Senior Yearbook Photos to be taken by Lifetouch ONLY

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by allison_leblanc, Aug 14, 2008.

  1. I am a portrait photographer and have taken senior pictures. Usually I just give a 4x5 print for the yearbook
    picture to be submitted to the school's yearbook adviser. Recently more and more seniors have told me that they
    are not ALLOWED to have anyone else take their portrait for the yearbook OTHER than Lifetouch, which obviously
    has some kind of contract with the school. Even if they have a contract, can Lifetouch say NO you cannot put
    that pic in the yearbook. It has to be taken by us. Even if the child hates it? This blows my mind. Please
    let me know if anyone knows away around this..... thanks...
  2. Lifetouch (as photographers) can't say no. The people putting together the yearbook can. Why not talk to the faculty advisor in charge of the project? Don't ask high school kids to interpret the fine points of contract law, just ask the people putting together the book what the story is. They probably don't want one or two images in the book looking substantially different than the rest.
  3. Lifetouch does the yearbooks too in many cases, and from their perspective its a LOT easier to not have to scan a print, but to just use the already edited digital files.

    I dislike them a bit, but I kinda understand that part of it because I create books for people too and hate having to use other pictures.
  4. Matt is correct that it is up to the yearbook staff.

    Where I live the portrait for the yearbook has to be formal - black drape for the ladies, tux for the guys. The photo can be done by anyone. Lifetouch is contracted by the schools to do the sports and prom photos. I would also advise getting in touch with the school directly. Talk to the yearbook staff about it.
  5. Yes, that's how it is. They have a contract. If the school has agree to those terms... It's the school's yearbook. I think it is a fine idea because you don't want a bunch of different types of backrounds for those pictures. The yearbook will look more uniform with photos from the same company. That's not to say that I don't hate that lifetouch has the monopoly. But us independent photographers still can offer way more than lifetouch can when it comes to non-yearbook senior portraits. Don't forget, lifetouch won't come to your favorite park, won't go to a second location. Lifetouch has so many restrictions...only 1 pose per package.. 2 pose max. and things such as that. We can offer more personalized packages.
  6. Whenever there is an exclusive clause, usually there is a percentage of the sales rebated to either the school..(or sometimes to the advisor)
    That's OK if everyone knows the details. I would not hesitate to question the policy and the contract details with the Board of Ed or school principal.
  7. Having run into Lifetouch's exclusivity contract - I can tell you from experience how it works.

    Lifetouch is the only photography company allowed to do "school photos" of the school that signs with them. The
    school can contract other photographers to do events, special things, and "artist" photos, but not "school"
    photos. Lifetouch also has a yearbook division, which I believe they purchased from Josten's (the ring company).

    The yearbook division (when I worked with them as Josten's) would accept photos from the school's yearbook staff
    and print the books. Now that Lifetouch owns the yearbook division too, my guess is that they are also doing the
    setup and design of the books for the school, since school budgets are tight and yearbook production takes a lot
    of time and effort. Since they hold both contracts, it's pretty simple for them to say - "We'll only accept
    photos that we took for formals, and only accept photos from the school for event's and activities."

    Lifetouch is definitely the 800 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to school photography. They go out and
    advertise for photographers on Craigslist (paying a whooping $12.00 an hour) and end up hiring a lot of college
    kids or stay at home moms / dads (nothing against any of those groups). Lifetouch gets in with the school to
    print the yearbook and do the photos as a package deal. The local average cost for a Lifetouch produced yearbook
    is now right around $40.00 plus the pictures that you purchase from them (about $60.00 on average). The school
    most of the time gets nothing from them, except cute little kids id cards and doesn't have to pay for photography
    and yearbook production.

    Allison - Try to turn this to your advantage. Most of the time the kids are not obligated to buy the Lifetouch
    packages (even to get their photo in the yearbook.) Offer some kind of deal - better than the Lifetouch ones,
    which isn't too hard since they do the cookie cutter approach to photos.

    Sorry for the long post, but this is a sore spot with me, since I'm a pro photographer and have kids...

  8. There is no way around it. Same with our district. There is a contracted photographer for school pictures/yearbooks at certain grade levels and a different source for the others. A number of the schools that were allowed to make their own yearbook arrangements in the past (lower grades) are now required to use the contracted sources and aren't happy. Nor are the businesses that used to be the contracted source and had the same extra access to the student body.

    Outside of the contract obligated images, there is no reason you can't compete for any of the other photographic business from individual students. If you have competitive prices and quality, you should be able to compete as the "contract" photographer they used to have coasted on the (not really) captive market and wasn't that great a deal. We went elsewhere.

    When you get into doing business with government agencies, they have a lot less flexibility in determining how contracts are awarded. Some companies do very well at working within the system for that business.
  9. Each school's contract may be different, but as the yearbook advisor at my school I do not require senior portraits to be taken by Lifetouch. The underclass photos, yes, but nobody has ever asked to submit outside photos for underclassmen before.

    There are a couple of reasons that schools make one company an exclusive senior photographer. One is the kickback they get...I mean commission. Contary to what someone else said, that commision can be pretty substantial, well into the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars for a large district. This includes underclassmen, prom, homecoming, sports, etc.

    Another reason is the simplicity of getting the photos on one disc from one company. It's a pain to get seniors to turn in their portraits. Several are left out because they miss the deadline. Lifetouch mails home information to every senior with an appointment time. They know when our deadline is and make an effort to get everyone photographed in time to make their selections to meet the deadline. For our underclassmen pages, I get the disc from Lifetouch and then mail it right to Jostens to be uploaded into their system. Names are automatically associated with each photos. Seniors I upload and place individually. We use an online program for page design.

    A third reason is the uniform look on the printed page. Almost every Lifetouch portrait is uniform in dimension, size of the face, amount of background showing, lighting, color of the background, etc. That's because they have a formula that the photographers can't mess with. When you have everyone looking the same on the page, it's a better looking design, there's uniformity. We have had some pretty sad looking senior portraits taken by so-called professional photographers. They were really crappy and I had to ask if there were better ones they could submit. I'm tempted to black-list them from submitting photos for our book because they are that bad (poor exposure, poor posing, fuzzy).

    If I wasn't a photographer, I would probably require Lifetouch to do all our senior portraits. They do have cheap enough packages that for $45 you get your two yearbook poses- formal and casual. However, I believe in the free-market approach and am friends with several of the local senior photographers. I know their work is far superior to the Lifetouch photos and I let the parents make the decision.

    I don't believe Lifetouch can say that they are the only photographer who can submit photos, I think the school makes the deciscion based on the factors above.

    Also, Jostens is doing fine. They have a strong yearbook division as well as the rings and graduation supplies (cap, gown, trinkets). Lifetouch didn't buy Jostens, MAYBE their photography division, but not their yearbook division. I have the Lifetouch yearbook rep on my back to switch from Jostens every couple months.

    One last thing, Lifetouch DOES go to the local park, DOES do more than one pose per package, and does the creative photography such as with the kid's car or sports equipment. Naturally, this costs more, but it can be done. Some offices may not have people capable of doing location photography, but I bet they offer it anyway.

    Talk to the yearbook advisor and the principal. Schools are cash-strapped, do you offer them anything? Do you advertise in their yearbook? Sports programs? Book covers?

  10. Sam -

    Thanks for the clarification on the ownership of Josten's / Lifetouch. My source (one of the local schools) must have had it wrong.

    You are correct about the commission being quite high. As Craig pointed out, some companies are very good about dealing with Government contracting and LifeTouch is one of them.

    As for Lifetouch going to the park, I do know that they have different levels of studios and I'm guessing service. I was talking with one of their photoshop (graphic designers) the other day - he works exclusively with their higher end studios. So those are probably the ones that will go the park, do multiple settings, etc...

  11. Allison,

    I had a portrait studio form 1975-91 with a heavy emphasis on seniors.

    Believe me, this contract opportunity (yes, opportunity) has been around forever. It was there for decades before I
    opened my doors and will still be there when we are all long gone. These guys have to have a captive audience
    because they can't offer anything of value other than the image in the book so they lock it in with the prayer
    that they will make sales of the images.


    That's it. Ignore the angst that you're putting up with now and instead do what all of us did years ago and what
    the wise and relaxed ones are still doing.

    Direct your marketing toward offering your services and artistry as the destination for each senior's real
    personal portraits, not the boring yearbook head shots.

    Direct mail, newspaper ads (where affordable), yellow pages (way too expensive for anything more than identity
    and phone number), radio ads and late night local cable TV spots are all ways to do this, but the best by far is
    direct mail, and email if you can figure out a way to send blanket e-spots to the kids by getting their email

    (There are several companies from which you can buy any kind of demographic mailing list you can dream up, so
    just Google something like Senior Portrait Mailing List and you should find what you need.)

    Just use your marketing pieces to inform these future clients, these unhappy opportunities, that they have to
    have the head shots made by Lifetouch for the book, but that they do not have to purchase prints and that their
    own individual portraits can be made anywhere. Then go on to tell them (and show them by examples) about the
    advantages of your services....the phone conference (or face to face) to personally design their sessions, the
    ability to photograph them with their cars, sports gear, boyfriends or girlfriends, family members, musical
    instruments, favorite hobby items, multiple outfits and locations, groups of friends, and so it goes. It's all
    about who they are and what they want to show for their own lifestyle images.

    These kids aren't dumb and they will rebel against the system by shopping with their feet. They will have the
    head shots done because they have to, but if you get them the right marketing approach and with great samples
    with tons of variety, they will come to you and buy their enlargements from you.

