res digital files from my website with no further interaction from me, or full size digital files that I email later. Onsite I can provide digital files in various ways, the memory stick being the most practical from my point of view, which also allows me the opportunity to add a promo video about my business. I would love a way to do this over the wifi directly to the consumer’s smart phone or iPad etc.

    All the best,

  7. Great post Ron. I posted that video to the b school and it started an interesting discussion. What I want most for my clients is for them to have a lasting memory of the time I captured in their lives. To me, if they just have those images digitally, they miss a little bit of that. But I also know they want them in that medium as well. I have started to find that I package digital images into print packages – you spend this much, you get digital images. We have photographers around her cropping up left and right that do a session for $50 and give the disk for $100. What?!! How can you ever put food on the table with that kind of model?

    It’s all about finding a happy balance somehow and staying in the know of what clients want.

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