Photobucket’s bait and switch is another warning sign for platforms that rely on digital advertising

Last month users of Photobucket’s third-party hosting service got a rude awakening. Suddenly all of these Photobucket-hosted pictures displayed what seemed to be a ransom note, saying that users needed to pay for a monthly subscription

Many of these people were online creators and sellers, who relied on the free hosting to keep their blogs and digital marketplaces afloat. They took to social media, saying that Photobucket gave them no warning and just quietly slipped these new rules into the company’s terms of service.

Photobucket has finally responded, saying it was an act of necessity. The company has historically relied on ads delivered to its users as a major revenue driver, but the ad model, says the company, is no longer sustainable. Customers are not happy, however. Here’s how one artist put it on Facebook: 

“Instead of grandfathering current Photobucket users into a reasonably priced plan (I would have gladly paid small monthly fee to continue my 3rd party image hosting, it is a valuable service after all), or warning us of this very big change, or even giving everyone a 60 day free trial … Photobucket chose to break my blog, damage my name, and damage my business.” 

And yet all this is likely a sign of things to come. Google and Facebook continue to take in the lion’s share of ad revenue as other ad-dependent platforms suffer. The users who rely on these platforms suffer, too: Consider the recent shift away from advertising at Medium and the exodus of publications that followed. Photobucket’s move won’t be the last of its kind.