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The world’s most-beloved money-losing business needs your help (flickr.net)
90 points by DeusExMachina 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Discussion of this topic yesterday: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21841813

Smugmug haven't exactly been kind to the Flickr community - they walked back the "free forever" promises made by Marissa Meyer and deleted a lot of photos belonging to anyone who didn't subscribe to a pro plan after the acquisition. I'm not sure how they expect the community to have much goodwill towards them after that move.

This was my question as well.

SmugMug presumably did their due diligence before making the acquisition, they should have had a decent idea of what it would cost them to operate Flickr even with the old unlimited-storage model. So I was surprised after they made the acquisition to see them abandon that model and delete tons of images users had uploaded to the service in good faith -- it seemed like the cost of hosting those images was something they should have factored into their planning. But if that's what it takes for them to keep the service up and running, I figured, maybe it's an acceptable sacrifice.

Now they come back a year later and say, whoops, we can't make the math work on this thing even after deleting all those photos. Which makes me wonder if the math ever really worked -- if they ever had a realistic plan for operating this service at all -- or if they just saw it was up for sale cheap one day, and bought it without really working out the business end of the equation. Statements like "[w]e didn’t buy Flickr because we thought it was a cash cow" make me suspect it was the latter.

There's also a weird dissonance in this appeal that gives me pause. If you're writing a message about how you're struggling to break even, you probably shouldn't trumpet how you've moved the whole system onto AWS, a notoriously expensive hosting option for things like static images. And statements like "Unlike platforms like Facebook, we also didn’t buy it to invade your privacy and sell your data" come across as vaguely threatening: "nice community you've got here, it'd be shame if we had to monetize it."

To be fair “free forever” ceases to apply when the business is about to be taken out back and shot dead, and 1,000 photos still free is 1,000 more photos than a dead business. I’d also imagine probabilistic steps towards break even were considered before undertaking breathing new life into it.

Second, one can’t always know “if the math works” because untested models depend on people. While Yahoo/VZ could have run tests to predict uptake, in a transition like this, there may not be the luxury of that level of market research. Entrepreneurs are regularly called on to make calls absent enough data, and have the character to course correct with candor. I think we’re seeing that character play out here.

Last, much larger revenue Internet services than SmugMug/Flickr are all in on “notoriously expensive” AWS/S3 as well, some with budgets that start with a B. What do they know that readers here might be missing about the TCO of ‘things like static images’?

For one, “notoriously expensive for things like static images” may be misunderstanding the value of a single image to its owner. To them, that image may be “priceless”.

When dealing with a set of images as an emotion archive rather than as a static image CDN, losing any single image should not be an option.

Static “image hosting” services lose images on a regular basis. S3 by and large doesn’t lose objects. If I could only have a single copy of something in a single place, I’d want it on S3. In that “you had one job” category, S3 is a game changer at a remarkably reasonable price.

Regardless of one’s opinion of S3, comparing tables of features may be missing critical differences that don’t manifest in that feature table, differences well worth the expense relative to other costs or opportunity costs.

Yeah, I’m guessing moving to AWS is probably destroying their opex due to the egress fees. Not something I would recommend to anybody who serves heavy content potentially hundreds/thousands of times for each object.

Can leave everything on AWS but end up building out the CDN in some unmetered datacenters.

95th billing makes this kind of stuff cheap :)

My photography teachers stressed the importance of "culling" your work and displaying only the best photographs you've taken. I think allowing 1000 free photos is very generous for a fine art photography platform, which is what I want it to be.

I've been taking photography seriously as a hobby for the past three years, and I use Flickr primarily as my portfolio, and right now I have between 100-200 photos on my account. I largely have positive feelings about what SmugMug have been doing with Flickr since their aquisition.

Turns out Marissa made a false promise. Who would have thought it? We live in sad times when we are upset by moves necessary for financial solvency, instead of holding to account bulls__t peddlers that promise "free" stuff while donning their golden parachutes.

Did they actually delete the photos, or are the photos just inaccessible "until" you subscribe to Pro?

>> We moved the platform and every photo to Amazon Web Services (AWS)

This is not a way to go for a financially troubled company.


This should be emphasised above all other concerns - AWS is absolutely the WORST choice to go for if the company is already struggling with money or not (yet) making any money. It's literally a hole for burning money.

You simply don't go for AWS until you have a superb business plan how to make significantly more money off of your service than Amazon does.

> We moved the platform and every photo to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the industry leader in cloud computing, and modernized its technology along the way. As a result, pages are already 20% faster and photos load 30% more quickly. Platform outages, including Pandas, are way down. Flickr continues to get faster and more stable, and important new features are being built once again.

SmugMug did it primarily to improve stability and performance. They point out that Flickr hosts tens of billions of photos with 100M registered users and hundreds of thousands of paying customers across the globe. I see the need to use AWS (or any cloud provider for that matter) as a necessity to run a paid web service cost effectively at this scale.

