georges' blog

June 6, 2011

Newsflash: Phanfare Sucks Again

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 8:41 pm

This post, Phanfare Update: Sucking Less, Again, contains new developments related to this story.

Phanfare is doing it again, sucking that is.  Three years ago, Phanfare abandoned their lifetime members by moving to a free model like Flickr, Shutterfly, Picassa, and others. They also put the whole thing behind a login, meaning no public galleries.  After several weeks of hearing from outraged users, Phanfare reversed its decision and welcomed back their subscription members including their lifetime members.  When we started using Phanfare, you could purchase an annual subscription for $59 or a lifetime subscription for $299.  $299 was a pretty good chunk of money to throw down on an Internet service, but it was supposed to be for a lifetime.  And it was a pretty good investment, because their annual subscription price has been going up steadily and is now $99 for the premium account.

Well, in 2008, when they moved to the free model they refunded our lifetime subscription in full.  And when they took me back as a lifetime member, they took me back for $299 less the $59 I had paid to SmugMug for an annual subscription. See, I had cancelled my account and moved my galleries to SmugMug. You can read about that whole thing at this other post. So, now they are up to it again. Phanfare has been bought by Carbonite. And Carbonite is not honoring lifetime subscriptions. They also are not refunding our annual subscription. They have converted it to Phanfare credit. So, they have effectively turned my lifetime subscription into a six year subscription that I’ve paid in advance, and I have but three years remaining on it. No offer to refund my subscription so I can take my business elsewhere.

I’m pretty agitated, but I tried to remain civil in my letter to Phanfare’s founder and CEO, Andrew Erlichson. I also avoided making lame threats about unliking them on Facebook, blasting them on Twitter, and emailing and phoning the major tech podcasts and blogs. Here is the letter I just sent to Mr. Erlichson:

Dear Mr. Erlichson,

I have been a Phanfare member for a longtime. I find the service elegant, the desktop client and the iPhone client too. I simply love it. There are few Internet services I like as much as Phanfare. That being the case it was very difficult when in 2008 you changed your business model and dispensed with public galleries, lifetime subscriptions, and as I recall custom domain names. It was painful, frustrating, and fundamentally a breech of trust. Reluctantly, I cancelled my account and went through the less than painless steps to migrate to smugmug. However, you ultimately listened to your users, reinstated public galleries and lifetime memberships, and I gladly came back. Now it seems you are doing it again, only worse.

I have a couple of questions for you:

  1. Will you back-peddle on this decision like in 2008? Because I certainly would prefer you did, and before I go through the work of moving my galleries to another service.
  2. Will you refund my lifetime membership? Three more years does not in any way equate to a lifetime. Also how is it fair that I should pay three years in advance? Let the money sit in my bank account rather than yours. That is, should I even decide to stay with Phanfare for three more years. Phanfare is a considerably different value proposition than it was when I started with it back when an annual subscription was $59.

I have been an evangelist for Phanfare and Carbonite, both at my work as a systems engineer at a major research university, but also among my social network. I really like both brands. However, I find this kind of behavior, this mistreatment of your most loyal customers, intolerable. And its not merely abandoning the lifetime program, but also the ungenerous terms by which you are doing it. I hope you are willing to listen and use your position to fight for your most loyal members with your new Carbonite management. Please, honor what I see as a reciprocal agreement, the lifetime membership program, that is, and you will keep this happy Phanfare and Carbonite customer and advocate and likely many others.

Sincerely,

Kendall George

http://gallery.georges.nu/

What follows is Mr. Erlichsons letter, just for the record. This is not his response to my letter, but the letter he sent to notify lifetime members of the purchase by Carbonite and what is going to happen to our memberships. I’ll post any response I get from him in another post.

Dear Customers,

I am writing to inform you that the Phanfare business has been acquired by Carbonite, the online backup company. When we started Phanfare in 2004, our goal was to create a beautiful, permanent online archive for our photos and videos. Carbonite shares our values, our commitment to data integrity and our attention to customer support. They are also a significantly larger and better-capitalized company. The entire Phanfare team is joining Carbonite including myself.

