SmugMug and the Kerfuffle

The Friday night of the Labour Day weekend, I received the following email:

Subject: New Pro Account Pricing

For the first time in 7 years, we're raising the price of SmugMug Pro subscriptions, something we tried hard not to do.

We know $100/year is a lot and personally, if I were asked to pay more for a service, I'd want to hear from the person responsible for the decision. That's me, so I placed my dSLR on a tripod, and looked it right in the lens, imagining it was you. I tried to offer a peek inside SmugMug and our thinking: …

Then it goes on explaining how expensive it is to have good programmers, Internet storage space, Internet bandwidth… And new great things will be happening in the future.

At first, I didn't understand that they were almost doubling my cost. Then I re-read the email. I had to read carefully to the end of the email to understand that the price increase will be effective on 15-Oct-2012, then the following year another extra $50 (I think). The announcement wasn't clear, at least to me, about the further $50.

At these prices, Smugmug will become more expensive then the direct competition: ZenFolio and with new the pricing, SmugMug will be on par with PhotoShelter. The trouble is that technologically, SmugMug is lagging behind both ZenFolio and PhotoShelter.

  • ZenFolio is miles ahead in the smartphone/tablet field. The gallery designs are nicer and more flexible. Just like SmugMug, ZenFolio also offers unlimited bandwidth and unlimited storage.
  • PhotoShelter is much more flexible. PhotoShelter is significantly better with SEO and Google/Bing. The galleries and the customizations are miles ahead. The printing is so much better, I can even work with my local printing lab. The downside is the “limited” bandwidth and the “limited” storage.

So what went wrong with the price increase?

  1. A 67% to 100% price increase. No hint, no consultation that due to their cost structure there would be some price increases in the future. Do I care about their cost structure? No, just like millions of people do not care about WalMart's cost structure or the plumber or the car mechanic. Nobody cares about my cost structure either.
  2. General promises of improvements, trust us… There is no roadmap with time frames associated. I would need something like: new themes by end of year (2012), good smart phone support by spring 2013, full HTML5 support by summer 2013…
  3. Friday night before a long weekend! Are they trying to hide this under carpet? People will notice on their credit card bill and will be even more upset.

Last week, Monday 27-Aug-2012, Scott Kelby announced with big fanfare that he switched his portfolio from his own website to SmugMug and how happy he was about it. Rumours has it that over 25,000 people followed him and also opened a SmugMug account.

So what will I do? Complain, whine, cancel my account? First of all I am explaining my displeasure right now. How many people will read this blog post? Over all, a thousand people.

So what will I do? Right now, I'm staying with SmugMug until Mar-20123 when my current subscription expires. Meanwhile, I'm investigating the alternatives and PhotoShelter looks very good, but I hope that SmugMug will step up to the plate by the end of the year with the “trust us” part and show enough improvements for when I will make the decision.

SmugMug is known for being a great company with a fantastic customer service. One of the company principal left a couple of month ago, and now SmugMug has created a perfect example of how not treat customers.

I've had to raise my prices in the past, I've always given a long notice and I have also given steep discount, basically the same price as before the price increase, for booking/paying now and getting the work done later at their convenience. But I've never raised my prices by 67% in one fell swoop.

There are other companies that also compete in the space for photographers, portfolios and selling prints, but the big three, in no particular order, are:

  1. SmugMug
  2. ZenFolio
  3. PhotoShelter