Print Rights: To Sell, or Not To Sell?

Selling print rights: it’s a quandary over which many professional photographers agonize. Should you offer them? Should you not? How much should you charge? Is it worth it?

It’s difficult for many photographers to sign over what they regard as their livelihood. Print sales are often how photographers make the bulk of their profits, so each professional must decide for himself or herself whether handing over a disc of edited images with full carte blanche is a wise business decision, but there are a few points to consider before shooting and burning.

First, consider the money you’re making (or lack thereof) with the sale of print rights. Most photographers who simply “shoot and burn,” the practice of photographing a session, editing the images, then throwing the files on a disc for the client, are probably charging a minimal amount, a couple hundred dollars at best. Photographers who sit down with clients, displaying print options, such as canvases and albums, though they may be putting in more time, are bringing in hundreds if not thousands of dollars more from every single client. So if you’re giving a disc away for practically nothing, you’re probably cheating yourself.

What About Quality Control?

Quality control is another thing to contemplate when giving away the print rights to images without providing prints. When the client has control over when and where the photos get printed, there’s a good chance they’re going to the cheapest consumer photo kiosk they can find, which is almost guaranteed to not do your work justice. You might be tempted to shrug your shoulders at that concept, but considering that most new clients probably come through referrals, can you really take that big of a hit on your workload because your clients are displaying sub-par 8x10s in their hall?

But, you may say, your clients want the print rights. Then what? To hold onto the integrity of your work and your business, don’t list the availability of print rights on your price list. If someone asks, tell them it’s not something you offer. Most people won’t care; it’s just something about which they feel they need to inquire.

A Middle Road Solution

If you think you might lose a good client over it, try a different approach. At our studio, we offer only medium-resolution files – meaning they can only print up to an 8×10 – and only after they have purchased a package or spent a certain amount on prints. That way, we guarantee they are getting high-quality products, that they’ll come back to us if they need more large display pieces, and with a pretty high price tag, we’re making money on it too.

The bottom line is that you’re in this game to earn a living and you want your work to reflect your professionalism. So before you sit down with your next client, decide how much you’re worth, what’s going to help your business thrive, and stick with it! You’ll be glad you did.

One Response to “Print Rights: To Sell, or Not To Sell?”

  1. What is meant by 'medium res file that can be printed to 8x10'? You give a client an 8x10 @ 300ppi and they will be just fine with printing a 16x20 or higher at a lower ppi.

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