But there is a wrinkle. Carbonite is not acquiring our lifetime subscriber program, as it does not fit with Carbonite’s disciplined approach to ensuring that all customer storage accounts are associated with annual revenue. We are therefore discontinuing the lifetime program.

Your account has been converted to an annual Premium account and Carbonite has deposited $299.95, your original purchase price, in Phanfare credit into your account.  This credit is good for Phanfare merchandise and annual subscription renewals and will expire if not fully used after three years. You will need to accept Carbonite’s terms of service when you next login to your account.

I am sorry that we have to discontinue the lifetime program, and I am sure you are disappointed, but I am certain that in nearly every way, the sale of the Phanfare business to Carbonite will help us deliver on our commitment to store your photos and videos for life. We sincerely hope that you stay with the Phanfare service as an annual customer so we can continue to serve you.

I want to tell you a bit about Carbonite. Carbonite is a leading provider of online backup solutions for consumers and small and medium sized business.  Our vision and their vision are very much aligned. Carbonite was founded by David Friend, who serves as their CEO. Like me, David loves to communicate and interact directly with customers. I think we have found a great home for Phanfare and I believe that your personal investment in organizing and uploading your photos and videos is even better protected under Carbonite.

You have been with us a long time and we appreciate your ongoing support. We have exciting plans as a combined company as we embark on this new adventure.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me personally if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Andrew Erlichson

aje@phanfare.com

Founder & CEO

Phanfare, Inc.

10 Comments »

  1. Good Morning,

    I too received a similar Phanfare letter several hours ago and agree with you completely. Here are 2-more points to make:

    1. When Phanfare was a fledging internet start-up, those that selected the lifetime membership route were: (a) taking a chance with our ‘investment’ and our photos, in what could have been a risky endeavorer; and, (b) assisting in Phanfare’s initial/critical early funding. This latest event is no way to treat ‘early investors’.

    2. I’m guessing an enterprising lawyer will look upon this situation as an opportunity to mount a class action suit. I’m hoping, in the end, Carbonite will do the right thing.

    I’m curious to see if the ‘This Week In Technology’ (TWIT) Network talking heads have anything to say about this, but Carbonite is one of their sponsors, so I’m not expecting much.

    I found your blog with a “PHANFARE + CARBONITE” search. Thanks, Rick

    Comment by RICHARD HESS — June 7, 2011 @ 2:50 am

  2. Guys, I understand your frustration and we will do everything we can to honor our original commitment to you and get your content back to you if that is what prefer. If you use the wayback machine, you can get copies of our terms of service from 2006 when we had the lifetime program in place. Please send me email personally at aje@phanfare.com.

    Thanks,

    Andrew
    Founder & CEO
    Phanfare

    Comment by Andrew Erlichson — June 7, 2011 @ 7:47 am

  3. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it goes. Nobody cares anymore about a given word it’s only money what counts. I want my Lifetime Membership back… Andrew & Carbonite

    Henry

    Comment by Henry — June 7, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  4. Richard, I’m with you in every respect, including your suspicions that this will get little attention from the podcasts and blogs that Carbonite sponsors. I’m also with you that the best outcome would be to honor the life time memberships. I’m really not interested in moving to another service. If that is what it should come to, that should be made easier assuming Phanfare honors their 2006 member agreement, the agreement in effect when we signed up for the program. Section 5 of the 2006 Member Agreement states that:

    Phanfare may terminate a lifetime subscription at any time by returning the photos and videos to you and returning your original purchase price, currently $299.95.

    Here’s a link to the archived 2006 Terms of Service for convenience.

    So, in a worst case scenario, users should be refunded their $299 and be able to take it to another service. At this point it would be worth mentioning that SmugMug provides essentially a feature for feature subscription level for $59. So, your refund will last you 5 years rather than a mere 3 at Phanfare/Carbonite. There are utilities to migrate from Phanfare to SmugMug that I used in 2008, specifically Smugglr and Migratr. They were less than stellar in 2008, I hope they have improved in the meantime. I am in some ways looking forward to trying SmugMug out again. They seem to have better customization options… They also now support sub-albums, which they previously did not. In 2008, their clients were feeble. I hope also that that has improved.

