If you're a photographer who is giving your clients their images on a disc, you don't care about your business or your clients. Sound harsh? I'm sure it does but I believe with every fiber of my being that it's the truth.
When I started my photography business, I began in wedding photography. At the time, including a disc of images with the digital photos was pretty standard. I was new to the business so I assumed if everyone else was doing it, it must be right. I gave a disc of high res images to every client whose wedding I shot and never looked back. It was nice to not to have to bother with album designs or ordering prints from the lab. Instead of having Aunt Ruth coming to me for a 5×7, I could simply tell her to have the bride and groom email it to her. I was happy, the clients were happy because they got “all the photos” and all was right in the world, right?
Wrong. I stopped shooting weddings a few years ago as my portrait business exploded. In portraiture, at that time, images on a disc was unheard of, so I sold print collections, albums, wall portraits, etc. to my new clients. They loved the high quality products I was giving them from a professional lab and I liked knowing that the images they were showing off were printed well, not by some kid making minimum wage at the local department store.
Over the past few years, the “pics on a disc” business model has invaded portrait photography like a virus. New photographers have latched onto the idea and coupled it with dirt cheap prices. They think it's is a superb idea. Their clients, who are seeking a “good deal” like it too. After all, they can take their disc to Walmart and print out a plethora of 4x6s for a couple dollars. What could go wrong?
Everything is going wrong. Giving your clients their images on a disc is giving them “half” a product. It would be like going to the car dealership and having them sell you the body and wheels, but no engine. It would be like going in for surgery and paying the doctor for the operation, but having him tell you that you need to stitch yourself up. Why does anyone think this is a good idea?
At one of the last weddings I shot, I happily bumped into former wedding clients. I had photographed their wedding a few years earlier and loved catching up with them. During our conversation, the husband mentioned to me in an off handed way that they had lost their disc in a move. They had never got around to printing their photos even though they loved them. I was happy to burn them a new disc, but what if I would have moved or gone out of business or even died? They would have had nothing left of their wedding but memories.
In a related anecdote, I was recently contacted by another former wedding client asking me if I could have some large wall portraits printed for him and his wife from their wedding photos – a wedding I had shot 8 years prior. He explained that they looked at their pics on their computer all the time, but with kids, jobs, etc. never got around to printing anything. Now that they were ready to get some large photos, they didn't know where to go to have them printed and, quite frankly, didn't want to be bothered with it. So, their disc of photos, which they had paid me good money to create, was basically worthless.
Stories like that are bound to happen even more frequently in portraiture. If you hand your clients a disc of images and expect them to do all the work of printing the photos or making collages or designing albums, you're showing them that you don't want to take the time and make the effort to give them a true finished product. You're being lazy and cheap and you're justifying it by telling yourself, “That's what they want.” but the customer doesn't know any better. You're the pro – you should.
What your clients don't need is a disc of dozens of files and to be left on their own to figure out crop ratios, to find a good printing lab, to figure out whether the prints they get back are too dark or have a magenta color cast or if the paper is of low quality and will fade in a few years. Why should your clients be forced to go to Shutterfly or Blurb and design their own albums? Why are you telling them that your doing “half” the job is good enough?
If you're basically a hobbyist who takes photos for fun and a little money, maybe giving “pics on a disc” is the right choice for you. But if you're professional photographer who is going the disc route, you're sabotaging your business and cheating your clients out of the professional product they deserve.