Ask the experts: What to do with old image files

June 2016 issue

Q. I have a storage unit dedicated to old client files that I don’t want to maintain forever. How could I go about pricing and selling these? For example, I have years of image files of families showing the kids growing up. Should I just give those to the client since they’ve already produced income for my studio for decades? And what about files from random and small orders? 

A. You don’t have to be in business long before the storage requirements for your image files begin to mount. After a period of time, is it advantageous to sell those files or simply give them away to your clients so you don’t have to deal with them anymore? 

First consider doing neither of those things. While it might seem like a quick source of revenue to sell digital files from past sessions, ask yourself if this practice fits with your business model. I run a high-end product-based studio and have a policy of not selling printable digital files for my portrait work. I encourage you to ask yourself two important questions:

  1. Would doing this cannibalize my future sales by effectively training clients to wait until the image files go on sale?
  2. After years spent educating my clients about the importance of the printed portrait, am I damaging my brand by now offering digital files for sale?

If you’re not satisfied with the answers to these questions, don’t sell digital files even years after the sessions are complete. Sonia Deasy of Deasy Photographic in Dublin, Ireland, sums it up: “Our studio is dedicated to the premium photographic print at a premium price. Part of the service our clients pay for is the digital archiving of their images.”

Archiving is just part of the deal at my studio. Clients are assured that the file of every portrait they purchase will be digitally archived on and offsite. Images that aren’t purchased aren’t archived.

Since this is my 10th year in business, I started talking to my clients last year about what we could do with all the images we’ve created through the years. During my 2015 holiday order sessions, I proposed the idea of a “Years in Review” album featuring images from the past 10 years. Of course not every client will purchase such an album, but some will. I expect some will even add an image or two that they didn’t purchase previously.

For my business, this feels like the best way not only to capitalize on older session files but to get those portraits into my clients’ hands via a finished product I’ve designed.

On the flip side is my friend and colleague Kathryn Langford of Photos by Kathryn in Vancouver, Canada. Kathryn runs a high-end product-based studio and in 2015 began marketing digital files from past sessions to her clients. She called it her Spring Cleaning Sale and offered the files for $1,000 per session, including all the digital image files shown to the client when they came for their initial sales session. This single campaign created a nice five-figure bump to her 2015 revenue.

Kathryn’s business model is a hybrid of finished product and digital files. After a minimum order of $1,500 is met, her clients may purchase digital files as an add-on. Her 2015 Spring Cleaning Sale was an effort to clear her servers and generate cash during the slow winter months. Because she sells digital files in the course of her business, selling files from previous sessions didn’t pose a dilemma, as it would have for me.

In fact, she found three distinct advantages to this type of sale:

  • Clients who had previously placed large orders were excited to purchase the digital files for their own digital archive purposes.
  • Clients who had previously placed smaller orders were able to buy the digital files.
  • Clients who for one reason or another never actually placed their order (couldn’t decide, couldn’t afford it, etc.) purchased the digital files, resulting in a sale that may never have happened otherwise.

Kathryn ran the sale via an email campaign for just one week. She sent an email followed by an email 24 hours before the sale expired. This method created a sense of urgency and confined the questions and requests to the week of the sale.

As you can see, there isn’t a “right” way to do business. You decide which strategy is best for you.

Now for the question: Should you ever give the files away? Sooner or later, all of us will have a client who passes away. When I learn of a client’s death, I contact the family and offer to make a print for the funeral services at no cost and then give the digital files to the client’s family so they may use them for the funeral program or include them in the funeral video. 

Allison Tyler Jones, CPP, Allison Tyler Jones Photography Inc. 

Tags: pricingsales

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