Strife at smugmug, a journal post

September 1:

I’ve used smugmug for years to host my photos and photo business. Last night they basically raised their pro hosting prices by 66% (100% for new customers.) They raised my price basically to where my annual cost is more than the small amount of prints I sell make, so I’m looking for alternatives. This post will be a work in progress as I make that journey. I may or may not move my site, but there’s no time like the present to check out the competition.

First things first, I needed to find a site or tool to move photos from one place to another. Upload Junction is just that. Bookmark it.

The first service I’m checking out is Zenfolio. It’s the most obvious direct competitor to smugmug in my mind. I’ve opened a 14 day trial there and am looking for coupons or deals on their services. Their regular price services are less than the new smugmug prices, basically in line with what smugmug was.

We’ll see how that goes, and I’ll update this post as this journey progresses. What other options are out there?

September 1: a little later in the morning…

Just got a tweet from Photoswarm – adding them to the list of places to check out. First question to research will be about migration capabilities…

even later in the morning…

My Zenfolio import is done. Wow. That was easy. All of my images from smugmug were imported in their respective galleries (about 25 gigs worth) in a couple hours. +1 for zenfolio. Oh, and their interface, well, apparently I had no idea what I didn’t know as a smugmug customer. This is looking good for zenfolio.

Now to check out photoswarm.

and the evening…

I’m not so hot on photoswarm. It just didn’t grab me. I’m going to focus on ZenFolio for now. to that end, the import from smugmug was automated and amazingly easy. I was able to get my galleries all sorted out and organized in just a few minutes, and set up the front page slideshow (will need format tweaks) and the link to this blog in about 30 minutes. The interface is downright intuitive and even elegant compared to smugmug. Seriously.

September 4:

After nearly 1,200 comments on the news.smugmug.com blog that was linked in the email and  no real response from smugmug other than support people trying despearately to stomp on embers floating from the raging forest fire, I decided to check out dgrin, the smugmug forums. Not a lot there, not surprising, but one thread that struck me was that the 10th employee and Chief Operating Officer announced on August 1st on the forums (that he created, actually) that he was leaving the Company – in a very corporately PC way, and with little explanation. I’ve worked in corporate America for 20 years. Do I believe that this is entirely coincidental? No. Long term C-level people that were there “from the beginning” most often leave on differences in princples or as cost cutting sacrificial lambs in my experience. Either way, it struck me as odd at the very least.

I also noticed that the autopopulated renewal on my smugmug account page has reverted to my “old” cost and level. My account is due for renewal in February. Originally after the announcement that field had changed, just as the email had said it would. Not drawing any conclusions from that yet, but it’s worth knowing.

On the personal front, I’m weighing the differneces between Zenfolio and smugmug in real terms now that I have my Zenfolio site up and running. First impressions are that Zenfolio kicks the stuffing out of smugmug from a UI perspective. If I jump, it’s with the knowledge that I’ll have paid for and lost almost half a year of my smugmug subscription – thus making the jump more costly. Something to consider. Maybe I wait until January 31 to jump ship.

Or not.

September 4, later:

For comparison purposes, this is my smugmug site, with edits and organization that took me weeks to figure out the first time, then a year or two later I reverted to the “easy customizer” because I got tired of pasting CSS and scripts in to the templates: http://gusstrand.smugmug.com/

 

September 5:

Still no news I can find or see with any real response from smugmug to the affected customers. Am I missing something? The best dialogue seems to be on Don MacAskill’s Google+. The original blog post has just under 1,300 comments at the moment, and is becoming bandwidth-prohibitive to load. The themes are basically still the same as over the weekend.

I wanted to mention photoswarm again – I did check them out and they offer a nice gallery solution if that’s what you are looking for. I personally am looking for a few additional features and liked the interface at Zenfolio better.

I’m going to look at Photoshelter to make sure I’m not missing something. At first glance, their $30 per month program is the closest to what I am looking for, which is basically 3x the cost of what I’m considering at Zenfolio, but I need to check it out for my own peace of mind.

Oh, and I just updated the Upload Junction link above. It was broken. Apologies. FWIW, Upload Junction will also work if you are considering moving from smugmug to Photoshelter.

The silence on smugmug’s sites concerns me. No real damage control or triage aside from “Our Heroes are here to help!” While we customers are out looking diligently at the competition – often something we were just too complacent to do, and some of us are pretty amazed at what we’re finding out there. Had we not been smacked in to looking, most of us would still be obliviously accepting our UI and experience at smugmug as normal. The aforementioned silence is tipping the scales for me, and the longer it’s quiet, the less chance smugmug has of retrieving my business. Of course, If they lose my little contribution, they just need one brand new pro account customer to join, or two existing to stay…

September 6:

Checked out photoshelter last night. Wow. It’s robust and I like the SEO, but the cost outweighs the benefit for me. Great option for pros making a full income from this endeavor, though, and a good competitor to the newly priced business option at smug.

The blog post reply action at smugmug is dying down exponentially, still hasn’t reached 1,300 comments. Still no official response I’ve seen.

Part of me is still loyal to the grassroots feel and attitude of smugmug.

