Email marketing provider MailChimp made a move this week that set off a barrage of complaints from users who promised to abandon the product. 

MailChimp announced Wednesday that Mandrill, the email delivery API that developers use to send transactional emails from websites and applications, will become a paid add-on for monthly MailChimp accounts. It will only be available for MailChimp customers who have monthly plans, co-founder and CEO Ben Chestnutstated in a blog post.

Goodbye, free version. That's what set off the complaints:

Why the Move

Chestnut explained MailChimp launched Mandrill in 2012 because many customers wanted the ability to send one-to-one (“transactional”) messages to their customers. Hence the birth of Mandrill, which in three years grew to more than 800,000 users, reached an annual run rate of $12 million and has delivered more than 88 billion messages. 

However, Chestnut said the transactional email space evolved in two buckets:

  • Those who want a transactional email service to be a utility that efficiently delivers emails, and only delivers emails
  • Those who want a smarter transactional email service that helps them deliver personalized, value-added emails (for industries like e-commerce)

"Those two types of transactional emails are very different animals that require very different styles of innovation," Chestnut added, "so we’re making these changes to Mandrill to better serve our customers."

But that comes at a price.

"This will help us alleviate the enormous amount of time and effort we spend blocking abusive senders from setting up free Mandrill accounts and sending spam, and allow our developers to focus on personalization," explained Chestnut, whose company provided the platform for more than 204 billion emails in 2015

"Developers building e-commerce solutions shouldn’t find this to be a burden, and indeed, Mandrill can still be used for 'utilitarian' transactional emails like password reminders and purchase receipts, in addition to personalized emails. Startup developers looking for a cheap, reliable transactional service may want to consider Amazon SES."

MailChimp was founded in 2001 and is based in Atlanta. MailChimp added an FAQ on the transition yesterday. 

Why They're Mad

From a PR standpoint, this was about as bad as it gets. MailChimp was immediately slammed by users in Chestnut's blog and on Twitter.

"As a result of this change, you’ll lose me as a customer," Adam Glass wrote on the blog. "This is not to say that I’ve been unhappy with Mandrill, the services offered, the economics of it, documentation, etc. It’s just that our usage is really closer to the notification scenario and the traffic volume for our biking organization doesn’t justify a $20 a month cost. Heck, that’s what its costing me to run the whole thing end to end and I think that's high."

The negative comments went on and on, although some seemed optimistic. See this contrast:

screenshot of customers commenting on mailchimp news on blog

Meanwhile, on Twitter, there was all-out rage, some confusion and some goodbyes:

Why This Gamer's Gone

Adam Coster, who calls himself the "science robot and web wrangler" of the three-brother gaming service, Butterscotch Shenanigans, said when his team started to build the web infrastructure for its fledgling video game studio, it needed to find some way to handle communication with an ever-expanding user base. 

"We were seriously, seriously bootstrapped, running on fumes," Coster told CMSWire. "Two-thirds of us weren't being paid for years, trying to get our most recent game out. And so we went with a fairly bare-bones, API-driven, and cheap emailing service, Mandrill, to keep our costs low."

Learning Opportunities

The gaming brothers used the transactional email system for all of the event-driven emailing that needs to happen to keep its studio running, but had also started to use it for its newsletter.

"With the changes to Mandrill, it will now be against their terms for us to use their transactional mail for our newsletter, even though we have no need or interest in using MailChimp for list management. We do all that on our own," Coster said. "If we went ahead and did it anyway, we'd easily see a 19X increase in costs to send our newsletter, and also have to spend development time shifting our newsletter system to the MailChimp API."

The alternative is to change to another transactional service, which will cost more in most cases. More importantly, it will require the gamers, he said, to put their own software projects on the back burner while they learn and migrate to a new API, convert all of their email templates and debug the result.

"Mandrill was providing a service that we — and many others — had built our business infrastructure around," Coster said. "Then they suddenly gave us two months to change to a new service that we don't want or need, for 19X the cost, and that requires us to divert precious development time to something that doesn't improve our business.We'll of course be adopting a new transactional mailing service."

Making the Switch

Francois Deschenes, co-founder and chief technology officer of meowbox, a monthly subscription box for cats, said he used Mandrill to send transactional emails (welcome emails, shipment notifications, etc.).

But he's now off to SendGrid after this week's news.

"The nice thing about Mandrill and similar services is the ability to archive message and the analytics they provide, e.g. open rate," he told CMSWire. "I had chosen Mandrill because of the simple pricing structure and because of its relationship to MailChimp — a service I have no use for but trust. As for how his will affect us, the pricing is different and requires us to subscribe to MailChimp. In our case, with an average volume of 50,000 emails a month, we'll end up spending more. Hence why I'm switching to SendGrid."

Deschenes said he once worked at Hootsuite as an engineering lead and used SendGrid.

"Their service is equally as awesome, and now cheaper," he said. "We'll of course be adopting a new transactional mailing service."

New Zealand-based web developer Joshua Walker has built Mandrill into many of his web apps for solely transactional purposes. MailChimp, he said, is co-opting Mandrill users into a product they neither need, want, nor can afford — in some cases up seven times more expensive than the current arrangement. 

"They have given developers, like me, who have built very complex apps on top of Mandrill APIs, just two months to move away from the service with no grandfathering or legacy support," Walker told CMSWire. "... Unfortunately for MailChimp, the trust they have built for many years is swiftly and convincingly dismantling."

More Information:

Title image "angry" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by  Junk Food Monkey 

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