How photographers can talk about prints versus digital files with their clients
Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two completely different things. Knowledge does not equal change and growth. Application of that knowledge does. That’s why I subscribe to and advocate for what I call the Sustainability Formula.
The Sustainability Formula
Passion gave you life
Knowledge gives you roots
Application will give you growth
What this means is that in order to be successful, sustainable and, ultimately, grow as a photographer, you must be passionate, have knowledge and then apply that knowledge.
In another article on SproutingPhotographer.com, titled “Why you must sell digital files, and how to price them properly”, I showed you how you can price your digital files as a professional photographer.
So … if you’ve read that previous article, then you have the knowledge. And you obviously have the passion, because you're here. The real question is – are you applying the principles yet?
Are you struggling with follow-through?
Perhaps you’re still struggling with the follow-through and how to actually present these ideas to your clients. Maybe you’re like Justice, who sent us this as a part of an email in response to that article:
Question from Justice via Email:
Following your method of handling client requests for digital files, how would you then respond to clients who say they want the digital files so that they have the freedom to print them on their own as needed at a later date. Or say they want the digital files so that they can design their own holiday cards using TinyPrints (or any other inexpensive on-line consumer printing service)?
Or what about when they ask you directly how on earth you can justify charging more for a digital file than an obviously more expensive physical print?
I ask these questions because I’ve experienced them all & worry that without a strategy to address them the method you’ve outlined in your articles leaves us in an awkward position when confronted by clients.
Instead of just outlining my thoughts in a private email to Justice, I asked her for permission to share the email here, and I’ll be using this article as a public response, because if Justice is asking this question, then there must be others, too.
First, let me just say that if you’d like to dig deep into the theory of what I’m going to talk about here, then I’ve got a great in-depth article called “How to always sell prints, even if your clients say they want digital” where I break down the theory behind the digital versus print buying decision.
Justice’s question is a very valid one. Here’s the challenge though – she’s making the mistake that many photographers make by leaving a discussion about print versus digital a little too late.
Most photographers don’t spend enough time educating and setting expectations up front, and so they’re left with objections on the tail-end. I’d suggest that you spend more time educating and setting expectations on the front-end, so that you have to spend less time afterwards with awkward objections.
There is a balance to education vs objection, and most photographers have it completely backwards. Here is a graphic I've created that shows what most do versus what you must do if you want to effectively stand for anything in your photography business.
In short, I want you to be educating up-front so much that what you stand for becomes crystal clear. There should be no question in your clients’ mind about what you're all about, and it really shouldn't even get to the objection stage, and if it does, it's minimal.
Let me be clear, though. I'm not saying that you won't have the objections. I'm just saying that you'll be handling them and taking a stand on them before at the right time. Because if you have to put out fires when your client is sitting in your studio for their ordering appointment (the “most do” situation above), then you've gone too far and you will likely damage the relationship.
How you can educate your clients about the importance of prints
Here is a 5-step-process as to how you can effectively educate and set expectations about where you stand with regards to print versus digital:
- Understand the clash of world-views.
- Make it obvious that you care about prints.
- Use social proof.
- Be explicit with each client.
- Talk about the emotional benefits.
Understand the clash of world-views
The conversation of digital versus print catches many photographers off-guard, because they’re simply not ready for it. When you expect up-front that there is very likely to be a clash of world-view, you will get your expectations straight.
You must know that every client brings their own set of biases to the table. Their own experiences. Their own opinions about how things should and shouldn’t be. Add in your biases, your experiences and your opinions, layered with your business policies and the need to make a living from photography, there will undoubtedly be a clash.
You can soften that clash by expecting it, and approaching the topic with care and respect. I’ll defer to Stephen Covey, who says in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that you must “Seek first to understand”, and that’s very applicable here. You must know that your clients will have a pre-defined worldview on the topic of prints versus digital (and everything else for that matter). Understand where they’re coming from, seek to see their point-of-view, and then use education as a means of expressing your point-of-view.
