Unless we are treating ourselves, few like paying more than they have to. It means that we have less to spend on other essentials let alone the occasional luxury. Over the past few years photography has been revolutionised by the emergence of two major technologies, digital imaging and the Internet. People were quick to see the benefit of combining them and today we have a cornucopia of shared images . It is claimed that more images are uploaded to the Internet each day than an individual could view in a lifetime. What is more, this is predominately at no cost to either originator or viewer. Are these halcyon days which we will one day look back on and wonder how it was possible?
There have been two events recently which have made me think about this. The first is Google’s announcement that its Nik suite of software will in future be free to download. I can only speculate on Google’s reasons for doing this and already commented on the implications in a previous blog post. The Nik applications have always been a sideline in Google’s overall business model and were incidental to its purchase of the company to acquire Snapseed. It is almost two years since the last update and one possible explanation of Google’s gesture is that it is no longer supporting the software, making a request for payment untenable. What of those who have already paid, especially in the past year or so and are not eligible for a refund? The applications seem to be stable, which bodes well for continued use in the short to medium term at least.
The other occurrence which makes me question the worth of free products and services is the rumoured sale of flickr by its owner, Yahoo!. There can be few photographers who have not posted images there at some point. Exact statistics are difficult to come by, but it is certain that the site is host to several billion images and the number of users is tens of millions. The running costs must be immense and it is little wonder that Yahoo! has tried to recoup some of that outlay, either through advertising or charging a modest subscription. The problem for Yahoo! is there are very few adverts and probably not that many paying customers either. It is likely that there would be more of the latter if there were more of the former.
That’s undoubtedly a problem for Yahoo! but faced with the prospect of a change of owner those who are using the free service do not know what that will bring. As just one example, it is common practice to link to images on flickr from other websites, which could involve a lot of work to update. Of course, things might stay the same or flickr might not even be sold, but at present there is unwelcome uncertainty.
All of which leads to the conclusion that uncertainty is the only certainty when it comes to the Internet. It is still a relatively new medium and not everyone has found the best way to profit from their activities. The more so when there so much is available free which necessitates innovative methods to acquire revenue streams. The fortunes of the two companies discussed here, Google and Yahoo! could not be more different. Despite being the longer established, Yahoo! has not prospered as well. Purchasers of the Nik software have found that there are no guarantees, just as flickr users of flickr might soon discover as well, regardless of whether or not they are paid subscribers.