Can Photosharing Be a Sustainable Business?

Photosharing is doomed as a business.

I am not a photographer. My family and I have agreed that I'm a good person to document things, because I'm always present and ready to shoot, but most of my photos are either undistinguished (crowds of people with no central figure to draw interest) or downright bad (lighting so wrong you can't see the subject's face).

And yet, I have, PicPlz, Flickr, and PicPosterous on my iPhone. I take photos all day long and inflict them on my friends. I have to decide which of these apps gets the honor of my latest experiment at color and light.

Worse, most of my photos are of babies and dogs. And not yours. Mine.

And I am not alone. There are millions of bad photographers with mobile devices running around documenting everything from children to street crimes and putting those photos online somewhere for safe keeping and sharing.

Social sharing of photos has a certain pleasure to it. But as I watch grow almost overnight to 300,000 users because you can apply filters to bad photos and make them look worse (they can now be yellow, green, sepia, etc), I wonder where the business model is.

What has happened to former photo sharing services?

Yahoo photos got shut down when Flickr emerged. Yahoo bought Flickr, and all my old photos went to Flickr. But then Flickr didn't advance fast enough, and many other services emerged.

Each service has a new technology or a new feature set. But none seem to have sustainabie business models (except perhaps SmugMug, which charges a subscription fee and offers a slightly different set of services, making it appealing to professionals.) Flickr has Flickr Pro, but only a small number of users elect it. In the Flickr forums, I saw a spirited discussion on whether to renew a pro account as Flickr tries to further monetize a service that probably costs a significant amount in bandwidth. The users were angry that they were now being charged to store more than 200 photos.

The question is, what will people pay for? They used to pay for the developing and printing of film, and for the film itself. You paid at both ends. Now, it's a bit more complicated, because there is no "deliverable," nothing an ordinary consumer can see and touch.

So here's where my photos are today: on my hard drive, first. Backed up to Carbonite and Mobile Me. Shared on either Flickr, SmugMug,, Facebook, or PicPlz, and sometimes posted through PicPosterous to one of my blogs.

They are not aggregated, catalogued, or any more easily accessible than they were when they were in the box of prints thrown in a draw, or the mountain of envelopes full of photos picked up from the drugstore and forgotten.

We're no better off with our photos, despite new technologies. than we used to be. I still can't find that picture of my daughter taking her first steps. Let's see, is it in the drawer, or on the drive. No wonder few customers are paying.

All these new companies will have to be acquired. They won't be able to stand alone. And if/when they are acquired, will it be for their technologies? That's a good thing for the acquirer. It's the"buy" answer to the ""

Or will they be bought for their teams? Those will be some very expensive engineers.

One thing is certain to me. In five years, none of them will stand alone.

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