Photobucket’s increasingly aggressive emails are the last straw for many people

28th February 2019

Since the turn of the year, many former Photobucket users have been receiving ever more desperate emails urging them to upgrade their Photobucket account.

They started off quite mild, but of late, they have become more urgent and demanding and it’s not helping their cause.

This all started back in June 2017 when the world woke up to find that all their third-party hosted images on Photobucket had been replaced with an error message, the dreaded P500 ‘dial of death’.

Photobucket P500 error

Photobucket had, in effect, switched off the internet for many. Millions of images disappeared and to this day, bulletin boards across the world are still awash with the dreaded ‘dial of death’

The solution was, apparently, to give Photobucket $399 a year and they would allow you to resume using their service and use the third-party hosting facilities.

The strange decision to do this, without warning, meant the firm coming in for huge amounts of criticism and accusations of holding people to ransom.

After all, this had always been a free service and to overnight be told that it would immediately cost you $399 to get back the same service that was free the day before, led millions to vent their anger on social media and bulletin boards across the world.

Commercially, it made no sense for them to continue to offer the free service, that much is clear. But what annoyed most people was the way in which they attempted to implement the change.

They could have given people notice, introduced a range of tiered packages and let customers decide what was best, but to suddenly switch everyone off and effectively demand money with menaces meant they got a lot of bad press and effectively destroyed customer loyalty.

The decline in their traffic was immediate and spectacular and from this, they have never recovered.

Photobucket traffic - all time

Photobucket’s recent email marketing is bizarre

Which brings us to the current round of emails.

The problem is that Photobucket is lumbered with a huge number of legacy accounts; previous ‘free’ users that refused to pay the ransom demand and have simply abandoned their accounts. Every account takes up space on a server and this costs the company money.

They could try and turn these accounts off but to do so would delete all the images and they have promised, all along, that your images always have been and always will be, safe.

The only way out of this is to encourage people to buy one of their packages and this is where the emails are causing a stir.

First of all, the email headline is designed to scare. From the start of this year, they have sent emails with headlines that say

“[Urgent] Your Account Requires Immediate Attention”.

Not only does this look spammy to anyone with a degree of technical nous but to anyone less technically savvy, this appears threatening.

Inside these emails have been a range of strange and bizarre messages, all of which demand that people take action immediately to upgrade their account but at the same time adding, at the bottom, that;

“If you do not select a new paid plan, you will not be able to add photos to your account and must either delete or download images to meet the free plan limit.”

The problem with this is that anyone who has abandoned their account will simply ignore it. After all, they don’t want to add to their account nor bring their plan within the new ‘free plan limit’.

Why would they?

On 30th January they sent an email, which read like this;

Photobucket 30 Jan email

Your Account Requires Immediate Attention
Recently, Photobucket announced that all free plans would be limited to 2.5GB (approximately 250 images). Your account is currently restricted because you have exceeded your free storage limit.
What You Need To Do
For just $1.99 per month, you can upgrade to our lowest priced premium plan ever! That’s over a 50% discount! (reg $4.48). You will get 25GB of storage (room for approximately 2,500 images) as well as priority access to our new state of the art image editor, among other features.
Upgrade Now

Photobucket 30 Jan email 2

Act Now Time is Running Out.

What If You Do Nothing
If you do not select a new paid plan, you will not be able to add photos to your account and must either delete or download images to meet the free plan limit.

Once subscribed, we will not increase your monthly rate for 12 months. Offer expires at midnight on January 31, 2019.
No long term commitments. cancel anytime. Enhanced Hosting not included with this offer.
To manage your notification settings, click here.
If you no longer wish to receive emails from Photobucket, simply unsubscribe. Photobucket respects your privacy. For our complete privacy policy, please click here All rights reserved. 3000 Lawrence St. Suite 141, Denver, CO 80205 

©2019 Photobucket.com

The following day they tried again with a ‘1 day remaining’ message;

Again this email focused on the ‘Act now’ principle including the message;

Photobucket 31 Jan email

Your account is about to exceed the free storage limit.
What You Need To Do:
UPGRADE NOW
Act Now Time is Running Out.

The aim, of course, is to push people to take action and at first glance, many would have been fooled into thinking that they had to do something. I have no doubt this wave of emails generated a lot of response but I’m also certain that anyone who understands email marketing would not have been impressed with this.

Different month, different approach?