    Stop sweating about this situation which can actually be your best friend since the head shots are lousy examples
    of what they really want. You, on the other hand, rescue them from the extremely mundane by offering images of
    their own lifestyle which is so totally important to them!

    Don't put Lifetouch down, just play up the fact that the head shots can't be an exploration of what their life is
    all about and that you can and will supply that for them ! Don't dwell on how bad it is just to have to make the
    head shots. Just mention it as part of how much more you offer.

    YOU ARE THEIR OPPORTUNITY FOR THE KIND OF IMAGES THAT THEY ALREADY KNOW THAT THEY WANT! up what you can do for them......"If you build it, they will come"!

    Good luck.

  12. Good advice Tim. To add to that, use MySpace and Facebook to target seniors. I don't know if you can advertise to specific geographic regions, but if you can get a few ambassadors at each school and get some of your photos on their MySpace pages with your logo on them, it could be a huge marketing tool.
  13. Great add on, Sam.

    Sounds like the old 'Senior Ambassador" programs that so many of us used to use. Find three or four juniors
    from each school. Do their portrait session and add a couple of big handfuls of free wallet portraits of several
    poses (plus discounts on their packages) as payment for their help and let them post and text away on your
    behalf. Try to get them to actually give a positive review of the portraits and their fun experience working
    with you in their Myspace and Facebook posts and you've got the world by the tail.

    Allison, if you do this, see if each of your ambassadors will add you as a link on their Myspace and Facebook
    pages so all their friends can go from their review directly to your website with a 'contact us' message system
    where they can ask for a call back to book their sessions. Make sure that you have your ambassadors tell their
    friends to mention them as a referral source and then offer the ambassadors some extras based on how many people
    they sell on your services. Make it multi level with rewards at each step of sales. You can do something like a
    16x20 for ten successful referrals or Pizza coupons for a party with their six best friends at the Pizza parlor
    of their choice, or any other reward system you want to use. Build those sales relationships and they will
    multiply your business.

    Go for it! You've got nothing but opportunity ahead with this!

  14. I did some tech advising a long long time ago on some lighting set ups when LifeTouch was looking at shooting
    motorcycle clubs. They had the capability to do yearbooks for over 15 years. They have been producing church
    directories since they bought out United Church Directories. It was nothing for them to add yearbooks to their menu.
    They are very similar beasts. Knowing LifeTouch they have probably given a song and dance routine to a school that it
    is a real pain for them to take shots from an outside source for the yearbook and that it would cost extra.

    My guess is they are basically following the same economic model as the church directories. The directories they did as
    close to cost as possible because where they made their scratch was selling photos the family members of the church.
    So if the follow the same economic model with the yearbook it is in their best interest to block outside shots going into
    the yearbook. Because they want to force the families to buy their shots, by discouraging family's from going to outside
    photographers by blocking them from the yearbook.

    You got to respect LifeTouch for their Machiavellian operations. Sorta reminds me of the dark empire in Star Wars.
  15. At our school yearbook pictures for non-Seniors were free. Under the previous arrangements, seniors were
    required to pay a nominal sitting fee ($15) but we then had 12 pictures to select from for use in the yearbook
    and no requirement to purchase any other pictures nor to use that studio for "senior" pictures. I think the
    contract for other than High Schools went to Lifetouch and for High Schools (with senior/yearbooks) went to
    another large semi-local firm - which was advertising for "photographers." It may get interesting because while
    having experience in the business sector, they don't have a local studio, so they may have bid in and are now
    playing "catch-up."

    Our second daughter is junior this year so it will be interesting to see how the new contracts and players shake
    out but it doesn't really impact us directly.
  16. Allison,
    There is virtually no short term solution to your situation. I understand that Lifetouch has to do what it does to preserve it's business and profit. I too have come up against the "Lifetouch Wall". It can be frustrating for independent photographers and small studios. Here is our solution. . .
    We have spend the past three years working at this challenge. If you are in it for the long run, plan on investing two to three years to get some results. Approach the school district main office. Bettery yet, if they have a communications office or a "partnerships" office that does business with vendors go to them first. Let them know that you want to offer your services, and maybe a small contribution, in order to help them photograph any administrative events. Events such as school openings, teacher conferences, administrator meetings, etc. It is well worth letting them learn who you are by literally putting your face in front of them. I promise you, you will get results.
    Second, service. Larger companies tend to lack this. Service and follow through are key. We invest about 10% of our labor costs in service and dealing with any issues that arise with all shoots. This investment has come back to us ten fold.
    If you are intersted in partnering up, let me know. We are eager to open up offices anywhere in the USA. We are a small company that does business as if we were a hundred milliion dollar company. We know we can change the landscape and hope to do so within the next ten years. It all begins with pr and service. Yes, it is hard to define "service" to a principal or yearbook adviser. We have learned that and now are getting great results.
    Good luck
    Mr. E
  17. Rene -
    Posting your contact information would be a great help for those of us who might be interested in partnering with you.

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