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Digital School Group Photos - Is it 'legal' or even a good strategy?

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

Over the years there has been a lot of conjecture and assumptions in regards to the distribution of school class and club group photos.

The inspiration for this article has come from the factual base that the school photo company at my son's school has offered a digital copy of the group/class image for sale. It's the first time I have heard of this in our local industry which of course intrigued me to investigate.

One month on from my investigations, I have been able to answer many questions, although new one's arise...

I have been investigating whether or not the sale of a school class/club photo in digital format is in breach of privacy policies or legislation within my state (Victoria, Australia).

According to the Privacy Unit at the department of education Victoria which I have had lengthy discussions, and the policies outlined in the school policy advisory guide (last updated July 2017). Selling digital class photos in Victoria (Australia) does not break any law or state education policy. (sources below)

Individual school policy determines these kind of decisions in Victoria.

If state departments or individual schools do not have policies surrounding the sale and distribution of digital class/group photos, then it falls to the federal privacy laws which (In Australia) currently do not have a specific law that governs the specific context of selling a digital class photo, nor club group photo (if photographing sports clubs).

Before you get excited (or anxious) there are a couple of implications/challenges we need to solve in regards to 'at risk' children (those children that should not be identified in a group image with a name).

Here are some solutions and thought processes that are practical:

1. If there are subjects, which should not be identified through the use of an image, they probably should not be in the group photo at all or at least not tagged with name in the group photo.


2. Place a strong water mark in the position of the where the names are, so they can not be identified online during the ordering process.

If we think about this in terms of practicalities. A traditional printed class/group photo can now be digitally scanned and uploaded to the web and easily really, what is the difference of selling a digital class/club group photo?

If we can..should we?

This takes us to the interesting debate of - If it's possible to sell digital class/group photos, should we indeed do so?

As we move further into the digital era, its becoming clearer that the consumers (in this case, parents) are demanding products and sales strategies that can be viewed, ordered and downloaded to their phone and/or other digital devices.

If they are demanding this, does that mean we need to give it to them?

In recent months Lifetouch - the US juggernaut that photographs around 25 million subjects per year was acquired by Shutterfly. Reportedly, Lifetouch was dealing with declining purchases from parents due to the lack of understanding the change in consumer buying habits of school photo purchases. This of course may not be the only reason of the sale, although I'm guessing it was an important one.

Mums and dads now function and operate in society with their phone never more than 1 meter away. The high volume photography industry must adapt to the changing consumer behaviours and produce products that drive demand and/or that are demanded by the consumers.

This is not to say that traditional print and consumer products will die, perhaps they have an alternative function. Could high volume prints/products become 'secondary products' for upsell and after sales within an online post sales environment?

Drop in sales?

Perhaps the most scary thought about this to operators is a possible drop in sales revenue. Is it possible to see an increase in revenue, net profit and saving on manual labour and pack print prices?

Is this a sales strategy to avoid a drop in sales?

Let's use this example:

Your current 'print packs' are at the following price points:

$35 - $45 - $55 - $69

Your new pack range (which include digital downloads of portraits & group) is:

Pack 1 - Class Photo (Print) - $25

Pack 2 - Digital download of portrait/s & group photo - $42

Pack 3 - Print pack (Inc. group photo) - $35

Pack 4 - Print pack (Inc. group photo) - $69

In addition to this, you have the option to upsell a print pack with a highly discounted digital pack and the ability to purchase Ala carte individual prints and products.

Let's not stop there - How about the idea of stepping up your yearly marketing strategy and use your clients data to aftersell with consumer print products.

Now pretend that the majority of purchases are digital downloads at $42. The actual product cost to you is $0 with no manual labour cost either.

The danger.

There of course is a danger that the digital group copy will be freely 'shared' amongst parents which could potentially reduce sales of those parents that only want the group image and not an individual portrait.

I realise this is a hot topic and my aim here is to create discussion of how we can create positive change to an industry that has failed to listen to the consumer.

If we don't start listening to the demands of the consumer and reacting with positive change at least in the sales strategy of post online sales, how many companies will we see go the way of the DODO?

Researching this subject has certaining been an eye opener for me and I wish it the same for you! Please remember to do your own research in your local area, state and country.

Look forward to the discussion.


Glen J Nelson


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