From “Free” to “Fee” II

policy-feesPhotography used to mean you shot a roll of film and had to wait a week to see if your pictures even turned out. That delay put a lot more pressure on photographers, which put a premium on the pros and their craft. Enter the digital age…

Photography is everywhere now; and it’s instant. Virtually anyone can shoot suitable pictures from the device pulled straight from their pocket, but of course, for the really big moments, you still want to bring in the pros. With digital came the death of film, but with the death of film came the boom of data storage. Data storage unto itself has come a long way. I remember when a 256MB thumb drive cost about $50. Fast forward to 2012, and I just purchased a 1.5 TERABYTE drive for about $89. That’s over 5800 thumb drives worth!

So where am I going with this? I’m a former/current rower/coach. In rowing, event photos are very popular. There are a few companies that attend the big races and shoot all the crews. Back in my racing day (mid-90s), if you wanted a picture from your race, you went to see your proof hanging in the expo tent, write the corresponding image number down on and order form, and mail it in. If you didn’t write that number down, well, you could still get the picture, but it required sitting on the phone with one of their customer service reps playing detective. If you waited too long after the event, odds are you weren’t going to buy one. In essence, these photos became a perishable good.

These days, proofs are posted online within hours, conveniently searched for in seconds, and easily archived for future reference and potential purchase. Data storage and the internet became their single best marketing tool, enabling athletes the ability to buy their pictures years after the initial thrill of the moment. In essence, data storage has extended the “shelf life” of these images and enabled this company to convert many more sales.

This company obviously makes its money off the sale of pictures. $34.95 gets you a 18″x12″ glossy print, with up-charge options for special matting, framing, etc. All-in-all a fair price considering they are providing a professional service, paying to send photographers to the event, for their time, and to cover overhead of things like, camera equipment, running a website, creating the prints and shipping materials. Pretty good deal for a professionally captured memory.

I recently had a stroke of nostalgia and thought a photo from a race back in the day would make a good birthday present for a college bud. So I looked up our old crew, found a picture I liked, and hit the check-out button. And that’s when I saw it…

1x 18″x12” Glossy Print ………………………………$34.95

1x Archive fee (for photos older than 4 years) …..…..$8.95

1x Shipping ……………………………………….……..$4.95

Did you see it? A near $9 “Archive fee.” Are you kidding me?

So I am essentially being punished with a 25% fee for providing this company revenue and profit well after I otherwise normally would have.

And come on- $8.95 to store my picture?! By my math, at today’s prices, it costs $0.003 to store one 50MB file (approx size for a high-res photo). Add in $10/hour for some intern to scan old pictures in all day, and suddenly the price sky-rockets to arguably $0.25-$0.50 per image. At $8.95, that’s a mark-up of 1690%.

There’s a word in the business world used to describe this “archiving” – it’s called inventory – and it should be built into your overhead. Without an investment in inventory, you don’t have a product to sell. It would be like WalMart charging a separate “stocking” fee for every item you purchase. Because after all, if they hadn’t put that box of Corn Flakes on the shelf in advance, you couldn’t have had the privilege of buying it. So that’s gonna cost extra.

Dear Photography Company: You sell photos. In order to sell photos, you have to stock photos. In this case, your shelves and warehouse are mechanical towers of data storage devices. Ok fine, you need to pay interns to upload all this old data. And you need more servers to store more and more files as events unfold. But the act of actually charging me a separate fee for it? It’s like you want to point out what a huge favor you are doing and think I should be thanking you for the business. In my humble consumer opinion, that’s a horrible way to nurture a relationship, and an even worse marketing tactic.

Well, charge me once, shame on you. Charge me twice? Not a chance. I had envisioned myself buying more photos from you down the road. But not any more. Not if I’m going to be charged extra for the privilege of doing business with you. The digital age made this sale possible for you, and instead of being a brilliant marketing tool, budgeted for and built into your costs, you exploited it. And worse still, you had the arrogance to flaunt it in my face.

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