Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Transparency

One goal I have for Phanfare is to be as transparent as possible with our customers. When you entrust your photos and videos with a company, you want to know what is going on within the company. It’s a partnership between the company and the customers. In that spirit, here is some roadmap information so that our customers know what to expect from us.

This release was intended to move away from freemium and go back to a 14 day free trial (I will write about why in a future entry). In addition, we put back in the simple web hosting model that was so adored by our customers. We deprecated the social networking a bit, in that it is harder to find, and a bit harder to use. Forums has some color on what is harder to us about the social networking so I won’t go over it again here.

We are planning a pro version of Phanfare to be released during the summer. The Pro version will include the following features, broadly.

  • Much more customization of the look of your site
  • CNAMES
  • Phanfare navigational banner removal
  • Phanfare subsites. You will be able to designate a set of albums to http://yourname.phanfare.com/soccer, for example, and that subsite can be open or have its own password. Subsites should address a bunch of diverse situations including wanting to share a subset of albums with a client, or put up a public site of albums for your soccer friends while having your main site be password protected.

In addition, we plan to polish the Phanfare Premium offering a bit, including better tracking of who is opening your sharing invitations so that visitor reporting is more interesting.

We have not yet announced the pricing for Phanfare Pro. Note that the initial product will not have the ability to sell your own prints.

We are moving away from unlimited storage for new customers. This will happen mid-summer. Expect to see storage limits on both Premium and Pro accounts, plus the ability to add more storage. We are doing this because we want every customer to be profitable. As currently designed, new customers with small accounts subsidize old customers with big accounts. I don’t like it when my best customers are the ones I don’t make money on. It’s not healthy.

For now, we plan to leave our existing customers with unlimited storage accounts. I realize it would be a negative surprise if we were to suddenly impose storage limits when none existed when the person signed up. We will continue to evaluate this issue from time to time.

We have some lifetime customers that we signed up early on in our existence. Those customers will get Phanfare Pro accounts.

Note that having everyone pay their fair share for storage enables a bunch of features that can be included in the product without worrying that the storage use will be high. For example, storing RAW files and higher definition versions of video are no issue if everyone is paying for the storage they are using.

All these changes are aimed at rationalizing the business in sensible and simple ways. Like any lemonade stand, it is important that the cost of the ingredients be less than the selling price of a cup of lemonade.

We realize that some people will find Phanfare too expensive. That is ok with me. The truth is, delivering the Phanfare service is tremendously expensive and archiving your fullsize original photos and videos is a luxury item. We live at the high end of the market and cater to prosumers and serious amateurs. This has always really been true (70% of our customers have digital SLR cameras) but in the last six months, we have come to grips that this is where the market lies for us.

Yesterday’s release is one half the story. Without knowing that we plan to impose storage limits on new users, you might wonder how we could afford to lower the price. And without knowing about the Pro version planned, you might wonder what features will be used in lieu of the current groups feature.

Whenever you talk about the future, you risk being wrong or late. But our engineering team has traditionally executed very well and I expect we will get the things done that I described above during the summer.

Two companies that come to my mind when I think about transparency with customers is USAA and Vanguard. I am a customer of both these companies and I find that they consistently communicate their core values and share much of their internal workings. I hold both these companies up in my own mind when I think about building Phanfare into a lasting company.

  • http://www.vinodlive.com/ Vinod

    Kudos to the transparency initiative. Glad to hear that the existing Premium customers will get unlimited storage too.

  • TiggerDisq

    This is all so impressive to me. I looked at so many photo sites back when I signed up and I am very happy that I chose Phanfare. The only one regret that I do have — that I didn't take the lifetime account when I had the chance. As for the Pro account …bring it on!

    I'm currently using the 8.0 MP Canon PowerShot S5 IS. It's not a DSLR but it works for me… for now :)

    Thanks Phanfare Team. Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.twiblr.com rlieving

    Anyone who has dealt with Phanfare service will know it is first class all the way. I think it is a huge advantage over other photo sites, not to mention Phanfare just looks better.

    Thanks for these posts and keep up the great work. You have done a great job with Phanfare and I look forward to the future.

  • Ryan

    I sure would like to see some sort of pricing plans/limits…I'm looking to sign up, but not sure if I'd get what I”m looking for in the end. I don't think I'll have HUGE storage requirement, maybe 10-20GB, but do want the banner removal/CNAME option. Without knowing pricing/features/storage, I'm torn in my decision.

    And thanks for being honest/up front…goes a long way these days.

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    The storage limits won't apply to you if you signup before we introduce pro (and the limits on new accounts). The pricing of the pro plan will be competitive. We might announce it as we get closer to the release. You would only pay the difference to upgrade. And of course could choose not to.

    The initial version of pro will include cnames and ribbon removal along with more customization of look.

