My Thoughts on SmugMug’s Price Increase

A lot of people have asked me over the weekend what I think about SmugMug’s price increase. On Friday SmugMug co-founder Chris “Baldy” MacAskill presented a video outlining why SmugMug needed to raise prices. Basically it comes down to the fact that Pros really do use a TON of storage and now more than ever. SmugMug (like everybody these days) uses cloud storage and replicated storage for terabytes of data (possible for a single customer with today’s DSLRs and fast bandwidth speeds) is EXPENSIVE.

Back in 2005, when SmugMug last changed their pricing, it was harder to really flood a site with with serious storage. Bandwidth speeds were slower, file sizes were smaller, processing technology wasn’t as fast. Today Nikon’s D800 has a whopping 36.3 megapixel image. We’ve grown used to super fast bandwidth and now with my new MacBook Pro the only thing slowing me down in Lightroom is me. I can process so many more images today in Lightroom than I could with Photoshop back in 2005.

So SmugMug was faced with a tough decision — continue losing money on many of their best customers, or raise prices. Well, they had other choices as well, but none of them fun. They could start charging based on how much storage you use, but this would hit their highest grossing Pros even harder in many cases. They could start throttling your upload speeds to slow you down. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be (that’s how most of the cheapo cloud storage backup providers do it for dollars a month). They could take a higher percentage of your photo sales, but again this would cost many working photographers even more money.

What SmugMug decided to do is to ask their business customers (the ones who use the most storage and make the most *money* off the site btw) to pay $100 more.

Nobody likes to see prices raised — especially the working Pro photographer. Times are tough and every penny counts. It bothers me though to see SmugMug being attacked online. If Canon charges $100 more for a lens do Pros complain? Sure, but not like some of the comments I’ve read regarding SmugMug’s price increase. If Canon raises the price of a lens $100 does David Pogue from the NY Times feel the need to tweet about it? Canon, a huge nameless faceless corporation can raise prices and people don’t even notice, but SmugMug an accessible family run business does it and people take it out on them.

I pay Canon $500/year for their platinum CPS service. This is a service that gets me things that are valuable to me (discounted repairs, expedited shipping, loaner lenses), things that ultimately help me make money. It’s a cost to me but I justify it because I make money off my photography. I bet a lot of the other Pros on SmugMug use this service too. It’s part of the cost of doing business.

It’s odd for me to see people trying to compare this move by SmugMug as Netflix like. Huh? A consumer DVD rental company vs. a professional services company used to sell your photos? Let’s compare the situation to something a little more similar. Last year I made about $3,600 off my Flickr photos. I made this money through the Getty/Flickr deal. Flickr charges me $25/year to store my photos and won’t let me sell my photos myself on Flickr. Do you know how much Flickr/Getty grossed with my photos? About $18,000.

If people want to complain about high fees, how about complaining about Getty/Flickr payouts. Last year they took around $14,400 of the money made by *my* photos. You see Getty pays photographers 20% and keeps 80%. SmugMug on the other hand gives Pros an ecommerce engine that can sell both stock and prints and they pay out 85% of mark ups and keep 15%.

Yesterday a client contacted me about using a photo for stock that I own. I had to redirect them to Getty because Getty also demands an exclusive right on my images that they represent. Bummer! 20% instead of 100% sucks. I still use Getty/Flickr though. It’s a cost of doing business. SmugMug likewise is a cost of doing business for a photographer. If you don’t want to do it for business then just use the cheaper plan without the ecommerce engine.

The fact of the matter is that Pros have flocked to SmugMug because it gives them a very valuable tool that they need. Unlimited storage, an ecommerce engine with a high payout and really some of the most amazing customer service on the planet. They are a truly wonderful unique family run business operating in the photography space. What they are not, however, is a charity. They are in business to make money and they can’t continue losing money on their most active customers year in and year out. If someone doesn’t need the ecommerce engine the price is the same. If someone DOES use the ecommerce engine though (the biggest storage users and the ones making money off the site) then they will have to pay more. This sounds fair to me.

So those are my thoughts on SmugMug’s price increase. I support the company, one that has done so much for the photography community, and hope that this tough business decision is something that people can come to terms with and move on beyond.

[Disclosure: SmugMug is a former sponsor of my former photography show Photo Talk Plus, they are not a current sponsor of anything I’m doing though as we’re taking a break with the show. I also consider many of the wonderful people who work there personal friends.]

52 Replies to “My Thoughts on SmugMug’s Price Increase”

  1. They could have easily left the photo package without video and many would have been satisfied with that.

  2. A very reasonable reaction, most of which I agree with 100%. I personally didn’t begrudge them for a price increase. As a hobbyist who wants access to their services related to selling photos at a profit, but doesn’t sell squat, their move prices me out of using their services. Probably makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

  3. Unlimited use for a flat fee is stupid, totally stupid.

    It means the abusers can dump content relentlessly whilst responsible users have to pay the same amount of money for much less storage.

    Any flat rate unlimited storage type system means that light users subsidise heavy users. which is okay if the cost is cheap, but alienate low storage users when the price goes up.

    The solution is to charge for storage in 50gb or 100gb (or whatever) chunks.

