How does Flickr’s new limit of 1,000 photos for non-paying users affect you?

Photo-sharing site Flickr is back to making controversial decisions about how its service runs.


For years, Flickr has had free and paid tiers. Since 2013, the free tier gave an astonishing 1 terabyte of storage, but showed users advertising. The paid tier offered unlimited storage but removed the ads.

New owner SmugMug has announced that they will soon limit free accounts to 1,000 photos. They want to change their business model to drive less revenue from advertising and more from subscriptions.

They say that this is also about encouraging Flickr to be a stronger photo community. I’m not sure how this does that, but it’s a nice idea. Flickr’s community used to be so rich, and it’d be great if that could come back somehow.

I work in the software industry and know how hard it is to come up with a viable revenue model and the corporate and product strategies that support it. I never understood how Flickr could make money offering a terabyte of storage to everyone.

Flickr’s blog post about this change says, “The overwhelming majority of Pros have more than 1,000 photos on Flickr, and more than 97% of Free members have fewer than 1,000. We believe we’ve landed on a fair and generous place to draw the line.”

Yet in the photo forums I follow, many photographers are upset about this change. Perhaps it’s hobbyist photographers like us who make up that 3% of Free users who’ve uploaded more than 1,000 photos.

I’ve been a Flickr Pro user for years now with 15,863 photos uploaded as of today. (See my Flickr stream here.) I’ve found my Flickr Pro subscription to be worth every penny just for my ability to share my work anywhere I want to on the Internet, including and especially on this blog. I’m grandfathered at the old $25/year rate, but even if they bump me to the current $50/year rate I’ll pay it and keep on Flickring.


47 responses to “How does Flickr’s new limit of 1,000 photos for non-paying users affect you?”

  1. J P Avatar

    Hmm, I have over 1000 photos there. This is the first I have heard of the new policy, I suppose I will soon be invited to convert to pro.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If you go to Flickr today the main page will tell you all about it. I think they’re trying to shake off casual users, and users who use it as a photo backup service.

  2. Dan James Avatar

    It would be good to see the community aspects of Flickr return more strongly, it’s been a bit of a wasteland the last couple of years or more. If you look back to perhaps five years ago, the amount of useful content in the forums is astonishing, especially for film users. I know I learned masses there when I was starting out with film photography in 2012.

    Let’s hope some of the more dedicated and talkative photographers return and move away from the more (in my opinion) superficial and surface skimming sites like Instagram.

    Like you Jim I’ve been Pro for years so it doesn’t really impact me. For unlimited storage and the ease of using any of a multitude of different sizes of your photos (for example in one’s blog) I feel it’s great value.

    The best news is the plan to get rid of the need to sign in via Yahoo! I only ever got a Yahoo account for this purpose and never use it for anything else. Let’s hope they use a dedicated Flickr sign in, and options to sign in via other profiles like Google. I expect the majority of Yahoo email accounts will almost disappear overnight when this is implemented!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I really like Flickr. I almost said love, but its herky-jerky nature over the last few years has me stopping short of that. I’m happy its future is relatively secured and that the new owners are figuring out a business model and making product decisions that line up with it. I’d love it if the community aspect returned, too.

  3. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    I’m not happy about it, especially since they botched my payment for this year. They charged my card and never upgraded my status to pro.Threatening to delete ones photos seems like blackmail, and I doubt it will do a lot to improve good feelings among users. I do enjoy it, but I am downsizing in preparation for a big move next year and closely looking at all my expenses, not sure if that will make the cut. I use Instagram and can live with the adds. It seems like most people have migrated there already. I do wish them luck, I hope it works.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds like you want Flickr for the social aspect of it, rather than the lossless file storage aspect of it. I like and value both, which is why I’m happy to pony up. But that’s just crap that they took your money and won’t upgrade you. Crap.

  4. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    Hmmm, I’m going to have to look at this, will they just delete photos then?

    1. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

      So, I just glanced over it, and I think the answer is yes they will be deleting. I will be downloading a lot I guess since I have over 32,000 photo there. I have mixed feelings about Flickr and frankly, had a smugmug site for awhile and wasn’t crazy about that so am hesitant to start handing over money.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, they will start deleting photos after the new year. I don’t know how they’ll decide which 1,000 photos to leave!

      If I didn’t already pay for Flickr I’d start immediately, because 95+% of the photos on this blog are hosted there.

      1. Chris and Carol Avatar

        They say they’ll start with the oldest uploads first.