    All that said, I’d rather stay with Phanfare, but I’m getting the impression that a refund is the best/most likely outcome of this unfortunate business.

    Comment by kendall — June 7, 2011 @ 9:27 am

  5. As I suspected, getting back your $299.95, original purchase price, is the best outcome most lifetime members can expect if they are unsatisfied with the arrangement specified in the email notification. I had a pleasant and candid conversation with Andrew Erlichson and believe he really wants to do right by Phanfare’s lifetime subscribers. That means honoring the 2006 member agreement to the best of his ability or continuing to provide great service under new ownership.

    Although I’m leaning strongly toward moving to SmugMug, for many lifetime subscribers staying with Phanfare is a fine option. I see new posts about the joys and travails of Smugglr and Migratr in my future.

    Comment by kendall — June 7, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  6. I’m also an original lifetime subscriber who LOVES phanfare and is extremely disappointed by this new arrangement. Notwithstanding the fact that I also like Carbonite, I want the original terms that I signed up for!!!

    Comment by Sheryl — June 7, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

  7. I like the sentence in Section 5 of the 2006 agreement:

    “In the event of an acquisition of Phanfare, change of control of Phanfare, significant merger, or other legal reorganization, Phanfare may terminate lifetime subscriptions by returning photos and videos and returning your purchase price.”

    I’m no lawyer, but sure sounds like they should give us the option to have our full $299.95 returned to us instead of just credits. They are also supposed to return our photos and videos back to us on DVD, which should make the transition to other sites less painful.

    Comment by Bob — June 8, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  8. Talking with Andrew Erlichson and also reading the comments at the Phanfare Facebook page make me doubtful that anyone will be getting DVDs of their content. It sounds like they are working on a Java downloader which will allow users to pull down their entire gallery to a local machine/attached HD. That is quite possibly a better solution for users anyhow it allow you to have all your photos in the same location rather than on multiple DVDs. Most Phanfare users have around 10GB of data and that would require 3 or more single layer DVDs and a whole lot of time.

    I for one, am not waiting for the Java downloader. Last night I used Smugglr and transfered my entire gallery into SmugMug. Smugglr is a plugin for the Firefox browser, so naturally you’ll need to install Firefox if you don’t already have it. Being a browser plugin, it’ll work in Mac OSX, Windows, and even Linux. I would recommend starting it when you don’t plan on using your Internet connection as it seems to consume about as much bandwidth as is available. You will want to check on its progress however. It crapped out on me half way through, but when I resumed it picked up exactly where it left off. In the end, it only took about an hour. It appears to have done a pretty good job of importing about 10GB of data, 196 albums, and over 3500 photos, and retained the captions and album descriptions. Much better than when I first tried it in 2008. You can see for yourself at http://georges-nu.smugmug.com. I need some more time to check out themes and customization, and then I’ll move my CNAME when I get done tweaking. Smugglr will import from a variety of photo sharing sites but only to SmugMug. If you are looking to move to another service like Flickr, Picassa, Photobucket… then you will probably want to try Migratr. It will go from any supported service to any other supported service. It, however, is for Windows only. I didn’t use it, but I installed it just to have a look. It will pull down your entire gallery to your local machine, so again, no need to wait for Phanfare to produce their Java downloader. It will then push your photos to the service of your choice. I can’t vouch for how well it works, but this is what it advertises.

    As far as SmugMug goes, it was the most promising alternative to Phanfare when I went through this in 2008. You can try SmugMug for 14 days for free. A subscription is $59 year. And I read somewhere that you can get your first year half price with the promo code PHANFARE. Going to try that out and see if the rumor is true. Good luck!

    Comment by kendall — June 8, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  9. I just ordered 4 archive disks for all my photo’s and video’s since 2006. Thanks Andrew and Phanfare, its been a blast but now its time to shop around.

    Regards,

    Comment by Mike — June 8, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  10. [...] This is an update to post Newsflash: Phanfare Sucks Again. [...]

    Pingback by georges’ blog » Phanfare Update: Sucking Less, Again. — June 9, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

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