SmugMug Acquires Flickr

Posted on 4/23/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

SmugMug, an independent, family-run company, has acquired Flickr from Verizon’s digital media subsidiary Oath. Flickr was founded in 2004 and sold to Yahoo in 2005. Yahoo, in turn, was acquired by Verizon in 2016 for $4.83 billion. Verizon combined Flickr with AOL to create a new subsidiary called Oath.

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill, told USAToday that Flickr will remain a standalone community of amateur and professional photographers. He plans to give the long neglected service the focus and resources it deserves. He also said “we want to be a welcome place for all photographers: hobbyist to archivist to professional.”

MacASkill doesn’t seem to have any firm plans for Flickr, but said, “We try to listen to our customers and when enough of them ask for something that’s important to them or to the community, we go and build it.”

So Here’s An Idea

First a little background. There are 3 basic categories of photographers who use Flickr.
    Category 1 – Those who just want to store and show off their work to others. They are looking for “likes” and “followers” and often would be ecstatic if someone chose to make use one of their images. Usually they wouldn’t expect to be paid anything for such a use.
    Category 2 – Those who want to be credited if someone uses one of their images. They make their images available under a Creative Commons license.

    Category 3 – Those who want to be contacted before anyone makes a use of one of their images. In most case they will want to be paid something for such a use.
SmugMug could provide a valuable service to photographers if they would make it possible for commercial uses who want to use images they find on Flickr to easily distinguish between images in each of these categories, and search each category separately.

Flickr hasn’t shared much information about the size of its collection, but it may be in the range of 20 to 30 billion images in category 1, about 300 million in Category 2 and roughly 300 to 500 million in Category 3.

The Category 3 images are the ones I want to focus on. Many of these are the kind of images commercial users often want to buy for online and print marketing projects. Many customers only pay a few dollars to use such images, but often the type of use requires that they pay more. The worldwide market for stock photography in 2017 was about $2.5 billion per year.

Over the years a few photographers have done very will licensing rights to their images through Flickr. Todd Klassy is a prime example. Here’s a link to his current Flickr collection.

What SmugMug Could Do

There are at least three relatively inexpensive actions that SmugMug could take that would greatly improve the Flickr product for photographers and image users.

1 - Make some standard place within the Photostream to find contact information for at least the Pro photographers in the Category 3 group. If photographers hope to ever license their images through Flickr there needs to be an easy way for potential uses to contact them to negotiate rights. Here’s an example of what Todd Klassy does on his Photostream and what he does on his personal site.

2 - Give customers a chance to search for just the images in category 3 if they are looking for an image they want to use in a commercial project. Making it possible to search each category separately would make it clearer that there are images they must pay to use while they might be allowed to use others for free.

3 -Often commercial users will find an image on another site that they would like to use in one of their own online or print projects. The problem is that there is often no way to determine who the photographer is or how to contact the photographer for permission to use the image. At that point the potential user either steals the image or gives up and goes somewhere else to find something else they can legally license.

SmugMug could solve this problem by instituting a visual search procedure where the customer could upload a copy of the image they have found. SmugMug would then search its Category 3 collecions of images (in much the same way as a Google Image search works) to determine if the image is in the Flickr collection. If it is then they would be able to easily contact the photographer and negotiate a license. SmugMug might also want to give the customer the option of searching the entire Flickr collection.

For more about how an Image Creator Locator (ICL) might work check out these two stories here and here.

How Would SmugMug Benefit

If SmugMug were to institute these procedures it is very likely that many Flickr photographers would earn a lot of money from the images in their Flickr collections. It is worth noting that Getty Images has almost 3 million images in its Moment collection that they have picked up from various Flickr photographers. These images represent about 20% of all the Royalty Free images in the Getty collection and 14% of all Creative images.

A significant number of current Flickr photographer who have images in Category 1 might want to make their images available for licensing.

Many professional photographers and stock agencies that have not previously participated on Flickr might find it an attractive site to join.

Many new commercial users of images might find Flickr a useful place to search for the images they need.

Copyright © 2018 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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