It's a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg problem, but not really. They still needed a solid business plan how to earn money from Flickr before moving to AWS (or any other expensive global cloud) - this kind of looks like they've thought of asking for money AFTER the move.

Hope the 30% increase in performance was worth it...

> They still needed a solid business plan how to earn money from Flickr...

SmugMug, by their own admission, bought Flickr to help keep it alive. Currently, they're not even looking to make money but reduce the operating costs. I'm sure they didn't take the decision to move to AWS lightly, at all.

> ...this kind of looks like they've thought of asking for money AFTER the move.

May be you're right that it might have been a mistake, but the fact that SmugMug are a heavy AWS user means it might have made a lot of sense to leverage not only the engineering and operational expertise but also the heavily discounted rates they must have negotiated with AWS?

Bandwidth and storage is likely still killing them. Should've put it in Backblaze B2 and paid Cloudflare for CDN.

Would probably cut their image hosting costs like 70%, maybe more even.

That's like saying "if a car manufacturer is really large, the only way to make it work is to outsource its car manufacturing". I guess so, if they forgot how their core business works. Seems like Flickr forgot how to website.

I was wondering how long it would take for the HN experts to show up.

Indeed. I fix AWS bills for a living, and I wouldn’t dream of saying whether this was a smart move or not without a careful look at the infrastructure, the financial model of the business, and a series of discussions with the engineering and finance teams.

Somehow HN experts can bypass all of that and do what I do full time with basically no information about the company in question. I really should hire a few of them.

Well, now we in a need for experts who fix AWS billing for a living.


If you're spending far more money maintaining technical debt-ridden on-premises solutions, then moving to AWS most certainly is the way to go.

What is the way to go?

For a large-storage, network-heavy content, optimizing the storage and network delivery costs. Colocation for cheaper storage, peering and direct ISP contracts for the network.

I was going to say if they are using a low-cost CDN it's not that bad.

My guess would be their main costs are from hosting all those high-res images, not anything they are doing with EC2 instances. So who cares if they pay a little more for their servers?

But I did a lookup - and live.staticflickr.com is using CloudFront for their CDN. That means they're paying a 5X premium just for image hosting. No need to have the CEO make a blog post acting like he's the Jimmy Wales of image hosting... just switch to a cheap CDN already.

sounds like "Flickr Pro members get ad-free browsing for themselves and their visitors" needs to change.

Certainly you could make it in-obstrusive - just have a non-moving, small one in the header and a a larger in the footer.

Don't have any ads next to the photo.

Kicking the 'adult content' off the platform was the first step in that. This 'we tried to beg for money' letter is a good second step.

Hopefully your AWS infrastructure serves the upcoming ads faster as well.

I was never aware that speed was an issue with flickr. When a place has original content that is not available elsewhere, there is no competition for speed, imho, ymmv.

I can't buy a pro account, my content which was public on flickr for years, became against the TOS when smug bought it.

There were several marginalized community groups there that never transitioned as a whole either.

Sad, it could of become the social network better than fbook.

From the title I thought this was about Wikipedia.

Me too. It reminded me of the time I discovered how much Wikimedia spends on salaries [1]. At the time I was sure it would lead to a collapse in donations.

[1] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_salarie...

Those salaries are downright modest for something as significant as Wikipedia. I was expecting to see multi-million dollar payouts to execs

It's still not a business.

The problem for me is that if I am just using it to archive or back up my photos then they are asking for more money per year than it would cost me to simply buy more local disk space and make a local backup. Most of the photos I have (had) there are private so they incur essentially zero bandwidth charges.

It seems to me that such a system should benefit from economies of scale so that a year's subscription should at least be cheaper than buying local storage.

So it's back to Google Photos for unlimited storage of reduced resolution copies and 15 GB of general storage (enough for over twenty thousand full resolution pictures from my Moto G5+).

I've already been a Pro subscriber since 2010. Not sure what else I can do to support them, but I really don't want Flickr to disappear. It was odd they raised the price. Why don't they lower it, increasing the number of Pro users? Or does it not work that way? Somehow I feel like switching to AWS will only increase the costs to them, despite any user-facing improvement.

I don’t know how the low promo price helps instead of harm them?


Let's say their current revenue is R. The 25% promo reduces their revenue to 0.75R, but say they get y% more subscribers. Calculations show that if they can get an increase of more than y > 33.33% in subscriptions, then their promo works.

just raise pro price

In fact, they already did. It used to be $24.95/year and was changed to $49.95/year in 2013 https://techcrunch.com/2013/05/20/yahoo-drops-flickr-pro-to-...

Yeah, I would pay a higher price too, I already have a pro account, got it when I heard that SmugMug bought it and the money wouldn't go to Yahoo anymore. I bought one year pro for my brother but he never used it and I don't think my dad would or my sister either. Basically I don't know anyone close to me whom I'd gift a Flickr pro account and they'd use it.

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