Determining how to price photobooks can seem like a complicated process. Certified Photo Manager Lida Bunting of Znimka Creations has cracked the code! Lida Bunting joined TPM Founder Cathi Nelson to share some of her expert advice when it comes to photobooks and talk about the course she has launched around this topic.

When designing for someone other than family or friends or for yourself, it can be a really scary thing to pull together a proposal that has one too many zeros after it. The first time I looked into outsourced photo book design and found pricing online, I saw someone whose books started at $500. And that was just the starting price. My jaw pretty much hit the floor. It probably also didn’t help that my mother in law had found the same photo organizer here in town, and had suggested that I just go work for her. And so I don’t know what shocked me more, that I should drop everything that I was doing and work for someone else, which I didn’t want to do anymore, or that a 20-page book could cost $500. Needless to say I kept at it, started my own business, and I got to do what I absolutely love. And I got to really dig into photo book design. And I do it on my own terms. 

Do you struggle with marketing yourself? Are you afraid of competing against Shutterfly (because why would someone pay you if they’re willing to do it for free)? And do you wish you knew exactly how to price a photo book? I’m going to address all of these questions for you, and I’m going to share with you some of my own experiences that have led me to where I am today.

Who is the ideal client for a photobook?


Making photo books as a professional service is not for everyone. It’s valuable to know who you are marketing to. I learned early on that I would not be my own ideal client. First, I am way too picky and particular about the order and grouping of my photos when it comes to books. And secondly, I would definitely not spend the money on this service because I have lots of other places that I would rather spend money like finishing the addition to my house right now. But I am here to tell you that there are people out there who not only need our service, but want it as well. And those are the clients you’re going to be designing books for. Those are the clients that will gladly pay for these services. 

When I show you what you need to do to accurately price a photo book, you will gain a boost in your confidence so that you can ask for your price. This is a luxury industry. And although I knew that going into this, I did not feel comfortable asking for luxury prices. 


Do you need to have a specific background to make photobooks professionally?


Before we get too deep, I just want to mention that if you think you need to have a background in photography, home organizing, tech or something creative, think again. My education came with an engineering degree and my career started in commercial construction. This line of work is not known for creativity. My biggest takeaway from my construction management career was being able to organize a project and my love for spreadsheets, you will see that I rely on spreadsheets as the launchpad for pretty much every project I have. After corporate America, I segued into the nonprofit sector, I ended up working closely with the business manager, which is where I gained my very limited accounting knowledge, I bring that into my business ownership as I would have been even more clueless about QuickBooks had I not processed payments and balanced the books with my boss. I’ve been in business for over six years and, to date, I’ve designed over 100 books whose invoices have totalled over $95,000. 

We all have backgrounds that vary. And we all have something to bring to the table. And it was while I was working in the nonprofit sector that I decided to launch my own business. It was the middle of December, and I was super late working on a family year-in-review book. I used to be completely on top of our books, and would wrap them up on December 31, order them, and have them delivered before the end of January. So while pulling together our photos and designing the book, I thought to myself, “wait a second, this is completely nuts. I can’t possibly be the only working mom with two little kids working on a creative project at the 11th hour. I just love this though. And I could do this. I could do this for others. Wouldn’t that be fun?” 


What do you wish you had done differently when you first started your business?


Fast forward to me launching my business and working with my first clients. I’m a bundle of nerves and have no idea how long my projects are going to take. And I have no idea how much they’re going to cost to print. On top of that my first business model had me charging only for my time, and that I was charging my clients the actual cost of the book and passing it through to them. No discounts used and saved for me and no markups. 

When I prepared my first invoice, I had a different rate for organizing photos in the book versus designing them. Because in my mind, selecting the photos wasn’t as high value as designing the book. At that time, my rates were lower than what our babysitter charges us. So again, I was nervous and very unsure of myself. This invoice would not fly today. 


How do you find photobook clients?


My first few years in business were people I knew, whether they were friends or former co-workers or people in my neighborhood. Our friends and family could be our biggest advocates. They can be the ones who refer us to their friends. It’s not bad, and it’s not wrong, but they can’t be all that we’re doing. We need to scream from the rooftops about this awesome service that we can provide. We need people who don’t know us who find us and seek out our services, not hire us because we’re their friends and begging for work. I really felt like I was begging. I worked solidly for three years doing books for family and friends before my first non-friend non-family client came along. 

