After I wrote the post “Selling CD’s Is The Road To Poverty” I have heard from many photographers.  I love reading your comments (except one young lady was a little hostile). Many photographers agreed, some photographers had questions.  After reading this post, some photographers started into the whole concept of new photography business thinking and old school thinking.  The idea of selling digital files is not a new one, nor is it always a bad idea.  I have been offering my seniors digital files of the images they ordered from (to increase the size of the order) since some of you were in grammar school.  The first thing that photographers have to get over is the old versus new way of thinking.  Photography will travel in new directions as younger ideas mixed with the tried and true ideas to profit those who have an open mind and a keen since of business.

If you consistently charge $1000 to $2000 for images on a DVD/CD you are obviously not the topic of this article, but if you do that you are definitely not the average photographer selling digital files only.  There are three primary reasons that selling only digital files are problematic.  First is the perceived value.  I spend a thousand dollars and am handed a CD/DVD?  Really?  This is like a “do it yourself portrait kit, right”?  Typically people who have that kind of money for a portrait session, don’t want to waste time having to take care of everything themselves.  We are in a service business and to hand someone a DVD isn’t providing service to the client.  It reminds me of the commercial which the guy is at the kitchen table holding a scalpel, with his doctor on the phone explaining how to do his own surgery.  He asks “shouldn’t you be doing this?”!

If your business with a client ends with you handing them a DVD, who helps each client determine the correct size of their wall portrait?  Who explains compositional changes in sizing?  Who explains anything?  As a professional, shouldn’t we see a client through the entire process instead of throwing them a DVD after the session is over?  As a professional isn’t that our JOB?

The second problem with selling only digital files is one of quality.  Who is going to print your images for each client?  Just the other day I needed some 5×7’s of a new dessert for my restaurant.  I was on my way to Costco, so I had my son upload the image and do the order online, since it would be faster than going to my lab at the studio.  When I picked up the images they had a slight purple cast and were very dark, although they looked great when the order was placed.  I knew it wasn’t a problem with the file, but if this happens to a client, what do they do?  How do they feel about you as a professional photographer?

The final problem with selling only digital files is probably the worst from a business standpoint.  You have a cap, or limit on the size of each sale.  They have all the images, what else are you going to sell them?    Add-on sales, wall portraits,  framing, portfolios, additional gift portraits and wallets are the things that help pay the bills on the slow months.

I really don’t care if good ideas come from the wisdom of the past or the vision of the future.  I am a business person, whether young or old, good ideas make you money, while dumb’assed ideas are just dumb’assed ideas!

For those Photographer in Southern Ca.  We just set up  OUTDOOR PORTRAITS BY DESIGN  a 4 hour outdoor workshop in Balboa Park, in San Diego on July 9th (Monday) from 12 to4pm  Register before 6/13  on $99  for more information go to:


~ by jeffsmithbooks on June 7, 2012.


  1. I’m convinced at this point about not selling CD’s, even at low resolutions with a minimum print order. I see that as a bread-and-butter approach to business. Once again, it’s perception.

    The problem I’m facing is giving the client a simplified pricing structure for prints while at the same time giving them the flexibility they want. I use a professional printing service as I’m sure many photographers do today. The question I have is should I keep the lab hidden from my clients. It’s much easier when using a lab to charge time (i.e. photographer’s printing fee) and materials (i.e. lab costs). Here’s one scenario:

    Photographer offers 4 print order types:
    – Client designed print package
    – Framed print
    – Canvas gallery wrap
    – Graduation cards

    Photographer’s printing fee:
    – First order of any type: $Y
    – Second order of any type: $Y/2
    – Each successive order of any type: $Y/4

    The client and I can visit Mpix immediately after the client image selections are made and place the order together. I can even upload a few of the selections and match them with their frame offerings. This does simplify the pricing structure and decouples my fees from the lab costs, but at the risk of exposing the client to the lab and its costs. Would love some opinions on this.

  2. Don, in a nutshell, you’re taking the easy way out. As a professional, you should take your client’s order and then deal with the lab behind the scenes. There is no need for a client to see what lab you use.

    It’s about SERVICE. Your client should place their order, and the next time they hear from you is the phone call that says “Hi, your order is here and it looks stunning. When can I deliver it and help you hang it on your wall?”

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