When in April of last year, the photo-hosting service SmugMug acquired the photo-hosting service Flickr from Verizon’s digital media subsidiary, SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill said he was committed to breathing new life into the service, calling it “core to the entire fabric of the Internet.”

MacAskill didn’t reveal at the time how much SmugMug — which is itself an independent, family-owned operation — paid for Flickr. But it seems now that SmugMug may have underestimated its carrying costs. In an email tonight to users of Flickr who pay roughly $50 annually for the service, MacAskill has basically asked them if they know anyone else who might be interested in a yearly subscription to Flickr, explaining that it “still needs your help. It’s still losing money.”

Adds MacAskill, in terms that Flickr fans should find worrying, SmugMug “cannot continue to operate it at a loss as we’ve been doing.” (To sweeten the deal for new subscribers, SmugMug is offering 25% off a Flickr Pro account for those who visit this link and input the code 25in2019.)

This editor happens to be a Flickr Pro user and shudders to think how many photos will need to be moved if the service shuts down. At the same time, no one who uses the service can be terribly surprised by the development. Just months after SmugMug acquired Flickr, it curbed free use of the platform to 1,000 pictures per account holder. In fact, it threatened to actively delete the photos of users who did not sign up for a subscription if they exceeded that number.

Beyond its operating costs, SmugMug, like so many other companies, also found itself engulfed in controversy recently when The New York Times reported that millions of Flickr images dating back to its 2005 founding had been sucked into a facial-recognition database called MegaFace to “train a new generation of face-identification algorithms” and “track protesters, surveil terrorists, spot problem gamblers and spy on the public at large.”

Ben MacAskill, Don’s brother and the company’s COO, said at the time that the flaw “potentially impacts a very small number of our members today, and we are actively working to deploy an update as quickly as possible.” He also noted that the images that had been accessed pre-dated SmugMug’s involvement with Flickr by several years.

Either way, it sounds like the future of Flickr — founded by entrepreneurs Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield in 2004, sold to Yahoo the following year, and later swept into Verizon as part of its 2016 acquisition by Yahoo —  is again up in the air.

Either more people subscribe to the service, or someone — or some outfit — swoops in to save the day with the capital required to keep it up and running. In the worst-case scenario, it disappears, along with a whole lot of pictures.

Here’s the full text of Don MacAskill’s note to its customers:

Dear Flickr Pros,

First, and above all else: thank you. Thank you for being a part of our community. Thank you for caring about Flickr. Thank you for supporting Flickr. Thank you for being a Flickr Pro.

Two years ago, Flickr was losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Our company, SmugMug, stepped in to rescue it from being shut down and to save tens of billions of your precious photos from being erased.

Why? We’ve spent 17 years lovingly building our company into a thriving, family-owned and -operated business that cares deeply about photographers. SmugMug has always been the place for photographers to showcase their photography, and we’ve long admired how Flickr has been the community where they connect with each other. We couldn’t stand by and watch Flickr vanish.

So we took a big risk, stepped in, and saved Flickr. Together, we created the world’s largest photographer-focused community: a place where photographers can stand out and fit in.

And yet, Flickr—the world’s most-beloved, money-losing business—still needs your help.

We’ve been hard at work improving Flickr. We hired an excellent, large staff of Support Heroes who now deliver support with an average customer satisfaction rating of above 90%. We got rid of Yahoo’s login. We moved the platform and every photo to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the industry leader in cloud computing, and modernized its technology along the way. As a result, pages are already 20% faster and photos load 30% more quickly. Platform outages, including Pandas, are way down. Flickr continues to get faster and more stable, and important new features are being built once again.

Our work is never done, but we’ve made tremendous progress.

Flickr still needs your help. It’s still losing money. You, and hundreds of thousands of loyal Flickr members stepped up and joined Flickr Pro, for which we are eternally grateful. It’s losing a lot less money than it was. But it’s not yet making enough.

We need more Flickr Pro members if we want to keep the Flickr dream alive, and we need your help to share the story of Flickr.

We didn’t buy Flickr because we thought it was a cash cow. Unlike platforms like Facebook, we also didn’t buy it to invade your privacy and sell your data. We bought it because we love photographers, we love photography, and we believe Flickr deserves not only to live on but thrive. We think the world agrees; and we think the Flickr community does, too. But we cannot continue to operate it at a loss as we’ve been doing.

Flickr is the world’s largest photographer-focused community. It’s the world’s best way to find great photography and connect with amazing photographers. Flickr hosts some of the world’s most iconic, most priceless photos, freely available to the entire world. This community is home to more than 100 million accounts and tens of billions of photos. It serves billions of photos every single day. It’s huge. It’s a priceless treasure for the whole world. And it costs money to operate. Lots of money.