    I admit I haven’t gone over the details of the smugmug contract change and this post by thomas seems to be more about moaning at certain groups of people rather than a critical analysis of the smugmug deal.

    Photodeck provide the best of these types of services, with photoshelter coming a close second. Smug and Zen have out of date and amateurish looking sites, especially the facilities for viewing images which is a few years out of date.

    Photodeck do not charge commission on sales made through their site, but it is for hard core pros who sell stock. You have to service print orders yourself.

  4. I agree with Doug Brenzier, I would happily do without the ability to store video for a smaller bump in annual fees. Comparing a $100 bump in membership to a $100 price increase for a lens does not make sense…unless of course you are talking about a $150 lens being bumped to $250. Regardless, the SmugMug family has been good to my clients and I, and I will continue to be loyal to SmugMug.

  5. :-/

    Thomas, you can’t lump everyone into same category. Smugmug seriously over looked the hobbiest/weekend warrior here. Someone that is selling $1000s of photos isn’t gonna give two hoots on the price increase. Those that are just starting out or hobbiests feel it the most and there is a lot of them on smugmug. Smugmug just priced them right out of their budgets. I sell enough to cover my costs, but I understand where “the little guy” is coming from.

    There is comparable services with comparable customer service at cheaper costs. By Saturday afternoon the staff was starting to see the light of what they did to a major part of their users. They started admitting it in responses to people and I’m expecting them to announce a package that will address “the little guy”.

    This is more about smugmug eliminating “the little guy”.

  6. I can see the logic of their decision, but I don’t agree with the solution. My total storage useage? 1.24 GB. Give me an option where I can set my prices and limit my storage space. Asking me to pay another $100 for storage I don’t use or need is the wrong answer.

    The fact that this price increase goes into effect just days before my renewal date just pours salt on the wound. I enjoy using SmugMug, but at this point, it is not worth the ROI.

  7. I agree with Kelly. SM did not anticipate the social media backlash from non-pros that have a pro account. I assume they wanted to drive many of us off since we don’t make them any money on print sales.

  8. Hey guys. I’m without a computer today so I may not be able to respond to some of these comments until later tonight. It’s obvious that a lot of people feel strongly about this subject. Thanks for keeping it civil. Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts, feelings and opinions on this. I’ll respond more here later tonight.

  9. I am a professional and have been with SmugMug for some time. If you are using SmugMug to sell your product, you will have to go with their Pro account because the basic account will only allow you and your customers to purchase prints at cost. You can’t markup pricing to your customers now at that level. You only get at-cost pricing and watermarking of your images which is not very useful for someone trying to make income with photography.

    Their rationale for drastically increased prices, they say, is to provide better services in the future for their customers. I think they got it wrong. Why should loyal customers, who have made SmugMug the successful company that they are pay in advance for “Promised” services they may or may not be able to deliver? 

    Either SmugMug hasn’t done a good job of thinking this through or there is more to this then they are telling us. The people that this really hurts,( i.e. those doing part-time photography or those really struggling to make ends meet) is the smaller customer because they will find it difficult to absorb the price increase. And frankly, these people don’t use that much of SmugMug’s bandwidth and storage anyway. It’s the established pros and video providers who are allowed to upload unlimited numbers of high-res images and HD video which takes massive bandwidth and storage. Why isn’t SmugMug charging those users a premium because they use more resources than others who use less resources but still need the ability to have the ecommerce use of SmugMug?

    I’m one of the lucky ones because my renewal date is in less than two weeks, so I can get another year at the existing rates. But I’m really annoyed and disturbed how this was thrown on loyal SmugMug users so I’m not likely to renew with them. There are plenty of other companies that provide similar and even better solutions than SmugMug before their outrageous price increase. Several postings have said Zenfolio has been more than happy to give new customers a 20% discount to former SmugMug users. I’m sure SmugMug’s competition is having a field day with their recent news.

    In the end, you need to determine what level of service you need and do you buy into smugMug’s promise of future improvements which you are paying for in advance. 

    My feeling is that for a company to make such as drastic price increase, which they must have known would infuriate their existing customer base might indicate these possibilities:

    The MacAskill family wants to steak instead of chicken.
    The company is heading for financial trouble.
    They don’t want to deal with the small customer because they don’t generate enough revenue so they are changing their business model to provide a higher revenue stream.

    Whatever is going on behind the scenes, if you are using SmugMug now or in the future, you might want to make sure you have your original material saved somewhere other than on their servers. If you don’t you might want to consider downloading to a safe place in case the family-owned company becomes a thing of the past as so many others before them. From your SmugMug gallery go to Tools drop-down, This Gallery, Download All setting to save your pictures to your hard drive.

  10. I agree, but only in part.

    I think a fee based on use is VERY fair. That’s the REAL cost of business – ! The more you use SmugMug, and the more you digitally store with them – the more you should pay. It makes sense. Why should a small photographer who only sells a few photos per year have to pay for someone else’s storage? I also think SmugMug would have been smarter to increase their prices gradually each year or two, instead of announcing a 67% increase all at once. (I make that observation with years of marketing behind me.)

