Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with professional photographer, Rachel LaCour Niesen, chief product officer of Foreground, about the company's marketing approach, acquisitions, and the recent addition of a print store to its ShootProof brand. She also talks about challenges meeting the needs of different types of photographers and how the company responded to the recent high-profile closure of a portrait studio.
LaCour Niesen also shares the history of her passion project, Save Family Photos.
Foreground helps photographers and photo consumers create memories that last a lifetime. The company brings expertise from leading brands like ShootProof, Collage, Táve, Design Aglow, and Cole’s Classroom to create an innovative product suite.
Erin Manning 0:02
Welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau.
Gary Pageau 0:10
The Dead Pixels Society podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Photo Finale, and Advertek Printing. Hello again, and welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau. And today we're joined by Rachel LaCour Niesen, the Chief Product Officer of Foreground. Hi, Rachel, how are you today?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 0:29
Doing great on this sunny day. And how are you doing Gary?
Gary Pageau 0:32
Doing great doing great. Well, foregrounds been one of the companies in the news a lot over the last few months, we've got a lot of ground to cover. But for those who aren't familiar with Foreground and their place in the professional photo space, can you give us a quick synopsis of the company?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 0:50
Absolutely. So Foreground is uniquely positioned and that we're actually bringing together the professional photography, space and eCommerce. So foreground is the parent company of ShootProof, which is an online gallery and business solution for professional photographers, and Collage, which is one of the most powerful photo personalization and gifting eCommerce platforms in the market today. So not too long ago. In fact, about six months, seven months ago, we brought the two companies together. And now we are exploring the b2b to see synergies between the scaled eCommerce of Collage and photo gifting and professional photography space and unlocking that value for photographers through the eCommerce platform.
Gary Pageau 1:36
And that was one of the things I thought was interesting about that combination was because, you know, ShootProof, this traditional professional market, the home photographer, the home base photographer, I should say, or small studio or you know, those types of photographers who want galleries and some of the traditional services. And then kind of partnering with Collage, which is a straight b2c company, I thought that was a very interesting combination. What trend did the foreground management see that made that a smart move.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 2:04
So this is actually one of my favorite things to talk about. Because of my lifelong experience as a pro photographer myself, I can speak both personally and also from research that we have done. So personally, I, as a photographer would routinely use ShootProof to deliver images, whether it's from a wedding or a family shoot to a client. And really, the term proofing was appropriate because to me, it was a way to give my clients and experience with the images that I captured for them, and maximize the memories in a way that was beautiful, easy to use, easy to download, and easy to share. The trick there, of course, is that in many cases, photographers, myself included, were aware that their consumer clients were then downloading images from a platform like ShootProof and going elsewhere to create photo products and photo gifts. So with only a hunch of personal experience and having some anecdotal information from photographers who are on our team, and also from photographers who are longtime friends and customers of ShootProof we started doing some research. And little over a year ago, we surveyed ShootProof photographers, and also prospects who are not using ShootProof and discovered that over 90% of professional photographers we surveyed and I believe the combined sample size was around 5000 photographers total. They all said that their clients were downloading images from whatever professional gallery solution they were using, and going elsewhere, to big-name players to create photo gifts, whether it was books or canvases, calendars, or even holiday ornaments, holiday cards. This was an opportunity that photographers were aware they were essentially left out of. So we started poking on that a little more and saying wait a minute, you know, the photo gifting economy and that E commerce space is a $10 billion economy yet photographers are largely unable to unlock that revenue for themselves. And so in many cases, they're not actually maximizing the revenue stream from their own businesses from the work that they're producing. So we wanted to bring the photographers directly into an ecosystem, and open up new opportunities for them to monetize their photo library with their clients. And that's when Collage came on our radar. And we realized that not only did it have best in class product building technology that enable the consumer to create anything from a canvas to a photo blanket to a holiday card. It also had a really beautiful way for professional images to potentially be used within that platform to remove the stress of curation and the friction for the consumer. So we're now in the early iterations of this really exploring what that synergy looks like. And more to come. That was a very long-winded answer. Sorry.
