Photo: Dustin Diaz | Flickr
Marissa Mayer just did something amazing.The CEO of Yahoo just made Flickr free—for three months, anyway.
The photo-sharing site is now making its unlimited Pro service, normally a paid subscription running $25 a year, free for three months. Existing subscribers get an extra three months free.
The practical effect of that is that Flickr users, especially new ones turned off by Instagram’s ever-changing terms of service and attracted by Flickr’s new iPhone app, don’t have to worry about the crazy, nearly decade-old limits on photo sharing that have crippled the service.
Did you know, for example, that free Flickr users are limited to seeing the most recent 200 photos they’ve posted?
It’s a tragic story: Yahoo had a chance to own photo sharing on the Web when it bought Flickr in 2005 (for a price that was reportedly about 0.03 Instagrams).
Back then, Flickr had found a clever way to support itself: Selling Pro subscriptions, which appealed especially to amateur and professional photographers who were willing to laboriously upload high-resolution photos to the site.
And back then, servers and bandwidth were expensive. So the restrictions made sense as a way to separate casual users who might scan and upload a few photos here and there from the hardcore fans willing to pay for unlimited photo storage and other perks. It was a classic example of what’s now called the “freemium”—free and premium—business model.
Today, computing power is ultracheap, and cameras are in every mobile device. As a result, Facebook brought photo sharing to the masses with a crucial people-tagging feature, while Instagram turned every smartphone owner into an obsessive hobbyist photographer. Flickr’s been frozen that whole time. But now it has a chance to make a big leap.
So from here we can see two things happening:
- Yahoo sticks with the freemium business model, using the three-month free trial to lure a bunch of users to Flickr and convert at least some of them to Pro subscriptions, boosting revenues.
- Yahoo uses the three-month period to test how much it really costs to offer Flickr completely for free, and either eliminates the Pro fee altogether or substantially lifts the limits on free users after March. The result: A service which can handle the higher-resolution photos produced by the latest generation of smartphones, and which is far better designed for displaying large, gorgeous photos and sharing them all over the Web, not just on cramped phone screens.
Your move, Marissa.
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