    By the way, I’m uploading a lot of photos to SmugMug. I plan to upload many more. I STILL think people should pay for what they use. I certainly don’t mind the concept of paying for what I use.

    I also recently switched from Zenfolio and I’m seriously wondering if I made a mistake. The roll-out of SmugMug’s new pricing structure could have been handled so much better. The way the roll-out was handled (not the price increase itself) is making me question if SmugMug is as professional (and high quality) of a company as I thought they were. That being said, I signed up for a year with SmugMug and I will stay with them for the time being as I assess whether or not I want to stay.

    I definitely think they could use a little stronger team on the marketing end of things if they plan to stay in business long term.

  11. I’m one of those “hobbyists” who doesn’t sell much but uses a Smugmug pro account and the price increase will affect me with my next renewal. I had a Foliolink account for several years that cost more than the new Smugmug pricing and returned less value overall, so I’m OK with the increase for now. I do shop around and try to stay aware of other options and the general rule for me is that the more a service charges me the less likely I am to be loyal to them. I also want to minimize time spent maintaining the digital presence so I can spend it taking pictures. Moving everything from one site to another would not be a project I would undertake eagerly.

  12. Smugmug has been treating pros like crap for years. Many features that pro photogs have been asking for – for years – have not been made available, while other sites offer those features, and while Smugmug has implemented other features for their non-pro users.

    They made a huge mistake in assuming that everyone who has a “pro account” can afford this type of rate increase. They needed to account for all the part-time photogs who make some money (but not a lot) who can’t use a non-pro account (because you can’t make ANY money with the other levels of account) rather than lumping in all the pros with their top money makers.

    There are a lot of small-time part-time pro photogs who are going to dump Smugmug over this. They are going to lose their clients who paid them the most for the least use, and retain the clients who pay a relatively small amount while being the biggest users. Dumb move Smugmug.

  13. I had the Pro account. Mainly for Video. Never sold a penny. I will have to move to another type of account that does not really suits my needs.

    I liked the services but I can’t put so much money just to show pictures to friends and family.

  14. Your arguements were basic, uninspiring and at times flawed. Get to the point quicker, and use more logic and economics. You come across most of the time as a negative online personality and almost on the verge of trolling. Accept facts rather then demanding your way is right. Your collection of photos is like collecting stamps, only have a few winners there.

  15. Let me preface my comments by saying I’m not and never have been a user of SmugMug.

    However I don’t get their price increase. For sure they offer additionals but for the same price as the top SmugMug account you can get a guaranteed unlimited storage account for 4yrs. The $900 you save could easily be put towards the missing services a straightforward storage account doesn’t provide.

    I can’t get nor agree with their rationale.

  16. Thomas –

    Nice post. Just a few thoughts :

    – Is the comparison between Netflix and Smugmug that far off? Sure, they’re in different industries, but they’re both ultimately based on customer relationships. And my guess is this hullaballoo is less about $100 and more about those dynamics. The timing just before a holiday weekend, the order of magnitude, the “wishy washy” reasoning — those actions aren’t exactly endearing to customers.

    – The “we haven’t raised our prices in seven years” is a pretty poor excuse. I realize that they are (or were) bootstrapped, but I can’t imagine that they’ve been absorbing cost increases / poor financial performance for six years and just woke up to to higher prices. Cost increases tend to happen over time — not all at once.

    – I agree that there’s a level of customer “parsing” underway, but I’m not seeing the logic. I’ve got about 24 gb of images on my smugmug site and have sold about 4,000 prints over the years. Smug makes money on my annual fee and the print markup. A friend here in town also has a SM account. He’s primarily into video, has about 85 gb of files on site and has sold fewer than 10 images. Smug’s new pricing encourages him to stay and me to leave. I’m sure there’s a reason, but it’s beyond me.

    – And I truly get your Getty comparison. But Getty can charge that rate — because they can. There are very few stock houses with the reach of Getty. On the other hand, there are a number of viable competitors to Smugmug. Smug has a lot of great things going for that service, but they’re also woefully behind on other important areas. (Ever seen their digital offerings?)

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I’ve heard that they’ve been reaching out to some customers with a “we’re sorry, here’s a discount.” If that’s true, it has the chance to make this whole situation a lot more interesting.

  17. Ok, so this is obviously a contentious issue with people. I’ve been gone all day without a computer so I’m just getting around to responding to some of these now.

    Doug says: “They could have easily left the photo package without video and many would have been satisfied with that.”

    Yes, that is one option, but then you’d have the folks who do use video all upset saying “you said you’d support my video sales and now you took it away. My whole business was based on selling videos of people’s weddings and now I can’t sell them. That’s not fair!”

    AitchyBoy says that they shouldn’t sell unlimited storage. That people should pay for what they use. But they made the unlimited storage account years ago when it seemed more manageable. To now all of a sudden change the terms and say you have to pay alot more for your greater storage would seem even more unfair to many. Also some of the folks that are using the most storage are also the ones that SmugMug makes the most money off of because of print sales. So if a wedding photographer is using a full terabyte of storage, but also is selling boatloads of prints that SmugMug is making money off of and now they want to charge him $2,000/year so that they can subsidize smaller, less profitable accounts, how is that fair? This photographers print sales may generate over $3,000/year to SmugMug, but they still have to pay for the storage.

