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Making Money On Prints

 

Thanks to the miniaturisation and digitisation of printers, and the extensive range of services provided by online portfolio and print providers, today’s events and social photographers don’t have to choose between the tortoise and the hare when it comes to print sales - they can back both.

Though successful events photographers will generally tell you that it’s all about the hot dog seller approach - generating prints from a dye sub, and selling them as quickly as possible while you have a captive audience - there are also those who will claim they receive a healthy kickback from additionally handing out business cards or discount vouchers. Those guests who prefer less of a hard sell can then go online at their leisure, view shots from the event, and place an order that way.

The same tricks can be co-opted by wedding and social photographers. Whereas at one time it was a case of shooting the wedding first, and sorting out the prints a few weeks down the line, enterprising freelances today are hiring assistants or even photo booths to generate souvenir prints for guests on the big day. When times are tough, it’s all about making opportunities work harder for you, and maximising revenue.

f2 talked to the experts in print, to find out the current options when it comes to print fulfilment and photofinishing, which could lead to a boost in your sales.

 

System Insight

“Though we’re still finding photographers who don’t print at an event, give it 20 or 30 years and they’ll start to wake up”, says MD of events specialist System Insight, Stuart Morley, with a wry smile.

 The Southampton-based company offers bespoke dye sub printer packages. Unusually, Morley and his staff are successful events photographers in their own right, and tutor their peers in business strategy.

 “We are the only company in the UK who actually do the job for which we sell the equipment”, he says. “What we’ve found in dealing with fellow photographers for the past seven years is that, when it comes to being commercial, they are the best part of useless. They are always moaning that new people are getting into the industry, but the reason for this is quite simply that they are not satisfying the customer.

 “A classic example was we had someone ring up to ask if we print at the event, which we do. She had a guy who had been shooting the same event for the past six years, who wouldn’t print on the night, and yet was charging £3000. At that money, he could have gone out, bought a printer, done the job, thrown it away afterwards, and still made money. So she used us instead. The key in any business is to adapt and move forward to avoid being left out."

Morley singles out Mitsubishi and HiTi dye sub machines as the most apt equipment for print fulfilment at an event or wedding, reasoning that a printer able to produce a variety of picture sizes - so there’s a greater chance of providing what the customer wants - is sensible.

He further advises that, unless you’re mocking up a magazine cover as a photo gift, smaller print sizes, from 6x4ins to 6x9, will prove more popular than the standard 8x10. The HiTi P510S at just under £1000 is the company’s bestseller, by more than 2:1. Morley reasons that this is because it can be used as a standalone device thanks to a built-in screen, allows for a template overlay to be put on the print, and offers wireless shooting and passport photos.

“Freelances think that to make money you need to produce a stunning image. Not so, unless you’re doing fine art”, he continues. Morley believes that freelances are all looking for that ‘silver bullet’: the thing they need in order to make a success of their business, and that it is not just about buying the latest or flashiest kit.

“The key to it all is what the Americans call ‘The Call Girl Principle’”, he says. “That is, the value of any product or service diminishes in proportion to the amount of time since it was delivered. If you have a situation where you’re taking a photo, the key thing is to sell it at that point. And, these days, there’s no reason not to do that.

“The only time using an online print service works is if you can’t fulfil the order there and then - if you’re shooting a fun run or marathon, for example, where people don’t tend to come to the finish line with £10 in their pocket, and they can barely stand up - let alone carry a print away. Otherwise, you’re going to make more print sales at an event or function than a week later, because people are ‘in the moment’. It is an emotional purchase. In the morning, they’re sober and have forgotten about the event, and typically they’ve moved on.” 

Although the make of printer chosen is important, Morley acknowledges they’re all similar. “Best to start off small, and grow your kit as your business grows”, he advises, adding that events printers fall into two groups: those that do 6x4, 7x5, 6x8 and 6x9, and those that do 10x8 and 12x8.