We then had a lull of a few days, taking us into February, at which point the tone of the message changed. They went from hectoring to cajoling with a pre-Valentine’s Day message which read;

It’s time to take our relationship to the next level for Valentine’s Day

Photobucket valentines message

When you signed up for your free Photobucket account on [Insert date here], you may not have been sure that we would last this long but… here we are! Thanks for sticking with us!

To show our unwavering love for Valentine’s Day, we are offering our most popular plan at a deeply discounted price! For just $1.99 per month, you will get 25GB of image storage – enough space for all of your past, present and future memories! You will also get our unwavering commitment to keeping your photos safe forever*.
Please accept our proposal today!
Just say, “I do” to this incredible offer because while our love will never run out,
this offer ends on February 15th at midnight!
I Do!

New paid subscribers only.
Offer expires at midnight on February 15th, 2019.
Once subscribed, we will not increase your monthly rate for 12 months.
No long term commitments. cancel anytime. Enhanced Hosting not included with this offer.
See Photobucket’s Member Bill of Rights for details
To manage your notification settings, click here. If you no longer wish to receive emails from Photobucket, simply unsubscribe.
Photobucket respects your privacy. For our complete privacy policy, please click here All rights reserved. 3000 Lawrence St. Suite 141, Denver, CO 80205

©2019 Photobucket.com

It was definitely a different tack, and again, some more people may have been persuaded but not, I’m sure, the diehards, who can’t forget the world of pain these people caused in June 2017.

Fast forward two weeks and we’re back to threatening again. Same message but a different image;

Photobucket 25 Feb email

WARNING: Your Account has been Restricted

YOUR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION IS REQUIRED!
Effective today, February 25, 2019, your account has been restricted due the fact that you are exceeding the free storage limit of 2.5GB (approximately 250 images). For your reference, you are currently using 3 of image storage. This means that you are no longer able to add photos to your account and must either delete or download images to meet the free plan limit..
What You Must Do
For either $4.48 (monthly option) or $48.38 (discounted annual option), you will get 25GB of storage (room for approximately 2,500 images), plus watermark free image hosting, use of our new state of the art image editor, among other features.
Buy Monthly

Buy Annual

If monthly option is selected, we will not increase your monthly rate for 12 months and you may cancel at anytime.
To manage your notification settings, click here. If you no longer wish to receive emails from Photobucket, simply unsubscribe.
Photobucket respects your privacy. For our complete privacy policy, please click here All rights reserved. 3000 Lawrence St. Suite 141, Denver, CO 80205

© 2019 Photobucket.com

It’s interesting to note that we have moved from ‘What you need to do’ to ‘What you MUST do’. It’s a subtle change of language but an important one. The outcome and consequences are the same, but they are now going way beyond asking nicely, they are telling you.

Does Photobucket have any future?

It’s interesting to view this with some distance and perspective from the ‘corporate brain fart’ of June 2017. At that time, they demanded $399 a year to restore a previously ‘free’ service to the same level it was.

Today, they are asking for just $1.99 a month ($24 a year), discounted from the regular $4.48 a month ($53.76 a year).

The ‘third party hosting’ elephant in the room has been quietly shifted into the background and now, even on a free package, you can use this facility. Free accounts, however, get a ‘Proudly hosted by Photobucket’ watermark across the image, which is removed the moment you pay for the service.

Ironically, had they introduced this in 2017 and given people notice of the impending change, most users, me included, would have been happy to upgrade. After all, I used the service pretty much daily for years and loved the simplicity of the site (once you’d waded past the awful advertising on the home page that probably explains the steep decline in traffic from 2015 onwards).

Today, with the very top package costing under $125 a year for hosting over 100,000 photos, the pricing makes sense. It makes sense to both the user and the business. $399 never made sense to anyone.

Photobucket plans Feb 19

Any business trying to build a subscriber base would do well to take heed of this message. Free is an interesting business model but ultimately, it doesn’t work. Not only is it really difficult to reverse out of this non-charging situation, but it also burns cash in the process.

This message should have been clear from the dot com boom of the late 1990s.

Asking people to pay, even a modest amount, means you have two things.

Firstly you have a customer base to whom you can market, upsell and nurture. Secondly, you have a revenue stream.

And if you want to run a successful business anywhere, anytime, this is essential.

So, will Photobucket survive? Probably, but no thanks to the corporate misstep in 2017.

They appear to be offering a reasonable service at a reasonable price and assuming they are not haemorrhaging cash, this makes for a decent business going forwards.

But if they continue to hector people via email about upgrading their account then there will be another backlash and I doubt they would survive a second one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *