Cost item or revenue stream? Merchandise or marketing tool? The way you approach race photography says a lot about your race’s business model and positioning with respect to competition.

The truth is race photography is changing. New technologies and distribution models are entering the scene and the traditional thinking around what race photos represent and the best way of monetising them is under increasing scrutiny by event directors, sponsors and participants.

So what’s the best way forward? And what would work best for your race and stakeholders? We look at your options.

The story so far

For years race directors have viewed race photos as a nice secondary revenue stream for events. Much like premium merchandise, race photos were produced by events and made available for sale to participants willing to pay for them.

This model, which has served the industry for decades, worked a bit like this. A race director would commission a photographer (usually a specialist race photographer) to take pictures of participants during the race. The photographer would be paid a fixed hourly or day fee (with or without a commission on top) to take the pictures, sort them and make them available to download/purchase from their website. The photographer would then pass on the proceeds from the photo sales to the event minus any agreed commission.

Once a no-brainer, this approach to race photography is now in decline. On the one hand, participants are getting more and more frustrated by the steep prices charged by events for race photos. It is not unusual in some cases for a single digital image to be sold at $30 with full sets going for $100+. Paying a second registration fee for a snap of yourself is understandably difficult to swallow for some.

More importantly, the rise of the smartphone camera and of social media have thrown open the arena of race photography to amateurs and put additional demands on the way and speed with which participants demand to have their photos delivered.

So, if not paid, then what?

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New approaches to race photography

If you are rethinking your options around race photography or finding the traditional paid-photo model paying fewer and fewer dividends in terms of revenue and racer satisfaction, there are alternatives to consider.

The free photos model

Some race organisers have been quick to recognise that in the age of social media, letting participants enjoy free race photos they can share online can be a very powerful publicity tool. Indeed, according to Running USA’s National Runner Survey, word of mouth remains top amongst ways runners user to discover races, so helping participants spread the word for you makes a lot of sense.

runner tweet free race photos

To accommodate this new reality, services have emerged whose business model is to provide free photos to your race participants. How many free photos exactly depends on the service. MyBibNumber in the UK will shoot your race for free and make available two free race photos per participant, with additional photos offered on a paid basis (with a percentage of the revenue coming back to you, the race organiser). Others, like Gameface Media make all photos available for free, with the cost of the service being passed on to the event or event sponsor.

Now, you may wonder why you’d switch from being paid for photos to paying for them. The answer is free publicity. By making photos freely available you encourage participants to share their race photos online, increasing awareness of your race amongst similarly-minded friends.

With participants less willing to pay for race photos – which in turn pushes up the cost of photos to make up for expenses in a vicious circle – the situation will only turn more in favour of this model.

The social photos model

Taking the free photos model a step further, platforms like Pic2Go have truly “weaponised” race photo sharing. Leaving nothing to chance, the whole process from camera to Facebook feed is streamlined, making it easy for participants to share race photos on social media almost immediately after race end.

With photos being published automatically on social media branded with your race logo and sponsor brand, the value that can be created for the event and sponsors in terms of free publicity is truly impressive.

In our recent Deep Dive feature on Pic2Go we estimated that the marketing benefit generated by online sharing of race photos can be more than $8 per finisher. If you consider this is about the cost of acquisition of future participants, this means photos shared by this year’s finishers can produce enough publicity to help secure next year’s entrants.

Given the percentage of finishers purchasing photos under the traditional paid-photo model, it may make sense to sacrifice a small cash gain today for a larger registration interest tomorrow. Furthermore, you’ll be able to keep participants happy with quality free photos and your sponsors satisfied with measurable, instant buzz making the rounds on social media.

You’ll still need the services of a professional photographer for this, so don’t forget to check out our directory for the best race photographers near you.

And last but not least…

Crowdsourced race photos. Yep, the model taking so many other industries by storm, has made a landing in the world of mass-participation sports – and it sort of makes sense.

The idea is simple enough. Why pay for a professional photographer when so many amateur photographers in the form of race spectators are scattered throughout the course snapping pictures of everyone? Offer each spectator a way to sell their photos to participants through an online platform and – hey presto! – you’ve got yourself a crowdsourced race photo marketplace.

Currently the main player offering this service is FlashFrame who at the moment operate exclusively in the US. So will it catch on?

The main obstacle people see with this approach is the quality of race photos. That said, with increasingly more powerful cameras carried by amateur photographers and prices for race photos edging higher, who’s to say this won’t be the next big thing?

As is often the case, if the income potential is good, pros will jump on the bandwagon, selling snaps direct to participants. There’s bound to be some complex legal considerations and the unavoidable stakeholder friction in all this, but with prices at $6.99 per photo and a large selection to choose from we wouldn’t write off the crowdsourcing model just yet.


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