Glen Nelson, director of volume photography software specialist HVP Solutions, has laid down a challenge to the schools photography industry – improve image quality and change to a post-paid model or lose the business to schools and sporting clubs seeking new revenue streams.
HVP Solutions is Australian distributor for Netlife PhotoSuite high volume photography software.
The two issues – image quality and online post-payment – are entwined, according to Glen, (pictured right) because ‘image quality has never been so important as with the introduction of online post-paid sales, where parents view the images first and then purchase.’
‘Would you purchase something online if you didn’t see the image of it?’ he asks in the podcast, Schools Photography – The Bandaid Industry. ‘This is exactly what the pre-paid sales strategy asked parents to do.’
‘…Parents pay money for a product they have not seen and then wait weeks and sometimes months to receive it and even then can be disappointed with the quality of images.’
He also listed other motives to drop the schools photographer and take the task in-house: schools wanting photography sessions scheduled when it was convenient for them; unhappiness with the quality of photography, coupled with a lack of choice; and a desire from schools and sporting clubs to use schools photography as a fund-raiser.
‘Over the years as a vendor, I have been contacted by schools and sports clubs wanting to use our software and sales platform and have I seen a growing demand for this over the last 12 months,’ Glen Nelson told Inside Imaging. ‘This of course presents a challenge when it comes to our platform users and not taking clients away from them.’
Glen said HPV Solutions would always direct schools and sporting clubs to local Netlife platform users, but ‘we are forced to help the schools and clubs directly as their needs are not being met by industry operators in “certain locations”.’ He said that all his Netlife clients now used the online post-paid model.
HVP Solutions has recently launched a new website for schools and clubs looking at this alternative under the brand Photofundraising.com.au.
‘…If we do not have platform users in the location of a school/club, then they have a choice to either use in-house staff or hire freelance photographers to use the white label brand (of software). Easy to use capture software and training is provided.’
He claims that the schools photography segment has not really moved to a fully digital model, and needs to harness the capabilities of digital connectivity and digital image and data files to move the industry more fully into the online, connected world.
While improved training for photographers will go part way to improving image quality, his solution to the issue ‘out in the field’ might strike some photographers as a tad constricting.
‘Photographers go rogue, changing camera settings by mistake or on purpose,’ he states in the podcast. ‘This leads, he says, to poor results and parents unhappy with the package they have already paid for. His solution is to use his company’s ‘Netlife’ volume photography software to ‘save photographers from themselves’ by controlling ‘what they do and how they do it out in the field. The software can control camera settings based on the type of job at hand ‘saving time and money on retake and retouching costs.’
With the camera tethered, exposure settings and lens preference are locked down as in the data panel to the right, and the photographer is unable to take a photograph unless within the specified settings. Otherwise, the photographer receives an error message and has to either change settings or call the office to get an override.
The software will also allow live streaming of images at head office to flag things like bad poses and facial expressions, poor crops, eyeglass reflections and backdrop issues direct to the photographer.
‘Working this way supports photographers to learn and grow while eliminating image quality issues,’ says Glen. ‘We know it increases the quality of images and increasing image quality has never been so essential.’ That is, he says, because the online post-paid model for schools and sports club photography is already here and set to replace pre-paid ordering.
‘Early adoptors started planning and implementing quite some time ago with the intention of disrupting the market,’ he said, noting these early adoptors are at small, medium and enterprise level.
Among the enterprise-level disruptors is second-generation, family-owned Geelong-based Arthur Reed Photos, one of the largest, vertically integrated operators in Australia, and a HVP Solutions client. A big disc shouting NEW ONLINE ORDERING (pictured right) is above the fold on virtually every page of the Arthur Reed website and it’s clearly the new ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ for the schools photography giant.
‘We have been able to reduce our manual labor in every part of our business, control and train photographers to produce exceptionally high quality selection of images for each parent to view and purchase online, yielding great buy rates and sale rates,’ said Arthur Reed CEO, Jason Butcher.
‘Prepaid sales has been a de-risking strategy,’ Glen claimed. ‘Businesses fearing they won’t be able to cover overheads and costs of sending photographers to schools, and the fear of your images not being sold if a parent sees them first.’
He said that while the old pre-payment model worked in the era of film photography, consumers have since been conditioned to have certain expectations purchasing online, viewing products prior to purchase being one of the most essential.
‘Vendors cannot control this evolution. We see a global trend where you will be forced to offer this by parents and schools.’
He said online post-paid sales has been common in Europe for a decade, but conceded the US market, like Australia, had a way to go, also noting that the Australian industry tends to look to the US for trends, when they should be looking to the Nordic countries.