Dear Kodak…. Stop holding my pictures hostage

Update: 8/13/2009 - Posterous‘ co-founder Garry Tan had a similar experience to mine and as a result created a Ruby script to download all Kodak photos in bulk.  See his comment with the script here (use at your own risk! :) )
Update: 6/16/2009
Read my summary post of the results and final observations.
Update: 6/15/2009 – I wrote a piece about my experience for Advertising Age’s DigitalNext blog.
Update: 6/15/2009 – My photos have been restored! Kodak PR rep says Kodak is “still working” on the bulk storage problem and recommends this as a way to grab my photos.
Update: 6/2/2009 – This story has been featured in a Consumerist blog post, which I have to say, has the best feedback and comments about the issue so far.
Update: 6/1/2009 – My story has new been featured in a post on a econsultancy.com called “Kodak risks major PR fail after purge of the free” – read it here.
Update: 5/31/2009 – Kodak has deleted all 3000 of my photos. See reactions from my story from people gathered at BarCampNYC4 here.

kodakgallerycomc2a0terms-and-service-notification1

Once upon a time, we were buds. Back when I first had a digital camera in the late 1990s (an Olympus 360L, with a whopping 1.3MP picture depth, that cost me $299) I, like everyone else with a digital camera, needed somewhere to store them.  On the recommendation of my brother, I tried out a little photo sharing site called Ofoto, which had the novel idea printing your digital prints on good old-fashioned photo paper for just 29 cents each.  No longer would I have to develop dozens of meaningless prints to find the ones that I wanted (I was also sporting an Kodak Advantix camera at the time, and the ability to do “HD” style prints was exciting enough, but the One Hour Photo bills ran to $19-24 dollars – for a bunch of pictures that I didn’t really want), I could just pick the prints I wanted, and they were delivered to me in record time (I seem to remember Ofoto’s penchant for delivering photos in record time – usually no more than 2 days after I ordered them with standard shipping).  And the best part, I could store as many photos as I wanted for as long as I needed to – indexed, put into sets, and shareable with friends who sometimes even bought prints of their own.   This was well before I was aware of Flickr, and before web storage was cheap and flexible.   But I figured it was a good compromise.  I begged off flirtations with Snapfish (later bought by HP) and didn’t really care much for any of the other alternatives.

Fast forward a year or two, and Kodak purchases Ofoto, and I figured, well, this is great, because it means my little Ofoto shop won’t go out of business.  And so it went.  More photos uploaded, more sets created, more memories shared.    I built up a library of nearly 3,000 pictures there.  All sorts of occasions – weddings, parties, softball games, vacations – the usual sorts of stuff that builds up over 5 or 6 years especially when digital images are easy and cheap to create.

Around 2006, I found the now “Kodak Picture Gallery” to be behind the times in it’s abilities to share and show my photos – and I weighed Flickr (bought by Yahoo) and Picasa (bought by Google) against each other in the battle for the place to store my photos, and finally last year, I upgraded to a Flickr pro account.   But I never worried about my “Ofoto” pictures – they were still there, and I’d have time to start to migrate them later.

And then I got this e-mail.  Let’s break down my favorite marketing speak from the e-mail:

“It’s long been our policy that Gallery customers make an annual purchase in exchange for unlimited photo storage and sharing. However, without a minimum defined purchase amount, some customers have ended up spending as little as 15¢. The result: Our loyal customers who regularly shop the Gallery have essentially been subsidizing those who don’t.”

Really? Then how come as a customer since 1999, I’d never once heard of this policy.  It had never been communicated to me once – until I got this nastygram with big red letters about how you were going to delete my photos.   I’m a loyal customer, recommended you to friends, and the fact that my photos were still there should TELL you that.  Loyalty isn’t always the amount of purchases I make in a given year – it’s also that fact that I’ve bothered to stick around so long. (Also, I’m happy to return the Kodak Zi6 that I’ve raved about for months, in the backwash of the Flip MinoHD launch, which I got as a birthday present, and got at least two other people to buy as a result. I thought it was a game changer for Kodak, a product that finally got it right. Guess I’m not loyal, huh?. But I digress.)