      2. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

        I’m going to start the removal process on mine. I’m glad you posted about this because I have yet to get any kind of notification about it. Cheers, Amy

  5. Chris and Carol Avatar

    I believe it will be a big win for Flickr in the long run when the requirement to have a yahoo email account goes away next year. Many people dislike yahoo email (not me) and swear by Gmail. If you only use Gmail or some other service then you couldn’t have a Flickr account under the present system. I’m not thrilled with the $49.99 annual cost (another fee) but since I don’t do Facebook, Instagram and the others my only other cost is my annual WordPress account. Flickr has generated some sales for me directly and I use it to drive customers and visitors to my blog and my Etsy shop

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think it will reduce friction for users not to have to deal with Yahoo, to be sure.

    2. Dan James Avatar

      Completely agree about the Yahoo sign in. If I log out by accident or haven’t been on Flickr for a while I have to retrieve the password every time! No idea what might be in my Yahoo email inbox, I haven’t looked in it in about a decade! Changing this is a major plus, but something they should have done years ago.

  6. Chris and Carol Avatar

    BTW Jim, thanks for the heads-up… I was totally in the dark about the changes as I never noticed the proposals from Flickr. I only have just a little over 2100 images on Flickr now after 4 years but it would have been painful to lose my pics when they cut it down to the 1000 limit “for free”.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wonder if they’re going to send out emails to free users alerting them.

  7. mike Avatar

    I have 589 photos on Flickr, uploaded over the past ten years. I’ve increased my upload rate considerably in the last year, but a free account is probably still viable for me for a couple more years.
    I really like Flickr Albums as they are a big help to me in evaluating and organizing my work.
    I’m also a fan of the film discussion groups and am sorry and a bit mystified as to why the use of them dropped so precipitously over the past five years or so. I suppose the contraction of the discussion groups has something to do with the rise of other photo sharing and social networking platforms, but I have seen no real explanations along that line, or any documentation. It seems to me that none of the other photo sharing sites offer the possibilities for networking about film photography that Flickr provides.
    I took over running the New Mexico Film Photographers group on Flickr about seven months ago. At the same time I started a local meetup group for film photographers in Albuquerque and I thought the two projects would be mutually supporting. The meetup group is doing well, but the members have not made use of the Flickr group to stay in touch between our monthly meetings, though several have active Flickr accounts.

    1. Dan James Avatar

      I’ve never seen any other site/app with the equivalent depth of threads and discussion as Flickr had/has. Maybe Facebook has photography groups and that’s where people have gone? I don’t know I’m not on it. Stuff like Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest are all about skimming, there’s no capacity for depth of conversation there, in my disappointing experiences.

      So I’d love to see Flickr groups rise up again.

      And yes photo albums and tags in Flickr help me also sort through my photos far more easily and quickly than just by date as they’re saved on my HDs, this is another major plus of using Flickr.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think the discussion group is going the way of the dodo. Everybody’s on Facebook now. The most active photo discussion I know of is on Facebook, in some of their groups. That’s not to say it’s great, only that it’s active.

      I don’t fully understand it. I remember when forums, and before that dial-up BBSes, were great fun. You could have conversation about any topic at any level (frivolous to deep); you’d always find someone willing somewhere. But today the good, serious, helpful conversations are nowhere to be found. It’s all Like-gathering and look-at-me stuff.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        “But today the good, serious, helpful conversations are nowhere to be found” – yeh they are, they’re on blogs like yours Jim! This is why I find blogs more valuable than ever, it’s where the more intelligent and useful communities are still forming and growing. : )

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          True, but I control the conversation starts here, unlike a forum. But perhaps networked together all of our blogs are like one big old-style forum.

  8. Heide Avatar

    I was momentarily outraged when I read the news, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like a fair compromise. After Facebook’s data-skimming and -selling shenanigans, I’m more inclined to pay for a service I value than to get it for “free” with all sorts of hidden catches. But that’s just me … I can also understand the folks who have been uploading photos for years might feel like their content is now being “held hostage.”

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have no real insight into what’s going on inside Flickr/SmugMug but from here it looks like just what they say: moving to a subscription-fueled rather than ad-fueled revenue model. I applaud that, even though I feel some sadness for photographers who get great value from Flickr but for whom $50 is a lot of money.

    2. Dan James Avatar

      There are other photography storage options like Google Photos, iCloud and Amazon but they all have a fee too, and in my experience with first two there’s nothing like the potential for organising and accessing your images, or interaction with others. You pay for money and take your choice. Or go with a free app like Facebook and get plastered with ads and risk your data being used in ways you’re not aware of. My money will continue to go into Flickr, with Google Photos as a very useful tool also for editing and processing my photos in conjunction with my Android phone and Snapseed, which all syncs together beautifully.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        I think Flickr is moving away from photo storage as a business, and toward photo community or something like it. Which I applaud. But you’re right, Flickr’s tools for finding an image in your archive are unparalleled.

