I’ve avoided anything Flickr now for a long time. When it first came on the radar, I had a look at it and it was basically a photo sharing site for amateurs. I also hated the interface (still do) because only a 12 year old could understand it. Of course, thanks to amateur enthusiasts, it’s now the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. The enthusiasts like sharing pics with friends and family, the interface is easy for them to use and understand, and like most social networking sites, they’ve invested a lot of time in building up an online community of like minded friends. So, they certainly don’t want to see any changes.
On the pro side, full time photographers are now starting to see some of the benefits of Flickr and, in spite of the fact that it’s like the wild west, where everyone plays fast and loose with the intellectual property of others, there’s a ton of traffic going on that might be directed to your your site if you do even a little flickerring (?). Combined with lots of rumors and stories of photographers getting huge budget, primo assignments or advertising image buys through Flickr searches, it’s pretty compelling to at least look into what it’s all about.
I set up a page HERE, two weeks ago, put up a paltry 250 images and BAM! there’s suddenly a ton of traffic I had never had before. To give you some sort of idea, my Flickr page now comes back as the number one result if you Google certain variations of “oil and gas photographer”. Number one in Google! In two weeks! Perhaps an even better indicator is that I’ve already tracked down five, count ‘em, five different thefts of my work where other sites are using my images, even with the copyright watermark across the front of ‘em, without paying me. Five thefts in two weeks, from a batch of 250 images. That’s a lot of traffic.
What I mean by the “elephant in the room” comment is that, at present, Flickr is essentially free (barring an annual pittance required to upgrade to a Pro account) and there is no advertising. It’s got to be the category killer in terms of traffic and image searches and I’d venture to say that it gets more traffic than Getty and Corbis combined. It’s got a cult following that would make Jim Jones drool Kool Aid and has a shocking depth of imagery in terms of both quality and quantity. Users both pro and amateur are cruising along happily but, if you don’t think someone on the board of directors is rubbing their grubby hands together and chuckling, you need to get your head outta the sand.
It seems to me that, Flickr, as a stand alone asset, could be worth a staggering amount of money. Depending on what happens with the pending Microsoft/Google/Yahoo orgy, I’ll eat my hat if this thing doesn’t get spun off and monetized in the next 12 months.
What’s all this mean to you, the flickeree? Well, probably not much. You’ll either eventually have to pay, put up with advertising or, give up something of value to keep using the site. Which is fair and fine, they’re running a business and offering a service after all. Sure, the villagers will be breaking out the torches and pitchforks when it’s first announced that they have to pay to use Flickr but, once the dust settles and Lucy decides to take down the pics of her Hannah Montana toothbrush collection and upload them onto the next big thing for free, Flickr could turn into a goliath in terms of photo marketing for both pros and amateurs alike. Sorta like what Getty/iStock is trying to do now, but without the benefit of 5 years of viral marketing.
If and when this happens, the gap between pro photographer and hobbyist could vanish altogether.