Albums 101 – The Art and Business of Album Design
Learn every step involved in choosing an album, pricing your albums, creating a workflow and turning albums into profit centers.
If albums are not part of your business, you are leaving thousands of dollars on the table. For a busy wedding or portrait shooter, adding an album strategy can mean tens of thousands of extra dollars per year. To create an album profit center, an efficiently creating albums is necessary. This tutorial will take you through every step involved in choosing an album, pricing your albums, creating a workflow and turning albums into profit centers.
Types of Albums and Uses
There are four main types of albums. It’s very important to have a clear understanding of different album types, how they are made and their main function in running a profitable studio.
1. The Matted Album
The popularity of matted albums is waning, but there are still plenty of brides looking for them. The matted album is made with images under mattes and cutouts revealing the images. Much like a photo in a photo frame with a matte, a matted album usually has multiple openings cut into the mattes for displaying multiple images. It is possible both to order pre-designed mattes and to assemble pre-designed albums, or do a custom-designed album and the album company will custom cut mattes based on your design.
Matted albums generally are more expensive than other options. In addition to the binding, printing and so forth, you’re also paying for the mattes. Because of the higher costs, most matted albums are sold as wedding albums, which can fetch a higher price. There are some album manufacturers that sell pre-made albums with pre-made mattes and it is possible to produce these at very similar costs to lower-priced flush mount albums.
2. Flush Mount Albums
Flush mounts are the dominant album in the world of digital photography. They combine the unlimited possibility of digital layout and design, with the beauty of old-world, handcrafted books. As a photographer, flush mount albums allow you to present your photography as a work of art. Additionally, the pages are thicker than press-printed albums. When they are manufactured, the prints are adhered to a thick card backing. This gives the pages a heavier, more durable feeling that increases the perceived value over press printed books. The majority of flush mount albums are made with photo paper and prints. The prints are often laminated with a protective film or spray. There are a few flush mount album manufacturers who will use press prints to make flush mount albums. I’m not a fan of that process.
Flush mount albums can be used for both wedding and portrait albums. Most wedding studios carry flush mount albums of some sort. Studios are able to sell wedding albums that the majority of clients cannot reproduce easily at Costco or through a service like iPhoto.
There are a number of photographers who sell flush mount albums as portrait albums. Personally, I find this difficult as most flush mount albums are only available with a minimum of 20 pages. I find 20 pages to be too many for a typical portrait shoot. Sure, photographers can fill 20 pages, but are the pages filled with their best work? Additionally, a 20-page flush mount album is at a high enough price point that the retail price a photographer needs to charge will be higher than the average portrait client will want to pay.
3. Press printed books
Press printed books are extremely popular. It seems that every lab in the country is offering these books at very inexpensive prices. The problem is that Costco, Walmart and Walgreens sell them too. I’m not a big fan of offering press books in the studio. The reason simply has to do with profit. The process of designing an album, getting it approved by the client, uploading the design and ordering it takes an enormous amount of time and energy. That means a significant amount of the cost of producing albums is in the labor. If we choose a cheaper press printed book that has more pages than a self mount, we are basically increasing our costs for an album that sells at a lower price.
Most people use press printed books as inexpensive options for wedding albums and portrait albums. I don’t recommend this as a business strategy. It’s simply taking money out of your pocket. Some people use press printed books as parent album options. This is really the only case that I would recommend using press printed books. However, I would still offer a flush mount as a parent album over a press printed book.
4. Self Mount Albums
Self mount albums had a “low-brow” reputation for awhile due to cheap Chinese imports of self mount albums with cheap, fake leather and poor construction. With the emergence of new flush mount album companies, self mount albums have been given a new life. They sport sturdy construction and beautiful high-end cover options. As an example, Finao Albums offers dozens of high-end Japanese and Italian art fabrics for its self mount albums and dozens of leathers and options. All of these choices help you provide a higher end product, which will help you command a higher price.
When choosing which albums to offer, many photographers buy on price. I recommend buying on profit. With a higher quality album (which may be slightly more expensive) we often can command a higher price and increase profit per album, even though our costs might be higher.
How to Price your Albums
Your three primary costs are the cost of the album, the labor for designing the album, and shipping and handling. To price correctly, you must know your costs.
There is no magic number for the price of an album. But there is a magic formula. In order to calculate this formula you need to simply know the cost of the album, the cost of the labor to design it and the cost of shipping. Some may not want to mark up shipping. It takes time to get the shipped item, unpack it, check it, repackage it and then ship it off. Handling is a big cost and it should be accounted for and marked up.
Here is an example:
$200 = cost of album
$75 = cost of design (3 hrs)
$15 = cost of shipping
We add these up for a total of $290. Now, we need to figure out the retail price based on cost of goods. Most pros in the industry that have been around for any length of time agree that you need at least 35% cost of goods pricing.
