Flickr is paywalling the ability to upload NSFW photos

Flickr isn’t very good at making money, but as the old adage goes, sex sells. So, in an attempt to draw in more paying subscribers, Flickr changed its content guidelines to only allow Flickr Pro users to post “restricted” or “moderate” content, which includes photos of “full-frontal nudity and sexual acts.” 

Honestly, it’s not a bad move — it might be more effective than asking subscribers to recruit their friends to pay for Flickr.

When SmugMug acquired the photo-hosting service in 2018, CEO Don MacAskill hoped to make the service profitable, calling it “core to the entire fabric of the Internet.” But this wasn’t just hyperbolic CEO-speak — MacAskill had a point. Flickr is a historical archive. For one thing, it showcases actual historical images, but it also chronicles a visual history of the world through the lens of millions of people since 2004. It would be sad if that were all to disappear.

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But Flickr is very expensive to run, since it hosts so much data on the internet. For a while, there wasn’t much of a reason to pay for Flickr, since all users had a free terabyte of storage for their photos. But under SmugMug’s management, Flickr instituted a limit on how many photos free users could store, knocking down that terabyte of data to just 1000 photos. Flickr also warned users that after a certain date, their photos could be deleted. These major changes were implemented to encourage users to save their personal archives by upgrading to a paid plan.

So far, Flickr says it hasn’t actually deleted any uploads (thank you, Flickr, but also, this means I wasted an afternoon in 2019 downloading zip files of everything I ever posted). But it’s still not making money, hence, the pivot to inviting NSFW uploads.

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“Photographers who craft and create work that might be considered risqué by some will have a safe place online to interact with one another, share mutual interests, and put their art into the world without the fear of it being removed or them being banned entirely from the communities they love,” Head of Flickr Alex Seville wrote in a blog post. “But we’ve been lax in truly defining a space for these photographers, until now.”

In less sexy news, Flickr is continuing to limit what users can do with their free accounts. Today’s announcement also states that now, free users can only post 50 non-public photos.

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“We love being entrusted with your photos — but we love seeing them get discovered, added to groups and submitted to photo competitions even more,” Seville explained. “We’d never turn you away if you just want a safe place to store a lifetime’s worth of images, you’ll just need a Pro membership to do so.”

Flickr says it will keep free users updated about how and when these updates will affect their accounts. But this market Flickr is targeting to boost its subscription revenue is a very specific one: people who upload private photos (but no more than 1000 of them) and NSFW photographers. Here’s to hoping that nude photography can save this slice of the internet.

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