Flickr’s recent announcement on limiting free users to 1,000 photos (down from 1TB of storage) further indicates that changes are afoot in the free photo storage and free hosting industry. Free services that are strictly supported by advertising revenue are proving to be unsustainable
People want quality services and would prefer not to pay for them. They’ve told us as much, both directly and in their adoption of free offerings. Who wouldn’t want a quality product or service without having to pay for it? But these services cost money to operate. Servers cost money, bandwidth costs money, storage media costs money, employees cost money, office space costs money. It costs money to deliver quality products, and it costs even more to deliver an innovative quality product.
When we ask our consumers for a subscription fee, what we are really asking from them is to invest in us. Invest in the sustainability of the service, invest in retaining control over their assets, and invest in the ability to innovate to meet their needs of tomorrow. To someone who has always received those services for free, it may come across as greedy; in action, it’s simply insurance that they can continue to rely on those services, and that the services will continue to adapt to their expectations.
LiveJournal is an example of what can happen if you entrust your most intimate memories and interactions to a free service without considering how its bills are getting paid. Unable to keep up with the high costs of providing a free service to a high volume of users, and with no other options, LiveJournal was ultimately sold to a Russian media company SUP Media. All of LiveJournal’s servers, and all of its users’ photos, were relocated to Russia. People’s private digital interactions were moved into the hands of an overseas company. This is a problem because international privacy laws are significantly different from country to country. In the United States, privacy laws protect you and your photos. This is often not the case in other countries. How is that data being used, and why was an overseas company interested in procuring it in the first place? Reflecting on what transpired, would the users of LiveJournal have paid $5/month if they could’ve seen into the future of where their private data would land?
I’m certain that LiveJournal didn’t want this to be the legacy of its company. But, being a strictly ad-supported service was a tough road when it was first sold in 2005, and it’s only a more difficult one 13 years later. With the best of intentions, LiveJournal set out to be of service to its consumer base, and it paid the price that most pioneers pay… learning the lessons that no one had ever had to learn previously.
Financial instability triggers panic which can result in decisions that cost more in the long-term than is gained in the short. It’s true with people. It’s true with businesses.
Unfortunately, we were a case study of this behavior. This happened in 2017 when Photobucket made short-sided decisions to boost revenue by restricting access to billions of users’ photos unless they paid an unrealistic fee of $400 annually. I hate that we were the case study, but that doesn’t change the fact that an unsustainable model will catch up with every business and, most importantly, the customers that rely on them. Because we were the pioneer in photo storage and hosting and continue to be an industry leader, we were the first to suffer the pitfalls. Due to what can best be described as a refusal to accept that business is an ever-altering entity, a desperate and risky hand was played. We told our free users that, without warning, they would be required to pay an exorbitant sum, or else…. Our users equated it with holding their memories ransom, and I don’t disagree with that assessment. Unfortunately, it illustrates the behind the scenes problems that are occurring when the give and take between the provider and consumer falls severely out of alignment.