  • Ryan

    I would assume the premium would remain about what it is at $50, but worried that pro would be like $150. (sort of what other sites are doing).

    I am ok with the $50, but not $100 more just to get banner removal and CNAME Support, which is usually included in the competition's packages. I'd hope those two features are included in a more reasonable premium package, with features like selling photos for profit in the pro package.

    I've tried most of the other services, and like Phanfare's layout the best. News of customization is great; I look forward to that. The Application to upload is really neat…wish I'd found something like that before.

    Obviously, more to come…any light Phanfare could shed would be appreciated.

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    Our premium pricing is not changing. $49.99 is the price…in fact, we just lowered it in anticipation of new premium accounts having storage limits when we introduce pro.

    Just to be clear, our plans are to introduce pro this summer. At that point, new premium and pro accounts will have storage limits. New premium accts will have a hard limit. New pro accounts will have a greater limit, and the option of adding additional storage. So a customer who needs more than the premium amount of storage will need to upgrade to pro, which will give them much more storage.

    Based on current usage, 90% of our customers would fit into the expected storage limit of the pro accounts. The additional storage charges will therefore be invisible to just about everyone but very heavy storage users.

    With a rational plan in place to charge people for storage, we will be able to do features that today we have been reluctant to do because of the storage cost: longer videos, 1280p video (we do 720p today) and raw files.

    Which uploading process are you using?

  • Ryan

    Currently, I'm hosting my own site using Gallery2, and looking for a change. FTP Uploading was normally how it went… the ease of the application is fantastic.

    Now, I won't even pretend to know anything about your business model or how it all works, but here's what I'm hoping for:

    10-20GB storage (think you said about $4/GB)
    ???GB bandwidth (not sure how much is used now)
    Optional Banner removal
    CNAME support (love using my own domain name)
    Continued PC Application usage
    Layout adjustments
    CSS tweaking (custom colors, fonts, etc)

    for about the $50 current price point. Again, I have no idea of that's a sustainable system/business model or not, but I can dream, right? :D

    I'm not sure what features that might leave for Pro; I know you've got some goodies brewing. I'd suspect the bigger/longer videos, more storage, selling photos, and maybe premium support (although the couple of times I've asked questions, it was very impressive already)

    I'm excited to see what the future holds….

    And lastly, I'm impressed/shocked that a CEO is actually taking the time to talk with (potential) customers directly. A class-act that I think should happen more often in the rest of the world.

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    You are going to wind up on our pro plan. The banner removal and cname support are going to be pro only features. The storage will be at a pro level. No current plans to do css tweaking. It breaks sites.

    Bandwidth is nearly never an issue. We only turn off users who are hosting pirated video to thousands of people. Those people can use youtube ;-)

    We are not a huge company. I dabble in customer support. I maintain the blog. The forums everyone in the company reads. Our support wizards use a ticket system and are more responsible in making sure every issue gets resolved and every question answered. Depending on whether I am traveling or taking a deep dive on some other issue, I am not always responsive. But when we roll out new stuff, communicating changes and engaging customers is my #1 priority.

    Hope to have you as a customer.

    BTW, I want to give a shout out to http://www.disqus.com. This new comment system makes it possible for me respond to comments using email, which is awesome.

  • Ryan

    Ok, one more question…if you can answer it…

    Is it safe to assume that the “Pro” plan (with the features I'm interested in) will be more than the current $50 for the premium?

    I appreciate your open honest feedback, and will wait eagerly for more announcements here on your blog.

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    yes, the pro plan will include everything from premium plus more and will cost more than the premium plan (which I want to just rename Phanfare at some point).

    I will announce the pricing when we are about two weeks out, once we know exactly which features we are going to get done for the release.

  • richdea

    Well done, Andrew. Looking forward to the Pro product. Ready to sign up right now. Will we be able to upload HD video? Specifically native AVCHD video? I hope so.

    By the way, I have all your stuff running on Win 7 RC1, release 7100 and everything is stable.

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    AVCHD is not well supported by us today.

    We take video in a variety of formats and resolutions. Generally, we re-encode any video over 4 megabits/second, and it is difficult to get a 1280p video to look a that bit rate. no problem making a 720p video look good at that bit rate.

    I don't know the technical details of why AVCHD is not well supported, but it never has been. note that you can re-encode the video (hassle to be sure) and upload it and it works.

  • Rich DeAugustinis

    Then what is the best format to re-encode the video into before uploading it that maintains as much of the resolution and sharpness as possible? Right now I am re-encoding to a .mpg file using the Sony PMB tool that came with it. I am open to any suggestions.

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    Ideally, you just send us whatever you have and we do the rest. But we dont convert avchd. So in that case, the goal is to send us the best looking movie that is under 4 megabits/second. I would recommend h.264 at 720p resolution.

