Selling Albums in your Photography Business

I received an email from a client who was commenting on an email she received from another album company.  She felt that company was basically saying that photographers should sell albums at cost because albums are good for your business.  I certainly won’t take any issue with albums being good for your business, they are.  Every album that is out in the community is advertising for what you do: weddings, children, seniors, engagements and boudoir.  I often refer to them as walking, talking billboards promoting your photography.

Products, both albums and prints, leave your clients feeling that what they spent was worth the price because they have something to show for it.  When they leave with a jump drive in hand or an online gallery, they are let down and buyer’s remorse sets in.  It’s kind of like going to the dentist, the accountant or your attorney.  When you leave you get the bill and wonder how they can charge so much when all you have to show for it is slightly cleaner teeth.  You can’t show-off a new filling or pass your P&L statement around a room.  It might be a bit tacky to frame the letter from your attorney telling you that your DBA has been accepted.  You get it.

Business is about profits and without them no business survives.

Mine won’t, yours won’t, GE won’t and even Apple won’t.  Whole Foods lists profitability in their mission statement.  Businesses that thrive and survive are unafraid to say they make a profit.  They have bills to pay, employees to pay and shareholders to satisfy.  You have bills to pay and families to feed.  The only difference is the number of zeros involved.

Photographers provide both service and products.  That’s a leg up on the dentists, accounts and lawyers.  Both areas contribute to your overall success and viability.  Many times it has been said that a painting’s worth is the image on the canvas, not the materials used to create it.  Much the same can be said for photography.  I fully accept and embrace the new paradigm of disruptive technologies.  Business is not the same as it was even a few years ago, and a photographer’s income will not be derived from the number of wallet-sized images a high school senior purchases.  That doesn’t make products and profits associated with them obsolete.  It just means taking a little different look at what you do.

Albums and prints need to be marked-up.  It takes work to produce them and your talent is involved.  I’ll be the first to admit that the 5x mark-up on everything will not endear you to your clients.  A frame, for example, is easily available.  Purchasing it from you is a convenience which many people are willing to pay for, however, there may be a limit to the value of convenience.  A $50.00 frame might be worth twice as much when purchased from you, but not worth $250.00.  So be it, you didn’t add that much value, therefore the margins will be lower.

A fully retouched, perfectly printed fine art piece, matted and ready for display IS worth more.  Both from a convenience point, but also from a value point.  – See the Finao Xhibit. That print is NOT available at Sam’s Club.  You have spent considerable time perfecting the file before it’s even printed.  You have applied your personal standard to the final print.  You have put your name on it and you have done so with pride.  Charge for all of that.  You have also added value.  It is no longer a piece of photographic paper; it is a finished work of art and your client can see that.  Its value is based on its uniqueness, on its presentation, on its sheer beauty.  It is also based on the fact that it is available from you and only you.  The same effect will not be achieved in a DIY world.

So here are a few thoughts on how and why you can charge for product as well as service:

1.  The greatest profits can be achieved when you provide something that the client can not purchase elsewhere.  Simple example: a picture book with a photo cover is available from any number of online sellers for less money than your lab or even Finao charges you for something that looks strangely familiar.  Change the product, increase the value.  Clumsy, overdone designs are available from Snapfish.  Provide artistic elegance, clean lines and innovative layouts.  Firm pages with prints done on true silver halide, portrait-grade paper will give your products some extra boost.  Add a unique cover material in a distinctive color.  Silk looks good, feels good and screams, “I cost more and I’m worth it!”  You can charge accordingly.

2.   Make the products you offer an expectation not an impulse.  Jerry Ghionis reminds his clients about their albums all through the wedding day: “This is going to look gorgeous in your album, ” and , “I don’t know how you’re ever going to live without every one of these images.”  He’s setting-up expectations.   You need to start with expectations in your first client contact: “Most boudoir clients choose an album like this, (hand over sample) but some prefer a portfolio box like this (hand over second product).”  Now, the client is choosing between what she wants, not if she wants.  You started with an expectation.

3.  Albums should be a good profit area on portrait sessions as the client is purchasing more images and expecting to spend more money.  Remember, every image in that album needs expert post-processing and retouching.  The album she purchases from you must look like the fabulous show piece you want to represent your work.  I have a simple pricing formula for portrait albums:

Let’s use an 8×8 album for the example. Take the price you charge for that size print and multiply by the number of page-sides in the album (we’ll go with the basic 20 page-sides).  That gives you the suggested retail price.

Example: you charge $25.00* for an 8×8 print x 20 prints = $500.00.  Now add the cost of the album times 2.  That brings us to a conservative retail price of about $700.00.

Your cost of goods sold is less than $100 including a Finao playBOOK, all the prints and shipping. 

In this case you might be able to count on that 5x mark-up, or put a “special offer” price on the album of $500.00.

Or perhaps offer it as complimentary with the purchase of the prints.  Notice, I am not expecting you to give albums away.  I am expecting you to price with incentives that encourage purchasing while retaining an excellent profit margin.

4.  Wedding albums are best rolled in the price of shooting as I really don’t think you want a wedding client to not have an album.  John Michael Cooper says it best: “The album is included.  I make an album from every wedding I shoot, so if you don’t want it, we’ll keep it as a studio sample.”  John and Dalisa have a business that just keeps growing.  But let’s look at wedding photography prices and how much you’re making.

A basic package including an inexpensive album keeps cost of goods sold low.  You still need to account for design time, retouching time, approval time, revision time….you get the picture.   The cost of producing an album on your end is the same for a low-end book as it is for a high-end book.   Adding pages is the same no matter what that album costs you.

What this simply means is that you need to factor everything into a basic package. 

If you can charge an additional $1000 for a great quality, leather album, and your cost of goods is an additional $200, you are putting an additional $800 in your pocket.  The base price for a simple album is about $100.  If you can’t include anything else, at least include that.  Just remember that you have all the work done so you might as well upsell to a better album or include a better album in your most expensive packages.

I don’t think there should be an issue of albums for weddings.   Albums are the end result of what you do.  They are the first heirloom of a new family and they are a part of a family history for all involved.  This will never go out of style.  The look may change but the need remains the same.

Yes, albums are good for business.  Profits are also vital for business.  So structure what you offer to include both and you will be around for a long time.

You are worth what you charge. If you believe it, so will your clients.

*This is an example number only.  I expect most of our clients charge more.