The Flickr effect

The Flickr effect

By Joe IdeasTap 27/04/11

We investigate the pros and cons of the world's most popular image sharing network and take a look at the effect it's having on the photography industry...

When the Canadian company Ludicorp launched Flickr in 2004, they probably didn’t think that it would become the world’s most popular photography hosting website. 

But it has – and it’s not only popular with photographers at varying stages of their career, but also with bloggers, journalists and websites. Even the British Monarchy has a page. Flickr now hosts over 5bn pictures. 

Another thing Ludicorp might not have intended was the effect that Flickr would have on photographers and their careers. 

On the one hand, Flickr is a great way for people on the amateur-professional fringes of the industry to permanently have their work on show in the largest gallery of all. Plus, amateurs can pick up contracts through the site with stock photography companies such as Getty Images. In 2005, a year after Flickr’s launch, Getty Images licensed 1.4m pre-shot commercial photos from the website. Last year, it licensed 22m. 

Talented non-professionals have access to some interesting opportunities to make money on Flickr and are seemingly happy to accept small payments for snapshots of sunsets and pets, but there’s a flipside to this. It could also be said that amateurs are also under-pricing professional photographers, putting a squeeze on their income, and leaving them with limited career options.

But does the buck stop at Flickr’s door? There is no doubt that the digital camera must surely take some responsibility for the current state of affairs. An estimated 500bn digital pictures were taken last year. Obviously, the advent of cheap digital cameras and the ability for pretty much any device you can fit in your pocket to take pictures has levelled the playing field. Gone are the days when extensive photographic training and tutelage was required, and a one-shot mentality purveyed over the photography industry.

Also, a shrinking magazine and newspaper industry has lead to smaller budgets, making stock photos, such as those found on Flickr, suddenly more appealing – not to mention more convenient.

Thanks to the internet, magazine and newspaper circulations are falling across the world. Advertisers are increasingly turning to the web rather than spending money on ad-space in under-read Sunday newspaper supplements. Meanwhile, magazines and newspapers have less budget for photography, as they dive behind paywalls or fold completely. 

From the free morning newspapers to rolling news channels, the sooner an image can be provided to go with a story, the better. A growing number of the most iconic and newsworthy recent press pictures were taken by non-professionals; for example, during the ongoing revolutions in northern Africa. But where does this leave those who take photography a little more seriously? And depend on it to make a living?

A cash-strapped media means that professional photographers are gradually being squeezed out by amateur work. Indeed, the view among many photographers is that working as a professional in the current climate simply isn’t sustainable.

As Neil Burgess, Director of *nbpictures agency, says, “There may always be the need for specialist sports photographers, portraitists, fashion photographers and a news guy to smudge the President when he shows up to a press conference, but what about the guys who produce stories, who cover issues rather than events? Newspapers and magazines don’t employ them anymore.”

Photographers, what’s it like out there? Leave a comment below.


Apply for the IdeasTap Photographic Award in association with Magnum Photos.

Image: flickr by Zanastardust, available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

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