Make it obvious that you care about prints
You must make it obvious that you care about prints, because if you don’t care, then why should your clients? Believing in prints, and showing them, is a big part of spreading that passion.
What do I mean by this, practically speaking? Well, here are a few examples of how you can make it obvious to your clients that you care deeply about prints:
- Talk about prints often on social media.
- Show prints as they arrive to the studio on social media and on your blog.
- Show photos of personal prints you make and show them hanging in your own home.
- Blog about prints and the importance of them.
- Show sample wall portraits on your website instead of just a portrait gallery.
- Show sample album spreads on your website instead of just wedding galleries.
- Talk about prints and albums on your website, and how they’ll impact your client’s lives.
- Talk often about how physical prints and albums are heirlooms to pass down for generations.
- Have sample prints and albums in your studio.
Want even more practical examples? Here is a video that I made one afternoon for fun that really enforces my belief in prints versus digital. I send this to every client and every inquiry:
What’s that … you want even more!? Ok! Here’s another video I show to every client when I am setting their expectations about what it’s like to work with our studio, and how much we deeply believe in the process of printing our photographs.
Enforce social proof
The concept behind social proof is simple – people will always want what they see other people doing. It’s why we trust online reviews for a hotel we’ve never gone to, it’s why we will buy the Amazon.com item with more 5-star reviews, it’s why bars and clubs have waiting lines outside, and it’s why big online media companies show the number of social shares at the top of every blog post.
If you can show our prospective clients that your other clients get prints from you, then it makes prints that much more desirable. If you can show them that it’s the “norm” to order prints from you, then they’ll just assume that’s what they’ll do, too, when they hire you as their photographer.
Something that I personally employ in our photography studio is that I always ask my clients to send me a picture of their wall portraits hanging in their home after they hang them up. Then, I make a point of sharing that with new clients as “samples”, but also as social proof to show that that’s what my clients do.
Want to kick this up a notch? Offer to hang your clients prints for them! For free.
What a great value-added service, a little bit of surprise and delight, and something to remark about. It also will help them justify the price of wall portraiture, and ultimately it ensures the prints are hung properly in their home. As a bonus, you can take photos of the portraits hanging up afterwards to get some really great samples of your work displayed in your clients homes.
Here’s another practical social-proof technique – after every viewing appointment, post one of the images that your client ordered as a wall portrait on social media and say something like “Here is a favourite image that the Johnston family chose for their wall. Can’t wait to see it in print!”. It’s again enforcing that that’s what people do – hang photos on their walls.
Be explicit with each client
A lot of the techniques I’ve discussed already are broadcast-style messages, and while you must be doing this to establish and maintain your belief system, I also think it’s just as important to be very explicit with each and every client. You can use the same techniques above, but on a more one-to-one basis. Kind of like how I talked about sending the videos explicitly to every client. Or showing a sample wall display from a client’s home during the pre-planning session. Or talking about the importance of print during the first phone call.
You must be intentional and have the conversation about prints up front with every client. Multiple times. In fact, talk about it in every conversation. This ensures that the expectations are crystal clear so there are no misunderstanding.
Talk about the emotional benefits
Let’s be honest … no one really wants a digital file. What would anyone actually want it for? There’s nothing sexy about it. Seriously. There’s nothing exciting about having a beautiful image living on your iPad. Your iPad is for email. Your iPad is for games. Your iPad is full of distractions. Your iPad is for fast-paced movement. Your iPad is for split-second mini-moments.
Your iPad is boring as far as I’m concerned.
You know what’s exciting? Enjoying a beautiful 30×40 custom-framed wall portrait above the fireplace in your family room that you’ll walk by every day. It’s a reminder of the love and appreciation you have for your family. It’s a breath of fresh air and a reason to stop for even just a moment, and smile, when everything around you is buzzing by at lightning speed. It’s a reminder that even in the busiest of times, all the work is worth it, because you do it for your family.
