Wedding Album Pricing Strategies for Photographers
You've probably been in a “buying situation” where you were overwhelmed with options, and I'm sure you've been a customer where the process to make a purchase was complicated and unclear. As a business owners, you must anticipate those potential buying roadblocks that could stall or even halt your clients from purchasing what they want.
You need to optimize the buying process and make everything easy to communicate, understand and decide on. This article will walk you through the process of optimizing your wedding album buying process for your clients.
Let’s Buy a Car
Pretend you’re buying a car – you’ve researched what you’re looking for, you’ve test-drove a number of cars and have decided to go with the Volkswagen Tiguan. After you’ve made that decision on your own, you head on into the dealership to talk about details. Imagine these three situations:
Situation #1 – The Bare Bones Car
The salesperson takes you on a test drive with the Tiguan and you love it. As you go through the buying process (prices, financing, terms, details, etc) though, you start to realize that the car you're getting doesn’t really have everything you were lead to believe it had. In fact, it has barely any of the features that you fell in love with from the test drive. You're basically getting a bare bones car and you're starting to wonder if the steering wheel is even included! The sales people seem to be constantly trying to up-sell you at every point, with questions like: Do you want a GPS? Spare tire? Power windows? Sunroof? Floor mats? And so on.
You feel overwhelmed and pressured into making buying decisions that you weren't aware of up-front. You are annoyed at the fact that you are constantly being “sold to”, leaving you with a sour taste in your mouth because you've now spent more than you initially had budgeted for and you feel like you've been in a classic game of bait-and-switch.
Situation #2 – The Three Options
The car salesman shows you three versions of the Tiguan – the Trendline, Comfortline or Highline, each with a different combination of upgrades and options included. It’s basically a “good, better, best” line-up. He asks you about how you’ll be using the car, what your preferences are, and then recommends one of the models. Mostly everything you’ll need and want is included in that car, but there are still a few times throughout the process that they try and “pitch” you on something: Do you want the rust proofing? Extended warranty? And so on.
You feel satisfied with the buying decision because you didn’t feel too “sold to” and you got most of what you wanted up front.
Situation #3 – The Unlimited Car
The car salesman shakes your hand after you decide to go with the Tiguan, and then asks you a series of questions about how you drive and what your preferences are. He shows you all the options (power windows, GPS, rust proofing, etc), recommends some of them to you and tells you that you can have any and all of them if you’d like. He says to not to worry about the price because they’re all included; there are no upgrade fees for anything at all.
You feel well taken care of, and you get the best car you could have possibly imagined. It is perfectly customized to your needs, without compromise.
Which car buying experience would you prefer? Which one would you not enjoy?
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Personally I would certainly not want situation #1, and would probably lean towards situation #3 – a simple process in which I make all of the buying decisions up-front and then there's no more mention of money again. I would understand that there's a higher premium for the “unlimited” experience and a “limitless” car, but there’s something to be said for getting everything you want and not feeling pressured.
Of course, no car companies operate their business like situation #3, because there are far too many options to be able to include everything in the one price. Instead, most of them operate as in situation #2 because using “packages” has been proven to work. But our services and products aren't too complicated to not be able to offer situation #3, are they?
The “Face” of our Prices
The buying process for wedding albums needs to be easy to understand and decide upon. You must have a clear, understandable and simple presentation and explanation of your prices in order to not only maximize sales, but also to minimize overwhelm and optimize the customer experience.
Just like in the car buying example, when the customer experience went from being overwhelming and pushy (situation #1) to simple and all-inclusive (situation #3), you need to determine where you want to stand with regards to your wedding album offerings.
I call this process “facing” our prices, that is – what the customer sees of our product and service offerings. Last week, we discussed the mechanics of how to price your wedding albums for success, and in that article we went into the nitty-gritty mechanics of calculations, mark-up and cost-of-goods-sold. That’s the “back-end” of pricing, and of course we’d never walk through that process with our clients because it would just overwhelm them. Instead, the “front-end” or “face” of our prices is what our clients will see, and that needs to be presented in a way that is as strategic as how we determined our prices in the back-end.
Quick clarification – I’m not necessarily talking about the actual design and layout of your price list. Although the actual physical presentation is important, it’s a totally separate topic. I’m talking more about the psychology of how you structure your packages for your clients, instead. If you’re interested in design resources however, my #1 go-to place is Design Aglow.
The 3 Wedding Album Pricing Strategies
Let’s get real specific and talk about the “face” of your pricing in the context of a wedding album. There are essentially only three strategies for pricing your albums, and they are as follows:
- Base album with upgrades after
- Pre-packaged albums with different options
- Unlimited album
I have personally tried all three of these options and have a great amount of experience with them. There are pros and cons to all of them, and so let’s walk through each of them individually.
The base album is where most wedding photographers will start, and it’s where you offer a very basic album up front – usually something like a 10-spread, 8×12 inch album – and present options later, encouraging them to upgrade or buy more. The well-known sales technique of “pre-designing” is when you design an album with more spreads than what was initially included and hope that the client will fall in love with the design and want to buy more.
The pro to this option is that it’s a low barrier-to-entry buying option, meaning that it’s a smaller fee up front for your client to swallow. This could be seen as a con, though, because if the client does just go with just the base album, then that means you’re getting the lowest amount of money possible for the album. The other cons are that you’ll have to pressure and sell more afterwards, which may create resentment if your client didn’t expect to be spending more than they initially budgeted. Also, because each spread is extra money, you’ll end up squeezing more images into less pages, which leads to lower level of creativity, more revisions and ultimately a less-complete (or more cluttered) storytelling album for your couple.
