How a school photographer’s ‘special offer’ was symptomatic of the content industry’s problems

This week a photographer was at my children’s school taking pictures. Inside the package that was sent home for our purchasing choice was the following “Special offer”:

“Have all the [six printed and framed] photographs for £25 and we will email the images (max 3) copyright free for just £35 extra

Incredulously, my wife asked: “3 emailed images cost £10 more than 6 printed ones. How does that make sense?”

The more I thought about the “Special offer” the more I saw how symptomatic it was of content-based industries. Here are just 4 issues it brings up:

Don’t overvalue your content

Like newspapers who charge more for accessing one article online than they do for a whole bundle of articles in print, this photographer thinks his content is worth so much that he can charge almost 50% more for it in its ‘pure’ form.

But without the glossy paper and the framing, a school photo loses much of its symbolic charm for parents. Particularly when it is produced in the factory-line-like settings that characterise school photography (and, likewise, much journalism). He forgets that he is not selling an image, but a package.

As a content producer you may be aware of the overheads involved in producing digital content – but the consumer only sees savings: you as a producer don’t have to print it, you don’t have to package it, and indeed those costs are passed on to me as a consumer – so why are you trying to charge me more for it?

Copyright is worth nothing if it’s unenforceable

The mention of copyright in the photographer’s ‘special offer’ is a bad choice of words, for a number of reasons. Firstly, after some conversation with photographers on Twitter, I realised he was actually trying to say ‘you can send this to as many friends as you want’ but he’s using his own language, not ours as a consumer. It’s about his rights, not our benefits. Sound familiar?

Secondly, the legal overtones raise our hackles. This is a picture of our children – what are you going to do? Sell it to Corbis?

Finally, any veiled threat here is empty. If someone chooses to digitally copy and redistribute his content, the chances of him finding out about it are minimal. This is a battle he cannot win, and in raising the spectre of the law he is risking the relationship, the brand, and the service being provided.

Pricing is everything

Offer 20 parents who already have 6 printed photographs the opportunity to get 3 of them in an email for £35 and I would suggest 19 will say no.

Offer the same group of people the same opportunity at £10, and I would suggest maybe 5 will say yes. At £5, maybe 10 will say yes. At £2, maybe 18. These are estimates, but the general point is: sometimes you can make more money by charging less to more people.

In this situation the price needs to take into account – again – that you are not pricing content, but the convenience of a service. Someone will be willing to pay £5 to save themselves the trouble of scanning an image. At £35, they’ll save the money and scan it themselves if they need to.

It doesn’t matter what value you place on the content, it’s how much people are prepared to pay for it that sets the market.

Invest in new markets

The promising thing about the photographer’s ‘special offer’ is that he is thinking about new ways to sell his content beyond the printed product.

If he’s serious about this new market, then, he needs to invest in it, and in terms of strategy – not just kit.

Digital images could be used as a distribution strategy, not just a sale. He could partner with framing companies to offer premium framing options for parents and relatives online. There are all kinds of ways he could reinvent the school photography process as a package; as a service.

But if he thinks that he has the same monopoly on content that he did in the school snapshots market, he needs to think again. The barrier to entry has been lowered; and in contrast to his commodified product are a dozen community producers (let’s call them Uncle Dick with his SLR and Mum with her scanner at work and everyone in the family with a mobile phone camera) who might not have the same technical standards but care enough about what they’re doing to produce decent work that makes a connection.

It’s a metaphor being repeated in all kinds of industries, and few seem to be learning any lessons from it.

Thanks to @Sharl and @Brendadada for working these ideas through with me on Twitter

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One thought on “How a school photographer’s ‘special offer’ was symptomatic of the content industry’s problems

  1. Bob Mitchell

    Completely agree, but consider that the photographer in question may have been split-testing the response rate from differently priced offers.

    No. I don’t think so either.

    Reply

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