SmugMug, Finally

Back in February I praised photo-sharing site SmugMug. I sporadically and half-heartedly uploaded photos there, as I pondered Flickr. I was strongly attracted to Flickr’s community—everybody seems to hang-out there—appeal. Last month, Thomas Hawk joined Zooomr, which created another quandary. Thomas’ Zooomr support simply couldn’t be ignored.

After weighing Flickr’s community and Zooomr’s Thomas endorsement,, I’ve decided to stick with SmugMug and really start using it. I spent part of the last two days adding new photos to my SmugMug site. The decision comes with angst, because Flickr and Zooomr also appeal to me, for different reasons. 

Important factors weighing on my decision:

SmugMug is a family-run business. Philosophically this appeals to me, and I know the company’s principals have vested interest in keeping the service smoothly running and customer satisfaction high.

SmugMug isn’t free. People pay, and as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. SmugMug delivers lots of utility and flexibility, for which the fees, not some mythical advertising, make possible. By the way, it’s my understanding that by collecting fees SmugMug is profitable. The approach is proof that people will pay for Internet services.

Storage is unlimited. Other services place restrictions, even my Flickr Pro account. I see the “no limits” as a benefit of paying. For Pro accounts traffic is unlimited, too. No joke.

SmugMug is Web two-oh. The service offers AJAX, RSS, and other Web 2.0 technologies. SmugMug offers several uploader utilities, with my favorite being drag-and-drop in the Web browser; that is oh-so two-oh.

I could list about five other reasons, but this short list is enough.

What SmugMug doesn’t provide is something I haven’t seen at Flickr or Zooomr, either: A marketplace.

It’s my expectation that within five years, and that’s a generous estimate, free and cheap photos will decimate stock photo operations. Already, many people offer up many professional-quality photos at Flickr to anyone, under a Creative Commons license. Why pay, when the stuff is free?

What I’d like to see and eventually expect to see is a marketplace where anyone can sell their photos. My vision is an eBay for photos that competes with stock photo operations, with huge selection and lower pricing. The days are numbered when photography commands a premium price, which is a longstanding gripe among people that write. When I worked as a magazine editor, I hired a writer who organized a trip to recover a rare frog from the Amazon. Another magazine paid him $2,000 for the story, but the photographer got paid more than three times that amount. The writer’s only fault was that he wasn’t a photographer.

Someone will always pay a premium for exclusive shots, but they could as easily be from a vacationer’s cell phone (natural disaster, plane crash, etc.) as from a professional sports photographer. Who knows, pro photographers might do better selling more of their images direct, rather than using stock photo operations.

Change will come. It’s not a matter of whether but which Web 2.0 service will bring the photo marketplace to market. Thomas, if Zooomr has marketplace plans, please let me know. If not, well, I’ve got some ideas on how to build such a marketplace.

Editor’s Note: On July 28, 2017, this post was recovered, using Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of during 2006, when months of content was lost while changing blogging systems and webhosts. Date and timestamps are authentic.