I’m almost mourning my relationship with smugmug. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve turned on to them over the years, so there’s even some amount of guilt related to that. After experiencing first the timing and ingenuous feel of the smugmug announcement and subsequently the user interface and options available at the competiton, most of me is no longer loyal.

On a whim this morning I looked up the dictionary definition of smug. It seems to be, well, interesting at least. I’ll leave you with that for now:

smug [smuhg]
adjective, smug·ger, smug·gest.
1. contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.

September 7:

It’s been almost a week since the emailbomb was dropped. Posts continue to trickle in to the news.smugmug blog, but honestly, there’s no new news I can find from TPTB at smugmug.

I’m about 55% ready to make the cut go with Zenfolio. My smug account doesn’t expire until February, so I’ll most likely leave it there until then and put together an exit strategy that will point people to the new site for a few months. I’m glad my account doesn’t expire soon so I can direct any residual traffic to the new site. If you are considering leaving smugmug, take that in to consideration and point people to wherever you land. Don’t cancel until your account expires, and be sure to disable the automated renewals.

WAIT! Breaking news! A new news.smugmug blog video was posted trying to address customer comments: http://news.smugmug.com/2012/09/07/chris-don-macaskill-answer-questions-about-smugmugs-price-increase/

Give it a look.

September 10:

I’m in a bit of a quandry, but I’ve basically decided what I’m going to do.

I have five months left on my smugscription. I don’t really have the funds to blow that off and jump to Zenfolio, which I have deemed as my best option.

I like the Zenfolio User Interface and customer experience from a usability perspective exponentially better than the smugmug version. It’s almost like Zenfolio has been surfing the smugmug “What do you people want” threads for the last four or five years and coding accordingly. Seriously.

The Zenfolio option I need that competes most directly with the “old” smugmug pro is $120 annually. I wouldn’t have even known there was such a competitive option to what was the smugmug pro plan when it was $150 before the now legendery email from a week or so ago.  Now, with the smugmug pro at $300, or whatever it is or becomes for legacy subscibers, the bottom line is anything more than the cost of the Zen premium plan is more than I really want to pay.

Part of me wants to just bite the bullet and break out the plastic rather than wait until I have the coin, but get this: I spent less than four hours TOTAL transferring and customizing my Zenfolio trial site. That includes the transfer process! I can easily do that again.

So after all of this, my plan is as follows:

  • I will stick with SmugMug until my subscription expires.
  • I’m printing all of my customizations I did on the Zenflio trial to pdf’s – themes, colors, pricing, etc.
  • I already have a time bound to-do in my Toodledo queue two weeks before my smugmug is up for renewal to re-up at Zenfolio and get my CNAME and all straightened out for a smooth transition.
  • In the mean time, I’m working to kludge together my smugmug site so it’s almost as pleasing design-wise as the Zenfolio is. I don’t think I can do that without going in to the Advanced Customizations (CSS and scripting) of smugmug, something I am vehemently against after experiencing that a couple years ago and swearing I’d never do again. I guess I was wrong, or am stupid, or both.

I know there are plenty of people jumping ship right now, and I have to say, I don’t blame you. I may join you in a month or five, but for now, I just can’t afford to.

On a completley separate note, I do have a short mail thread going with a Support Hero, and thay have been entirely helpful and civil. That’s good, of course, and I know they want to help – but for me the bottom line for staying or going is just that. My own bottom line.

When my subscription price officially goes up, I’ll have no choice. It’s simple economics for the amateurs/enthusiasts like myself. Would I pay $250 ($300 if I were new) at smugmug or $120 regardless at Zenfolio? Given the UI for both account holders and their customers and customizing capabilities it’s a no brainer… and honestly it makes me sad.

 September 11:

Spoke to a support hero today, unsolicitied and at his urging. He helped get my smugmug site to look much more the way I wanted it to – he had seen what I had done in the Zenfolio layout, made some assumptions and and led me through some quick customizations that simplified and made my site more pleasing to my tastes.

That’s the service you hear about.

Dang it, guys, you’re making this more difficult. I’m already feeling guilty.

But thanks. ;)

September 24:

Keeping my smugmug. For now.

Last Update: January 17, 2013:

The time has finally come to make a decision. My smugmug subscription is nearing expiration.

 

 


Comments

Strife at smugmug, a journal post — 5 Comments

  1. I’ve gotta say, your Zenfolio site looks much cleaner, nicer. I also was smugmugged over the weekend. I’ll be interested to see how you end up ranking Zenfolio to Smugmug after some time with both. Keep us posted. I’ll likely be moving to Photoshelter but the folks I use to send to Smug will likely be sent to Zen instead.

  2. Thanks guys. I do like Zenfolio. Ronn, what is making you lean toward Photoshelter? I had looked at it but it seemed cost prohibitive in relation to the others.

  3. Pingback: Why I am leaving Smugmug. Hint: it is not just about the money

  4. Great commentary – I was in the situation also, and researched all options. It came down to the others dumbing down the view panel where I couldn’t see image names, and other info, I and my clients were used too seeing. And I just like the interface of the SmugMug better. So — kicking and screaming; I’m staying also.

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