Photobucket Updates Services, Boosts Pricing Plans

The photo hosting site Photobucket has unleashed a nasty surprise on unsuspecting bloggers: it now costs a lot of money to hotlink to your own photos.

Back in April of 2005, while this blog was still hosted on the America Online Journals platform, I opened an account on Photobucket.

It’s a photo hosting service that allowed bloggers to upload photos there, then hotlink the images on your site. Hotlinking is a process where you host an image on one site, then link to that image on a second site rather than actually hosting the image on that second site.

While it’s considered inappropriate and rude to hotlink images without permission from one site to another, with Photobucket, hotlinking was always part of the deal: they provided you various links, including HTML and CSS links, so that you could hotlink.

For those of us on somewhat less-than-cooperative platforms like AOL’s blogging service, it was a convenient way to add images to your posts. And, amid concerns about AOL censoring images by deleting a user’s entire graphics library if even one complaint about one image should surface, Photobucket seemed to be a safe alternative.

But this week, a funny thing happened.

The picture of me on the sidebar was replaced with a message urging me to “upgrade” my Photobucket account so that I could continue to hotlink that portrait.

And the remaining images within posts that I’d still hotlinked from Photobucket were likewise replaced with the upgrade message, including a recent post about the 10th anniversary of the fatal fire that claimed nine Charleston firefighters. (Images in that post have now been replaced with versions hosted here.)

I understand that every site has to make money, although it’d be nice if mine might some day.

I’d be willing to pay a few bucks a month to allow this hotlinking business to continue if I absolutely had to. To continue a practice that had been going on without difficulty for literally a dozen years, one wouldn’t think it’d cost a great deal.

But I was in for a surprise.

When I went to Photobucket’s website, I quickly learned that those “reasonable” prices I expected would only give me storage space, something I already had and was in no danger of filling up any time soon.

The cheapest — the cheapest — option that would allow me to hotlink an image here that was hosted there was a plan that cost $39.99 per month or $399.99 per year.

Yes, that was the cheapest option.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t pay $39.99 to host this entire website!

Needless to say, I downloaded all of the images from my Photobucket folders that I still wanted to retain and then deleted my account.

They priced themselves right out of my budget.

If you use Photobucket to host images that you’ve previously hotlinked to posts on your blog, you might start poking around your own site. You may now see the upgrade message throughout your site, too.

I realize that deleting my account will cause some broken links, something Google doesn’t like when it’s crawling a site. But I have a broken link checker plugin running, and as it finds those problematic broken links, it’ll alert me to them and I’ll remove them.

It’s an inconvenience, yes. But it’s more than worth it if it means I’m saving $40 per month I’d never consider paying to begin with.

It was a change that I did somewhat expect.

At the end of June, Martin Brinkmann warned of the change, pointing out that this was already happening to other sites; when it didn’t happen here, I thought that maybe the site was only throttling hotlinked images from sites with a high level of readership, which might have been a bit more reasonable if they were fretting over the cost of bandwidth for hotlinking.

PetaPixel likewise wrote about the change, adding that Photobucket users have posted in an online forum that they feel “blackmailed” into paying the fee.

I didn’t feel blackmailed at all; paying that kind of money wasn’t an option, period. Instead, it felt to me more like they wanted me to take my business elsewhere.

I just decided to oblige them.

To be fair, it’s not that I resent them trying to raise their revenue. They have that right, of course. I don’t even resent suddenly being asked to pay for something that I’ve used for free for a dozen years, particularly if I understand what a financial burden I’m imposing on them for doing with their service what it was apparently created to do.

But I do resent going from $0 to $400 per year: that’s an outrageous jump in cost that I can’t justify with my budget. If this blog earned an income to cover this cost, I might consider it. It doesn’t.

More than that, I resent the fact that this change happened without emails sent to customers: I checked my email account and didn’t find any notice of the upcoming change. Others have claimed they didn’t receive any notice, either. If it hadn’t been for the two posts above, I wouldn’t have had any warning or any time to make alternative plans at all.

What’s worse, it might have been a while before I even noticed the error messages substituted for long-hotlinked images.

I wish them luck on this new business model of theirs. But for this former customer, the price was no longer right.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.