Kodak risks major PR fail after Kodak Gallery purgeKodak has done the unthinkable by alienating vast swathes of long-term customers by deleting pictures stored in the Kodak Picture Gallery.

The Gallery stores ‘billions of photos’ for it’s 75m members, and the costs associated with running this part of its business forced Kodak to change its terms and conditions

It now requires users make at least one ‘annual nominal purchase’, otherwise their pictures will be deleted – unless an annual fee of either $4.99 (for sub-2GB accounts) or $19.99 (for heavier users) will be charged. 

Kodak says it has communicated this via email ‘over a period of months’ (it started to message users almost a year ago), but nevertheless, many users have been shocked by the decision to delete their pictures. Certainly it’s not something that sits well in the Flickr age.

Yes, but doesn’t Kodak allow users to take their pictures with them? Why of course it does! The trouble is, it makes it extremely difficult for users to remove their pictures from the Gallery. Kodak doesn’t allow users to download sets of pictures, and states on its website: “You can only download original high-resolution images, one photo at a time.” Hardcore!

There are other options, of course, although these involve ponying up some money to a company that by now has probably annoyed you to the point of a cat kicking, or worse:

  • Option one: buy an archive CD! One user called Matthew Knell was quoted almost $70 for around 3,000 photos. 
  • Option two: pay the annual storage fee! That will be $19.99 for those 3,000 snaps, thankyouverymuch.

Matthew commented, on a blog posts titled ‘Dear Kodak – stop holding my pictures hostage’: “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?”

On the one hand, you have to admire the outright capitalism involved here. Many companies provide different service levels to different types of customer, with the least profitable actively encouraged to darken a competitor’s door. But on the other hand, is this really the way to deal with 75m customers, many of whom have used this service since the late-1990s (when it was called Ofoto, before Kodak purchased it)? 

Needless to say, Matthew Knell isn’t the only disgruntled customer. He’s collated a few of the things that are being said about Kodak on Twitter:

“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

 “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

This threatens to blow up in Kodak’s face in a big way, if those 75m customers are occasionally active. What we’re seeing now may be the tip of a very large iceberg. And remember that when things go wrong for multichannel, multi-product brands, then it can get really messy.

You might argue that it’s up to users to ensure that emails are received, and to keep on top of T&Cs, but if for whatever reason you missed Kodak’s messaging it will be a major shock to realise that a decade of memories have been erased. That’s a lifetime of brand damage right there… ouch.