“You change the size of the print dependent on the job you’re doing”, he says. “We shot Epsom Ladies’ Day last year, and all anyone wanted there was a 6x4, because it would fit in their handbag. You need to get into the customers’ mind to understand what the best product is. 

“People out there now are asking for onsite printing, so if you don’t do it, you’re missing out.”

 

Photomart

Another option is to talk to the team at London-based Photomart. The firm offers a one-stop shop for all things photographic, but has a particular affinity with events photography. Of its 18,000 regular customers, 5000 are events photographers.

Senior Marketing Manager Jurie Gryffenberg notes that the firm has seen an increasing number of enquiries from social photographers looking at events as a ‘bolt on’ to their existing business.

Gryffenberg is keen to point out that theirs is not a mere box shifting operation, and that by not being tied into one particular printer manufacturer Photomart can tailor solutions to suit each photographer. For example, it offers kit from Epson, Fuji, HiTouch, Kodak, Mitsubishi, and Japanese giant Dai Nippon Printing (DNP), pioneers of dye sub technology, the latter under its Fotolusio brand.

Recently launched, the DNP Snaplap, formerly a Sony product, is aimed at events photographers. Also popular at Photomart is the DNP DS40 professional instant printer, part of the dye sub range that has won the DIMA Awards’ Digital Printer Shoot-Out for three consecutive years.

With a cost per 9x6ins print of 8.5p, Gryffenberg believe this is one of the most cost effective print options on the market. It has an internal print path to stop dust intruding, is compact, and uniquely enables gloss and matt printing from the same roll of media. The alternative is the DS80, which prints up to 8x12ins.

As f2 went to press, Photomart had just just been appointed UK distributor for the Citizen range of printers, with two new models poised to hit the market. It had also begun to distribute the high-capacity Shinko CIAAT printer, which prints up to 6x12ins, and can produce 650 6x4ins prints per roll.

 

Prints on demand

The alternative to printing yourself at an event, social gathering or wedding, is to farm out your print orders, which these days largely means uploading them via FTP to an online print service. As well as being a cost effective, fuss free route for some freelances, such sites also now offer very quick turnarounds on print orders, typically next day.

Freelances wanting to concentrate on the business of taking photographs, rather than fulfilment, could do worse than investigate Pro Am Imaging. A division of the Bradford Camera Exchange, it has been in the photofinishing business for almost 25 years, has been SWPP Pro Lab of the Year for the past two years. It prides itself on its customer service, and most of its customers are part or full time professionals.

“We work with all types of photographers: portrait, aerial, fine art, schools … and handle a lot of weddings, too”, says John Greenwood, the company’s Managing Director. “We have clients as far as New York, and deal with every part of the UK.

“The maximum size silver halide print our machines can do is 12x18ins, on Fujicolor DP II Professional paper, with either gloss or lustre finish. We offer large format prints through our other division based in Halifax (prophotoprints.co.uk), which can do roll printing to a width of 44ins.”

For a 6x8ins print, the charge is 26p + VAT. For an 18x12, the price rises to £1.06 + VAT, with the cost per print remaining a constant irrespective of the quantity ordered. Minimum postage charge is £5.

“We try and send everything over as soon as it arrives”, says Greenwood. “If it arrives correctly profiled, nothing’s here longer than a day.

“We have a fully customised profile system that is unique to our machinery, paper and chemistry. It’s spot on, and gets many compliments. If customers follow the instructions on our website properly, and are using a well calibrated monitor, we should be able to emulate what they’ve produced exactly. Our print service puts the photographer in charge.”

 

Simlab

Simlab, the photofinishing arm of digital album supplier Sim2000, is the go-to lab for social and events freelances wanting a fast and cost effective turnaround. “Every freelance has their own method of working”, says Simlab’s MD Lee Simpson. “There are those who want to print on the day, and those who would rather sort that out later. For a 6x8ins print on a dye sub, you’re typically looking at around 30p, plus set up costs. The benefit of using us is that our prices start at 12p for a 6x4ins. And, if you get the order in to us by 1pm, it will come back to you via courier the next morning.”

