When it comes to Cricut, Tamara Chapman-Harris is all in.
“I bought my first Cricut probably 15 years ago,” she said. “I have the Cricut Explore Air and Maker… I use them for paper crafting. I sew, so I use them to cut out sewing projects that need to be really precise. I also have their heat presses, so I can make T-shirts and bags. I have a Cuttlebug (embosser) so I can make custom cards.”
The Cleveland Ohio-based hobbyist estimates she’s sunk between $3,000 and $5,000 into Cricut products. But she’s not a satisfied customer when it comes to the company’s app, Design Space.
“The hardware itself is the best. But where they fall short is with the software. It was only last year that they gave us a decent offline option; so you have to have Internet (to use the machines.)”
That’s why the recent debacle over cloud storage in Design Space further soured Chapman-Harris’ view of the company.
Design Space is required to use Cricut products. On March 12, Cricut tried to limit free use of the app to 20 uploads a month; to get more users had to subscribe. The switch ignited such a firestorm, company CEO Ashish Arora announced a change less than a week later. Users would have unlimited uploads until Dec. 31, 2021 while the company continued to explore “affordable ways for our future users… to allow an unlimited number of … uploads.”
Instead of dousing the fire, the change fed it. Customers pointed out access is tied to the machine, not the user. Buying a new machine in 2022 meant current users would have to subscribe to get more than 20 uploads.
By March 18, the company had completely backpedaled. Users would have an unfettered ability to upload designs.
“One of our core values is community — we’re listening, and we took your feedback to heart,” Arora wrote on the company’s blog. “It is clear that, in this instance, we did not understand the full impact of our recent decision on our current members and their machines. We apologize.”
But the end of the policy isn’t the end of the story. Users like Chapman-Harris cast a jaded eye at a company whose products, in many cases, contribute to their livelihood.
Logan Culwell-Block organized an email campaign protesting the original shift. He posted a form letter in a Cricut group on Reddit.
“But you don’t even need to worry about damaging trust and/or hurting your customers’ feelings—conducting business this way will make each and every up-to-now loyal Cricut user think twice before spending money on additional or new Cricut machines now that they know the terms of using said machines can be fundamentally changed at any time,” his letter read.
Despite the shift on free uploads, Culwell-Block, a hobby user from suburban New York, remains disenchanted. He creates designs in third-party software that don’t always render correctly when he sends them to Design Space.
“All the time, I’ve added my own vector files to find out because of some quirk of how I made it in (Adobe) Illustrator, (Design Space) is rendering it incorrectly. So I have to go back to Illustrator to fix it.”
Culwell-Block also pointed out the now-discarded policy could have crashed makers whose businesses depend on Cricut.
“There are a lot of people who have Etsy businesses and you can imagine, when you’re using it on that scale, how quickly 20 uploads would go away.”
Cricut did not provide a spokesperson to comment for this story.
The shift to subscriptions
Ironically, the company already has a subscription plan. Users who pay $120 annually can use 100,000 images, hundreds of fonts, as well as getting discounts on products, free shipping and shorter wait times for customer service.
Chapman-Harris is a premium subscriber. But she said the free option would be a fallback if she couldn’t afford fees.
“When we think about this economy, our livelihoods are uncertain. What if I’m in a position where I couldn’t afford the monthly or yearly fee, but I still want to use these products I’ve paid a lot of money for?”
Culwell-Block speculated Cricut instituted a lower-end subscription to sweeten its position before its stock went public on March 25. The initial price was $20 per share, according to a press release.
And he noted that more and more tech companies are using subscriptions to make money.
“(Tech companies) have changed the business model; they want more money in smaller transactions,” Culwell-Block said. “When I was in college you bought Microsoft Office for $150. Now you subscribe to Microsoft Office.”
But he said Cricut’s tactic differed because Design Space isn’t a new product. Instead, customers have to pay for content they’ve created and to use machines they’ve already bought.
“You have a customer who already bought your machine after you advertised being able to use it a certain way. And then you’re changing it on them.“
Culwell-Block said the company could have taken another tack: improve the Design Space app so more customers would pay for Design Access.
“You need more people to subscribe to Design Access, but you can’t do that by making it better. Instead, you’re doing it by tricking your customers. And that’s supposed to make me want to subscribe?” Culwell-Block said.
Chapman-Harris agreed. She said Cricut could have simply improved its app and charged. She says she’ll stay with Cricut, instead of moving to its competitors like Brother and Silhouette because she’s so deeply embedded in Cricut’s ecosystem.
But she’s not satisfied with the company’s flip over free access to Design Space.
“(The reversion) is not good enough. And it’s not good enough because they haven’t addressed the other issues that we continue to have with their product and their service.”
Afi Scruggs is a freelancer and knitter who lives in Cleveland.