Gary Pageau 5:00
That's fine. So when you look at ShootProof though, were people downloading the low res images with the copyright symbol on them? Or was that not what photographers are robbing? I'm just curious how that was, it seemed like it was a difficult thing for consumers to manage on their own.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 5:19
So, yes, and actually only someone who really understands the plight of photographers would bring that up, Gary, thank you. So here's another interesting thing that we learned in our research. And this is actually we've conducted another round of research with our customers and our group of customers to understand this more, but what we're seeing as a trend in the marketplace holistically, and also within our platform is photographers, largely charging for a shoot fee, and monetizing their skills primarily on the shoot fee. And in our research, we saw that I think it was about 70%, roughly, maybe 68% of photographers were delivering the digital files and only charging for the shoot fee. And that included the digital files as a bundle. And in many cases that was print ready files, so files that could be printed, and ShootProof is being utilized almost as a beautiful cloud storage solution for delivery of images when it could be so much more. And that was the we like to call them dead end, Digital's where essentially, the client would either download them and put them on a thumb drive, or perhaps on a hard drive or in the cloud. And they may or may not create a photo product. And in many cases, if they did, it was not within the photographer services. So while there's a sub, a subset of more seasoned photographers, and those who understand pricing and sales, who do sell print products after she proof, and that certainly is a portion of our customer base, it's not the majority majority are in line with what we see in the marketplace. And I think you've probably had conversations with others who observed this as well, with the rise of the gig economy, for better or worse, you know, a lot of photographers are essentially part timers, or photographers a side hustle. And the idea of monetizing print sales on the back end of the shoot is is complex. And in many ways, for photographer who's early in their journey, it might just seem like too much effort, or they wouldn't know where to start. So to that end, we've really started exploring the different types of customers we have and how we can really deliver value to them. Through enabling more print, print monetization,
Gary Pageau 7:31
it is interesting how this sometimes goes, you know, in cycles, right? Because, you know, back in the day when there was the storefront photographers, who would, you know, they would they were charged for sitting per se, but they would make more money off the prince, right. And then when when Prince started dying, they started charging more for the actual service, right, they're selling photography as a service, where the output is less important to their revenue stream right there. And that's where you had sort of the superstar photographers sort of come up through the ranks of the trade shows, telling new photographers, you know, how to do you know, how to market, you know, certain types of settings, make them fun, make them exciting, and all that. I remember sitting for my, you know, engagement portraits, that was not fun. Many years ago, and we sat in a chair and in a studio, and it wasn't it wasn't in a tree and
Rachel LaCour Niesen 8:21
yeah, the senior senior session. So there were so many experience. Right?
Gary Pageau 8:25
Exactly. You know, now, that's, that's definitely commonplace, right? But now, like you said, they've missed out on the after shoot opportunity, because they were focused so much on that. But, you know, as you and I both know, you know, managing that process of a print order is, like you said, complex, and can be fraught with issues. It can
Rachel LaCour Niesen 8:49
be and it can be, I think one thing photographers, certainly I would include myself in this will say is that my client experience is paramount that if I'm not providing a superlative experience to my clients, and making it super easy for them, to enjoy their memories and turn them into some other tangible keepsake, then I'm not totally doing my job. Well. And I think that what we're seeing, of course, in even through through COVID, and especially through COVID, is that the value of memories is actually it's always been something of intrinsic value. But now I feel like consumers even more so are gripping onto that nostalgia and saying, Hey, I really want to do something with these images. I have so many, whether it's once I've taken with my phone, or a lifestyle shoot with a photographer, as you mentioned, and a field and some beautiful experience. You know, let's let's do something else with that now. And I think, you know, photographers in some ways, while they're aware of that, you know, they don't necessarily on their own, as a small business owner have the, the scale technology to be able to deliver an experience that a consumer expects, because most consumers have you asked them or they're very aware of E commerce platforms that are related to photo gifting. And of course, Amazon Amazon's a big player And now, in a consumer experience as well on the one click ordering, and the ease of it on mobile is something that, you know, small business owners, creatives and photographers are gonna have to find ways to keep up with, frankly, otherwise their consumer clients gonna go elsewhere. Over the
Gary Pageau 10:17
past few years, there's been several acquisitions that the company has engaged in, was there a plan for this as sort of an overarching, we're going to be this full featured full blown end to end solution. And we're going to bring together different pieces, because not only with Collage, you also had Tave, which was it was not a business management platform. Below I think was one that was like, I think, with the service templates and things like that. So was there a plan? Or was this more a opportunistic type operation.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 10:52
So in many cases, the acquisitions were strategic in nature, and were viewed as falling into really two two distinct categories or representing two problems to solve. One is consumer enablement. And that's where of course Collage fits in. And the other is photographer enablement. So this is where we're really trying to put put the pieces together so that we both understand the photographer and the consumer, and essentially using the consumer behavior to inform photographer enablement. So through Cole's classroom is actually one example of a recent acquisition that is photographer enablement focus. So it's education, online education for photographers who are earlier in their journey, and perhaps are part time or haven't yet made a decision whether they want to be a full time photographer. And meanwhile, Tave is the CRM that tends to serve a more seasoned photographer, that in many cases has been in business for a few years or more. And really, being a home for photographers at every point on their journey is, you know, a big piece of our strategy coupled with the understanding of the consumer, and positioning ourselves as being informed by consumer behavior. That is, in a nutshell, where the acquisition puzzle fits together.