As you know, Flickr is the best value in photo sharing anywhere in the world. Flickr Pro members get ad-free browsing for themselves and their visitors, advanced stats, unlimited full-quality storage for all their photos, plus premium features and access to the world’s largest photographer-focused community.

Please, help us spread the word. Help us make Flickr thrive. Help us ensure Flickr has a bright future. Every Flickr Pro subscription goes directly to keeping Flickr alive and creating great new experiences for photographers like you. We are building lots of great things for the Flickr community, but we need your help. We can do this together.

We’re launching our end-of-year Pro subscription campaign on Thursday, December 26, but I want to give you a coupon code to share with friends, family, or anyone who shares your love of photography and community so they can enjoy the same 25% discount before the campaign starts.

We’ve gone to great lengths to optimize Flickr for cost savings wherever possible, but the increasing cost of operating this enormous community and continuing to invest in its future will require a small price increase early in the new year, so this is truly the very best time to help everyone upgrade to a Pro membership.

If you value Flickr finally being independent, built for photographers and by photographers, we need your help.

With gratitude,

Don MacAskill

Co-Founder, CEO & Chief Geek

SmugMug Flickr


This is a declaration of love for personal websites, written from years of thinking on the subject, reviewing thousands of portfolios, building websites for friends and bookmarking those of strangers. It’s a subject I’m so passionate about, I built my business on it. And recently, it’s become a matter of principle.

Not long ago, the web was still the future. It was a big deal for companies to have their own site, much less individuals. Technology evolved. We picked up a few HTML and CSS tricks, discovered the wonders of Flash. We started spinning up our own sites, complete with guest books and visitors counters.

In those days, our website was our home. An extension of ourselves. Every day we visited our little corner, tweaked it a bit here, adjusted something there, stood back and admired it. Our site was a little piece of the internet we could own.

Fast forward to now and a website almost feels old fashioned. Our social profiles are all-consuming. Curating our Instagram page is our second job. We almost feel an obligation to share our work there, in addition to our personal lives. Our little corner of the internet? It now collects cobwebs.

“Our site was a little piece of the internet we could own.”

In contrast to our personal websites, we don’t own our social platforms. They own us. On top of eating our time, our emotions and our focus, they are demanding our privacy. Whether we realized it or not, we signed away our rights when we signed up for these platforms. We not only give giant tech companies our personal data – we allow them to use, sell and share our content in whatever way they wish. Soon, we will see the repercussions of freely giving away our data and our work. When it comes to creativity and self-expression, the loss is already apparent.

On social media, we are at the mercy of the platform. It crops our images the way it wants to. It puts our posts in the same, uniform grids. We are yet another profile contained in a platform with a million others, pushed around by the changing tides of a company’s whims. Algorithms determine where our posts show up in people’s feeds and in what order, how someone swipes through our photos, where we can and can’t post a link. The company decides whether we’re in violation of privacy laws for sharing content we created ourselves. It can ban or shut us down without notice or explanation. On social media, we are not in control.

As designers, we already forfeit a degree of creative control outside of social media. At our day jobs, we usually don’t have a say in the final product. Directors take over. Politics and process force their way in. Clients leave their fingerprints on the work or reject it entirely. If our work does see the light of day, and there’s no guarantee, the execution is not always how we imagined it. Work is not the place for personal expression and full creative freedom. It’s the place to follow the creative brief and solve the problem presented to us. So what’s left for us to call our own?

Our personal website.

We control the layout of our website. We can create a page that reflects our taste, our personality, our style.

We control the narrative, too. It’s here we can finally show our work the way it’s intended to be shown. We get to tell the story exactly as we wrote it, with context the audience or user doesn’t typically have. It’s our chance to own our work and put it in its best light.

We decide the way our website functions. We can influence how people interact with our work. We can guide our visitors through our content in the way that most makes sense. We can lead them straight to our contact info.

We choose whether our work stays alive on the internet. As long as we keep our hosting active, our site remains online. Compare that to social media platforms that go public one day and bankrupt the next, shutting down their app and your content along with it.

“Having my own website says I care about what I do beyond clocking in and out and cashing a paycheck.”

At the risk of sounding religious about this, and maybe I am, our personal websites are our temples. They remain the one space on the internet where we decide how we are introduced to friends, potential employees and strangers. It’s a place where we can express, on our terms, who we are and what we offer.