    Unlimited storage is also useful from a marketing perspective. Folks like the idea of unlimited storage. Even if many may not hit big storage, when people are signing up they will wonder if they will hit it and it will be too expensive. How much should they charge for a terabyte. It’s a big mess trying to change the definition of unlimited at this point and I think that would piss off some of their most important (and profitable) users.

    Noel says that you can’t compare bumping up a camera lens and SmugMug’s service because SmugMug’s service is a greater percentage increase. Well, SmugMug is also a much better/faster site than it was in 2005 as well. Is a 5D MIII worth double what a 5D from 2005 is? Maybe.

    Kelly says that this is more about SmugMug eliminating the “little guy.” Well the little guy can stay at $150 if he wants. He doesn’t have to have an increase. He just needs to give up the ecommerce engine. If he can’t generate $100 in print sales a year (the difference to upgrade to Pro) maybe he should be reconsidering whether or not he should be selling photos at all. Or maybe he should work a bit harder at promoting his work to sell more prints or what not. I’m not sure what the answer is here but if someone can’t generate $100 in print sales, I’d say it’s time to reconsider selling their stuff this way online. Maybe they are better off hosting it on a blog themselves and handling the few print sales per year that they get one on one rather than using SmugMug’s ecommerce engine?

    Mark says he’s only using 1.24 gigabytes and wants to pay for what he uses — the same argument as AitchyBoy. Problem here is you have mass revolt from your most profitable users who are using more plus you have everybody angry with you because you promised unlimited and now are going back on that.

    davet01 says that this is about the MacAskill family wanting steak instead of chicken. Wow, just wow. The MacAskill family has been generous to a fault. With their customers, with their employees. These are some of the most caring, considerate, kind people you’ll ever meet.

    You know how I met Don MacAskill in person? We were both waiting in line to buy the original first generation iPhone at the Palo Alto Apple store. Here’s a photo from that night of Don and Baldy and Robert Scoble listening to Apple icon Bill Atkinson talk about working at Apple years ago.

    Do you know why the MacAskill’s were there in line? Because they were buying iPhones for each of their employees who work there. Because it’s a tool to help them do their job better. You know what else? that night Don bought pizzas for everyone who was spending the night in line and fed everyone.

    Don wasn’t at home eating steak. Instead he was out eating pizza (that he paid for) and sharing it with everyone else there in line as well. Because that’s the kind of guy he is. To try to characterize this about being greed by the MacAskills or saying that they want to eat steak instead of chicken is out of line.

    Sure, the MacAskills are in business to make a profit. That’s what businesses do. But these are some of the most generous people you’ll ever meet and they care about going about it the right way.

    Suzanne wonders if they should have phased this price increase in over time. Maybe that would have been one way to do it. But then you get people upset all over again. If you raised prices $25/year for four years instead of $100 one time, with each $25 price increase you’d lose customers and get people all angry all over again. People would say things like “what! you just raised prices last year, why are you nickle and diming me?”

    TabbyCat says that small time part time photographers might dump SmugMug over this. Maybe. Perhaps some will. That’s a consideration that they have to think about. But will over 50% of their customers dump them? I doubt it seriously.

    “Trey” is just an anonymous troll who wants to criticize my photography and compare it to stamp collecting. It’s funny how folks like him always post anonymously. Personally I could care less what “Trey” thinks about my photography.

    Thanks to everyone for all the comments. Thanks also for being respectful in this discussion/debate.

  18. In response to the following:
    “If people want to complain about high fees, how about complaining about Getty/Flickr payouts. Last year they took around $14,400 of the money made by *my* photos. You see Getty pays photographers 20% and keeps 80%. SmugMug on the other hand gives Pros an ecommerce engine that can sell both stock and prints and they pay out 85% of mark ups and keep 15%.”

    This is apples and oranges. If you are represented by a stock (or other) agency, then you are getting the benefit of their name, reputation, and promotion. You’re a “Getty” photographer. No one, on the other hand, is a “Smugmug” photographer. In fact, most pros are looking for ways to disguise the fact that their site is on Smugmug. Smugmug is not selling and promoting our photos, they are hosting sales. They do absolutely nothing to promote us. I have exclusive representation for the retail art market and get a very low royalty, but they sell tens of thousands of my prints and get me on postcards, in stores, etc.—something I am not in a position to do on my own. It’s a fair trade-off. Smugmug’s 15% commission is fair, in my opinion, but it’s certainly not comparable to professional representation.

  19. I’m not a SmugMug user at this point, so I have no horse in this race. In my view, the price increase is probably justified (more on that below) but perhaps SmugMug might have handled the roll-out a bit differently.

    About pricing, you touch on something that has long baffled me about what photographers will pay for and what they won’t. I first noticed this when I encountered folks who were using versions of Photoshop that were two or more older than the most current versions – basically because they didn’t want to pay the upgrade fee. The strange thing is that the same folks will go out every month or year and drop a thousand or two or three or more on a new lens or an updated camera or a tripod without much of a pause – yet, in their actual photographic work, the importance of Photoshop is almost certainly far more important than any one piece of gear. After all, every photograph uses that tool, and it essentially functions as the replacement for the darkroom.