The next best option in your album product offerings is to have pre-packaged options available. This is similar to the base album options, except that you’ll have several base albums. For example, you may have the base album as described above, with two other pre-packaged options:
- Album Option #1 – 15-page 8×12 inch album
- Album Option #2 – 20-page 10×15 inch album
Of course the pros to this are that it’s clean, simple and easy-to-understand. It gives options up-front instead of hiding them and trying to sell them afterwards. Because there are options up-front, there will likely be a higher investment without resentment. The con to this method, however, is that you’re asking couples to make final decisions up-front about their album before they’ve ever even seen their images, which could be a hard thing to do. Something else to consider is that because there are options, clients will likely still be price conscious about their decisions, and will probably still try and squeeze as much as possible into as little as possible. Like the base album, this likely means more revisions and potentially less creativity for you. It could also result in a less complete (or more cluttered) storytelling album for your couple, depending on how you arrange your options.
This isn’t an option that is discussed much, but those photographers that do offer it, love it. An unlimited album means that the couple pays a bit more up front, but then there are no limits or upgrades to the album afterwards – it’s all included. The couple can make whatever decisions they want and there’s never any discussion of money again.
The con of course is that it’s a higher investment up front for our client, but that’s about it. The pros are that your client gets a bigger, better album with a cleaner design because they’re not trying to squeeze many images into a small amount of spreads. You will also find that you'll have more control in the design, and because they’re not trying to narrow down images or spreads, you often can design it exactly how you want it to be designed with fewer revisions. You won't have to “sell” after the first decision is made, which makes for a better client experience. Another pro is that you can make more money with this option, but I intentionally put that last because I feel that the client-centric “pros” are much more important.
Establishing the Price for Each Strategy
Now that we’ve discussed the three different strategies for pricing, let’s apply our lessons from the last article and apply the mechanics of how to price each strategy. This will be enlightening for you, and it may make you lean towards one strategy over the other.
Like in the last article about how to price your wedding albums, we’ll make the same assumptions for the calculations:
- Design time: 5 minutes per spreads
- Retouching time: 1 minute per image
- Each spread has an average of 8 images
- Annual salary: $60,000 and therefore $30/hour or $0.50/minute
Let’s also define a few variables that will help us with the calculations. Let’s say for the purposes of this example that the following costs are global for all of our calculations:
- Ordering, packaging and delivery time: 60 minutes
- Album cost (10-spread, 8×12 inches): $250
- Additional spreads: $15
- Photo-cover upgrade: $100
- Upgrading size to a 10×15: $75
- Shipping: $20
- Packaging: $15
Here are 4 example calculations, one for the base album, two for different “packaged” albums, and then one for the unlimited album. I've listed the inputs (time and money) for each of the albums only for reference, but if numbers and calculations aren't your thing, feel free to “skip” over them and just look at the suggested related price associated with each album.
Base Album: 8×12, 10-spread album
Correspondence and revisions: 120 minutes = $60
Design: 100 minutes = $50
Retouching: 80 minutes = $40
Total cost: $435
Suggested retail: $1240
Note: With the base album, the common practice is to pre-design more than what was included, and so that needs to be factored in here. In this example, I’ve calculated that you’ll pre-design a 20-spread album. Also, as previously discussed, the base album involves much more back-and-forth and revisions with the client, and so the correspondence and revision time is 2 hours.
Packaged Album #1: 8×12, 15-spread album
Correspondence and revisions: 90 minutes = $45
Design: 75 minutes = $37.50
Retouching: 120 minutes = $60
Total cost: $502.50
Suggested retail: $1430
Packaged Option #2: 8×12, 20-spread album with photo cover
Correspondence and revisions: 60 minutes = $30
Design: 100 minutes = $50
Retouching: 160 minutes = $80
Total cost: $695
Suggested retail: $1980
Correspondence and revisions: 15 minutes = $7.50
Design: 115 minutes = $57.50
Retouching: 184 minutes = $92
Total cost: $712
Suggested retail: $2030
Note: You’ll need to calculate your “average” album for the unlimited option, which for me is a 23-spread 10×15 album with no photo cover. The above calculations have been done for this.
Which Option is Best for You?
What “situation” did you connect best with above when we talked about the Tiguan car-buying experience? At that point, you probably didn’t know where it was going, but as you can see now, each of those buying situations is directly related to one of the pricing models for albums:
- Base Bones Car = Base Album
- Three Car Options = Pre-Packaged Albums
- Unlimited Car = Unlimited Album
Understand that the strategy that's appropriate for you will depend on your level of experience, your place in the market (price-wise) and whether or not you mind “selling”. For example, if the idea of offering a $2,000 unlimited album seems daunting to you because you're newer to the industry, then that may not be the best option. You must have confidence in what you sell, and often photographers will work their way (in time) through option #1 (base albums) to option #2 (packaged albums) all the way up to (sometimes) the unlimited album.
Whichever strategy makes sense for you, the principles of selling albums are universal, and you'll find helpful information in the first two articles from this series on how to sell wedding albums to your clients:
If you'd like a quick “test” to figure out which option may be best for you, take this quick quiz:
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For me? I only offer the “unlimited album” – I love it, and so do my clients! As you can see from the calculations above, the price isn't that far off what a packaged album would be, and because I'm not having to “sell” after the first conversation, I find it to be great for the customer experience. Lastly, I love that it allows me to always design big, beautiful albums with full creative control.
Note: My situation may be different from yours, and I've worked my way up from the “base album” over many years. I also am very intentional about the customer experience, making it “all about” the album and showing big beautiful samples here in my studio.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below – tell me where you’re at now, and which option you connect with best. What action will you take in response to this article to implement change in your business today?