How to turn Flickr Around

We have a problem. I say that as one of the many subscribers or pro account holders at Flickr, we have a problem that is also Yahoo’s problem.

Flickr is a huge website. It’s in the top 40 of most visited websites (ranked by Alexa), has over 5 Billion photographs and videos (as of September 2010), and is (despite the claims otherwise) is in danger. The danger is that it is owned and operated by Yahoo.

Yahoo is a bureaucratic behemoth that is unable to turn their ship around. They’ve handed the keys of the largest, most profitable piece of their business (display and search advertising) to one of their competitors (using Bing for their search results), and continue to shutter the other thriving parts of their business in a blind, last ditch effort to somehow win the hearts of new investors- perhaps so the senior management can cash out their holdings as winners as the bow of the ship slips into the ocean.

As their competitors steam by offering life rafts full of cheese and wine to us stubborn rats wondering when our turn to face the axe will come, take for a moment to think about a solution to Flickr’s woes.

Being married to Yahoo gave Flickr one primary advantage: resources. They were able to scale to billions of photos using this advantage – but the time has come for Yahoo and Flickr to part ways. Much in the same way that Ebay is now spinning off Skype into it’s own business while retaining a partial ownership, Yahoo can profit initially from the sale, the IPO, and continued partial ownership. Flickr separates from the Titanic Yahoo cruise line and becomes a destroyer class ship.

Currently Flickr is sitting on an untapped base of photos as a revenue source.

The current rules state:

Don’t use Flickr to sell. If we find you engaging in commercial activity, we will warn you or delete your account. Some examples include selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream or in a group, using your account solely as a product catalog, or linking to commercial sites in your photostream.

In the same way that the Apple uses their App Store as a platform for others to sell their own software, Flickr should see themselves as a platform for photographers to share and sell their own photographs. They already have partnerships with printshops that allow you to buy your own photos. Turn that fire hose on for the rest of the world, charge a percentage fee, and watch the money flow. Even a 10% fee would not only cover their operating costs, but make them a profitable business while looking like saints compared to Apple’s 30%.

Even as an mildly promoted, opt-in feature, the adoption would be astounding. While maintaining the proper design and user experience standards that have done them well so far (well enough anyway, there are things to nitpick but not enough to drive me away despite my previous rants), including this functionality as an option for Flickr Pro would be a win-win-win. Flickr Pro users are able to sell their photos in a sanctioned way right from their flickr accounts, people browsing the great photos on flickr are able to buy on the same page they view the photo, and Flickr makes tons of money in the process.

While some may argue that the quality of photography uploaded would take a hit, I disagree. In the same way the Apple App Store has turned hobbyists and moonlighting hackers into successful businesses that allow passionate people to devote their full attention to creation, Flickr could be the enabling source for much more interestingness inspired, photography filled creativity than currently seen.

This is just one of many ways Flickr could successful on their own instead of being tied down and sinking along with the ship that is Yahoo.