Up until a few years ago, the business model for photographers was pretty straightforward: charge for the actual shooting time at a wedding or portrait session, and make more money on the prints. The photographer would usually retain the negatives (yes, children, photography once used film) in order to control the revenue flow from the prints. Today, we can’t rely on that model because our clients consume images in an entirely different way.
When my wife and I married in the late ‘90s, our photographer’s end product was the album containing all the photos that he shot during the ceremony and reception. He was an exceptional photographer, and he did business in an exceptional way: he also gave us the negatives. Back then, that was truly rare. He must have realized that he had made his money from the event, and didn’t want to incur the cost and risk of storing our negatives. Most photographers back then expected to see revenue from print sales. In our case, our photographer made the correct choice, since we haven’t felt the need to make more prints.
At that time – the old days of the late Twentieth Century – the Internet was just starting to take off. Many people weren’t online, and not everyone had an email account. Social media wasn’t even a thing yet. The world has changed since then. About ¾ of the U.S. population has Internet access, and statistically, about 74% of those people use some form of social media. And, that is where the average photography customer wants to use images. They don’t want an album of prints moldering in their closet, unseen by their friends.
As photographers, we need to sell our clients something they will use. Just as none of us has a carousel of vacation slides that we pull out and project on the wall when friends come over, none of us pulls out the wedding album. If we show our photos to friends, we do so using our phones or tablets. Instead of a bunch of prints hanging on the wall, or in the cubicle at work, they have digital frames giving a perpetual slideshow of their wedding images, plus vacation photos and other images. The idea of making money on prints has passed.