Gary Pageau 12:16
I mean, I understood most of those, but I wasn't familiar with Cole's classroom. So when I saw that when I saw that, well, that was kind of interesting, because, you know, you see a lot of that in this space where people will acquire different companies to kind of fill in a production hole. Right. But this is that Roy fill a content hole, if you will, which I think was an interesting move.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 12:37
Yeah, we do too. And we think the trends that we're seeing, and you've had some guests on your podcast, and have alluded to this, too, is that in many cases, photographers are either holding down their vital Cape by vocational, they may be a photographer plus doing something else, I think many of us as photographers have other things that we do as revenue streams as well. And ultimately, the opportunity is in providing value and enabling photographers really early on their journey to start monetizing their work quickly. And often. And then, of course, helping support them as they grow. And potentially find that this is their full time, location, for in many cases, supporting whatever definition of success they may have. It's, I have a lot of friends who are part time partly because they're raising young kids, or they have other creative endeavors, whether it's painting or music, and photography is one piece of their success story as a creative. So we really want to enable them.
Gary Pageau 13:38
I think it's fascinating. I'm just gonna do a little tangent here, how, like the wedding photography market is really kind of bifurcated into, you know, a lot of different sort of verticals, right, you have the, the, the the home base photographer, you have more traditional studios, and then you have like, DJs, who offer to photography services, right? It's just me like, and photo booths. So it's right photo booths is a whole nother thing where it's, it's interesting, these people used to stay in their lane, and now they're all over the place. So it's kind of So what So what you're saying is ShootProof is going to buy a photobooth company next and a DJ.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 14:19
Definitely, I'm definitely saying neither of those things.
Gary Pageau 14:21
You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 14:24
You got the scoop
Gary Pageau 14:24
The integrated solution will include DJ services. But on a more serious note, you had a recent announcement about the print store. And where does that fit in? Are you actually opening up a lab or do you just have some trusted partners you're working with? How is that coming about?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 14:44
That's a great yeah, that's a great question Gary. We so print store is what I like to call the first chapter in the exploration of unlocking the value for photographers of consumer desire for photo gifts. So particularly, no print store is bringing in the knowledge of the consumer desires for a seamlessly integrated experience that allows them to purchase quality photo products in a matter of minutes. That's personalization as a trend in general of their memories, and bringing that to photographers in a way that they can, with a quick flip of a button essentially enable their clients to immediately have access to their photos from their gallery in a way that's still branded from the photographer. But it's essentially a portal that for a consumer, it delights them in that it removes all the friction from getting the professional photos into the product builder experience. So when they log in to a ShootProof Gallery from their photographer, not only do they see the photographer's beautiful branded gallery, for the photographers who choose to sell this way, they can actually give their clients instant access to the Collage builder technology in the full breadth of Collage products, which are all printed here in the US actually, that was one of the pieces of the question is, are they Is it a lab, we actually have a network of providers of print partners that are all printing Cloud products and delivering here in the US. So it's, it's a way for photographers to take advantage of the personalization trend at appealing prices for consumers, of course, that generate more sales holistically. But also understanding that ultimately, the biggest friction point for a consumer was getting their images into that personalization platform, in this case, Collage. The print store is almost a portal for the consumer via the photographer.
