We hear it time and time again: Nobody buys prints anymore. But is that really true, or are some of us just tired of pervasive consumer entitlement regarding digital files? Don’t throw in the towel on selling prints just yet. No one is arguing that we don’t live in a digital age. But just because consumers expect to get digital files doesn’t mean they don’t also want physical prints to hang on walls or share in albums. Let’s reevaluate where digital files fall within the spectrum of what was, what is, and what will be.
There are plenty of reasons that print still holds great value to consumers. And there are plenty of reasons that digital files make sense for them, too, even for photographers who are print-focused. The key is to reframe reality, build your business mindset, and learn to position all options in a positive light to clients.
If you’re not selling prints at this moment, you’re leaving money on the table because your clients are printing your images. They’re just not getting prints from you. Therefore, you’re actively turning away profit on something your clients value.
Understand that you’re never going to escape questions about digital images. So, if you’re not already offering to sell digital files, you’re also actively turning away profit for something your clients value.
Both truths are rooted in the same cause: fear. Photographers who offer only digital images fear that clients will resent being asked to pay for them. These photographers battle imposter syndrome and undervalue their work. Photographers who offer only print products fear loss—of profit, control, and value as an artist.
In the past 15 years, the desire for digital files has only increased among consumers, but they have relatively little understanding about what they’re purchasing. Photographers need to remember that when a client receives digital files from their session, they’re purchasing art; it’s just on a different medium than we traditionally think of.
Digitals provide a lot of benefit for clients. They offer freedom from committing to printed art when they may not be ready to pull the trigger. They offer flexibility in ways that printed art never could. Now they have a phone background or a new social media profile photo. Don’t think that’s important? How many times do you pick up your phone per day? How many times do you check the likes on your posts? Those things matter to your clients, too. But they don’t necessarily understand that they’re not buying digital information; they’re buying art. The value you deliver is not in the pixels or the ink; it’s in your expertise as a professional, their session experience, and the quality of the images you create.
One of the downsides of social media is the incessant tendency to compare ourselves to other photographers, other markets, and other entrepreneurs. It hurts to see posts featuring large wall art installations in the home of another photographer’s client. Resentment kicks in. Why can’t I sell art like that? Why do my clients hem and haw about digital files like they’re entitled to them? Why don’t my clients ask me to create prints like that?
When we make comparisons like this, it affects the way we think about ourselves and our business. We start to believe there are things we’re not doing correctly. When that happens, instead of focusing on what’s not working, challenge yourself to adapt to the market on your terms. Almost every creative industry has been impacted by how well it’s adapted to digital mediums. With great change comes great opportunity. Instead of fear, think of all the positives that come with selling digital files and prints:
By selling both print and digital, you have an advantage over 90 percent of your competitors. By selling both, you’re increasing your profit per client and ensuring you don’t overwork yourself. It’s good entrepreneurship.
You’ve heard of the power of positive thinking, but what about the power of positive positioning? When clients ask about digital files, we need to explain in positive terms the variety of products they can purchase, including printed and digital images. It’s also important that we don’t neglect talking to them about the whole experience they’ll have with us, what an amazing time they’ll enjoy as we guide them through their session and advise them on the products that will best suit their needs. Not only do they get the experience of working with you, but they also get the experience of designing their heirlooms from start to finish.
When we start from a mindset of service to our clients, the imposter syndrome slowly starts to lose its grip. Our focus becomes listening to their needs, addressing their concerns, and using our expertise to guide them to their best options. All of this leads to a satisfied client with an increased value perception about us and what we provide.
Professional photographers have learned to embrace the beauty in duality: one part artist, one part entrepreneur. There is no debate about print versus digital, only an industry in which both have a place going forward.
Bethany Ellen owns Bethany Ellen Artistic Imagery in Cincinnati, Ohio.