As a working professional, it feels empowering to have my own website. Just seeing my personal domain name and my email address that ends in it gives me this little boost of confidence. Scrolling through my work and making small adjustments makes me feel like I’m deciding my future. Considering the percentage of opportunities I get through my portfolio, that feeling is accurate.

Having my own website says I care about what I do beyond clocking in and out and cashing a paycheck. It shows I’m proud of what I create. If my taste or my work or the industry evolves, I have the power to reflect that on my portfolio. If I launch a new project, my first thought is to put it on my homepage. With this blog, I can write articles that connect directly back to me and my website. Social media is a nice way to extend the reach, but it all points back to It’s the one link I give to people inquiring about me and my work, rather some URL or social media handle I don’t own. My site is the little place I’ve carved out for myself on the world wide web. It’s mine.

Call me old fashioned, call me nostalgic, call this a self-serving attempt to convince you to use All of those accusations are at least partially accurate. But the real truth is that as long as we’re putting our work in someone else’s hands, we forfeit our ownership over it. When we create our own website, we own it – at least to the extent that the internet, beautiful in its amorphous existence, can be owned.


When you buy household necessities like shampoo, soap, and toothbrushes in the United States, you’re likely getting them from a giant corporation. Procter & Gamble alone has more than 70 brands. But in Italy, many everyday supplies are the domain of small, family-run companies that have been crafting their wares the same way for a century.

A collection of these products is coming to the United States, courtesy of the MoMA Design Store, which is hosting a pop-up in New York of Italian goods curated by the e-commerce company Fattobene. You’ll be able to get your hands on hangers by Giuseppe Toscanini (whom Valentino commissioned to make personalized hangers), ceramic tiles designed in 1960 by the architect Gio Ponti, and Cella Milano almond shaving cream, which has been made in Italy since 1899.

[Photo: courtesy MoMA/Fattobene]

Founded in 2015 by journalist Anna Lagorio and photographer Alex Carnevali, Fattobene originally started as an editorial project to document the traditional products that artisans still make in Italy. But so many readers both in Italy and abroad asked where they could buy the products that Lagorio and Carnevali decided to set up a small online shop. They knew they were onto something when their first product—a box of goods including glue, scented paper, soap, and a notebook—sold out within a few days. “Here, even the most humble object can become a source of wonder,” Lagorio writes on the collection’s product page. “The reader is invited to appreciate Italian material culture through direct experience, first by reading the stories and then by touching the objects.”

Small, family-run businesses and shops have been a mainstay of the Italian economy for centuries, and the fact that many are still manufacturing goods the way they have for decades is a testament to the quality of their work. But they haven’t exactly kept up with the times. “Some of these companies really had no online presence, and this really astonished me when I started researching because you couldn’t find them even through Google,” Lagorio says.

Fattobene’s mission is to support these companies by helping them find new markets outside of traditional brick-and-mortar shops and, in doing so, help them continue to exist. After all, many of the products are an integral part of Italian culture and history.

[Photo: courtesy MoMA/Fattobene]

The soap pictured above, for instance, has been made by a company called Valobra in Genoa, Italy, since the end of the 19th century using a technique called the open-air boiler method. The method involves soap makers stirring soap in large pots in the open air before leaving it to dry and age. The process takes six months. While the soap is high quality, that’s not the only reason Lagorio chose to include it in Fattobene: the retro packaging, adorned with quaint drawings of flowers and bold typefaces, has stayed the same since the company opened in 1903. “You buy this soap that is expensive when you have the possibility to have many different kinds of soap because you want to be part of something—and you have the possibility to put out this beautiful packaging in your house,” she says.

[Photo: courtesy MoMA/Fattobene]

Another product that Fattobene sells is Pigna notebooks, which are the standard notebooks used by schoolchildren all over Italy. When Lagorio visited the company’s factory in Bergamo, Italy, earlier this year, she found a rich archive of more than 1,000 notebooks that had gone out of print. A colorful striped design that caught her eye in the archive will be on display in the MoMA pop-up.

Fattobene sources all of the goods, buys them from the Italian companies, and then packages and ships orders out of a converted barn in Tuscany, mostly to customers in Italy and the rest of Europe. It’s a charming brand of e-commerce at a time when many of us are hooked on Amazon’s two-day delivery. “[It is] like a counter-trend. Some of our products need a lot of time to be [finished],” Lagorio says. “Sometimes when we’re sold out, we have to say to people that they have to wait for some days. People understand that it’s something different. This is not about consumerism.”

Fattobene goods will be available online and in MoMA Design Store’s SoHo location in Manhattan from August 7 until September 29. Prices range from $3.50 to $200.