Gary Pageau 16:37
Now does the photographer have much granular control over the products being offered? And the reason why I ask is because you know, some photographers will be like, I'm just gonna turn this thing out and let it kind of do its thing. Other hours are gonna be you know, I only want to lay flat books on thick paper with super glossy things because I'm a high-end photographer, do can they go through and choose the products with that?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 17:03
So that is another great question. And it's a good example of iterative product development. So one of the, the goals we set out for with print store with this iteration was to understand that over half of our photographers and ShootProof, weren't actually selling any printed products, they were primarily just enabling download. So we wanted to close that gap. And the solution is specifically for that photographer in mind. And we actually are actively gathering feedback now we're only about 25 days in since the go to market launch print store. And the feedback is fascinating because as you say, we we predicted that we would see a variety of feedback. And what we're seeing as it's actually fairly evenly split between photographers who do want a zero-configuration easy to launch storefront where they can turn on essentially the ecommerce capability and give their consumers the ease of ordering photo gifts. But then there's the photographer who does want control. And the feedback, of course we're hearing from them is, hey, I really want the ability to curate the products that I offer. And I also want to have more control over pricing. So you have the Don't make me think I just want to turn it on and maximize the revenue post shoot group. And then you have another group. And this is a bit of an oversimplification, because we do have some folks who are turning print store on for some galleries, but not for others. But there's a group that does want control. And this is likely, you know, a solution that will be less appealing to those who want that level of control. And that's okay. We've acknowledged that and it's, um, it's part of the iteration of this experience.
Gary Pageau 18:41
So part of the consumer journey is of course, being reminded that you've got pictures there and then maybe there's a holiday coming up and you want to get that walls picture from your wedding for grandma this holiday season or something like that. Is there any marketing functions built into the platform that photographer can take advantage of to do some email marketing or that kind of stuff?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 19:06
Yeah. And so the, it's interesting in that the print stores position is turnkey, because Collage actually does have the lifecycle marketing built-in, to continually offer or to remind, I would say consumers about the offerings that they have, and it's very automated, there's no you know, hard to sell required by the photographer, right. And in many cases, you know, they are literally turning it on, you know, enabling their client to then have some creative access and benefiting in the interestingly, the, the average order value is about 22% higher for print store orders than for the consumer direct orders, which is super interesting, because we're seeing that the consumers who come through the print store through professional photographer, they really value those images and they're valuing the products they're creating and Then conversely, there is a group of photographers, as you mentioned, and alluded to who want control. And we actually have curated and photographer controlled email automations, built into the traditional ShootProof platform. So we do have some photographers that are actually driving their own email campaigns, within ShootProof to our traditional store experience, which is different than print store. And again, is meeting a different need for a different subset of photographers.
Gary Pageau 20:26
Yeah, and it is a challenge to build a platform that will serve a large audience, like all the types of photographers he had, realizing that many of them are very, very different business models and focus on if you get too granular. It's it's not efficient, but you definitely want to offer the products and services that your customers that photographers want to offer the most.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 20:46
Yeah, and of course, listening to the consumer trend to you and this is what's so interesting is the feedback we've gathered from print store from our UX research team has really validated and confirmed some of our thinking around what the consumers want and expect. And the data showed us that about I think it was 88 89% Want photographers to provide and an easy solution to turn photos into keepsakes and gifts. And that was intriguing to me just because consumers are expressing a lot of angst over the accessibility of their favorite photos and memories. They are looking to move photos out of storage clouds and into products are tangible, right to be shared.