    So, in the grand scheme, you are right that $100/year doesn’t seem like much – though I have a bit of sympathy for folks who aren’t thrilled with the way the process was handled.


  20. I am a long time SmugMug user and part time portrait and wedding photographer. SmugMug has always had fantastic customer service and was one of the main reasons I would refer people to them. I am very disappointed in the way they handled the announcement. An email sent out after business hours on the Friday of a long weekend, is not the time to deliver news of a price increase. I feel like they were trying to send out the notification at a time when people would not see it. It came across as very underhanded and the opposite of what I expect from SmugMug.

    When the time comes to renew, I’ll have a look around at my options.

  21. Smugmugs new price is not too high, but it is now the same as its competitors. And that will put it at a competitive disadvantage.

    The way they have introduced this is unprofessional, and that will alienate some existing customers.

    Unlimited storage sounds good, but its like an all-you-can-eat buffet, after 10 minutes you are full up and you haven’t eaten much more than you would anyway.

    Thomas Hawk may have personal reasons for supporting Smugmug, because he sprays out images onto the web relentlessly and indiscriminately and I suspect he may be one of the heavy users……Oh yes, that reminds me….If I see another spiral staircase or blurry nightshot of a city with too much contrast and a vignette…I promise you I will scream!

    Anyway, I would say that most people use less than 10Gb or even 50Gb and they may feel that they are subsidising heavier users (like Thomas?). And that will create bad feeling amongst users. It is good marketing with these systems to allow a pay-as-you-grow service. That’s how and why competitors employ pay-as-you-grow services.

    Smugmugs USP was low cost/high storage. But…most people don’t need high storage (high storage=greater than 50GB), and most people like low cost.

    The Smugmug USP now doesn’t exist anymore at the higher cost.

    Normally in business, sudden changes in policy that adversely affect customers, and announced at short notice, are made because of problems, sometimes financial. Is Smugmug about to go bust, or is it about to be sold?

  22. Denis Grenier, why did you have a pro account if you don’t sell anything? Switch to the cheaper accounts. It strikes me as odd that so many people who aren’t pros sign up for pro accounts. They have $40 and $60 per year plans for people who aren’t pros.

    G Dan Mitchell, wannabe-pros always have the top equipment because they think that is what makes a professional photographer. Actual photographers know that being a professional is more about presentation, sales and marketing than having the latest DSLR. You can show off your DSLR to friends, but not Photoshop or Smugmug.

  23. AitchyBoy,

    Your distate for my photography sounds more like petty personal jealousy to me than anything. Nobody is forcing you to look at my photography. Maybe it would be better for you to just stay away from it. I won’t be disappointed, I promise. How about you keep your personal insults to yourself or keep them on your blog and not here? This way you won’t have to scream anymore. Or is it that you just can’t stay away? I’m fine letting my work stand for itself.

    I think my own use of SmugMug is not material in this case. I have no idea how much storage I use. I can tell you though that I probably use 20x more storage on Flickr as that’s where I keep the majority of my body of work. I can’t sell on Flickr per their TOS though unless I do it through Getty and they get their whopping cut. I can on SmugMug though.

    Do you really have this much hatred for a company because they want to charge you $100 more per year? And now their cost is, according to you, the same as their competitors? That really drives that much animosity inside of you? Do you even use SmugMug? What is the link to your account? I’m also interested to see what your superior photography looks like.

    You don’t know anything about SmugMug’s financials. You don’t know anything about how their revenue comes in. You are not the CFO of the company.

    If a pay as you go model was the best thing for the company they probably would have done that. There are so many considerations though that you can’t know or won’t consider. For example.

    Let’s consider the possibility that the majority of the company’s revenue came from their top 5% of storage customers. Let’s say that it was the wedding Pros that sell a boatload of photos, that use a boatload of space, that generate the vast majority of the company’s revenues. And let’s assume someone like you sells one photo a year for $10 and uses less space but is far less profitable to the company. From a business expense does it make sense to do something which has all of their wedding pros switch to a new service leaving them with the same revenue problem as before just with less users? Maybe it’s the heaviest users who are subsidizing you and not the other way around.

    Not to mention, now the company has a huge backlash problem because they promised unlimited storage and now they are going back on that. People love to bitch. I can just imagine the bitching that would go on (most likely from the people who aren’t even using the storage) if they changed their terms and went back on that. That would likely be as great of a firestorm as this or greater.

    Finally, all you can eat may in fact help the company from a marketing standpoint for future profitability. You may not like it but a lot of potential customers do. A lot of people use Sprint because they offer an all you can eat bandwidth model for their phones.

    The point is that you do not know the company’s financials. I’m sure many different scenarios were considered and thought out and in the end this is what made the most sense to them.

    What I know is that there are good people behind this product. Good, well meaning human beings who want to do the very best that they can.

    No matter what they did, no matter how they tried to raise fees or change terms, there would have been a backlash of sorts. They are doing the best that they know how to run their company and they have my admiration and support for that.