That’s what portraiture is all about. That’s what prints are all about. That’s what you’re selling.
You aren’t selling a piece of paper or a chunk of wood cut into a frame. If you can talk about the emotional side of what you do and what it means to enjoy a printed photograph, then you bring the conversation into the deeper meaning of what you do as a photographer.
That’s something to get clients excited about. That’s a way to build value. That’s a way to sell wall art.
No one will ever get excited about having a beautiful USB key sitting in their drawer. Or a DVD disc that won’t even go into most modern-day laptops. Imagine hanging a CD on the wall? Not happening.
How you can overcome objections about digital files
If you’ve been intentional about educating your clients up-front, then you should very rarely be questioned about your position on digital versus print. But, you still need to be prepared for it.
I’d suggest writing down all of the questions and objections you may get on the topic, and coming up with your own answers for them. I don’t recommend this so you can use it as a script, but instead so that you’ve been deliberate in thinking about your position and answers to those questions, so that when you do get an objection on it, you can effectively and concisely respond.
You must know your policies
First, you must know where you stand. You must have policies to follow, because if you don’t know your policies, then your clients won’t either.
So … if you haven’t already, define them.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- Where you stand on digital files?
- Do you ever include them?
- Do you charge for them? If so, how much?
- Do you include them with gated products like I talked about in the follow-up to last week's article?
You must be fair
I really want you to think about the fact that we are in a different market today than we were 15 years ago. We can’t necessarily be the “gatekeepers” anymore. As much as I’d like to tell you to never give away digital files, I am afraid that if you listened to that advice, you may go out of business.
… And you wouldn’t be the first. Many photographers have had to hang up their cameras because they refused to change with the times.
I’m not suggesting that you transition to the shoot-and-burn model. I believe in prints more than anyone, and I think this series about digital files shows that, but what I’m suggesting is that you be fair about your pricing.
Be fair with your policies. Really think about why clients are asking for digital.
Perhaps they’re asking for digitals because they don’t want to pay $70 for every 8×10 when they want to order 6 of them as gifts. Well … do you really need to be charging $70 for every 8×10, even if there are 6 duplicates? I don’t think so. Be fair. Can you offer the first for full-price and the duplicates for a lower price? I think so, because your costs are significantly lower for the duplicates.
Why else are your clients asking for digital? Perhaps because they want to get a bunch of Christmas cards done for their family and friends, and don’t want to break the bank. Well … do you really need to be making a huge profit margin on Christmas cards from a session, when you just made a great print order from that same client with the wall portraits and smaller gift prints? Again … be fair. Can you offer Christmas cards with print orders over a certain amount for around your cost, so you can at least you cover your expenses? I think so, and it’s a gesture that would go a long way.
You must show them the difference
The best way to explain why it’s better for you to print their images instead of them is to show them! Show them the difference between a consumer print and a professional print. Put your money where your mouth is!
A technique that we’ve used in our studio for years is to have a print comparison to show off. We’d take one unretouched digital file (just like what the client would get) to a bunch of different local consumer printers, such as Walmart, Zehrs, Blacks and COSTCO, and then take that same file, retouched, and have it printed properly at my professional lab.
When you do something like this, and show your clients the difference side-by-side, they’ll unquestionably agree that having you print their images will get them the better quality.
Still have more questions about digital files?
Does this answer your questions? Does this help you with the positioning of prints and digital files in your studio? I know that I didn’t answer Justice’s questions above with a word-for-word response, but I avoided that for a reason. First, because I don’t believe in scripts and canned responses. But more importantly, because I believe that if show you the techniques and psychology behind how I would avoid (and answer) those questions, it allows you to answer them in a way that is more effective and specific to you. It’s like teaching a man to fish versus giving him a fish.
So … happy fishing! And if you have more questions about how to deal with digital versus print in your studio, do me a favour and leave them in the comment box below. I’d love to hear from you. Maybe your question will spark my article next week!