Gary Pageau 21:30
We're saving yourself in social media, right? I mean, yeah, exactly who we really want our valuable pictures on some sort of Metaverse, company or something. Yeah.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 21:41
And it's interesting how with the the rise of, you know, you're hearing like, Okay, again, NFT's are hot. And the metaverse and all of these experiential offerings and technology enabled experiences are cool. However, they don't replace the one to one physical tangibility of holding something special in your hands, or seeing it on your wall. And I'm not sure that we will ever as it adds is more humanity in general, I think that we, we need that. And I think this goes back to like cave paintings, you know, that we have a need to, to state and show our history,
Gary Pageau 22:14
I think you've hit on an interesting point, because there was sort of this feeling for a while in the digital photography community of printing pictures is for chumps. Why would you do that when all your pictures can be on a computer on your phone, or your mobile device and your TV or whatever, can see all your pictures, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I think it was almost a reaction to the fact that, you know, back in the days of analog, photo printing was very wasteful, right? I mean, you you shot a roll at 36 pictures, you know, maybe 20%, were worth while you got double prints, which meant, you know, 80% double of what you didn't want, and it was a wasteful process, you know, now clearly digital, you have more selection, you're shooting more pictures, and you can choose from more. But you can really do something more with those special pictures. And that's where I think, you know, something like a ShootProof or a professional gallery of any kind, you have access right to those special pictures that mean a lot. It's not just that stupid Snapchat stuff. It's the valuable pictures that people will want to retain forever and preserve in a physical form, whether it's behind acrylic, or or wood or special frame or something like that. So I think there is a big opportunity there. I think as an industry, it's just now being realized.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 23:31
I agree. I agree. And it's interesting looking at, I believe it was Ed Lee and team at Rise Above Research, they released an infographic, I want to say it was probably pre-COVID That was showing the growth in photos taken by decade. And I think there was like a seven 7x growth period in from 2010 to like 2019 or early 2020 words, you know, 8.6 trillion photos taken, yet only 5% of those photos taken in the last decade have even been printed. So I think I think there's this collective knowledge, I mean, that all of us as consumers and content creators know that we're capturing more memories than ever, but we're actually kind of drowning in them to some extent. And then when you hire a professional photographer, the remarkable thing about that is you're you're designating a specific moment in time as being especially important whether it's a holiday session, for a holiday card, or if it's a senior session with your child, or a wedding or a birthday party. You're saying this is especially important to me, I want to invest in a professional to capture those moments so I can be be in the moments. And that's that's one way I think that we are in a unique position, both us as a company but also us as an industry to empower professional photographers to recognize of course the value in their work, but also help them recognize the demands of consumers who want it to be easy, and are more likely to print something and create a product from scratch. Photo, if it's super easy for them, and is at a price point that is competitive in the marketplace. And that's the challenge, of course, is how you balance that.
Gary Pageau 25:09
There's a lot that goes into that pricing too, right? Where it's, you know, where they pay a premium for better quality or for better experience versus, you know, I just want to cheap and printed at my local drugstore. So you have to be able to address all of those different aspects. Oh, ShootProof has also been in the news recently about a recent story that was coming about regarding a studio called Glosser images that had left some customers and photographers hanging, were they a ShootProof customer and you came to the rescue? What was the story there?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 25:44
Yes. So Glasser Images is our was and still is a ShootProof customer, and has been delivering images through ShootProofgalleries for many years. So when we heard about the situation like many others did in the news, of course, it not only piqued our interest because it's one of our customers but also just more holistically, it seemed like a great opportunity for us to step in as a company that has built-in scalability, operational support, and ultimately a responsibility to be a good steward of memories. So we were able to get in touch with you know, the owner of Glasser, Glasser Images, and help work through a potential solution. Now, again, it's a solution that will deliver value to many, many customers and of course, help preserve those family memories. It won't solve for all of the struggles the families are facing. But it's certainly to us an example of putting our mission into practice and support families and an ongoing access and ongoing access to their memories, we want to ensure that the consumers have uninterrupted access to their memories and that the photographer's also understand that ShootProof is when we see other photographers in moments of challenge or hardship. We want to be able to collaborate our support when we can.
