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Thread: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Aug 2006
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    Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    For those that have been in the trenches...

    I have a deadbeat client that is going out of business. At this point he is offering me an imacon 949 to fulfill his debt/obligation to me. While it would be a fantastic toy for my own purposes, I can't justify a fast, pricey piece of machinery for that. As the real estate slowdown has effected my business as well I have time to kill and could have a fast scanner.

    I am considering offering scanning services, primarily for medium and large format photographers. The price point would be significantly lower than drum scanning, probably somewhere in the $25-30 range for 4x5. While there are a few local artists I could work with, for the most part I would be trying to do mail-order work generated from a website. I am not trying to go high volume, just use this as a supplemental income stream.

    I have several years print shop experience, have done way too much drum scanning, and don't even want to consider that as an alternative. This was all done when I was younger and used to work for other people. It was also during the 90's in SF when a lot of film was being shot.

    I guess I don't have a good idea of the demand out there, or what kind of volume the various shops offering scanning services are doing. I am thinking if I can get my volume up to a level of 50-100 scans/month it would be worthwhile. Does this sound reasonable? Anyone else here offer such a service and find it to be successful/given up. Does this sound like a service anyone here would consider?

    Thanks for thoughts

  2. #2

    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    If you haven't already do a google search for this service. You'll likely turn up several dozen businesses who are doing this now and they will likely have a price list that will help you decide if you want to get involved.

    My initial thought is that doing 50-100 scans a month won't be a part time job by the time you deal with shipping back and forth and client overhead. I'm pretty sure there'll be a good bit of conversation with each client and job, you waiting for Fedex to show up, etc.

    I did this for a while before film got replaced by digital capture for commercial work. I had good equipement and knew how to use it efficiently as a result of doing my own work. The repeat client or other photographer was OK but it didn't take long for some people to burn through a lot of my time talking about what they wanted. I was the only game in town who scanned color negatives and that led to interpretation rather than simply matching a transparency. I was happy doing a batch or two each month but much more than that ate too much time. If you have a few good clients who don't need a lot of handholding it might be OK.

  3. #3

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    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    Um, why don't you take it off him and then sell it on? If it won't sell for enough to cover the offset of the debt then it will be a bad deal in any case as you could buy it cheaper elsewhere.

    I don't know what the market for that amount of scanning will be, it will certainly be full time, advertising will be pretty high and a bespoke service will involve a lot of time on the scanning side. My suggestion would be to team together with a pro lab and get them to send out the work to you, that way they will be doing the gruntwork on the client side, they get kudos for offering the service and you get to do the scanning and not having to bother with the business side as much.

    Do that with more than one lab, and perhaps advertise a bespoke service on sites such as this, etc and it may turn out feasable. Doing it from scratch on your own sounds like far too much work for what it's worth.

  4. #4

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    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    Ben and Henry, thank you very much for your input.

    Ben, your insight especially is useful, and helps me view this from a better business perspective. The scanner of course can be resold for a profit. I just am aware that I won't want to sell it once it's in my hands.

    Obviously I need to consider this more, or maybe - consider this less...

  5. #5
    Ted Harris's Avatar
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    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    Nick,

    I'll add my 2 cents worth here. I do a bit of scanning for others when I have the time. The extra income is nice but it takes time. We aren't talking about the sort of set it at 300 spi, set the screen and 'let er fly' sort of scanning (even with a drum scanner) that works just fine for most printed reproduction. I make sure that every scan I make for a client gets jsut as much attention as a scan I do for myself and that means time. Figure something in the range of no less than 15 minutes and as much as 45 minutes to get it set up and be sure it is the best scan ... and you may need to do a second one to be sure. Figure another few minutes,say 15-30 to do minimal PS processing ... heck even none but to check the scan. Then you need to burn a CD or upload it to an FTP site .... another few minutes. Then the bookkeeping and mailing ..... 50 a month is gonna be a solid week and a half to two weeks work. As to the pricing, it is fine if you don't need to do much inthe way of setup but my guess is that if you are going to do it right that at that price you won't be making any money at all and maybe losing a bit. Think on it ..... 30 an hour including your time, direct materials costs and your O&M?

  6. #6
    Doug Dolde
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    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    I get my Imacon 949 4x5 scans done for $14 each including dust spotting from JaincoTech. It would be hard to compete and/or justify purchasing one for that matter.

  7. #7

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    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    Nick has experience scanning for clients as he mentions in his original post, it's also possible that a $14 scan from a 949 won't be the same as a $25 dollar scan?

  8. #8

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    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Rubinstein View Post
    Nick has experience scanning for clients as he mentions in his original post, it's also possible that a $14 scan from a 949 won't be the same as a $25 dollar scan?
    While I would like to think I could, I don't know if it really matters. The company that Doug refers to is actually a much smarter business model. Get an office, train 4 entry level employees, buy 4 Imacon 949's, market to stock photography and go for volume.

    I will probably take the ex-client up on it, if only to go through some backlog of scanning for a couple months before selling the machine. Once I see what my actual throughput is with the scanner I will have a better idea of whether I can recoup the cost of the machine without too much pain or if it should go on the block.

  9. #9
    Doug Dolde
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    Re: Operating a 4x5/MF scanning service

    I think the scans I get from Jainco are as good as they can be from this scanner, I have never found even a speck of dust and the histogram is just as I want it. They FTP the scans to India for the dust removal then FTP them back. Turn around is a little slow...about two or two and a half weeks. Many pros use Jainco including Alamy clients and National Geo photogs.

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