Should I sell Digital Files? – Embracing the Digital Age or Not?

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A question I am frequently asked is “Does it bother you that clients only want digital files?”     My answer: No.  

As a photographer and business owner it is imperative that we are in tune with what our market wants.  Notice I didn’t say ‘what our market demands’.  The client’s desires shouldn’t demand your business.  You, as the business owner, should evaluate the market wants balanced with your business model.  Marketing 101: All successful businesses listen to their market, put their own spin on it, and market the heck out of it.  There is no dispute that the general population purchasing customized portraiture wants digital files. To completely be unaware or ignore this reality is to do your business a great disservice.

So how do we listen to client demands?    My answer: Give them what they want!

I just heard all of you gasp!  Yes, you can give into the demands..sort of.  This post has been circling in my mind for months.   There are so many good reasons to work towards digital files including the fact that we ARE in a digital age, electronic sharing, the fact that so many move frequently, etc.

 

Should I give digital files?

Advantages

  • Great marketing tool – Works as a “hook” to get your clients in the door
  • Opportunity to educate clients on custom portraiture and copyright laws through usage guidelines
  • Less time behind the computer (i.e. ordering of custom products)
  • In some states, digital files aren’t taxed in the same way physical prints are. In fact, they may not be taxed at all.
  • Pairing high-res purchases with watermarked web-versions = free marketing

Disadvantages

  • Loss of professional control – Once those files are out your hands, they are out of your hands.  Despite copyright laws and warnings to clients, anything can be done to files without your permission.
  • Potential stolen files – Reality. It happens. It can happen with or without high-res digits given but even more so with full res files.
  • Many photographers undercharge for digital files because of the fallacy that digital files “cost nothing”. Remember – you’re charging for time, talent and business costs.
  • Client’s results will vary if they don’t print at a professional lab

How should I offer digital files?

As an artist I have this intrinsic need that I want to fulfill by giving something tangible.  As a business owner I have this mental need to please my clients.

When starting out one of my very best friends flat out told me “I won’t hire you.” After I licked my wounds and cried into my pillow I asked her why.  She simply stated that as a military spouse that often moved, she needed the flexibility to move around with her digital high-resolution files because what if (a) the prints get messed up or (b) when she wanted to reprint I may be out of business.  She wasn’t trying to push upon me the need for a digital file only disc, just to have it as a partner with other products.  From there I began my path in finding the balance between offering digital files (high-resolution, un-watermarked files) and fulfilling myself as an artist and my pocketbook.

I found myself finding multiple options to achieve this goal.

  • Use digital files as an incentive - Require that clients purchase a certain amount of prints prior to having the option to purchase digital files
  • Create packages that pair a product with the digital files – This can be anything that fulfills you as an artist.  Personally, I require an album purchase. My heart aches at the thought of digital files sitting in a CD, or worse, getting lost and never seeing the light of day.
  • Price digital files accordingly- Every digital file sold is potentially a lost print sale.  Sometimes you’ll have that dream client come along who buys every print from you plus the digitals for backup, but for the most part you may not.
  • Always include a print release - Ensure it cites copyright laws and usage guidelines. Yes, clients may ignore but no reason to not educate them and define your legal rights.
  • Alternative: Low-res watermarked photos – Meeting the client in the middle – give them what they ultimately (to share online) but preserve your print sales
.

Options to delivering digital files

What if I don’t want to offer high-resolution digital files?

The best part of owning your own business is that YOU are the boss.  You don’t have to.  Like anything else, no decision is truly set in stone. You can always change it!   There are options to giving your client a little bit of what they want; Sticky Albums, low-res and watermarked files, Showit Pass Sites, etc.

No matter how you decide to embrace the digital age (or even if you decide not to at all), at the end of the day, make sure you’ve met all your goals.  At the end of the day you’ve met all your goals.  Self. Client. Industry.  Indiana didn’t  get the Holy Grail given to him, he had to work for it. 

See also: How to make print sales the easiest way possible!

 

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Rachel Brenke, The Law Tog

Rachel Brenke is an author, photographer, lawyer and business consultant for photographers. She is currently helping creative industry professionals all over the world initiate, strategize and implement strategic business and marketing plans through various mediums of consulting resources and legal direction. Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not legal advice, but general information on legal issues commonly encountered.

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