This first referral came from a fellow photo organizer, someone in the very same industry that we all work in. Whereas some people would think that we’re all competitors, I learned very quickly that we don’t need to compete, rather we can partner, and we can help each other. So, by working together, and being collaborative, I got my first non-family, non-friend client, and I got confidence. My language changed, my attitude changed, my self-confidence changed, I no longer felt like I needed to depend on my inner network. And when you start to work with clients outside of your own circle, you get that boost of confidence. So from there, I got more clients. And I started networking more. And I happen to sit next to someone at a networking event, who had just come back from the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica. She wanted to give her family a book showcasing their amazing vacation, 1000s of photos to comb through, and over 175 pages of design, and I had my first mega project. 

As Photo Managers, we are not in a well known industry. So when I think about my connections, and how clients have found me, it’s mostly been through networking. I don’t really advertise. And I certainly don’t do as much social media as I should. But I do go out. And now that the world is opening up again, you can too. And then after you’ve gone out, follow up with the person or people that you felt a natural connection with. They’re not necessarily going to become clients, but they can refer you to their network. 

Places to start networking include your local chamber of commerce, a young professionals group, neighborhood meetups, social speed networking events, women’s groups, men’s groups, BNI groups, and of course, you could network on social media. Moving beyond work related groups, think about golf courses, a gym class, a yoga class, school functions, anywhere that a group of people will be hanging out is a place where you can network and talk about your business. Slowly but surely you move away from only your own inner circle and build up your own professional network. 


Why would someone pay you to design a photobook if Shutterfly will do it for free?


If I’m going to be competing against someone, then I have to know what I’m up against. So I used them when they charged $9.99 for their design. I used it twice thinking that maybe the first time I just was being too picky or too critical. And maybe if I wasn’t so picky, I would like it the second time, but I didn’t. What I saw in my Shutterfly books was not what I wanted in a finished product project. Photos that were insignificant ended up being a whole page, and the photos that were important, were teeny tiny, and events got mixed up, page spreads didn’t follow sequence and the layouts were sloppy. Does that mean it’s a bad service? No, not at all. It just didn’t work for me. 

So how do you respond when someone compares you to Shutterfly? That can be tough, and a slightly uncomfortable conversation. That person who’s questioning likely places value on different things than you do. So the goal should be to figure out what your potential clients value the most. Do they value their own time? Do they value their money? Do they value their memories, or the power of telling their stories?

We offer value that is recognized by some, but not all people. So instead of trying to convince someone, just move on and know that you’re not with the right people. You as a service provider, and a book designer are offering so much more than just the design of a book. And that is certainly something that is hard to quantify, and hard to explain and an on the spot question. If someone were to compare my services to Shutterfly, I’d like to tell them to just run with it on their own, and I don’t engage or defend my pricing. But what I also try to do is pick up the conversation and talk about a project that I’m passionate about, or recent completion.By pivoting the conversation, I took the attention off of the Shutterfly offering and talked about the storytelling, consistency and benefits I bring to my clients, not to mention the value of the service we bring. 


How do You figure out the actual cost of a photobook?


First, we need to think about the components of what goes into a book. There’s the time it takes to select the photos, then the time to design the book, time to go back and forth with the client on drafts and edits, and time to load the design into either a sharing platform or the printing program. So far, it’s all been time. So having a handle on your own time and metrics is one huge component. 

The other factors that impact your pricing is the actual cost of the book. Unless you print and bind your own books, this is dictated by the vendor you choose to work with. Now there are some really, really expensive and exquisite book printers. And there are really some really cheap ones out there too. The actual costs of a printed book can fluctuate anywhere from $20 to $500. And that’s not even marked up. So how do you choose which vendor to print with? 

Well, some of this can come from the clients, not that they will know a vendor by name, but by you sharing samples, or describing the different finishes and attributes available for a book, they will tell you what their end vision looks like. This includes the type of paper used and the cover materials, the type of binding, and then the other special attributes like debossing, or gilding, and then you work with the printer that meets those needs. For me, I print with a partner of The Photo Managers which is a professional print lab that pro photographers use. 

To me, it’s about finding that perfect balance of a high quality book without super high-end prices. Or if the occasion calls for it, then printing with that truly exquisite printer so the client gets the luxury look and feel that they wanted from a book.


Watch the full video to see Lida demonstrate her system for using an Excel spreadsheet to determine her photobook pricing.

Want to make photo books as a profitable professional service? Check out the online course, Photo Books Made Profitable in The Photo Managers Academy.