So, take your cost, $290, and divide by 0.35 (35%)
$290 ÷ 0.35 = $828
So, retail should be at least $828 or $900 for a nice round number.
The key to selling albums is giving the client easy choices and pre-selling. These two simple things will increase album sales more than just about anything else.
How to Price
With albums, having three size choices along with cover upgrades is the most profitable form of album pricing. Also, the ability to add pages for an extra fee can increase back-end sales.
Below I have some fictitious portrait album prices. These will be quite low for most wedding albums. The goal here is to show what I think is important in album pricing. It is important to give choices in size. Here I have three size choices. You don’t want to overwhelm your client with a ton of sizing choices. Even if your album company offers every size under the sun, you don’t want to offer them, too. I like to offer square albums and horizontal albums. Feel free to offer vertical albums also, if that is what you like.
How to Sell
Albums are all about the pre-sell. If clients aren’t interested in getting an album before you take pictures, chances are they won’t change their minds later on. Get them interested upfront. In all in-person contact with your clients, have them hold sample albums in their hands. They also need to be engaged in the discussion about albums. Whether it’s a portrait or a wedding client, pick up your most popular sample album and hand it to your client and say, “Most of our clients this year purchased this album.” Let them flip through the album and then start asking them about their preferences. “Do you prefer square albums like this, or horizontal albums like the ones over there?” Or, “Do you like the newer photo covers or the more traditional leather albums?”
We are doing two things here. First, we are making sure we don’t make a mistake. If the client loves traditional leather-bound albums and we are excitedly showing off our cool new metal-covered albums, what are they going to do? Decide they just don’t want an album. We’re also asking them to take emotional ownership of an album. Once this emotional ownership is established, getting them to take physical ownership is just filling out the order sheet.
Albums are tactile. Clients need to touch and feel them. As photographers, we need to explain why we are excited about our albums and why we believe clients should get an album. I truly believe that each and every portrait or wedding should end in an album. It is a final, physical representation of something so special, something that happens so few times in a lifetime that we need to preserve it. Since I really do believe this, it’s not difficult for me to communicate that sincerity with my clients.
Planning Your Design
One of the biggest problems that photographers face is the ‘deer in the headlights’ problem. Too much information in front of you makes you freeze up. Break down the design process and cut your design time.
In the photo above you can see a list of folders, titled Cover, Page 01, Page 02-03, etc. These folders represent the pages of the album. I begin each album design by organizing images into specific page folders. Most photographers break images down into “moments of the day”–getting ready, ceremony, etc. While this is helpful, it is still very difficult to organize the images into page designs while you are designing. By breaking down the images into pages, you can view just the images going into that page design. It is a tremendous help. Just by making these decisions before beginning design, you’ll save LOTS of time.
While organizing my images, I go through the following process.
- I choose the cover image first.
- I choose the last page of the album.
- I organize pages, by ONE main image and accent images to go with that image.
In the above screenshot, you can see that the outdoor image can serve as the main image and that the other images are accent images. By working with this frame of mind, sorting images is a piece of cake. To the right you can see the final design.
First Things First, Start with the Cover
Designing the cover is often the trickiest part. With photo wrap covers, as with any cover, you’ll want to get the EXACT specs from your vendor. Often cover specs are different from page specs.
For cutouts, all you should need to do is crop the photo to the correct size. For example, a 5×5 cutout will require an image cropped to 5×5. For specialty covers, like metal and plexiglass, your vendor will have specific templates. This is due to the fact that the left side of the metal, plexi or even wood is covered up by the leather that binds the rest of the album.
When you open up a book and go to the first page, it is always on the right hand side. And it is always a single page. Many album companies, especially some flush mount companies, use a full spread as the first page. When you open these books, the first page falls on the left side and is a double page spread. So, pages one and two are connected, and pages three and four, etc. Make sure you know whether the first page of your album is a single page that starts on the right side, or a double page spread that starts on the left.
Spreads are easy, just start designing, making sure that your designs focus on a main image with accent images.
You can only sell what you truly believe in
It’s essential that you believe in your products in order to sell them. If you only choose an album because it fits your budget and you think that it will fit your clients’ budgets, chances are it won’t sell.
Deep down we all know this. We’ve all been sold something by someone who truly believed in the product, whether it was a new car or an iPhone or that cool, new fake grass, so we don’t ever have to mow the lawn again. The point is, if you don’t believe in the albums you’ve chosen for your clients, they won’t believe in them either, and you won’t sell them. Choose your albums carefully. Not only do they need to be top quality, but they also need to fit your personality. Find an album company that fits your personality, promote your albums, sell them correctly and albums easily can be an enormous profit center for you and your studio.