One of the things that I notice a lot is that younger clients don’t understand why digital files are more expensive than prints. My older clients seem to get it but the young ones not so much. They think, “I’m not even getting anything! Just the digital file!”
Why are digital images so expensive?
Here’s the thing: They aren’t really expensive. The problem is that most people don’t realize what they are really getting when they get the digital file.
First, let me explain how most photographers make their money. They start by charging very little to take your picture. They know that you are much more likely to book a session for $50 than for $500 so they practically do it for free because they want you as a client.
Then, after doing all the hard work for practically nothing, they hope that they can sell you the finished product and pay their rent. So, when you buy a large print, you aren’t just paying for the cost of the physical print, you’re paying for all the work that went into creating it. It would be like someone saying, “I’ll build a house to your specifications for $50.” Then, after it’s finished they paint it and say, “I’ll sell you this for $100,000.” They aren’t selling you a $50 house with a $100,000 paint job.
So, understand that when you pay $50 for a professional photography session, you’ll be paying quite a bit more for the prints than you would at Costco. If we were to price ourselves correctly, we would charge you a bunch of money for the session and then sell the prints cheaply…. but no one would book us. People want to see what they are getting before they commit. So we basically do all the hard work for free and then make it up with the print sales.
But I still haven’t answered the question: Why are digital files so expensive compared to prints?
The tough part of being a professional photographer today is that there is almost nothing we sell that a person can’t buy somewhere else. (The exception is wedding albums. The really good ones are only sold to professional photographers). You can get prints anywhere… frames, books, custom cards… you name it. So, the only thing we have that can’t be bought somewhere is the actual image itself.
When someone wants to buy a digital file, we have to consider how much money we will lose by selling it. Most people don’t buy prints once they have the digital file. If they decide they want to use it for their holiday cards, they will do it online. If they want to send a copy to everyone in their family they post it on Facebook (they used to buy wallet prints from us). When you buy the digital file you are buying limitless possibilities for eternity. That file can be passed down for generations. It’s the goose that laid the golden egg. If you want to buy a digital file so you can print and frame yourself… and the photographer sells prints and frames… he’s going to charge you what he would charge for a print and frame.
Imagine going into Burger King and asking to purchase all the ingredients in a Whopper, already cooked and ready, but you’ll put the burger together yourself. Do you think they would charge you less money? Now imagine asking for the ingredients for hundreds of Whoppers. How much would that cost?
Another reason they seem expensive is because you get so many of them. If you were to buy 50 4×6 prints from me, it would cost more than buying 50 digital files. With those files you can print thousands of prints, cards, pillowcases, you name it… as well as posting online and making copies for hundreds of people. Digital files are a bargain!
However, there’s still good reason for printing with your photographer: Quality. When I sell digital files, I then reduce the cost of my prints. I know that my clients can go anywhere for prints but I also know that they will get a better print from me. Pro labs are better, hand-retouching is better.. try asking the kid at Wal-Mart to make your thighs thinner and see what happens. :)
Right about now, someone is reading this and thinking, “I know a guy who will shoot the entire session and give me the files for $50.” Well, I know that guy too. My question is this: Why are you reading this if you already know a great photographer who will do it for $50? I think we both know the answer. You can find someone to do it for $50 or you can find someone great to do it… but you can’t find someone great to do it for $50. Photographers are business people. We have huge expenses ($2000 for a lens and I need three of them, $3500 for a camera and I need two of them, etc) that are necessary to insure we create a top-notch product every time. (I see this with “volume” photographers all the time. I’ll get a job shooting portraits for a dance studio or a social function and the parents will say, “The last guy let us buy the digital files for $30. Why don’t you do that?” and I reply, “Why isn’t he back again this year if he did a great job and was dirt cheap?” The answer is always the same. It’s either, “The pictures weren’t really very good,” or “He’s out of business.”
So, remember: A gallon of milk will always cost less than the whole cow. (2-3 nice prints from your session will always be less than all the digital files)
And: The buffet with the lobster and caviar will always cost more than the one with the pizza and Chinese food. (The digital files from a great photographer will always cost more than the ones from a poor photographer.)