Re: FCPS Picture Day - a racket? Do all schools use LifeTouch?
Date: May 04, 2011 01:44PM
School portraits are sold as a fund raiser for schools, PTA/PTO/PTSA organizations, and other school related groups such as bands, teams, and senior classes.
A portion of the price paid is a rebate to, or "commission" for the school or sponsoring organization. This money covers a wide range of extra expenses that school districts and organizations could not afford otherwise. Commission rates vary widely by region. The lower the commission, generally, the more portraits are sold, and the *larger* the total revenue in the commission check, since parents are very price sensitive.
Another portion of the price paid covers the cost of "service items" used in the schools. The school's yearbook images, barcoded ID cards used to buy lunch and check out books, rotary cards used by the office staff, images used in the school's administrative information systems, indexed photo albums used by the principal and the lunchroom staff... Any or all of these are part of the prices of portrait packages. It is not at all unusual for the cost of these items to total $4 to $5 per student photographed.
So when you buy school portraits, you are supporting your school.
Lifetouch is the largest employee-owned company school portrait company in the business, operating with local representatives and photographers in 50 states and Canada. They also have studios in JC Penney, Target, and other stores. Prestige Portraits is a Lifetouch company.
Many other photography companies compete with Lifetouch regionally, locally, and nationally. There are hundreds of members of the Professional School Photographers of America, an arm of the Photo Marketing Association International.
School portraiture is a tradition dating back to the early 20th century. School photographers have a symbiotic relationship with their host schools. There is no obligation to buy, but it is a good idea to have your child photographed so the school can do its job.
The advent of inexpensive digital cameras has made it easier for parents to get great photos. However, almost all reputable school picture companies will do a reasonable job, backed with a "like it or we'll give your money back" guarantee. Additionally, most reputable companies are now selling their digital images outright, and/or offering hundreds of photo novelty items online, through secure web sites.
As a member of the photo industry, I can tell you that most of us want our customers to get a pleasing product at a fair price. That's how we earn the privilege of returning next year! I've worked for several large portrait companies over the years, and all of them are committed to excellence.
As with any consumer product, it helps to understand what you are getting. It also helps to communicate your concerns to the company in writing when things are not to your satisfaction. Letters reaching management usually yield a satisfying response.