  • Michael

    As lifetime customers with unlimited storage, I'm sure we're all looking forward to getting Pro accounts (even though I'm by no means a Pro). Will we be getting unlimited RAW storage when Phanfare Pro rolls out?

    Just out of curiosity, how many lifetime customers are in existence today?

    Thank you for taking care of us!

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    Lifetime customers are about 7% of our paid users. We have have not yet made any decisions about how we reconcile offering longer videos and RAW file support to existing unlimited storage customers, including the lifetime customers and the premium customers who choose lifetime.

  • Stephen S

    If there's one thing about Phanfare that I really like, it's the transparency. I can't pretend that I've liked every decision that's been made, but I like that you explain it all so plainly. I've been with Phanfare for a few years and love the service. Thanks Andrew.

  • Richard Clements

    Andrew -

    I just discovered Phanfare from a newsletter item from image-resource.com. I have been playing with the 14-day trial, and like what I see so far (it sure isn't flickr :) ! And anybody who holds USAA up as a business model gets serious kudos in my book – they are a true model of how a company should be run.

    Now I am not sure what I should do/exactly what the options are for the future, with the changes that I see are coming soon. I am not sure I understand how this will work.

    If I sign up for the $50 plan now (7/4), do I get unlimited lifetime storage @ $50/year in the future? I am not a pro photographer, but my wife and I have a lot of GBs that would be nice to have in offsite (not at home) archives (I did read your blog about that – good stuff).

    Does this deal change when the Pro accounts come out? I am not so concerned about CNAME (don't even know what that is), removal of Phanfare name from the banner, etc. I guess the question that is not clear to me is: how do my features/costs change from what I have now when the new 'system' comes on line soon. Do I have to upgrade to Pro? Am I 'grandfathered' in?

    I appreciate your time and willingness to provide guideance.

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    Glad you found us. We love the imaging resource guys.

    Customers who sign up before august 1 (or whenever we actually roll
    out the release that introduces pro) get unlimited storage going
    forward.

    The 49.99 price should be stable for a while. We just lowered it
    anticipating that new limited storage accounts. In a way buying right
    now is a bit of an arbitrage.

    You won't need to go pro in august. That is entirely optional.

    Once we introduce storage limits for new customers we will be in a
    position to also do features that eat storage for dinner: raw files
    and longer HD video.

    We will likely add these just to pro and probably won't worry about
    our unlimited storage customers who buy pro and can access those
    storage hungry features without limit.

    Tapping this from my iPhone from the beach (Gotta love the disqus
    email to comment gateway)

  • Brian

    I remember seeing this thread a few weeks ago, but must have overlooked the part about Pro accounts for current lifetime customers. It's Christmas in July!

    And just think, I agonized for weeks whether to cough up the money for a lifetime account. Can't wait for the rollout!

  • http://www.bostinchristopher.com/ Bostin

    I have been a “lifetime” member of Phanfare for quite sometime. I am thrilled with the upcoming changes to the system. Back in the days of Phanfare 1.0, I longed for what will now be the “subsites” system. This really will be the best of both worlds IMO. Never could get friends/family interested in the registration process. Having a /family subsite with a password will be just the ticket.

    And, I want to say a big ups to the company for taking care of us “lifetime” subscribers. We rolled the dice with you back in the day and I am glad to see that you recognize our value to the company.

  • Frank B

    I know that lifetime members have a one-time option of having all of their photos and videos sent to them on DVDs for no charge.

    Has this been done away for annual subscribers with the introduction of archive DVDs?

    I am trying to convince a good friend of mine to migrate from Flickr to Phanfare before the unlimited storage is phased out. Does the migration tool preserve albums and captions?

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    I not sure we have a flickr import tool. We no longer offer all your
    stuff on DVD if you ever leave bit we may again after august 1st when
    the new storage policy will increase margins for new customers. The
    unlimited storage offer is worth more than the DVDs for heavy users so
    I would suggest they join now.

    We honor our free DVD offer for any customer who signed up when it was
    in force, which is typically a customer who signed up prior to Jan 1,
    2008.

  • Michael

    If we sign up for the 14 day trial today and decide to become a paying member after August 1st, will we still be locked in at $50/year?

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    Yes, and more importantly you will have an unlimited storage account. On august 1st we will be introducing Phanfare Pro at a higher price and new customers at the premium and pro level will have limited storage accounts with options to increase storage for additional cost.

  • Michael

    If we sign up for the 14 day trial today and decide to become a paying member after August 1st, will we still be locked in at $50/year?

  • http://blog.phanfare.com erlichson

    Yes, and more importantly you will have an unlimited storage account. On august 1st we will be introducing Phanfare Pro at a higher price and new customers at the premium and pro level will have limited storage accounts with options to increase storage for additional cost.

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