In the wee-hours of the Friday night before a long three-day weekend, customers across the globe received an email from one of their favorite companies. Many folks, much like myself, probably shook the email off as another "Hey, look at the improvements we've made" email, and filed it away to read after they had returned from their Friday night festivities. This email, however, stuck me as odd. The subject line was simply...
New Pro Account Pricing
For those not "in the know", SmugMug is an image hosting service used by quite a few photographers in quite a few countries. The beauty of SmugMug is in its simplicity. You upload your photos and that's it. Getting into the nitty-gritty of SmugMug, you'll see that it's no real surprise why a lot of photographers like the service. You can protect galleries, watermark them, and track statistics. One of the more important features of SmugMug, however, is the e-commerce portion of the website tools. SmugMug allowed photographers, and content creators in general, to easily set prices and make sales of their photos and videos. Photos can even be printed through third-party print shops and shipped to the client with very little work needed from the photographer.
For seven long years, SmugMug was the go-to product for photographers who didn't want to set up their own commerce website and, until Friday night, had been one of the cheapest and most consistent options out there.
Now, I get that the "economy is in a bad spot" and that people need to eat, but up until this point in time, you've probably thought that the new pro account pricing mentioned in the email subject was probably something small, right? When I signed up for SmugMug, I paid $150 for their top-tier account. This got me all of the features of SmugMug and was pretty manageable. If you're not aware, Photography is not my primary source of income, and in a spot of full disclosure, I pretty much break even on income vs. expense where my photography is concerned. $150 was manageable. The unfortunate news from SmugMug, however, was that they were increasing their prices to $300 for new accounts, and $250 for existing accounts. The change won't go into effect for current customers until October 15th. In essence SmugMug doubled their prices overnight and, for a semi-professional photographer like myself, burned a bridge that may not be repairable.
It would be one thing if they were increasing their prices incrementally over time. I might understand a "$20 price increase, per year, over the next 5 years" type of deal, but for (what I'm guessing is) a large majority of photographers who don't make a living on photography (and even those that do) a price increase of almost double is really unacceptable. SmugMug Co-Founder Don MacAskill has been vocal about the change, stating that the price increase is due to a rising cost in storage and future development costs. Unfortunately, a simple twitter search will tell you that those "improvements" have been unfulfilled promises for a long time, and people are really up-in-arms about the price increase.
I want to believe that a company whose standing in the world of Photography is so big would have the foresight to really think this type of decision through, but it really gives off the impression that the higher-ups at SmugMug may have hit the bars before flipping the switch. I want to stand behind a company that I've supported for the last two years, but to be perfectly honest, I just can't. I've long-ignored the fact that not much has changed with their interface since I joined, and that the empty promises were just never going to get filled. I've stood by them, promoted them, and encouraged fellow photographers to sign up for their service. I've been the guy singing their praises on our photowalks and Google+ hangouts, preaching the joys and ease of SmugMug on our Facebook page. But I'm just not sure I can do it anymore.
So where do I go from here? I'll fend off the accusations that I'm just a butt-hurt photographer. I'll do a bit of research and begin letting my clients know that their photos are going to be transitioning to another service. Unfortunately, closing my SmugMug account now would result in a loss of money; I'm still tied into it until May of 2013, so everything will still be up there until that time. Most importantly, though, I'll continue to watch the fallout happen to a company whose actions have confused many and see how many people truly back up their words.
EDIT: I'll be switching to Zenfolio for the next year. If you're interested in signing up, and helping out, please feel free to use my referral code - TPN-48K-7BZ. I'd really appreciate it.