  9. Moni Avatar

    I’m on board with it. I’ve been a Flickr user since 2004, and was a pro user up until 2013 when they let people have the free tarabyte. I am going to become a pro user again. I am happily willing to pay for something that has served me so well, as Flickr has. There has been this business model of the user providing content for websites so that the website can make money from advertisers (who are the real customers). This business model has proved to be evil beyond belief and I am ready to move on. I applaud Smugmug for making the move in this direction. It tells me that the users of their site are the customers, as it should be.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m with you. I don’t know SmugMug’s actual motivations for making this change but the effect is the same. I feel dirty every time I jump onto Facebook or Twitter now; from here on out, not so Flickr.

    2. Szilvia Virag Avatar

      Exactly right. And I think more people are going to wake up to how bad it is in the next couple of years.

  10. SilverFox Avatar

    I am just shy of 1000 photos on my Flickr so will hit the Pro level soon I expect. I am on FB but don’t really use it for anything other than keeping track of family plus the odd announcement. I only put my favourite shots of Flickr (opting for local storage of my archive) hence why I don’t have thousands on there. I use IG a fair bit I guess but I see that as a more throwaway platform for fun.
    So debating what I will do. I guess I will go Pro though I am one of those cheap people who doesn’t pay for online photo sharing so this will be a serious step for me. If the community is going to rise up and support this platform with a renewed enthusiasm I am all for it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hard to say whether the community will be rekindled there. Community happens on Facebook now; they’ve got a lock on it.

  11. sumacandmilkweed Avatar

    Well, darnit. I joined Flickr because my storage on WordPress was getting eaten up pretty quickly, and I knew I could link my flickr images to my blog. I’m a relatively new Flickr user and still trying to understand it… I already pay for cloud storage, and WordPress, and all sorts of other things. I’ve got to rethink, I guess. Glad I read your post because I hadn’t noticed it on Flickr.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Flickr has really soft-announced this thing. Today when I go to the site there’s a banner on the bottom. They didn’t even send an announcement to the email address I have registered with them.

  12. daleducatte Avatar

    I’ve been paying for Flickr Pro for a few years while my photos sat idle there, and only recently returned to using the site more actively, updating some old photos and adding new ones. I was surprised by the price increase at first, then realized it’s been many years since the Pro price went up. Most of the new Pro benefits aren’t that compelling, but I plan to renew at the Pro level for now and see what happens.

    So in that sense, the change doesn’t really affect me, but it does bother me that they’re going to delete photos from account holders that don’t convert from free to Pro. Flickr users are complaining about the loss of historical data — likes, comments, and photos that have been included in galleries and groups — and the challenges they’ll face if they’ve linked to their Flickr photos from other sites, and those photos are deleted. I think those concerns are justified; while I don’t know what the economics would look like if the new owners developed a better transition plan, deleting photos based on the arbitrary 1,000 photo limit by oldest dates — in February 2019! — seems very heavy handed. It also makes me uncomfortable about what the future might look like given that the new owners think deleting content is a good idea. A better approach might have been to limit users by storage space used rather than quantity, and let them sort out their own photos within these limits, on a longer time frame. So while I’m generally on board with the price increase and limitations on free accounts, I don’t think they’ve chosen the best approach (or messaging) for the Flickr community members that have spent time and energy uploading photos under suddenly obsolete parameters. Demonstrating greater empathy for those users, in my opinion, would have been a more impressive business strategy.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Every free user with more than 1,000 photos who wants to stay free would be well served to delete down to 1,000 photos before Flickr does it for them. I agree, it would be better if Flickr gave more time to do that. I do think that it’s only a fraction of free users who are faced with this dilemma, however, given that by their own reporting 97% of free users already have fewer than 1000 photos on the site.

  13. Szilvia Virag Avatar

    Thank you for pointing this out. I didn’t know. But I agree it might be a good thing – I only wish I had paid for the pro membership earlier though to get it at the old price too. I’ve lost interest in Instagram – if I’m keen to search to see what others have done with the same cameras and lenses I have (or ones I have considered buying) Flickr is the first place I look. As for Facebook, frankly it’s exhausting. I don’t want to see advertisement after advertisement and people sharing quiz results just so that I can participate in some of the photography groups. And besides… photos are badly presented on Facebook. I’ve never been happy with it. Time to interact more with nice photographers on Flickr and see if I can work out how to get event invites from a couple of Facebook groups via email so I don’t have to log on very often but still don’t miss the good things.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I agree 100% about Facebook, and if it weren’t for a few key friends I keep up with thanks to it, I’d cancel my account. It was fun five years ago but now every aspect of it is trying to sell you something.

      Instagram remains fun for me as long as I remember it’s about the cheap rush of getting those little hearts.

      I’m trying to step up my game in interacting on Flickr, starring more photos and leaving more comments. It will only be a vibrant community again if we all make it that way!

