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Big Picture Classes: Forever is Gone [Updated]

Big Picture Classes has notified its customers that a huge transition is coming to the company soon, requiring some changes that have drawn the ire of its customer base.

BPC-websiteThe company had indicated when it announced that it had been sold to Studio Calico in August that a new website was in the works for its customers. On Friday, the company shared more information about the website in announcements via email and on their website – and shared for the first time that the new site will not include many of the company’s previous classes. A large number of classes, which were sold to students with the promise of “forever” access, will be retired from Big Picture’s web presence in February, after a transition period during which the company is promising to facilitate the downloading of class materials (both pdf and video content) for students.

To view the list of classes that will be carried over to the new website, click here.

In addition to the classes that will be “archived”, the current site’s message boards and galleries will not be carried over to the new site.

Several Big Picture instructors have opted to take back ownership of at least some of their classes that are being discontinued and host them on their own websites. A total of 16 classes from Tracey Clark, Ali Edwards, and Cathy Zielske will be made available to students through those instructors’ own websites. Former Scrapbook Update contributor May Flaum, one of Big Picture’s most prolific instructors, indicated when contacted for comment that her new class website craftwithmay.com will not be able to take over hosting of her Big Picture classes materials, but that she will have an announcement coming soon related to the matter.

Many in the Big Picture community have reacted with rage at the impending loss of access to many of their catalog of purchased classes. Members have taken to the Facebook and the Studio Calico message board to vent their anger at the company, and voice a loss of trust in the relationship.

The outrage prompted an unusually open – even for her – blog entry from co-founder Stacy Julian explaining the back story of what lead to the sale of Big Picture, and to the decision to discontinue classes. It hints at a company whose leadership was in over its head, and that was in worse shape than was generally recognized at the time of its sale.

Ultimately, “forever” content is ending at Big Picture for the same reason that unlimited bandwidth ended on iPhones (remember those days?). Promises were made that as technology and the business grew became untenable. As more and more content became part of the Big Picture ecosystem in the past 8 years, the costs for storing, serving and maintaining it had to grow and grow and grow. As a website owner I can attest this isn’t an incremental expense – as a site and its databases gets bigger it becomes infinitely more and more complex. Even on a site the size of Scrapbook Update it is necessary to delete old content periodically to keep the databases stable. Maintaining a site the size of Big Picture without deleting anything? Monstrous.

From a business standpoint, the challenge is that content is paid for once by customers and then it racks up expenses for long term storage and maintenance while not reaping any more (or very little) income for the company. As more and more of this content that is being supported but not currently earning piles up, the site becomes something of a (legal) pyramid scheme, where income from current classes must support the maintenance of not just the current customers’ needs but the ongoing needs of past customers as well – not a sustainable or profitable business model. This – along with the enormous costs of transferring content to a new platform – is why companies like Big Picture choose to prune content, especially when redesigning.

Bottom line: Although it sometimes seems like it, there really is no forever on the internet. Big Picture’s mistake was in promising the impossible, and not realizing that it was impossible until very long down the road. It’s now time for them to pay the piper on that mistake and it’s not going to be pleasant for them. But in the end it is a necessary step for the company’s survival. As Stacy put it herself in her blog entry “all of the challenges involved in that decision is still far better than the alternative.”

UPDATE: In response to the outcry, Big Picture has announced some changes to their plan for the transition to the new website in 2015.

  • The list of classes transitioning to the new website in February 2015 has been updated to include 16 more classes. All workshops which were launched in 2014 are now on the list and will transition to the new site.
  • Classes which transfer to the new website are promised to be available for a minimum of at least 3 years (possibly longer).
  • Big Picture is creating a sort of ghost website containing a duplicate archive of all of the material being retired on which members will be able to access their content for an additional 6 months before it is retired (through 7/31/2015). This website will contain all content – class materials, galleries, and forums – but will not be maintained or have customer support so the company is urging people with issues in that area to address them before the January 31st deadline.

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37 Responses to Big Picture Classes: Forever is Gone [Updated]

  1. rosieo232 October 27, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    This is a terrible decision and will cause me to look elsewhere for content. Factor the “forever access” into the cost of the class. It cannot add that much since space these days is cheaper than dirt. Bad decision.

    • Nancy Nally October 27, 2014 at 9:23 am #

      As a website owner myself I can tell you – The cost isn’t just in disk space to store the content. It’s in the maintenance that must be done to try to keep a database stable and secure as more and more content is added to it. It’s in the man hours needed to be expended to bring forward the content every time you make a major redesign to the site. It’s in the limitations that begin to be imposed on your technology and features when you are trying to support content that was created 8 years ago using old formats. It’s the same reasons, frankly, that companies like Apple will announce periodically that they are no longer supporting old versions of software and no longer updating old versions of their operating system.

      • Blayne White October 27, 2014 at 10:41 am #

        Great answer, Nancy. As a business owner, I understand the behind the scenes costs of a business. Should they have made the promise of ‘forever’? Probably not, but as Stacy admitted, 8 years ago, they didn’t even realize the costs that was going to rack up down the road. There is no way to charge for the man hours of producing ANYthing these days. I own two companies, both of which depend on digital storage of photos and information and it makes me die a little inside every time someone complains about the price of something – when they have no idea how much money, time, payroll, and aggravation it takes to produce it in the first place. It’s like the idea that digital photography is ‘free’. There will be a chapter about that in my book one day, when I get it written. ha!

  2. dottiej27 October 27, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    So, when they offer ‘lifetime’ access…. it’s their lifetime not yours?! I’ve actually always wondered about how they could promise forever. Technology changes so rapidly that today’s innovation is tomorrow’s relic. As long as there is a download option, I’m ok with it. Of course, that just transfers the compatibility challenge to me. But, in truth, nothing I can purchase is ever really forever.

  3. rosieo232 October 27, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Nancy, you don’t need to keep all the content in the same database. You can tell folks that older classes are in a separate database. you can even tell them it might take as much as 24 hours to retrieve their content back into a staging database and will only be available in the staging database for a month. There are a million ways to design this w/o removing forever access. They should have consulted a data architect. Trust me, this is what I do.

    • Nancy Nally October 27, 2014 at 10:19 am #

      Well of course all of that can be done…but as I noted above, it comes down to $$$. Expending large amounts of cash to support content that is no longer financially productive is not a good business model.

      • Nancy October 27, 2014 at 11:59 am #

        So it just comes down to $$$?? They could’ve given customers the option of paying for access to the old data. There are ways to manage transition and change without creating feelings of mistrust, anger and betrayal. Or at least minimize them. This may have been a good decision from a strictly $$$ perspective but may come back to bite them in the long run. What SJ’s transparency blog tells me, no matter how badly she feels about how others feel, is in the end, all about her…and who she thinks she is and wants from doing what she does. Which is legitimate and valid…but, that’s really the transparent bottom line…it’s about her. That’s the way with most of us, isn’t it? It’s about us.

  4. Amy Anne Jenkins October 27, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    I too recognized that forever online does not exist and always felt it was a little foolish to offer it (or rely on it). . . but As many classes as I’ve taken- and let myself rely on the fact they’ll be there- I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. I think that the issue I have is that it is going to be a lot of work in a short period of time- especially since the time period includes some of the busiest times of the year.

    (And to be quite truthful, I question whether or not the access will still be possible given that each classroom is almost like a separate website. . . . Many places have given archival access to their old content.)

  5. rosieo232 October 27, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    It’s financially productive if it allows people to keep buying from them, which I no longer will. Yes, absolutely, do the cost/benefit, but I believe they didn’t do either side (cost OR benefit) justice w/this decision. I’ll shut up now. Thanks for listening.

    • Nancy Nally October 27, 2014 at 10:33 am #

      That is a very good point about the return on investment in goodwill. Unfortunately it’s a hard thing to quantify when you are looking at evaluating the cost/benefit numbers of the expenditure…it’s kind of unknowable if you will get back more in goodwill than you spent.

  6. Marcia Fortunato October 27, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Nancy, thank you so much for explaining this so well. I had not thought about the fact that those classes were still costing a lot to maintain yet not generating revenue to cover that. Of course I’m disappointed that I now have to do some work, but really, isn’t that my responsibility! Maybe I’ll actually look at those classes that I purchased but didn’t keep up with!
    I know that good people in good businesses sometimes make bad choices [promising forever access] that looked good at the time. Unfortunately this leads to having to make even less popular choices down the road. If the alternative is going out of business (as Two Peas did), then I’d MUCH rather lose a little to keep at least some. And the fact that they (Big Picture) did the work for me of figuring out how to do the downloads is very kind of them.
    I think that anyone who has taken any classes or events with Stacy Julian has to see her heart, and I’m sure having to do this is probably bothering her more than anyone else! To face having to break a “promise” or lose her baby has to be so very difficult.
    Despite a bit of disappointment and aggravation I, for one, will remain a loyal BPC customer.

  7. Pamela McGillin October 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    I must say that you always hope that your content will around forever, but you know it won’t. This is why I always have a problem with the conversion to digital books and magazines. If the site closes, what then. Even if you are able to download the magazine or book, is it in a format that can be read like .pdf or some weird software that will also go belly-up and leave you with a downloaded book, class, etc… that you can’t open/read. Sometimes I feel very negative, other times I just think I’m realistic 😀

  8. Gela October 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    I wonder if you can give alternatives/resources to store classes not only at Big Picture but elsewhere. After this anouncement, I have to look at options on storing classes I have taken around the web.

  9. Jennifer October 27, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    I would be interested to hear from people as to how much, if ever they go back to access a class. If you didn’t complete the class in the first year or so, are you really going to go back and complete it? I think that everyone just needs to be realistic. I am sure it is not all about the $$$, but it certainly has to be partly about it to run a successful company. I will support anything that Stacey J is involved in and believe that she is doing what she has to in order to continue to support memory keepers.

    • Marcia Fortunato October 27, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

      I was thinking the same thing. Whether they did completed it or not, I’m guessing not that many people go back to access older classes – at least not very often, and certainly not often enough to sacrifice the health of the entire company. And since we can download the class content, it’s really just the message boards that we’re losing, and I KNOW I don’t go back to those. It’s a bit of a surprise, and it’s a bummer, but it’s not the end of the world!

    • Tiffany Christler Wacaser October 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      I completely agree. On one forum I was reading, someone said they had two hundred classes. And I truly wondered if they really needed to have all 200 classes and if they were really checking those classes. Because that is a huge time suck and prevents you from taking new classes. But our hobby is one of hoarding, so it makes sense that scrapbookers would be hoarding classes as well as product.

      This has been a lesson for me. If I don’t have time to take the class in real time, I am not going to take it. When looking at my class list, I realize there were only six I really cared about taking the time to download. If I don’t get to them, it is my fault that I didn’t do the class and lost the content, not BPC.

      • Jean R. October 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

        Once again right on, Tiffany. If one has 200 classes in your stash, when do you find time for doing any scrapbooking? You are spending all the time you have mired in classes

    • Renee T. October 28, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      Jennifer, I think the issue for many of us is not how often we go back and reference a class that we’ve already completed, but – instead – the staggering number of classes in our archives we purchased and yet never set a foot inside the classroom because of the forever access promise. It was just too easy to put it off, because, we could get to it…well, forever. That certainly is the situation in my case. I have many more classes in my archives (and I earned VIP status) that I’ve done nothing with, than those I have completed. The “forever access” pledge encouraged me to purchase and purchase classes in which I knew I couldn’t participate in real time, thinking I would get to it some day in the elusive “future.” In the end, it was a delusion, and part of the frustration I’ve experienced is probably also frustration with myself, that I bought into this in the first place. My husband, in fact, said VIP should stand for “very ignorant person!” lol But, it is hard to evaluate what you want to keep, when you have dozens and dozens of classes you know nothing about. Case in point: I took a May Flaum class in 2008 which I absolutely loved. I subsequently went on to purchase every single class May ever taught, simply because I know she is an excellent, content-rich instructor, but I’ve never even logged in to any of them! Again, shame on me. I love Stacy J, and completely understand all the business related factors that went in to this painful decision. Obviously, I am not happy and it is not what I would have preferred, but I do appreciate the recent accommodations that have been made, to try and ease the burden on those of us with so much content to transfer, and hope the new BPC continues to grow and thrive.

  10. Janet October 27, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Gela’s comment:”I wonder if you can give alternatives/resources to store classes not only at Big Picture but elsewhere” is exactly what I was thinking but didn’t know where to ask.

    Hard drives fail. Flash drives fail. External drives fail. There are a number of online backup services, but none of them can promise “forever” either. What have we done to ourselves? Given responsibility for what we care about to some Cloud! And if we want to save content, we need to print it out–ironic. I’d post my comment on My Space–Oh. That’s right. They are about gone too!

    Truthfully, my heart goes out the most to everyone who presented classes over all these years. It isn’t just May who will have some big decisions to make. We owe them all so much.

  11. Tiffany Christler Wacaser October 27, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    I posted this comment on the Paperclipping Forum, but I think it has relevance here/

    After reading the information that Stacy provided on her blog and Nancy Nally’s commentary on Scrapbook Update, I think it was a wise decision. As Nancy Nally mentioned, it doesn’t seem reasonable to maintain old content that isn’t providing a stream of revenue. And while BPC did advertise Forever Access, I think it makes sense to realize when that option no longer becomes financially feasible. Wouldn’t we rather have BPC classes continue rather than close down? Isn’t it better to cut the dead weight of expensive old content to make the way for new updated content? Furthermore, isn’t it generous they have notified customers giving them time, albeit a short time, to download the available content? Realistically probably none of us can download everything in the time provided, but at least we have the opportunity to download something.

