Flickr Pro tweaked, but bigger changes needed

Flickr automatically charges credit cards to renew premium accounts. That change is smart but nowhere near what's needed to restore an ailing brand.

The 500px site has attracted many photographers who want to showcase their best photos without them being lost in Flickr's sea of more mainstream shots.
The 500px site has attracted many photographers who want to showcase their best photos without them being lost in Flickr's sea of more mainstream shots. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Yahoo has changed its Flickr Pro premium service into a subscription plan, a modest but reasonable change that I hope presages bigger adjustments to compete better against new photo-sharing rivals.

Flickr, a fixture in online photography, has lost luster as alternatives such as Facebook, Google+, Instagram, and 500px have advanced the state of the art and attracted millions of users. Flickr is shucking old baggage as part of a promise of new vitality in 2012, though. And although the new Flickr Pro pricing scheme is hardly a dramatic new course, at least it shows somebody's at the tiller.

With the new scheme, Yahoo will automatically charge credit cards to renew accounts, Flickr's Zack Sheppard said in a blog post yesterday.

"When your Pro account is near expiration, you'll receive a reminder from us before it renews, and you'll of course have the option to cancel at any time," he said. The subscription plan applies to Pro accounts purchased on January 25 or later; those who purchased Pro accounts before that will pay the old way, through the Web form, Sheppard said.

Flickr also changed pricing modestly for Flickr Pro, a service that lifts limits on upload rates, storage capacity, and sets and collections; lets account holders download original photos and upload HD videos; and keeps advertisements away.

Flickr added a new three-month option for Flickr Pro accounts.
Flickr added a new three-month option for Flickr Pro accounts. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The annual cost for a Flickr Pro account is the same, $24.95. The two-year plan is cheaper, down from $47.99 to $44.95. And Flickr added a new three-month payment option of $6.95, which is probably a good idea for those who are tempted to see if they really want to go Pro (especially since a lot of people will automatically pay again when they neglect to take the trouble to cancel).

On its payment page, Flickr presents the prices a bit more opportunistically. Instead of $24.95 being the norm, it's now a $2.95 annual "savings" compared to the quarterly rate. Likewise, the $44.95 rate "saves" $10.95 compared to the three-month rate. So evidently Flickr has raised what it wants people to think of as its baseline prices.

But hey, Yahoo has a business to run, and I see this as reasonable overall.

There's some kvetching on the Flickr forum about the change, but for me and the 10,858 photos I have at the site, $1.87 a month is well worth the price.

Flickr isn't my photo backup, but it's a backup to my regular backups, and once I had to use it when I accidentally deleted an original. It's got a good community and nice features with tagging, geotagging, sets, and groups that liberate photos from the tired thinking of putting photos in a single album. It's got a healthy API for third-party use.

Google+ encourages people to check social-network photographic activity by presenting images artfully while showing how much discussion each shot attracted.
Google+ encourages people to check social-network photographic activity by presenting images artfully while showing how much discussion each shot attracted. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

My biggest complaint about Flickr is its relative stasis. New services often run rings around Flickr--Instagram for smartphone photography, quick edits, and sharing; Facebook for connecting with your contacts and face recognition; and Google+ for slick presentation and fast performance. SmugMug remains a fixture for pros who want to sell their photos. And as Flickr's membership has diluted from its original photo-enthusiast roots to a more mainstream crowd, higher-end photographers have gravitated to sites like 500px.

For casual users, I see a lot more competition these days. Google+ offers unlimited photos as long as you keep the photos below 2048x2048 pixels (that's not good for archiving or getting big prints, but you can pay Google if you want to store larger versions). And Facebook really fits the bill for people sharing with friends (it's not so hot for photography enthusiasts who want to show off their art, though).

Let's hope Yahoo's new chief executive, Scott Thompson, will be able to rekindle Flickr's flames of excitement. Or sell it off to someone who can.

 

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