Flickr relaunches site, scares pro photogs away

Flickr, the photographer community acquired years ago by Yahoo, relaunched their web site this week.

There were good reasons for this relaunch: Over time, the site had lost a lot of its appeal. It looked outdated, and it did not attract as many people as it used to. Take a look at these Alexa stats for the past two years:

Alexa Stats For Flickr.com Daily ReachEstimated percentage of global internet users who visit flickr.com,
May 2011-May 2013. Source: Alexa.com

According to this chart, their reach on the Internet decreased from about 2.5% of the users in spring 2011 to about 1% at the time of writing, i.e. they lost about 60% of their daily users. During that period, their “Alexa Traffic Rank” – which indicates importance on the web – dropped from position # 32 to # 86. Interestingly, pageviews per user (and average time spent on the site) remained flat, so that they probably just lost users faster than they could sign up new users.

These figures could be due to the old-fashioned design, a change in user demographics or user behavior (especially considering the rise of mobile devices), or new sites that are more attractive to users (e.g., Facebook), or a combination of all of this. Losing such a big chunk of the audience (and traffic) must have been unacceptable for Yahoo top management. Looking at these stats, it is clear that Yahoo had a problem with Flickr. If they wanted to stay relevant, they had to do something about this, and quick. So they decided for a redesign.

You see, site relaunches are not bad per se. Done right, they add features previously unavailable, that were demanded by their active user base. A relaunch may re-engage inactive users, increasing usage and revenue. In this case, however, the relaunch was a major failure, at least when you look through the 25,000+ comments that have been posted by Flickr users in the official help forum (and to date without sufficient reply from Flickr). Most of the comments are negative and ask for the changes to be taken back partly, or completely; for example, it has been widely criticized that the new design does not take into consideration users with slow connections who use the service via dial-up or slow ADSL in the countryside. Icons and links were renamed, functionality removed, and the pricing plans were changed as well. Apparently, the changes have been made with mobile users in mind, reflecting the fact that the three most active “cameras” on Flickr are Apple iPhones today.

In this situation it does not help that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, apparently thinks very little of professional photographers. During a Yahoo event she said:

[...] today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers, when there’s everything is professional photographers.

(Well, dear Mrs. Mayer, next time when you open a newspaper, or a magazine – even if only on an iPad – please do not look at the photos, as most of them have been taken by professional photographers. Also, just tell your friends who get married that you could take the pictures with your iPhone, for free.)

So, I have been thinking about this for a while. I came to the conclusion that Flickr – or rather: the company that steered Flickr over the cliff, i.e. Yahoo – is not worth it any longer.

How can I possibly place professional photos on a site that is managed so unprofessionally? On a site that belongs to a company whose CEO openly states that they do not see the value of professionalism in their user base. Not in the photos they want users to post, not in the way they plan a site relaunch, and not in the way dealing with critics? This can only mean that they don’t want me and my work on their site, or my colleagues and their work.

Which is fine for me. I’m not angry about this. I’m not getting very emotional over this. This is the decision of the site owners, not mine. They can do whatever they want with their site. Sure, it leaves a bad taste how they treat paying customers, but heck – we’re not talking about a lot of money, and they seem to offer a refund policy for “pro users” who cancel their account.

An interesting question is whether Yahoo will take back the changes. At least, many users in the official help forum hope for this. I think Yahoo won’t revert back, regardless of the complaints, and not just because they’ve said so already. That’s why they do not react in the forums; there is no point in discussing this. Three reasons: First, they would soon be facing the problem of the original design again (loss of users and relevance). Second, they certainly have planned for a certain amount of users cancelling their memberships in reaction to the changes. Unless the loss of users becomes very very obvious, everything goes according to plan. Third, they would have to admit that they made a fundamental mistake. As with politicans, this is rarely seen in companies. They simply do not want to be the laughing stock of the internet. (In many ways, they are already, but that’s a different story.)

Yahoo! should not be astonished that professionals like me pull their photos, creating space for all the other “photos” from the people they want to address – those who snap away happily with their smartphones. So I deleted 970 photos from my photo stream, leaving just 2 photos, and moved from paid “pro membership” to free. Which is sad in a way, but hey, I don’t care whether Yahoo’s business model crumbles. I. Just. Do. Not. Care.

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P.S.: For those Flickr users who want to download their images to their hard disk, I recommend a look at the free FlickrEdit, or at the more sophisticated Shareware Bulkr. Once done, give Flickr the boot, just as I did.

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