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Flickr / Smugmug: The frog that ate the bull

Flickr’s acquisition by Smugmug, if anything, has reminded us that the grandfather of photo sharing site is not dead. Yet. Almost hidden in the weekend lull, the news surprised almost everyone paying attention to this space: It’s been a long while since Flickr grabbed the headlines. But beyond the unconventional lack of details, what does this acquisition forecast?

Let’s look at the available numbers. Smugmug and Flickr, while sharing photos as a common denominator, have not much in common.  With 90 million monthly users, Flickr is 18 times bigger than Smugmug ( 5 million). Flickr has over 18 million views a month, while Smugmug gravitates just below 100K. Revenues (estimated): Flickr, between its pro accounts and advertising, navigates in the $80 million a year. Smugmug around the $15-25 million mark. It’s the frog eating the bull.

Flickr vs. Smugmug traffic as per Similarweb.
Flickr vs. Smugmug traffic as per Similarweb.

Business models are also vastly different. Flickr has always been on the freemium model. Grab free users and try and convert them to paying. Over the years, it tried other channels, like stock photo sales ( twice and both times quickly abandoned), print sales ( also dropped) and advertising ( still ongoing). Smugmug, on the hand, has always been an entirely paying service. Buy it or leave. While one favored social interaction as a catalyst for growth, the other pushed privacy and security. In a way, Smugmug is for those Flickr users who don’t want all their photos public and visible by all mixed with others. While Flickr strives on friendly aesthetic competitions, public conversations, sharing, Smugmug believes in picket fences. In other words, both services cater to different, almost opposite audiences.

The Flickr home page, after the announcement
The Flickr home page, after the announcement

That Verizon didn’t want to keep the fledgling photo sharing site is no surprise. Yahoo has been mistreating it since its acquisition and a successful redesign would not only be expensive but in no way a guaranteed success. It would need to become mobile first. Instagram has long taken the principal lead in the friendly aesthetic competition space and others, from Facebook to Snap and many others, have become the better place to share casual photos. Apple, Google, and Amazon have powerful (and very affordable) A.I. powered photo storage solutions.

The challenge for Smugmug is daunting.  Since it doesn’t have an advertising structure, it will either need to build one or continue to use Yahoo to keep that revenue flow going. It will also need to convince some of the free users to start paying for a Smugmug account. While affordable ( plans start at $3/month), most will balk at going from free to any paying model. It will also have to learn to handle a social network, for which it has little experience.  Flickr users tend to be passionate and very loud. It will also have to learn to be very visible, as anything Flickr tends to hit the headlines of major publications. It will also have to learn to become mobile first, as the number one camera used on Flickr has been the iPhone for quite a while.

The Smugmug iPhone app
The Smugmug iPhone app

For Flickr users, this might not be bad news. After all, Smugmug has decades of successful experience in handling photos. Out of the hands of the corporate world and into a more nimble, private company that can afford to take risks, it might breathe a second life. However, it will need a lot of resources to grow in a very competitive environment,  something that might end up being too much for Smugmug.

Photo by waterseas23

Author: Paul Melcher

Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo based companies with already two successful exits.

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