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I want to get a really nice photo album for myself, without going through some middleman. Why do so many companies require that I be a "professional photographer" before they'll talk to me?

Example of several I've found while searching:

Is this sort of a buddy thing, where they want to make sure the middlemen don't get undercut? Like maybe why would I pay my photographer $500 for an album, when I could buy it direct for $100?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Two reasons:

  1. They don't have the time/patience to deal with amateurs/brides.

  2. They don't want to get in the middle of any copyright issues by dealing with images from someone who may not actually own the rights to have them assembled into a book.

I honestly suspect #1 is the prime reason. They price their services with the assumption that they have a very minimal amount of back and forth so they can get the images and design choices in a bundle, do the work and hand it back. They don't have the time budgeted to go back and forth with every random consumer that wants their one album. They'll happily invest the single time effort to train a pro how to submit work to them, knowing that once they've done it they'll be able to get album after album in from the pro in a consistent format and be able to turn it around in a set amount of effort that they built their pricing around. Pros that prove to not meet that expectation will get dropped. Either explicitly and directly, or just by having their work de-prioritized to the point they get the hint and go somewhere else.

(disclaimer, I'm talking from a general feeling in the industry, not about those three in particular.)

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10  
You hit the nail on the head... It's: 50% that the industry relies on efficiency for its profit margin and amateurs are simply a pain in the butt who need their hand held every step of the way, draining time and thus profit margin, 45% the fact that in most cases an amateur will never be a repeat customer, so any time spent on them is even more an unrecoverable cost, and 5% the high likelihood that the average amateur would be submitting pictures he/she doesn't have the rights to submit... –  Jay Lance Photography Feb 19 '11 at 8:07

There is a separate issue that cabbey didn't touch on, and it is a common one in services to business -- hiding prices from consumers helps their business customers in a big way.

If Company X will create an album for me at price Y, then why are you charging me so damned many Ws for the album?

All your customer can see is the cost to have the album produced. You might be able to get away with shipping and sales tax, but forget about cropping, resizing, retouching, colour correction, business administration time associated with the album or any of the other expenses you may have -- never mind the markup. With weddings in particular, the photographer's customer sees him/her snapping pictures for a couple of hours (even if you're there all day and well into the evening, it only registers as "a couple of hours") -- nobody sees the week of work that goes into creating the package that's delivered at the end of it all.

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I go through this question quite a bit at work (I am not a pro photographer), where we sell business to business not to end consumer. There are additional challenges as Cabbey outlined with doing work directly with the end consumer. The main one being the amount of training in the process that is needed.

Having said that I can say that you can find some solutions that are still cost effective with a little looking around. Going to your local camera store, not a box store but a real camera store with accessories and tools for photographers, they can often provide some of these services. There are also online solutions that have some good resources for printing albums. My personal favorite is SmugMug as they have the tools to assist with the process as well as having options for what provider you want to use. You can check it out at http://www.smugmug.com/prints/catalog/AB#More

Disclaimer - I am not a SmugMug employee just a very satisfied customer that knows a few of the employees. If you would like a referral code, just let me know I will share mine.

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2  
also, working b2b exclusively can cut down on the paperwork for corporate tax returns (non salestax etc.) –  jwenting Feb 21 '11 at 10:20
    
Finding a real camera store these days is about as easy as finding a real hardware store. BTW, I'm another happy SmugMug customer! –  Caleb Jan 3 at 22:06

You may think the pro markup is astronomical but in reality, the actual cost of these types of high end books that are only available to pro photographers typically begin at $350. And that's only for a 10 page, simple cover 10x10 book. When you start changing sizes, cover options such as metal or photo covers, gilding, hinged pages, substrates, imprinting and more, the out of pocket cost to the photographer can easily reach$700-$800 or more. So don't automatically assume just because it's from the actual manufacturer that it will be cheap.

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This is just business, and is not unique to photography. I'm a electrical engineer and have a consulting company that also sells small gizmos on the side that I designed. I won't sell you certain things directly either. The broad reasons are the same regarless of industry.

For example, we just got another lot of 1000 made of one particular gizmo. After adding up all the costs, these cost us $3.95 each to have fully built, tested, delivered to our office, and includes the cost of managing the build process. We sell them to one reseller for about $10.50 in lots of 10s to 100 or so and they resell individual units for $14.95. That's actually a very small reseller markup, which is because they take them on consignment. In other words, they don't pay for stock, but pay me once a quarter for units sold, usually with a order for what they think they need to replenish stock for the next quarter.

There is no way I'd sell you one, even for the $14.95 full street price. The $11 profit just isn't worth the hassle of putting it into a box, shipping it, accounting for and charging you the postage, etc. If we sold 1000s a quarter we could probably afford a lacky to pack and ship boxes, but the volumes don't justify that. However, the real reason is you'll expect my attention and support that will greatly outweigh the $11 profit.

In another case, we sell units that cost us $17 to produce to resellers for $36, which they sell for around $48 while we publish a list price of $59. Even if you wanted to pay me $50 for one I'd refuse for two reasons. First, you're going to suck up my time. Just one phone call and whatever profit I made is blown on lost consulting time. Second, I don't want to undercut the resellers. I need to let them make a profit selling my stuff, else they won't be selling it. If I regularly take business away from them, then they aren't going to make money and will stop selling my product. The $12/unit they cost me is well worth the publicity, front line support, and fulfillment they provide.

I expect the business logic behind the photo albums to be basically the same. They are not set up to deal with and support the end customer, and need to let their resellers (the professional photographers) make a buck on their stuff, else those resellers will go resell something else. It's just basic business.

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