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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Founder & CEO