University of Michigan Photo Store
If Martin Vloet, Brand Manager and lead photographer for the Michigan Photo Store at the University of Michigan, could give one piece of advice to colleges looking to host and sell their photos online, it would be "use PhotoShelter." Now showcasing more than 35,000 images of Michigan Wolverines in action, Martin has transformed the way Michigan markets and sells their photography to fans all over the country. To date, PhotoShelter has helped the Michigan Photo Store bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars directly to the university.
After attending the University of Michigan as an undergraduate where he took photos for student publications and a decade as a freelance shooter, Martin joined the staff of Michigan’s Photo Services office, where he continues to work today. But when he began, there was no practical way to showcase and sell campus images online without a middle man, and he saw a great need to change that. "I developed and proposed the concept behind the Michigan Photo Store, which was part of a larger plan to expand the school's photo services," Martin says. "At a place like Michigan that's so rich in history and tradition, we needed a platform to capture and archive all the great moments on campus, especially those moments that happen on the field."
That's when Martin turned to PhotoShelter. As is true at most colleges, the Michigan Photo Store could only market sports imagery effecitvely if it is owned and operated by the university. PhotoShelter allowed Martin to take the reins completely with sales and design and also give the school total control of incoming revenue. "PhotoShelter has done an amazing job helping support this venture, but they also let us make it our own," he says. "We get to design, set the pricing, and choose which photos go up for sale. But the best part is that the money comes directly back to us. We don't have to wait for a third party to send us a check." Martin considers PhotoShelter like a rented apartment filled with all the top amenities and with no restrictions when it comes to decorations - which in this case means being able to paint the walls a nice Michigan blue without having to check with the landlord first.
Once set up to host and sell through PhotoShelter, Martin saw the store's revenue triple between its first and second fiscal year. "The key was that we needed to provide our fans with more photos. If you don't make the photos available, people won't be able to find and buy them. When we decided that more was better, our analytics went through the roof."
The Michigan Photo Store sells its photos almost entirely to Michigan fans, but purchases don't come from students and parents alone. A great number of photos are bought by Michigan alumni, a population that stands half a million strong as the largest group of living alumni in the country. "We see a ton of our images put up in doctors' offices, dentists' offices, and law firms," says Martin. "Michigan alumni continue to be some of the university's greatest fans."
Today, with so much pride and school-spirit packed into every Michigan game, Martin finds that fans can't wait to see the photos immediately after the game is over. "Students tell me that they literally run home to their dorm rooms and hit refresh until our photos are up. And because of PhotoShelter, we can easily upload photos of the game even just a short hour after it finishes. By using PhotoShelter’s featured galleries, I have the ability to promote tonight's game immediately."
Although Martin may be able to easily reach the crowd of fans with their faces still painted from the latest game, how does the Michigan Photo Store spread the word to those fans not on campus? Martin believes the key to the photo store's marketing success to off-campus fans is their office's close relationship with Michigan's Athletic Department, which has access to 250,000 donors, alumni, and athletes. In addition to reaching those alumni, Martin also utilizes the list of emails the photo store collects daily on the site's sign-up page. "We use our sign up to provide people with more information through email campaigns about the photo store as well as PhotoShelter itself," Martin says.
Another great hit among students and alumni has also been Martin's special edition images, which include shots of memorable large scale events like the recent re-dedication of their football stadium. With the funds the photo store had brought in from the previous year, Martin was able to take breathtaking aerial shots of the stadium from a helicopter view. These photos would ultimately help document a new era in Michigan football.
Martin believes that although every school may not have Michigan's school-spirit, every college does have a rivalry, or special events and traditions. "There is always an opportunity to capture a special moment on campus," Martin says.
Martin's biggest goal moving forward is to create a department solely dedicated to sports photography at Michigan - a goal he hopes to accomplish sometime in the near future. But today, he is happy to provide Michigan fans around the country the opportunity to relive some of the university's greatest and most memorable moments through his photographs.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
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