Fine. If the “problem” that Kodak is trying to address is the fact that I’m a cheapskate and “loyal” people who use the service more than I do, I’m happy to move my photos off your service and give the space back to “loyal” people.

So, now, my thoughts are, “My pictures may be deleted? Seriously? Why? Ok. Well, obviously, I don’t want that. So what are my options?”.

I did a little digging. I discovered that there are three options to get my full-resolution photos back:

  • I can download full-resolution photos for all of my pictures for free. I do enjoy the marketing spin, dripping with irony, on the help item for this:

    “Get FREE high-resolution downloads of all your digitized photos—anytime, anywhere—a benefit no other company offers for free. Because your photos are yours, you can trust us to stay out of the way of you using them however you see fit.”

    Oh really? Whew. Well, I’ve only got about 25 sets of photos, this seems like a few hours of work tops. So how do I download albums of high-res photos. Well, apparently, you can’t.

    “Currently, you cannot download an entire album of your original high-resolution images at once. You can only download original high-resolution images, one photo at a time.”

    The bold face is quoted from the help item. Ok. I have 3000 pictures stored there. There’s no way I’m doing this one at a time. That could literally be days of effort. What are my other options?

  • I can buy an archive CD. Ok, fine. Just to be done with this, I’m debating actually PAYING for my photos held hostage. How much could the CD possibly be? Well, it turns out, a lot.kodakgallerycomc2a0archive-cd
  • $70 BUCKS? You can’t be serious. So, again, you’re charging me $70 to allow me to archive my photos that I’ve stored with you.

  • I can pay the $19.99 storage fee for another year out of fear of losing my photos. Which, frankly, after the options you’ve offered for me before, just isn’t a viable option now. I’ve build definite brand disillusionment after this whole experience, and I’m not going to give you any of my money.

So, Kodak, are you serious? I have 3000 photos and now you’re telling me the only out I have for free is to download them all ONE AT A TIME? This is bush league. I’d be perfectly content to give your storage back and never give you another penny of my money if you gave me a legitimate option. But now I’m left to wonder, is this the example you want to set in a world powered by user-generated content? For a company trying hard to reinvent themselves in the digital age? In an environment where you’re losing market share to newer, nimbler and smarter companies? To be the one to put doubt in customers’ minds about storing things in the “cloud”?

The choice is yours, Kodak. And I know, with this issue, I’m not alone.

Update: Some selected tweets of people who are as frustrated as I am….

“kodak (ofoto gallery) deleted photos of my life I had for the last 15 years. They win biggest online asshole award.” – @jaztuck
“Kodak Gallery (ofoto) wants $19.99 or its going to erase all of my images. Nice welcome back. Fail.” – @gillee
“hey kodak gallery…suck it. I’ve deleted you before you can delete me. My photos now live on Picasa, I’m sure I’ve ruined your day.” – @RoseBirdLA
“Is Extortion good for customer service? Kodak seems to think so. They have threatened to delete my photos unless I spend some $$$ soon!” – @jrork
“Just paid ransom to keep old digital photos alive in Kodak Gallery after their threat to delete. They really suck now.” – @prmolly
“Amazing in a world that’s approaching free storage that Kodak Gallery is telling me I have to spend $ w them or they’ll delete my photos.” – @jonbischke
“#Kodak new policy: must spend $20/yr or they delete online photos. Not customer-oriented policy. #Fail pls RT” – @christinepilch

Updated (6/2/2009): More feedback driven by the Consumerist article:

“@terilg I had film fotos on kodak gallery w no other digi copy. Paid $30+ 4 archival disks when I got deletion email and am done with kodak” – @manamica
“What can go wrong when a company abandons freemium business model? Kodak is feeling the backlash. http://budurl.com/2zv5@daveyarmon
“Warning: Kodak Photogallery (formerly Ofoto) deleting photos if no recent purchases. They deleted several thousand of mine without warning” – @mchesner
“Unbelievable. RT @consumerist Kodak Gallery Holds Photos Hostage, Then Deletes Them [Online Photo Sites] http://tinyurl.com/mubqtm” – @terlig
“Kodak pr fail – alienation of users” – @jennibeattie
“this would irk not at all if I hadn’t written a paper on how Kodak should be more like Flickr: http://bit.ly/LrJMt from @econsultancy” – @sabina_vs_world
“RT @Econsultancy Kodak risks major PR fail after purge of free http://bit.ly/LrJMtThe end of free love? (my blog 4/20) http://bit.ly/157xh0@ddudgeon

And a fast growing list of unhappy consumers feeling cheated

And the Kodak response to date (updated on 5/29/2009):
From @jeffreyhayzlett, Kodak Chief Marketing Officer
From @kodakCB, Jennifer Cisney, Kodak’s Chief Blogger

My Tweets to the Kodak Twitterers:
To @kodakCB and @jeffreyhayzlett
To @kodakCB only
To @jeffreyhayzlett


13 Responses to “Dear Kodak…. Stop holding my pictures hostage”

  1. @lmastromauro May 31, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    All my pics have also been deleted!! Over 2000 and this is unacceptable – the Only Way to get them to listen is to bombard them With links Saying Kodak fail and when they notice their google rank showing this – they might do something!!

  2. sam June 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    backupgallery.com sells an app for $5 to download all your photos and all your friend’s kodak photos to your pc. I rescued ~15,000 photos (mostly friend’s shared photos) and about 8 years of memories.

  3. n July 7, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    Dear Ofoto,

    I want my 8000 + photos back. Pretty Please. I’ll pay the $19.99 fee. I didn’t think the folks at Kodak was serious with their pay-now or lose-all threat. And now, poof, they’re gone. Yet — there are a handful of my photo galleries listed on my Ofoto friends page. What gives?

  4. Dre July 20, 2009 at 9:33 pm #

    I also had around 2000 pictures from the last 11 years, I never received any warning emails from kodak and all my pictures are gone… is there any way to get access to them or they are just deleted from the servers…. Wow, i’m freaking out right now….

  5. Matt July 20, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    Hey guys –

    They were able to restore my photos a few weeks later, so I don’t think they’re GONE GONE… here’s the response from the Kodak rep about the issue… good luck!

    “In terms of people who have not complied with the Terms of Service and have not made a purchase, they may be able to get their images restored. They would need to contact Gallery customer service, bring their account current by meeting the purchase requirement and then images may be restored.”

  6. Nicole July 31, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    I called and they are saying as of 7/16 you can no longer retreive the photos. Has anyone else tried lately?

  7. jabberjaus August 7, 2009 at 11:13 am #

    I just today discovered I could not download to Kodak software on my computer. Then I noticed my pics show up, then fade away, then a grayed out zigzag icon. I never stored any pics at Kodak’s website, only kept them in the software, so I didn’t think that warning pertained to me.
    I tried to “chat” and was told to go to a different website for specific help….pass the buck…on the other website http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/chat/index.jhtml I was not allowed to chat…all the AGENTS were busy…try again later. Talk about bad PR. I can call 1 800 235-6325. Look at all the time Kodak is causing people to take to get something that belongs to them in the first place. Why is this not considered a crime of theft? Any lawyers on it? I’ll sign up for a class action.

  8. Garry Tan (cofounder, posterous.com) August 13, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    I just released an open source ruby script that you can run to download all your images.

    Get it here:
    http://axonflux.com/code-39

  9. Matt August 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, Garry. Sorry to hear you got the same sort of treatment, but it’s awesome that you’ve offered your solution for everyone else. I’ll try to give that an install later!

