I have used SmugMug for years.  I started my first SmugMug account on June 2nd 2007.  At one point I had three accounts with SmugMug and currently I have two.  Sadly I am researching other providers because of an email SmugMug’s President, Chris MacAskill, sent last Friday. So what did they say to make me jump ship? They are increasing my prices by 67%. The last business to make such a huge jump in fees was Netflix and do you know how that worked out for them? Netflix increased their prices 60% and immediately lost 800,000 customers. Did SmugMug just pull a Netflix?

I have spent some time this weekend reading through SmugMug’s blog, Twitter account, Facebook account, Google+, and a host of photography related forums and a few things are clear. SmugMug customers are pissed off and disappointed. Not all of them of couse, but by far a majority of them are posting their thoughts. A couple of themes have emerged from the conversations. If you are a professional photographer that makes a living from your sales you can absorb the additional costs. The people that are really upset are people like me, weekend warriors.

I have a full-time job, photography is not a business for me, it’s a hobby. I have a professional level account at SmugMug so I can sell photos, but I am not looking to make money. I don’t sell enough photos to even cover my SmugMug costs. So why do I do it? I love photography and when someone is willing to buy a photo from me I know they must really love it too. That is an awesome feeling for someone like me. I do it for the love of photography, not to get rich, make a living, or even break even. I just love it when people love my photos.

I can certainly afford the 67% price increase, but I am not going to even try. Honestly I would rather pay more somewhere else. SmugMug has destroyed the trust I had in them. I am passionate about my photos and where I display them is a personal thing for me. SmugMug has always had wonderful customer service. I always felt like SmugMug was run by real people with a real passion for photography. Now SmugMug is just another business that does not care about the little guy. I am no longer passionate about them so I am shopping around for a place I can connect with again.

I really don’t know what’s going on at SmugMug. Why did SmugMug send this email late on Friday before a holiday weekend?  Was it to try and bury the news?  Chris MacAskill gave two reasons for this increase. Storage costs have went up and they want to invest more in engineering. Technically storage costs have went down, but I know what he means. SmugMug’s storage needs have increased faster than storage costs have dropped. I get that and it makes sense. The problem is this did not occur overnight. Digital files sizes have been increasing since the day SmugMug opened their doors. The larger sizes did not sneak up on them. Also if this is really the issue then why not come up with a tiered pricing structure. Pay for what you use. To me this is all poor planning. Small price increases over the last 7 years would have made a lot more sense for everyone.

The other reason given was the need to invest more in engineering so we can have some fancy new features in the future. It’s an odd business practice to try and gouge your current customers to fund a large future project. vBulletin took a similar path and it has really blown up in their face too. A smart move would have been to seek out venture capitol if they really wanted to make a huge engineering leap forward.

In my opinion these are very bad business decisions. You take these decisions and couple them with the fact that COO Andy Williams quit in August and it really makes me worried about SmugMug’s future. Again my photos are priceless to me and while I have all of them backed up I want a stable online home for them.

SmugMug can an should reverse course. They have lost some customer’s for good, but they have time to save other’s that won’t jump ship until their renewal dates. I believe they need to do something or we will see SmugMug up for sale or in bankruptcy in the next 12 months, that’s how much they have pissed off their customer base. SmugMug needs to understand the goodwill people felt towards them is the reason many many new customer’s signed up. I can’t tell you how many people have signed up because of my recommendation alone and there are a lot of customers like me out there. I am passionate about photography so I talk to other people about photography. When I run across someone that is also into photography we talk shop. I love to help people with photography and one of the common questions is where do you store your photos. I always recommend a good backup solution which always includes SmugMug as an online option.  I can no longer recommend SmugMug.

Like I said before I really felt like I was dealing with real people that were passionate about photography.  While that may still be true something has changed.  A 67% increase just seems like SmugMug no loger looks at me as a valued customer and fellow photographer and now they just see me as a revenue source.

Stay tuned though, I am trying out different solutions.  It will take me probably a few weeks to get through all of them, but when I am done I will post an article with what I find.