Gary Pageau 27:07
So let me see I understand the situation because this is one of those things where it's got a lot of mainstream coverage, but it's been kind of all over the place. Glasser Images is based in Bismarck, North Dakota, and they basically shut the doors is what the media is saying. And as a result, there's hundreds of customers who have been left with no access to their images and whatnot. So you're basically stepping in to provide a continuum of that service. Is that correct?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 27:34
Yes. So our intent, and our ability here is to actually step in and offering free access to Glasser Images clients to their important photos and giving them access to their galleries following the closure and the shuttering of the business. So we know primarily, we're going to be able to continue delivering images, we're possible to the effect of clients through our galleries. So in some cases, there may be exceptions to that, depending on the situation and where the images live or do not live. But it's really, to us a chance for us to use our corporate giving program, which is called galleries for good to provide that hosting and download access to impacted clients for free for one year. Well, that
Gary Pageau 28:26
was actually my next question was foregrounds slash ShootProof does have a corporate program for supporting photographers, correct? Yeah, so it tells me a little bit about that, because that was like my next thing on the list. So
Rachel LaCour Niesen 28:42
So Galleries for Good is our corporate giving program that we created to empower both individuals and nonprofits with free online photo galleries. So there are two types of beneficiaries. One is qualifying nonprofit organizations, that you should prove power galleries to raise awareness about their work they're doing, and also potentially use our galleries as part of their fundraising efforts. The second kind of beneficiary is qualifying individuals and families. In some cases, that could be photographers, in some cases, like Glosser images, it's families that continue to have access to their memories after a professional photographer has closed their business for a variety of reasons. And our mission with it really, is to be good stewards of those memories and ensure that they are not lost or not essentially lost in the cloud even so in the cases of nonprofits, we have one pretty prominent nonprofit in the photo industry called Now I lay me down to sleep that has used she proved through our galleries for good program to deliver images to families who have faced the loss of a child, right there are quite a few nonprofits, not only the photo industry but outside of it, that are using galleries for good as a way to drive awareness of their programs
Gary Pageau 30:00
Moving beyond Foreground, I want to touch on a little bit about a passion project of yours personally, which is a family photos. That's I think that's where you and I first encountered each other was years ago when you were getting involved with that, which is a very active Instagram page it gets and it's gotten some actually some media coverage in terms of the stories that it tells me can you talk about what Save Family Photos is and why it's so important for you?
Rachel LaCour Niesen 30:29
Sure I would love to chat about it a little bit. So as you mentioned, it's a passion project that started a number of years ago when my grandfather died. And I was given a box of old photos of his time in the military and his time dating my grandmother and then later marrying. And I remember receiving this box of photos and really not knowing not only the power of them, but the value of them. And so I started the time taking pictures of the pictures with my iPhone and sending them around to family, and getting stories from my family members about what they remembered. My grandfather, and typically those stories like so many of us that I think can relate to is those old photos trigger a lot of memories and stories that typically are part of our bigger family legacy, or just star, our family histories really inspired by that. And the closeness abroad with my own family, I started posting images on Instagram under the title feed saved family photos and asked friends and family to participate. And it kind of took off to the point where it's just shy of like 100,000 followers now. And it's turned into a real community of people who recognize the value of those old photos and want to preserve the stories they tell.
Gary Pageau 31:45
And they're not all just your old photos. They're people know, even 1000s and 1000s of samples make that clear. You haven't built 100,000 person community around your old photos.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 31:55
As compelling as my family history is, hey, we've got a big center of families. There's lots of crazy stories, but no, it's families from around the world. And that's what's cool too is you see the multicultural aspect of it. I think it's kind of the great uniter, that memories are something we all hold treasure as we treasure memories in general as as humanity. And so to me, it's been an example of really the goodness in people and, and seeing what families send me and the stories that go along with each photo has been really heartening and has kind of, I would say in many ways continue to fuel my passion for photography in general. And it really informs the work that I do at foreground and also just my day to day life and how I cherished my memories of my family.
Gary Pageau 32:38
And in these dark times we can use all the bright spots we can get. Amen to that. That sounds like a great place to bring this conversation to clubs. So thank you Rachel, for your time and your and your insights into the professional photography market. Best wishes for future growth for Foreground and Save Family Photos. And we hopefully will see you in person in a future industry event.
Rachel LaCour Niesen 33:01
Absolutely. I look forward to it. Thank you for listening to the dead pixels society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www the dead pixels society.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai