Thanks for providing some insight. I think everyone will agree that guidelines around dimensional precision for prints make sense. Managing customer expectations is a much different animal and can, as I am sure 3D Hubs has found, be very difficult. Please understand that my intention is not to bite the hand feeds me.
3D Hubs initial promise to me as a hub operator was to deliver opportunity through an online marketplace that I could only dream of building which in turn would allow me to position my small business to grow. My job was to present my business effectively enough to differentiate myself from the other hubs, and deliver on customer expectations to ensure good reviews and repeat business.
So far, I feel like we’ve both kept our agreement, but I hope what you read below gives the 3D Hubs team some insight into how this feels to smaller operators such as myself, and why I object to some but not all of the changes that are happening.
What I see:
The 3D Hubs marketing has been increasingly focused on prints created using astronomically expensive equipment such as the new HP Jet fusion printer, while at the same time moving away from the maker/decentralized manufacturing movements. This comes across as 3D Hubs wanting to position itself as a more direct competitor to shapeways. In order to make that shift, a change is business strategy is required.
- Average order price must go up in order to attract hubs that can swing the initial expense of the new tech required
- Order volume must be shifted to hubs capable of obtaining big ticket tech so they will stick around
- Hubs delivering prints using older technology (FDM and SLA) must be shed to enable the volume shift
All of this combined, allows remaining larger hubs to continue delivering the lower cost alternatives such as FDM and SLA that 3D Hubs is currently known for, allowing the marketing team to focus on the newest, shiniest tech while pushing public perception more the direction of shapeways and away from older less costly printing methods. The easiest way to accomplish this without just booting hubs, is by introducing added cost to the transaction through guidelines that force the base price of a print up, ie the guidelines around base levels of finishing which have no connection to actual print quality.
Once the base price has been pushed up enough, orders for $10 to $25 will decrease enough to choke out the little hubs (while remaining higher cost transactions continue to funnel to larger hubs), not because the customers aren’t there, but because there is no discussion with the operator. Customers simply don’t place the order. If they don’t place the order, the hub operator doesn’t get the opportunity to discuss whether or not the price can be adjusted based on a change in the agreed deliverable. The flip side is, if as a hub, I don’t go in and adjust the automated pricing, I get to look like the jerk who’s adding charges that are supposed to be built in according to the 3D Hubs website.
From a customer perspective all of this remains unseen because all they see is the slick marketing and a list of deliverables from the hub that they are mentally checking off without ever first having a conversation.
3D Hubs provides a valuable service, and I don’t see anything wrong with being in the business of making money, but I was sold on 3D Hubs because it fit with what I see as the soul of our species “making” a comeback against rampant and destructive mindless consumerism. I see 3D Hubs moving away from that and hope I can sway your needle to think again about the initial idea, decentralizing, and expanding the network of providers, while helping providers get in touch with local customers in an online world where it is increasingly difficult to be seen without large scale, complex, and expensive web development.