  10. ali10022 December 31, 2009 at 10:01 am #

    Ok, ok. Apparently I am one of those “dumb” people who did not back up my photos and had hundreds, possibly thousands of pictures on the Kodak Gallery website. I did not receive their notices since my account was set up with an email address that I no longer use regularly. I just logged on to retrieve and ORDER some photos of my grandparents and dog that have all recently passed away only to find that they have all be DELETED!!! The online chat “customer service” representative told me that there is NO WAY to retrieve any of the deleted pictures. O M G. I am in a complete panic over this. It doesnt look like anyone has posted here since August of 2009. Does anyone here have any resolution to this? Do you know anyone who has been able to successfully get Kodak to restore their photos after deletion?

    I also found this law firm that is putting together a class action law suit on behalf of all the consumers who have lost photos or feel they have been victims of extortion: http://www.careydanis.com/lawyer-attorney-1416090.html. I will DEFINITELY be participating in that!!!

  11. ali10022 December 31, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    I logged on to my Kodak Gallery account today after not logging on for at least a year. I recently lost my grandfather AND my beloved dog and logged on to purchase some prints of the two of them that had been stored on the Kodak Gallery site. What I found was an EMPTY account. All of my albums invisible. Like many of the other stories posted here, all of my memories from the past 9 or 10 years are GONE!!! I had everything backed up on a computer and/or an external hard drive, but those were stolen in 2008. I am completely devastated to say the least. When I created my original Ofoto account, my log in referred to an old AOL email account which I no longer check. Ironically, I do not use that email addess anymore because AOL deletes emails after 30 days or so.

    Of course Kodak Gallery’s online customer service chat representative told me the same story many of you have also been told – my pictures are “permanently deleted” with no chance of restoration, even if I now pay the required fee (which I am perfectly willing to do). There is really no amount of money on the face of the earth that can compensate us for our lost memories, but if anyone is interested in lashing out at Kodak Gallery for their horrible handling of this, I found this class action lawsuit against them online today and am definitely going to join in:

    http://www.careydanis.com/lawyer-attorney-1416090.html

    2009 was a horrible year financially for most people I know. People who are watching every single dollar spent. What if someone doesn’t have the money to maintain their Kodak account? What about all the members of the armed forces who are overseas and don’t have regular access to email? Did their photos get deleted too? This just seems to me to be an incredibly bad decision made by Kodak. I would have hoped they had a smart marketing and/or PR department that could have guided them thru this decision better. Or, at the very least, an effective legal team to cover all the bases of the ramifications of what this kind of mass deletion would cause. What will it cost them to defend against a class action lawsuit? I cannot imagine that would be less expensive than buying more storage and implementing a better marketing plan to get storage participants to purchase more products thru the site.

    If the idea of the purge was to free up space that was costing them money, wouldn’t some intelligent member of management have run a risk/reward scenario? I would think that pissing off this many people to the point of NEVER purchasing/using a Kodak product again would end up on the risk side, carrying far more weight than any “reward” offered by freeing up storage space in their servers.

  12. viqar habib January 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    I stored all my memories on kodak gallery and then got an email to but them..Purchased the cd but there was a crack…called loads of times but no response…Its been ten years and I still get upset when i think of those photos.ths was in 2000….any slight chance they might have made an extra copy of the cd????

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Kodak Beginning To Delete Gallery Photos - June 3, 2009

    [...] “So, Kodak, are you serious? I have 3000 photos and now you’re telling me the only out I have for free is to download them all ONE AT A TIME? This is bush league. I’d be perfectly content to give your storage back and never give you another penny of my money if you gave me a legitimate option. But now I’m left to wonder, is this the example you want to set in a world powered by user-generated content? For a company trying hard to reinvent themselves in the digital age? In an environment where you’re losing market share to newer, nimbler and smarter companies? To be the one to put doubt in customers’ minds about storing things in the “cloud”?” wrote upset Kodak user Matthew Knell on his blog. [...]

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