  24. Christina, how would you suggest that they handle the price increase? Would it have been better to announce it on a Tuesday morning so that it got the maximum exposure possible? Would it have been better if they bought advertisements on the interent announcing this great new price increase of theirs? Should they have put a big banner ad on everyone’s account to hit them over the head with it? Should they have personally called every customer on the phone to deliver the bad news in person? Would that be better for the company? Would it be better for them to have people even more whipped up into a frenzy than they already are?

    The fact of the matter is that this is not great news to have to deliver. As a general rule companies don’t go out of their way to promote their bad news to as wide an audience as possible. This is bad for business.

    The timing of the announcement should not be why people are angry about this. This is how companies do things. And they were around and engaging customers over the weekend while this was breaking as well. Active, engaged, involved.

  25. I think G Dan Mitchell’s point is right on. If you are using a SmugMug Pro account you have to consider that this is the price of doing business. I’m blown away at the amount of money some people will spend on gear as well and then complain about the little things.

    I’m trying to document the 100 largest American cities. Part of this involves buying airine tickets and flying around the United States to take photographs. I consider this part of my cost. If Southwest airlines charges me $100 more for a ticket this year than they did in 2005 am I going to scream about it? Of course not. Sure, everyone would rather pay less. But it is a cost of doing business. A check came in the mail today for $2,500 for a license I sold for prints that were made from buying that plane ticket.

    If you don’t want to be in business, this is fine too. SmugMug has lower tiered plans that may be just the right thing for you. But if you want to be in business and you can’t generate $100 in sales per year (the cost increase) then maybe you need to seriously reconsider if you should be in business or not in the first place? Or maybe you should reconsider your business and try to do more marketing so that you do sell more than $100/year in photography. Or maybe you should use a lower tiered plan on SmugMug and tell people to contact you personally if they want to buy a print. If you are selling less than $100/year this will likely only be one or two emails/fullfilments per year that you need to personally deal with.

  26. Thomas, I believe you are misrepresenting what I said when you sum it up as:

    “Mark says he’s only using 1.24 gigabytes and wants to pay for what he uses — the same argument as AitchyBoy. Problem here is you have mass revolt from your most profitable users who are using more plus you have everybody angry with you because you promised unlimited and now are going back on that.”

    I didn’t say I want to pay for what I use. I clearly said I do NOT want to pay for what I do NOT use and I never suggested going back on the unlimited storage space. Clearly, if I’m only using 1.24 GB of space and someone else is using 5000GB of space and storage is the reason for the price increase, I am covering the cost of storage I am NOT using. I don’t have many print sales, but I guarantee I have covered the cost of that 1.24 GB of space and then some.

    I don’t understand the conclusion that there would be mass revolt, either. If I were offered a plan where I could have the e-commerce engine access I want and I could CHOOSE to pay less in exchange for agreeing to limit the space I personally use. As it is, my ONLY choice is to pay for service I do not utilize. Being told that I will pay an extra $100 either drives to another e-commerce solution or encourages me to add to the problem by beginning to use that storage space. Poor logic either way.

  27. T Hawk,

    I often don’t agree with your posts. And I am not sure what I think yet of this whole price increase.

    What I will say is this:
    Keep doing what you’re doing. The blog. The photos. G+. All of it.

    I don’t understand why people are on here bashing your photography. Makes no sense. If they don’t like it, there is this address bar thing at the top of the page that it can be used to go elsewhere. They should use it.

    Thanks for starting the discussion and for letting people say what they want…idiotic or otherwise.
    Keep the posts coming. And keep the photography factory running.


  28. All I am saying Thomas is that Smugmug are no longer different to anyone else in terms of pricing. And there are newer services that present images in a more modern and dynamic way. Those newer services charged more, but not any longer.

    Smugmug are still at the bottom end, but they now have a whole new set of competitors.

    Flickr and Smugmug are two different services. Flickr was designed as a photo sharing site, not photo selling. You can use smugmug as both. Flickr is also very old fashioned and needs completely revamping. But as long as the money keeps rolling in, why turn it into something else? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Some people at smugmug as elsewhere use ecommerce even when they sell nothing because they are trying to and failing and/or building a collection of images that they hope will sell in the future. There will be many who sell enough to cover costs, which is fine for them. There are every type of person selling photography from the 1 or 2 prints a year to full time very successful stock producers.

    What Smugmug are doing may be right for the company, but is it right for the customer?

    I never said pay-as-you-go. I said pay-as-you-grow. Smugmug already have a pay-as-you-go system. Grow, grow, grow….that’s what I said… and digest.

    As for your photography, there is nothing wrong with it, it’s perfectly competent, but you are no great talent…times have moved on I’m afraid and anyone can make images of their pets (or whatever) look cool without having to be anything more than competent. Is that too harsh a comment for delicate ego’s? Well it’s very easy to be frank and honest in this respect because the tone of your response elicits very little sympathy from me.

    If you put yourself on a pedestal…….

    And lets be honest you’re no Jay Maisel are you? Or Steve McCurry, or any of the greats. Nor am I of course…..who is?

  29. AitchyBoy. You say SmugMug can no longer differentiate themselves from other services, but I believe that maybe they can. Price is not the only factor for why people choose products. I personally feel that the service that SmugMug gives their customers is first rate and that counts for something as well. But this is a business decision for them and none of us know the revenue dynamics of the company.

    What I’m saying is that you certainly seem hostile over this incident. Let me ask you again. Do you even have a SmugMug account? How do we know you are not a competitor simply bashing the company when it’s down? What is your SmugMug url? A search on SmugMug for AitchyBoy doesn’t turn up any account at all: Nor does the name you used to register with to leave this comment on my blog. You question my motivations for supporting the company here. How about this. Here is a link to my SmugMug account. Now if you really even have an account let’s see the link to yours.

    You say that there is nothing wrong with my photography, that it is perfectly competent, yet feel the need to bash it at the same time. You claim I “put myself on a pedastal.” Where do I claim to be the world’s greatest photographer? Where do I make big oversized claims about the greatness of my work? My work in fact is quite personal to me. Or is having a blog at all simply by it’s very nature a silent proclamation of personal greatness? Why don’t you back up some of these claims of yours? You obviously seem offended by the quality of my work and have a need to scream if you see another photo of mine that you dislike. Q: Is someone forcing your eyeballs open like they did in Clockwork Orange forcing you to watch my images over and over and over again? Are your hands tied behind your back while someone types my blog url or my flickr url or my smugmug url into your account to force feed you the work that I create? No. You choose the urls that you go to. You choose where you go on the web. It’s your choice.

    If I don’t like a radio station I change the station. But I don’t feel the need to go on to the radio station’s website and complain about how terrible their music is.

    You ask if what SmugMug is doing is right for the customer. Maybe staying in business is what is the right thing for the customer and that is what they are doing here? Maybe it’s better to do this than to layoff hard working loyal employees who are trying to make the site better than it is today. Again, are you even a customer at all though or just some bitter guy with an axe to grind?

  30. Matt, thanks for the support. And thanks to everyone who has stood behind some of the best people out there behind this company. I’d encourage any of you to also share your support to them as well on Twitter or other places as well. Sometimes we forget that there are good people behind companies and that they can use encouragement sometimes when things are down.

  31. Nobody has exhibited any anti-smugmug behaviour in the comments of this blog.

    Anyway, to look at some of the points you make…

    Heavy use (storage wise) users with lots of sales – ie those people you call ‘best customers’ – are making lots of money out of a system that is costing them very little. You also say that people don’t make decisions based only on price, so why would those ‘power’ users who (you say) are making good money from smugmug object to paying a little bit more, so that light users who also want e-commerce can pay a bit less?

    Today’s light users are often tomorrows heavy users. smugmug need the light users, so why (potentially) alienate them?

    That is the crux of the problem. A flat fee when the flat fee is cheap is fine for everyone. But a flat fee when it’s no longer cheap will bother light users a lot more than heavy users. That is logical. That is common sense. That is not anti smugmug in any way shape or form.

    You say that you are personal friends of the family who run smugmug and you also say this…

    “Sometimes we forget that there are good people behind companies and that they can use encouragement sometimes when things are down.”

    That says to me that smugmug are in difficulties, what else does ‘things are down’ mean? You are the one talking to the owners of the company. Financial difficulties?

    As for the off-topic stuff, you demand that I identify myself and yet you operate under a pseudonym. Thomas Hawk is a made up name.

    You probably know more than anyone that the internet has a long memory, and you have quite a reputation and I seem to have made you very angry, and I apologise for that. But you write a public blog, and I stumbled across this post. We all have as a basic human right the freedom of expression without fear of repercussions, and I would appreciate it if you could afford me that, even if you hate me.

  32. I constantly see that people will spend $3500 for a camera, $1500 for a lens, $300 for bags… but then balk at the price of Lightroom or Photoshop or other software tools that help make what they’re creating with that camera the final vision you had in your mind when actually using all that gear.

    This is a cost of doing business, the open world here will decide whether to stay or go. Complaining about it is a waste of energy really. I hold a pro account and will investigate my options and decide if its good to stay or go.

  33. I just wish Smugmug had offered more options. Not every professional photographer that makes money off of prints has built up a large business. My business is very small. I have a full-time job, and I’m not looking to move beyond a couple sessions a month. I would have been up for an option that had limited storage (where I clear out my galleries occasionally to make room for new ones) but the ability to still make money off of prints. As it is now, it’s basically pay double and be able to make money off of prints, or pay the same price and not being able to run a business through it. $300 might not be much for a full-time photography business, but for us part-timers, doubling the price is a significant jump. Smugmug needed to survey their faithful users and find out what they really want and then design different levels of accounts based on their customers’ needs. I have had a positive experience with Smugmug and really want to stay with them, but I’ll admit, I am shopping around. I may even just opt to order for customers from Bay Photo ROES.

  34. Here’s a quote from Makaskill:

    “Thank you so much, Kate. I know this price increase is more painful for all of you than it is for us, but we agonized over it for 7 years and at the end of the day to keep up great service, do great engineering, etc., this is what it took.”

    And my comments in response to that quote:

    Service & engineering? Or is it to stay in business?
    “at the end of the day” what it will take is a CEO who knows how to run a company and not wing it, whoever that might be.
    What company in their right mind agonizes over a small price increase, does nothing for 7 years, then doubles their price all of the sudden?
    This whole thing makes me think that there is a bigger issue at hand here. Something is fishy here.

  35. Well said, Thomas… SmugMug currently has one of the slickest photo-hosting services I’ve come across, and I understand their need to raise prices. As a full time software developer, I can say with some admiration that SmugMug provides perhaps the most fully-featured, powerful, yet easy-to-use interfaces for configuring and customizing one’s photo site available. I don’t sell my photos for a living, but the sheer convenience of their print-ordering infrastructure and their website customization was more than worth a Pro subscription for me. And ironically, I can use their services to prepare my prints as gifts for friends and family much easier (and even cheaper) than I can prepare and mail those prints myself. I hope they stay in business for a long time. 🙂

  36. I have been with Smugmug since 2005.I was trying very hard to think of a company that supplies a service that has not had a price increase in 7 years,I could not think of one that I use or even know of for that matter.I have emailed their customer support and Chris MacAskill himself replied back to me the next day (thanks again Chris).I find Smugmug provides me with a fantastic service and will continue to use them for as long as they provide that service.Thanks Smugmug,you guys rock.

  37. MacAskill leaves poorly written, poorly thought out comments in those blogs. He just blogs all day long? Isn’t he the CEO?
    The unlimited file storage on all account levels is going to bankrupt the company. People are furious because they are paying for other peoples storage. No price increases for 7 years, and the result is a clunky to use site that goes down quite often for maintenance. “We don’t want you to have to choose which photos matter most” is their reasoning for letting people upload unlimited gigabytes, terabytes of files at no extra charge. People have built their businesses, their brands around smugmug. They need a company that makes sound decisions.
    There are a lot of good things about the site, but all in all, I think they are headed down. This is just the first sign. Thousands of customers are canceling.
    My instincts tell me they may be in financial trouble. Maybe they make it, maybe they don’t. We’ll see.

  38. Rob, I think it is 40 employees. A bunch of them probably just answer questions all day long through their email support. If the site wasn’t so clunky to use they wouldn’t need to do nearly as much of that.

  39. Dustin, I balked at PS recently because they ruined the crop tool in CS6. It’s HORRIBLE. And they don’t care. I tried calling and they blew me off. Classic mode isn’t even a real classic mode.

  40. I am afraid too many people want something for nothing. 7 years without a price increase is pretty good. I cannot to think of any service I use that has not increased prices in 7 years. I have a SM Pro account and have received EXCELLENT customer service from them every time. Their staff is exceedingly prompt, courteous and helpful. They have gone out of their way for me several times.

    I thought it was a classy move for the CEO to record the video explaining the reasons for the increase. No one LIKES paying more but I am sticking with SM and look forward to seeing their continued improvements. I hope for continued Improvements and easy customization for their front end web designs. The back end e-commerce has been terrific for me. Many print labs, sizes, and merchandise options. Overall very happy with SM.

  41. I do understand their price increase. I have been with smugmug for years, and wondered how they could store all those photos. Now realizing that i do not need them to store my hi-res files. I may go back to Photoreflect, only $9 a month and unlimited upload as they only take up thumbnails and pull hi-res when needed.

    I will miss smugmug but we all have to make business decisions.

  42. Ok, I am going from 100 to 300 dollars a year, that is more than just a 100 dollars. I have sold pictures on smugmug, but smugmug took every flipping dime of that sale, I saw nothing (and yes my pricing sheets are correct).

    Your experience all the way through this is totally contrary to my experience. And I do respect you, highly. But it is odd that you and I can have such radically different experiences with the same site.

    I also license through getty via flickr, so on that our experience is the same.

    But as a pro, it is really hard to justify smugmug based on my own experience. And while I do feel like I pulled the plug on grandma and that I am carving my arm off, I think we will all make our own decisions based on our experiences. I am glad your experience with smugmug has been awesome, but this last year with smugmug has been increasingly difficult for me, and have had more problems with uploads dropping off or failing, problems with what I post, featuring galleries, traffic has dropped off significantly in relationship to flickr. All the way around, I love smugmug, but 300 a year was the nail in the coffin of a very bad year.


  43. Nice sell man,but only your fan boys will buy it. It just means more photogs will move to Photoshelter etc…

    BTW; they also cut funding and raised prices on the Meetup groups that SmugMug runs.

  44. It think it would be fairer to say that SOME Pro accounts use a ton of storage. I’d love to see a histogram of storage use for all the Pro accounts. The policy is to make all of us pay the same amount each year, but that’s going to just subsidize the hogs. I suspect 95% of Pro accounts would be paying for storage needs of the 5% — those people who upload lots of video, or use the site for archiving all their images in addition to a store front set of categories. I’m not saying this is the wrong decision for SmugMug to have made…eventually they’ll be left with Pros who are happy with cost. But I wish they’d be up front about the data.

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