SmugMug+Flickr: An espirit de corps?

SmugMug+Flickr: An esprit de corps?
by Allan LEONARD
21 April 2018

Flickr has announced that it is being acquired by SmugMug. At least that provides an answer to the question of what would happen next, after Flickr was spared the sunsetting list but not endorsed like Yahoo’s purchase of Tumblr. And a better outcome than Yahoo shuttering Flickr altogether.

For the while, Flickr and SmugMug have declared that they will operate separately; Flickr accounts will remain as Flickr accounts (but under SmugMug terms of condition).

There is the expected mixture of praise and concern on the related Flickr discussion board.

This is my prediction of how this merger will evolve.

Flickr’s Free account offers:

  • 1 TB of photo and video storage
  • Upload videos of up to 1GB each
  • Upload photos of up to 200 MB each
  • Video playback of up to 3 minutes each
  • Limitless downloads of your original photos

SmugMug’s CEO has declared that he is committed to “a huge, healthy, vibrant community of people using the Free plan”. But I interpret this as SmugMug continuing to support those Flickr Free plan customers (unless SmugMug introduces its own Free plan).

So if you’re a Flickr Free account holder, you’ll have to hang on to your Flickr account for the while and hope for the best.

I am a Flickr Pro user and I was able to carry over (grandfather) this account status when Flickr overhauled it a few years ago. (I pay $24.95/year.) Flickr Pro benefits include:

  • All free account benefits
  • Stats on your photo views
  • Ad-free browsing and sharing on Flickr
  • Desktop Uploadr for automatically backing-up images
  • 50% off a year (US$39) of Portfoliobox, with galleries, a blog, an e-commerce platform, and .com domain

SmugMug does not offer any free products. Its Basic account is $5.99/month ($47.88/year), which appears compatible with Flickr’s Pro. One distinction is sharing SmugMug galleries (et al) with specific people (private login), which is a SmugMug Power account ($8.99/month ($71.88/year)).

So if SmugMug wants to migrate us Flickr Pro users over, I would expect a generous initial subscription rate (honouring the current/expiring payments to Flickr). But we might be lucky to get anything higher than the SmugMug Basic account. My FlickrPro account renews July 2019; I’ll be sticking around with Flickr for the while.

Flickr was created with a community orientation, which has struggled with the customers-as-data motivations of Yahoo/Verizon. I can’t imagine how staff at Flickr managed to cope with such opposite ideals (but hopefully not the extent that Tumblr staff experienced/continue to experience). However, Flickr clearly missed the social media opportunity.

SmugMug, meanwhile, doesn’t pretend to support community dialogue within its service (it supports comments on items, but no groups nor discussion boards). It presents itself more as a platform for photographers to place their images with them in an aesthetically pleasing way, with options for efficient ecommerce. Dialogue is via your mainstream social media channels (Twitter, Facebook) and/or your clients directly.

At the time of Flickr’s convulsions at Yahoo, some abandoned ship. Enthusiasts went to 500px, while community-focused users went to Ipernity.

I went over to Ipernity out of fear that Yahoo would axe Flickr altogether. Ipernity offered what us longstanding Flickr users liked most: an interface that worked and a sense of comraderie (appropriate word, as Ipernity is based in France).

But over time the lack of financial resources at Ipernity became apparent, as the interface was becoming dated, its servers got attacked, and it never hit a critical mass of paying subscribers. For its own good sake, Ipernity has restructured itself as a non-profit organisation, and for their devoted users, it shall carry on. Yet for me its business model remains unproven; I reactivated my dormant Flickr account.

Lessons for SmugMug+Flickr? Entice Flickr’s Pro users to a paid SmugMug service, then determine whether you continue supporting non-paying users. One option would be to offer Flickr Free users a complimentary full year of SmugMug Basic account. Many Flickr Free users could balk at that, and Ipernity could experience another wave of transfers. But keep in mind that Ipernity’s “Free welcome offer” limits you to 200 images with ads shown; its Club account is £37.95/year. 500px’s free account is 7 images/week (2,000 total) (NB no Ipernity nor 500px support for Adobe Lightroom plug-in is a non-starter for me).

The days of free, community-oriented photo sharing may be numbered. One could blame missed opportunities as well as the forces of business competition. Facebook and Twitter dominate the social media landscape (even Google struggled with this), while running a photo sharing site requires funding from somewhere — its users and/or advertisers. (One good benefit at SmugMug is that it’s ad-free for all; its users’ data is not another income resource.)

I expect a full merger of SmugMug and Flickr operations at some point, if only for economies of scale. What would be great is if they can figure out how to integrate an esprit de corps.

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