Congratulations Photobucket, you have successfully managed to kill in less than 15-days what was a very successful business for nearly 15-years. For those not familiar with Photobucket it was one of the original photo storing/sharing sites launched in 2003. It was extremely popular for blogs, forums and message boards which had limited or no hosting space for their users to post images. For the most part Photobucket’s service was free with limitations on hosting (storage) space and bandwidth. Before I moved to self hosting my blogs, I was a Photobucket user…a paid one at that too. However, I was paying may be around $20 or $40 a year for extra bandwidth as I had exceeded my monthly limit with the Firefox blog. At that time, the cost wasn’t too unreasonable. Plus it was worth it in not having to relocate all the images and then update numerous blog and message board posts.
So how did Photobucket manage to kill themselves so quickly? On June 20th, they ‘updated their terms of service’. They claim they sent all their users an email prior advising them of the upcoming change in terms, but it seems most users never received said email. The major change was the way Photobucket allows you to share or embed your images. Users must now pay $100 a year to be able to provide a link (not even embed the image on a 3rd party site) to the image. If you want to embed images on 3rd party sites that is going to run you $400 a year. Worse yet, the users who don’t pay the $400 a year will find the below image in place of the photos/images they had all over the web. Photobucket has also managed to ‘break the Internet’ with this change. Apparently there was not much if any grace period for people to make the change.
Customer service/support from Photobucket has been non-existent. Users who did find a way to contact photobucket via email would get mainly automated boilerplate email replies. Photobucket says they are not holding your images for ‘ransom’ you can still access your account and download all your images. However, there are numerous horror stories that users are finding it very difficult if not impossible to access their Photobucket account and download all their images to their local machines. The main complaints have been the user interface is so confusing, convoluted and in some cases overrun with ads (including Photobucket’s TOS page).
I understand that Photobucket needs to make money as bandwidth is not cheap. A $20 to $40 a year subscription might be a little bit of hardship for many people who depend on Photobucket. Still, those users would gladly pay that small fee to avoid breaking their blogs and forums. However, $400 a year is outrageous and downright extortion. Photobucket is trying to justify this move by claiming they are losing revenue from ads. Sites ads are a subject I will touch on more in the next few days. I will say this, it is not just Photobucket that is losing revenue. Users are fed up with (overthetop, obnoxious, take over your entire screen, play music/sound) ads everywhere they go which is why so many people are using AdBlockers now.
In the words of The Fake Steve Jobs, “Someone is going to get fired for this!” The lack of communication and even a grace period is what is speeding up Photobuckets almost certain death. Even if Photobucket, were to scaleback the cost and even offer user more time to adjust it would be too little too late. The damage is already done as those Photobucket users who have managed to successfully download all their photos/images locally have already closed their accounts, vowing to never, ever come back to Photobucket again.