    In regards to feeling like you paid for something, forever access was the cherry on top. But really, the prices of the classes don’t seem to cover forever access. Prices at BPC have always been really reasonable, considering the level of content–both videos and handouts provided. I think sometimes scrapbookers think they have to get everything for a really low price or for free, when that isn’t fair to the people providing the time, creativity, and effort to create the content.

    I understand the angst and frustration, especially when a major promise feels like it was broken. But let’s be honest. If you have a lot of classes that you haven’t gotten around to taking yet, are you really going to go back and take them? I have classes I haven’t finished and I haven’t gone back to them, no matter what my best intentions are. I have decided not to purchase classes that I can’t reasonable stay on top of in real time. I looked through my list and prioritized the classes most important. Then I’m letting the rest go without regret. I didn’t follow through and lost out because of myself, not because of BPC. Realistically, I probably wouldn’t have ever taken those classes even if forever access had continued..

    This was an eye-opener to me because I have purchased and not taken classes from other education platforms like Craftsy. This has pushed me to start downloading my content and watching the videos.

    Scrapbooking is naturally a hoarding hobby and it can be hard for us to let product or content go. But neither the content or product does us any good, provide inspiration, or provide good value if it is sitting in boxes or on our hard-drives unused.

    • Jean R. October 28, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

      Perfectly stated Tiffany.

  12. Susanne October 28, 2014 at 7:17 am #

    Nancy, I applaud, once again your balanced reporting. You reported on the issue from both sides and didn’t let either side off the hook. It all does come down to both sides needing to deal with the realities of the situation. Thanks.

  13. Ashley G October 28, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    As someone who has worked in the IT industry, helping to design and maintain web applications, and has watched the evolution of technology, I think that Big Picture Classes was being honest with the understanding that they had of technology and the trajectory they believed their business would take when they first made their promise. Life always has a way of shaking things up and forcing unplanned changes. I have read all of the statements Stacy Julian has made and honestly don’t think any less of her than I did before.

  14. Jean R. October 28, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Perhaps it is because I am of an age where I am loving the internet but still skeptical of “forever” where it is concerned. I go back and read my old print magazines but somehow curling up with a cup of coffee and the internet never interested me at all! I do not subscribe to any digital magazines for that reason. I actually hate them. So, the bottom line for me is that my classes have all been printed out and are stored in folders (although I still have to go back and check them out to make sure i have everything) and I can look at them anywhere, anytime , make notes on the margins, add other papers, etc. This works fine for me, and it might be a drain on the environment to use all this paper, but I will have my classes to browse through in my comfortable chair unless the house burns down, God forbid! This is a lesson to those who never print photos or pages they make as well. NOTHING is forever in the digital world.

  15. Terri Torrez October 28, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    Anytime a company offers “lifetime” anything, it’s their lifetime as a business, not yours. I never took “forever” to mean forever. Honestly, I didn’t even blink at this announcement. I’m not even sure I’ll download much in the way of class materials because so many classes get dated pretty quickly.

    I’ve been with Big Picture since the very beginning when the company was three people and growing faster than they could keep up. The whole idea of Internet classes was fairly new to the industry and they had to work hard to sell that concept. Over the years, they’ve adapted very well to the changes and the increased competition. I find it more surprising that they are still in business after all these years, than I do that they are making these changes. Business is business. I really don’t understand why people take business decisions personally.

    • Jean R. October 28, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Terri, I totally agree. When people make a purchase of a product, it is their responsibility to care for that product so that it will last for their use in a way that makes sense. If one wants to trust that their computer OS will keep up with it all, that is fine. If one does not believe in the ” forever” concept, then one should take steps to insure the longevity of the product they purchased. It is the part of internet technology that is hard to grasp when your entire life is stored on a phone!! I applaud Stacy for facing the hostile crowd and never, in my wildest dreams, do I think she did any of this “on purpose”. She is making a wise business decision and sometimes those decisions are painful, just like decisions in one’s own life. I am a former Creative Memories consultant so have first hand experience in painful decisions in business. I hope people will stop making personal comments about Stacy, as they have on her blog post. It is time to lift her up , not tear her down. Be gracious in your comments.

  16. Tricia Stewart October 28, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    I am not concerned about the lack of access. They are letting us download to our own computer. Perhaps, people will miss the galleries, but I think it is more that we as humans don’t like change and we in the “scrap world” have experienced so much of it.

  17. Lisa reed October 28, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    Jean R you could not have said it better. I finally cancelled my digital subscription to SCRAPBOOK TRENDS because I could never access the content after two years of drain on my bank account. I have saved my print copies for the reasons you describe, and have dragged them around for several moves. Thank God for Stampington and I am in the process of buying their printed material before it becomes obsolete too. I won’t access my old classes from BPS, and have long had customer service issues with Studio Calico.

    • Jean R. October 28, 2014 at 11:04 am #

      Thank you Lisa. This is right for me and might not be for others but I at least have what I want to save in print. I certainly do not need the galleries, as there are a million galleries on digital designer boards, Pinterest, and elsewhere. And I certainly do not need the forums and never went back to them after the class was over.

  18. Laura (@Bookworm) October 28, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Really good article, Nancy — nice job. 🙂

  19. lhansendesign October 28, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    There is a way to back up and keep access to all those “forever” classes! There is a non-profit called archive.org!

  20. Renee T. October 28, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Thank you for covering this, Nancy. You did an excellent, A+ job of describing the technological, infrastructure aspects of this quagmire…probably the best of any of the commentary I seen so far. You’ve also done an excellent job describing the financial pressures involved in growing a business while keeping former promises. I am one who relied on the “forever access” pledge to buy an unrealistic number of classes I’ve never even logged in to, and face a staggering amount of content to download and transfer/store elsewhere. I am disappointed that a pledge such as this is really meaningless…yet I am probably just as disappointed in myself for buying in to it. And, I do understand all the reasons, and wishing things were different does not change reality. I applaud Stacy Julian for courageously addressing the matter head on, and appreciate the recent accommodations that have been made to try and make this process less burdensome on the client base. I will keep an open mind regarding SC, although I have to say I have not heard a single positive comment about them. I have no personal experience with SC, so I will form my opinions based on my own dealings, and not on others. However, I do know that going forward, I will be much more prudent in how I allocate my scrapping dollars, and I do hope the new BPC has taken this into account as they develop their new business plan. My spending at BPC increased exponentially once “forever access” was introduced, and I doubt I am alone. In the future, I will avoid “collecting” content, and only sign on for things I will use and benefit from in the present, real time. That will increase their burden, to appeal to me and convince me to part with my $$ during all those times when life is too busy to scrap. Thanks again, Nancy, for your objective insight.

  21. triggsey October 29, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Thank you Nancy for a balanced and informative report. I also agree that it is our responsibility as consumers to download things in a timely manner. We’ve been lured into thinking that the internet is forever and digital is the end all be all…not! This year I had set myself a goal of finishing all of my Jessica Sprague and BPC classes that I had purchased but never finished (how timely!) Now, I’m very glad I have started that project! Stacy mentioned during a chat in one of her classes that they researched very carefully which classes had been accessed and how recently. She told us there were many many classes that no one had accessed for YEARS! So what does that say about us the consumers being a little bit piggy buying things we don’t have time to consume? Guilty as charged. I believe in Stacy and that she is doing the best thing for her and the company. I am a subscriber to the SC monthly kits and have been for years. My only customer service issue was that I did not read the return policy (no returns) before I purchased something…my bad. I am hoping that SC will honor the current and former BPC students and instructors, that’s all we can do.

  22. lisavollrath October 29, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    I teach classes online, on my own message board, on a much, much smaller scale than BP. I tell my students they will have access to their classes as long as I continue to maintain that message board, rather than telling them it’s forever access. Nobody can provide access to content forever. Software must be updated, and data restrictions and server space must be taken into account. It makes sense to purge classes that are no longer bringing in the dollars to support their continued maintenance. Perhaps the new owners will take this into consideration when choosing the language for their class agreements.

  23. PjP October 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Figures. I’m done with BPC. To heck with them: I’ll spend my money somewhere else, where they don’t screw-over their customers whenever they feel like it. I expected something nasty to happen when SC took over — they slime everything they touch.

  24. gabmcann November 1, 2014 at 5:18 am #

    Great post, thanks Nancy. This digital era also raises problems with how we store our photos … these days we take so many more than ever before and need to pay to store them. I totally understand why BPC has had to make this tough decision … and although there will be work involved for me in downloading classes, I could have downloaded each class as I took it

  25. hiswife November 2, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

    Thank you for a rationalong post Nancy. While I have purchased several classes from BPC, as both a business owner and consumer, I have never once felt secure in the “forever access” and have always downloaded anything I knew I wanted “forever” (which I only laugh at, having had both comouter and external hard drive failures – forever doesn’t exist! LOL

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