    2. Dan James Avatar

      Szilvia, what an excellent summary of the appeal of Flickr versus Facebook.

  14. Sam Avatar

    Hi Jim, welcome back! And thanks for explaining what the new Flickr changes mean to us. As someone who has not used Flickr in such a long time, I am unqualified to comment on the changes but all I can say is people usually complain because they’re afraid of change even though the new guidelines seem very fair to most. Personally for me, I’m not surprised Flickr was bought out by Smugmug. I’m actually surprised such an old school photo sharing site like Smugmug still exists! I remember them well in the early years, even had an account! :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m with you — when SM bought Flickr I thought SM was Internet 1.0 and consigned to the dust bin!

      1. Sam Avatar

        Haha good one Jim, perfect! :-)

  15. Johnny Martyr Avatar

    Great blog and many fascinating comments. Jim, I have been on Flickr since 2004 and cannot compare to your 16k plus images with my mere 3k! However, Flickr is very deeply rooted into my photography ecosystem. Alternatives like SmugMug have stupid names and Instagram famously does not stand up for photographers’ intellectual property rights, look at the work of Richard Prince. 500px has a compression that really ruins the look of film grain.

    Thanks to the age and “largeness” of Flickr, my work is often found by publishers and designers looking for images to use legitimately. The other side of the coin is that my work is also often stolen from Flickr. However, that’s a problem I’d prefer to have than not for the sake of exposure.

    I find the scalability of downloading and backlinking to my photos is useful and easy. Organizing my photos there is easy and can also be nuanced.

    The Flickr community is deep and can be very helpful and just good to be a part of. Perhaps this monetary investment will also cause folks to invest more socially in the site.

    I welcome this change as I believe that the site is currently bloated with free users uploading images and videos carelessly as well as innumerable dead or bot/spam accounts. Many such accounts may have less than 1000 images, but the cap will surely help.

    As for non-pro users complaining about the limit and cost, well I’d say that if you have posted over 1000 images on Flickr, you should start taking your work more seriously, you’re probably a pretty good shooter if you’re on this precipice. Embrace that and pay up or edit your work more tightly. Editing ones public work is good for shooters and our audiences.

    At the end of the day, data has to go somewhere. And someone’s got to pay something. Why not be responsible for the size of your digital footprint?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Johnny, the reason I have 16k photos on Flickr is precisely because I don’t meaningfully edit them! I just dump every non-failure photo I take onto the site — and then use it as the way I host my photos all over the Internet. If I had it to do over I’d use Flickr as more of a gallery of my best work. I bet I’d have way, way fewer than 16k photos if I did that!!

      Great commentary.

    2. Dan James Avatar

      What an excellent and thorough summary of Flickr, where it is, and where us fans would like it to go.

      Brilliant points about editing too, something I could always be more ruthless about.

      1. Johnny Martyr Avatar

        Don’t worry, I’m as guilty of overloading my stream as the next guy. I keep trying to cull through it but get sucked down Nostalgia Lane. Some of the best streams I’ve seen though are the ones that are a single page of breathtaking shots with hundreds of favorites each. I use my stream to provide examples of different lenses/film/etc though so that’s my excuse!

        1. Dan James Avatar

          Earlier this year I decided to ruthlessly edit my Flickr stream. Then the thought of going through 4500 photographs seemed overwhelming and something I would never do, so I did a kind of master reboot by selecting everything and setting to private. I then went back through the previous few months and re-released some of my favourites into the stream by making them public again. Plus I’ve been far more discerning in what I post since then.

          Because I didn’t actually delete anything, I still have all those images to choose from when I want a couple of photos for a blog post. Or to remind myself what a certain lens/camera/film could do (like you I believe, I was very thorough with tags and albums so I could do this).

          I do wonder about the loss of views to an extent though. My Flickr views are a tiny fraction of what they were when I had 4500 photos live. And something like 16 of my top 20 most viewed photos were of cameras or lenses, ie gear photos, that collectively attracted a huge chunk of views. I wonder still about the pay off of less views compared with knowing that I only have photographs that I’m proud of making, not photographs of gear. Might re-release a few of the most popular gear photos again for a month or so and see what happens!

          1. Jim Grey Avatar

            There’s a part of me that hates to lose views on any platform, on principle. However, my daily views on Flickr don’t do anything for me beyond that little dopamine hit. And I don’t even check my stats every day Dash maybe once a month. So I don’t know, maybe going the private route like you did would work for me. Sure sounds like a lot of work though.

            1. Dan James Avatar

              It’s not a lot of work, that’s why I did it, I’m pretty lazy! You just use the Organizer, select all photos, drag them into the main window then set the view to private. My Mac did churn away for maybe 15 or 20 mins as I had 4k photos but it worked. You might want to do say 1 or 2k at a time. But it’s not a lot of work.

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