Flickr is getting better. 500px is getting worse.

Flickr is getting better.  500px is getting worse.

Who’s on 500px?

If you are a photographer, then you probably answered “me”.  It’s a great site.  The photography there is incredible.  The amount of talent is mind-blowing.  I have seen some of the most beautiful photographic art there that I have ever laid my eyes upon. 

But, the site does nothing for me in terms of growing my “business”.  And apart from just enjoying the wonderful photos, it’s a total waste of time.  Let me explain…

It’s Flickr, all over again

I hate to compare 500px with Flickr, because they are vastly different, yet I find that in many ways they are the same, and any differences are disappearing rapidly.  They are becoming more alike, because Flickr is improving, and quickly.

Flickr has significantly upgraded the user experience, via larger image displays, infinite scrolling, better engagement, a great iPhone app, and more.  I suspect they have also changed some things “under the hood” so to speak, because over the last couple of months my daily view count has gone up by 5-10x.  While that makes me feel good, in and of itself my statistics are meaningless.  It doesn’t earn me anything for someone to look at my photos.  View counts are only good for the ego.

And that brings me back to 500px.  I won’t dispute that the work there is beautiful.  People only share their best, and that keeps the quality up and the customer base happy.  That was one of the knocks on Flickr – there was all sorts of questionable stuff posted there, and lots of it made Explore.  It’s become a general catch-all photo site for anyone taking pictures of anything, and those of us who are “serious” about our photography (whatever that means to each person) have grown tired of it.  We grew tired of the whole “post 1, comment 2” thing.  Groups became a chore.  Everyone just wants to get their views up (which I still argue is meaningless).  So, most of us opened up accounts at 500px.

For a while, it was the pretty new girl in town.  Images looked better, and quality was much higher.  You can even set up a portfolio or blog through 500px if needed.  (However, I have both elsewhere.  My blog has been here for 4 years now, and I am happy with it.  I recently set up a portfolio site at Smugmug, and love it.)

But in my opinion, 500px has sort of become a higher-quality version of Flickr.  Whenever you post an image, inevitably you get some Votes and Faves, but you also get comments like “V+F, please look at my photos” or something to that effect.  In other words, people are engaging with your shots solely for the purpose of you (hopefully) returning the favor.  That’s just an attempt to get more views.  It’s the same thing that I used to get all the time on Flickr.  But interestingly, I don't get that on Flickr anymore.

And maybe it's just me, but I don't find as many inspiring images on 500px anymore. While it helps get your views up if you make "Upcoming" or "Editor's Choice", I find that the shots there don't "wow" me like they used to.  Maybe I've changed. 

Chasing affection

Why do people leave the pleading comments, begging for you to look at their work?  They are looking for attention, and they want to increase their view counts as well as their “affection rating” (higher number is "better" - but it's really just a measure of popularity).  But again, I contend that it’s all meaningless.  It doesn’t do anything for them, other than stroke their ego.

Many also “cross-post” their 500px images to Facebook, letting folks know they just posted one there and they would appreciate a vote.  This is another way to draw views and increase an affection rating.  And while there is nothing wrong with it, I just don’t understand why they care.  Is anyone actually buying anything from you on 500px?

I'm trying to figure out if I am missing something here.  Am I?

It’s just a bunch of photographers (albeit great ones)

Here’s my conclusion:  all the people on 500px are other photographers, even more so than on Flickr.  They will never buy your work.  And by the way, you can sell digital downloads on the site, but for $3 each, I don’t even turn it on.  It’s an insult, frankly. 

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And because everyone on 500px is a photographer, the only thing I can think of that they would be inclined to buy is some tutorial that would help them improve their own work - but I am not selling those. Maybe someday I will start to do so, and then 500px will be more useful to me.

But...it can work

My good friend Jimmy is a great example of finding a way to benefit from 500px – he recently had some images that were very popular there, and they sent business his way.  He sells tutorials, and people want to learn from him, because he’s good.  They saw his images, and wanted to learn how to do it.  Sold.  That’s a good deal for Jimmy, and I’m glad for him.  He’s a great guy and he's talented, and he’s working hard at turning photography into his career.  So it's clear that it can work, but it just doesn't for me. You?

The vast majority of us are not selling such things as tutorials, and as such I am finding less and less about 500px that makes it worth spending any time on.  People there just want a higher affection rating so they feel better, but it doesn’t mean anything.  I don’t care about that.

My blog is my focus, primarily

The only place I really care about view counts is on my blog, and to a lesser extent on a couple of social networks.  Engagement in those places has proven to be tangible, in the sense that I have gotten referrals for print sales and print licensing from them.  That’s valuable to me.  Plus, my blog is the center of my entire photography "universe".

When I overhauled my blog a month or so ago, I spent some time in Google Analytics, taking a look at what was working on my site (drawing in visitors) and what was not working.  In the process, I killed a few pages that no longer fit in with what I am interested in, and weren’t drawing visitors anyways.  But the other thing I did was analyze my visitor traffic and where it was coming from.

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I found that while Flickr was in the top 20 of referring sites, 500px was not.  It wasn’t even close.  It was #107. I was surprised at how high Flickr was, but wasn’t surprised about 500px.  You might think it has to do with how much (or in my case, how little) engagement I do on those sites, but that’s not the case.  I do the same thing on both sites – I post and run.  I just don’t have time to go view everyone’s work.  

I post on Flickr (owned by Yahoo) primarily for search purposes (and by the way, Yahoo owns a search engine) - and it appears to be working.  I was posting on 500px in order to hopefully grow my viewership, but it isn't working.

I have countless examples over the last few years where people either email me via Flickr, or contact me via my blog and send me a Flickr link for a photo they want to buy /license.  And how many similar leads have come from 500px?  Zero.

I think if someone is searching for a photo, they are more likely to look for it on Flickr than on 500px (and they may be a Flickr user themselves).  Flickr is much better known as a place to find photos, and I am making an assumption that the user base is much larger on Flickr.  Plus, it’s not all“real photographers” on Flickr – there are a lot of “consumers” there too.  In other words - potential customers.

Guess which other site was in the top 10 for referrals to my blog?  Yahoo.  Yep, Yahoo organic searches was #10 in referring sites to my blog.  Yahoo owns Flickr.  There must be some connection there. 

So here I am.  I get lots of clicks thru to my site from Flickr, and very few from 500px.  As a result, over the last few months I have put less and less into 500px, and may even downgrade my status there to just the basic free account.  I previously had the highest level account (what they call "Awesome"), but downgraded that a few months ago to the middle tier ("Plus").  Maybe I will drop to "Free".  Why pay them, when I get nothing back?

Over beers in London a few weeks back with my good friend Mike Murphy, we were talking about this, and he said he just has the free account, and it works great for him. He said he was offended by having to pay to be called "Awesome".  Hell yeah, great thinking Mike!  Who appointed 500px as judge of whether someone is Awesome or not anyways?   I've seen Mike's work, and he is Awesome.  So there, 500px, chew on that.

That’s where I am on this subject.  What are you doing, and what’s working for you?  More importantly, am I missing something about the usefulness of 500px?

Ok, end of rant-ish post.  Not sure this qualifies as an actual rant, since I am not pissed off, and I am not yelling, or particularly fired up about this.  I am however, curious what you think - so let me know in the comments section.  Thanks!

(And to be clear...I didn't write this to bash 500px, because as I said it’s a beautiful site.  I just don’t get anything from it.)