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Lifetouch sells to Shutterfly - What can we learn from this?

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

It was certainly a big week for the high volume photography industry, firstly with the annual SPAC event in Vegas and then the announcement of the strategic purchase of Lifetouch, arguably the largest school photo operator juggernaut in the U.S.

Lifetouch was responsible for photographing around 25 millions students per year, equating to around 10 million families/customers, give or take.

Lifetouch was purchased by consumer print company Shutterfly for 825 million dollars. Definitively a strategic purchase of a company struggling to grow and operating losses of 3.9 million dollars.

In short, this was a great purchase by Shutterfly which in my opinion saved a company with an outdated business model.

I never want to see any photo business go under and I suspect Shutterfly will bring Lifetouch into the 21st century technologically speaking. We may even witness a shift in sales strategies.


In the past years,I have seen many large operators struggle, so the sale of Lifetouch comes as no surprise.

The technological movement started around 8 years ago in Scandinavia, large high volume photography operators where unable or unwilling to change the way they worked, their business model or sales strategies.

The bigger the ship, the harder to steer.

The inherent qualities of larger operators make it difficult to make swift changes and once they have figured out that they must make serious changes, it unfortunately takes too long to steer the ship.

This is when the smaller operators are able to swoop in as they are more nimble and can make the necessary changes almost 'overnight' to the business model and strategies to gain the competitive edge.

The two largest changes I have seen in the high volume photography industry are:

1. Cloud based administration to allow location independence, which promotes a fast track to growth, scalability, outsourcing and control - The future business model.

2. Mobile optimised sales strategy - Viewing images before purchase, the days of money in the bank with pre-paid sales strategies is slowly dying. Schools and parents expect more customisation of products at their fingertips.

Early adopters of these two very important points will definitely position themselves as leaders in the high volume photography marketplace.

Just to finnish up, I have drawn up a crude version of what I believe the future business model/workflow of a high volume photography operation where the sales strategy is consumer based (viewed, then purchased).

Success is in the details...although that's for another time...

Glen J nelson

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