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The new Flickr: Goodbye customers, hello ads

Derek Powazek | May 22, 2013
Longtime Flickr user Derek Powazek calls Yahoo's new Flickr moves for what they are: A replacement of paying customers with advertising, and a design that focuses on photos but not community.

(Edit: As a longtime Pro member, I didn't realize that non-Pro members previously couldn't download an image larger than 2048 pixels. Now free users can download originals at any size, a feature previously limited to paying customers.)

Gambling on ads
Ad-driven companies have different priorities than member-driven ones. Facebook's transition from a place where most content was visible to friends to a place that defaults to public content was caused by its desire to show more ads. Google's entire business is built on showing ads on pages where they can see the content, hence its desire to build a competitor to Facebook in Google+.

Ad-driven companies prioritize public content, gobbling up as much demographic information as possible, and putting as many ads in your face as you'll tolerate. They can't say that, of course, so they also tend to be less honest with their members. Communities, it's fair to say, are often at odds with these priorities.

So in the future, when the revenue coming from paying members is small enough to ignore, and the advertising numbers come in below expectations (as they often do), my fear is that Yahoo will come to an almost inevitable business decision: To kill Flickr.

When it does, it will say that Flickr was underperforming and that the company just couldn't spend all that money anymore. But if that day comes, the truth will be that Yahoo chose to stop taking their members' money in exchange for a product. The company instead chose to overprice its ad-free and paid memberships in order to force more people to see more ads. It chose to burn the pro members Flickr had spent years cultivating because it thought that ads would pay better.

For the sake of the Flickr community, I hope that gamble pays off.


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