6x8 and 6x9 prints are the most popular sizes for events photographers, for which Simlab’s prices are 25p and 30p plus VAT respectively, regardless of order size. Minimum print spend is £5. Postage and packaging is one fixed price of £5, regardless of how many prints. “So with minimum print spend and postage, you’re looking at £12 including VAT”, says Simpson. With Simlab customers being wedding and portraitists in the main, its events photographers are, says Lee, typically those who will have shot at an event at the weekend, uploaded their images on the Sunday night, and Simlab will send them out Monday.

It’s also worth noting that larger scale digital printing has revolutionised the market, to the extent that it can be easier, and moreover cheaper, to farm that out to an online print service, rather than produce it yourself.“We’re very competitive on large format prints,” says Simpson. “We do a 24x16ins photographic print for £10.50, or a 30x20ins print for £15. Again, you’re just paying the £5 delivery, so a way to do it cost effectively is to combine small print and large print orders.”

A Noritsu mini lab is used to fulfil orders for anything up to 12x36ins. Simpson notes that a lot of wedding photographers will buy 10x10, 12x12 or 8x8 albums from an album supplier, and source the prints from Simlab to slot into place. “We do quite a lot of that, but have just started doing a range of wedding albums and black presentation boxes ourselves”, he continues, adding that delivery charge on these is still the flat £5.

 

DS Colour Labs

Manchester based DS Colour Labs is a family business offering a range of services, taking in online photo prints, canvas prints, poster prints, acrylic panels and blocks, photo gifts, calendars and photo books.

“It’s possible for a freelance who submits a large job of pictures for printing at 3pm to receive them the following morning”, says MD Jonathan Porter. “We  give  freelances the quality they need at an affordable price, with 27p inc VAT for a 6x8, and £1.25 for an 18x12.

Fitzlab

A further choice for freelances is Fitzlab, a pro photo lab offering an online print service, run by social and portrait photographer John Fitzgerald out of Guernsey, which means that while he is simpatico with professionals’ needs first hand, there’s also no VAT on orders under £15 despatched to the UK.

With social and schools photographers from the island, as well as the whole of the UK, making up the bulk of his customers, he acknowledges that printing on site does tend to work better for events photographers.

“It’s very much a case that, if the customer can take it away with them, it solves an awful lot of logistic problems for freelances”, says Fitzgerald. “But getting around that slightly, we use Digital Asset Solutions’ photo order system, so freelances can upload their pictures and sell them online, and we provide the print fulfilment.

“The way it works is, the photographer uploads thumbnails and sends us a CD of the high res images. The order will come through, and we’ll fulfil it and send it out. The online order system can be skinned so that it looks very similar to your home page.”

For a 6x8ins print from a digital file, the cost is 95p or from film £2.20, but dependent on the level of service required and scale of the order, there are further discounts offered. For example, if ordering 200 6x8s, the cost per print goes down to 40p. There’s no minimum order, with a flat £3.60 postal charge to the UK, no matter how big or small the order, if made online.

“These prices are for colour corrected prints”, says Fitzgerald. “We offer colour profiling, and will work with freelances to get the look they want.” It’s these little touches that have undoubtedly helped Fitzlab go from strength to strength over the past 25 years, and could do the same for your own business when it comes to making money from prints.

 

f2

Print fulfilment services

www.dscolourlabs.co.uk

www.fitzlab.com 

www.proamimaging.com 

www.prophotoprints.co.uk

www.simlab.co.uk 

Dye sub printer & events specialists 

www.systeminsight.co.uk 

www.photomart.co.uk

 

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This article is taken from Vol 5 No 10. THE BUSINESS 20. Making Money On Prints.