Today I am going to talk a little about photography business models. If you look back at my previous blog about pricing, I looked at a very simple business model where you are offering the service of taking photographs and charging only for your time taking photos, with an all inclusive price for delivering the finished images to the client. If you are using this model you may be foregoing a great deal of potential income. The actual model you will want to choose will depend on your specialty. Wedding photography will generally lend itself to this simplified model, where in commercial photography are really selling yourself short if you are using this model. For the purpose of this discussion I will categorize travel, fashion, food, corporate advertizing photos and architectural photography as commercial, due to the ultimate purpose of the photos.
What are the possible streams of income?
The possible streams of income for a photographer can vary from one type of specialty to another. Let us think back to the time when we used to use film, we used to take the pictures, develop the film and sell the photographs. In the digital age we shoot the pictures, develop the images (converting from Raw format, editing) delivering the images in digital form, and some of you will send the digital images out for printing, and fewer still will do the printing in house. When we look at this process we can identify some potential new revenue streams for our business which include:
- Photo sessions
- Delivery of digital formats to suit the client
- Allowing your clients the right to use the images for commercial purposes.
Photo sessions – pricing and revenue often includes the editing and development of RAW images. This is generally the most basic model. If this is all you are charging for you may be selling yourself short.
Delivery of digital formats, here they may be some potential for revenue. If we separate the creative time spent (photo sessions) from the images themselves you can get a bit creative about the delivery options. For example if you deliver a DVD full of low resolution images that are suitable for viewing on a television set, your client will generally be more than happy. If they want more than that, such as full sized TIFF files you have an opportunity to charge extra per digital image. The only possible reason clients will want TIFF or Full sized JPEG files is for printing purposes and for revenue generating or cost saving possibilities of their own. Remember as the photographer you own the rights to those images and are subject to copy write law, there should be a cost to commercial users to use the images.
Printing – the photo printing industry is making a pretty good living off of printing your pictures, so at the very least if you are not doing in house printing you should be getting a mark-up on the resulting prints. When choosing what to do we have to weigh out the advantages and disadvantages. When we are talking about printing, it is possible to:
- Give a print ready DVD to the client, here you get no additional revenue, and they find their own printing company. The advantage here is that you are off the hook immediately, but the disadvantages are that the client may have to pay more for the prints even if you were to get a commission using a service provider, and you have no possibility for additional revenue. Remember in the days of film the photographer kept the negatives so the clients had to come back for reprints.
- Provide the client with ability to select and order prints through your website, where you use a third party printing and delivery service. This provides a revenue stream, depending on how much markup you add or commission you get from the printing service. This can be advantageous particularly if you want to provide your clients with a wide range of printing possibilities that would be cost prohibitive for you to be able to offer if you do in-house printing.
- In house printing – you provide the client with the opportunity to get prints in a variety of size formats and paper types, but can be limited for printing of novelty items, such as photo books, tee-shirts, mugs etc. Big advantage is that you have creative control over the quality of the prints. Conversely you will need to invest in high quality printing equipment.
Rights to Images is particularly relevant to commercial photography in all its forms, fashion, food, architectural, products, food… Commercial clients want the images for some commercial/marketing purpose, which translates into a way for them to make money. If your image is used for such purposes you should be getting revenue for its use. So what are your options? Let’s take a look at a few modes for dealing commercial purposed images:
- Stock photos –
- Limited rights – this is where you provide limited rights of usage, i.e. web only specific websites, print publications for a limited number of publications, unlimited but with a pay per use clause. This option will require a fair bit of legal tap dancing to ensure that the usage clauses are well defined and that you are able to get future, let’s call them “royalties” from your images.
- Full rights – if you give your client full rights to the image the price should reflect that. In this option you forego any future income from “royalties”. If you transfer the rights, always make sure that you maintain the right to use the image in your portfolio, which may not be the case if you give them full exclusive rights. Here to you may want to give full rights of usage but deny them exclusive use.
This discussion really only touches the surface of the topic of the business model, I am sure I could write a book on this subject alone. The point of this is to open your eyes to the possibilities and give you some insight into what the elements of the decision process are. It is a first step only and there are many factors that you will want to consider, such as marketing (how will your customer perceive the service packages, what do you give as value added services…) financial (is the cost to benefit sufficient to proceed) time/resources (sometimes we just do not have the time or resources to do it all) and legal (when we talk about copy write ownership be prepared to have a lawyer look over the contracts).
- How to Get Started in Modeling by Bob PardueJune 8, 2013