Photobucket phail, or How to ruin a hosting site

UPDATE July 3: Photobucket keeps sending me autoresponses and demands for payment, so that's no help. BUT, I did find a viable workaround for myself, so I've posted what I'm doing right now at the end.

The pirate's sign that you must
pay the ransom or forfeit your photos
A few days ago, without any advance warning, Photobucket sneakily changed its terms of service to disallow third-party hosting, or hotlinking, on nearly all of its plan tiers. Most people use Photobucket explicitly for the ability to link from images on Photobucket to other locations such as blogs and forums, so this seems like a baffling move.

Until you realize the scam that's afoot: The only way to get your images to show up again is to pay Photobucket $400, upfront, as an annual subscription to its most expensive plan.

Ah, I see. It's a ransom demand.

I'm livid. I'd been using Photobucket to host my images on my Blogger blogs for ten years. For several of those years, I paid Photobucket an annual subscription for the benefits of unlimited bandwidth and extra storage.

A couple years ago or so, though, Photobucket's user interface went downhill. They removed the function of searching through your own images, which made no sense to me and rendered my use of their site much more frustrating. I wrote them, and they suggested it would come back, but it never did.

They added in extra javascript and popups instead of straightforward html, making it ever more complicated to accomplish what I wanted to on their site, which was to get the links to post my images. (N.B.: Photobucket always prominently offered various ways to directly link out images, including forum and html code, so obviously they were a hotlinking service.)

Lately, it's gotten even worse with the intrusion of ads, ads, ads. Not just a couple in the sidebar, but the kind that jump out at you, cover your whole screen, autoplay videos, pop under and surprise you later, pop up while you're trying to click on something so that you end up clicking the ad instead, etc. I'd be shocked if I didn't download a virus or three thousand while I was browsing their site.

Fortunately, then, for my more recent posts, I had gotten fed up with Photobucket and started hosting my newer images directly on the Google/Blogger interface. It wasn't ideal (there's no easy search function there, either, for one), but at least I no longer ran into bandwidth or storage issues. Eventually, I decided to pinch pennies and cancel my Photobucket subscription altogether since I was no longer using it for new photos.

Then, last week, I opened up my blog and saw: Ack! Everything was black-boxed. My header, my sidebar icons, my profile picture. It was awful. I tore into my templates and quickly uploaded any image I could find to Blogger, then repasted all the links until my templates were fixed. But, I realized I was still staring into the abyss of hundreds of blogposts, thousands of images, that all needed to be reuploaded and recoded. It was enough to make me want to cry.

My blog of doom

Well, at least I could get my images off Photobucket, right? Nope. You heard me. I can't get my own photos off Photobucket. A decade's worth of blog photos are being held hostage. When I try to download them, this is what comes out:

I can download Photobucket's warning
but not my own photos.

It's just the black box of death, over and over.

I've written Photobucket customer support. I've written them on Facebook. I've Tweeted at them. I've gotten someone on Facebook to promise a response, and that's the extent of it so far after three days. Three days of knowing my site archives look a ragged mess, and that I'm missing out on pageviews, subscribers, and revenue while readers take a gander at my posts of black-boxed nightmares.

Oh, did you make us a tutorial? So glad you
included such nice photos to go along with it!

My best option going forward is manyfold.
  1. First, I petition Photobucket until they relent and give me access to my photos. It doesn't need to be for all time, just for 24 hours or however long it takes me to download all my albums.
  2. If #1 doesn't work, then I scour my own hard drives and round up as many images as I think are on my blogs. I've already failed at locating some, and I'll likely end up with others that are superfluous, so this is not the preferred course of action.
  3. Then I purchase a web hosting plan. I have a personal one, but I'll have to open a business account, to keep things separate. If anyone has a reliable hosting service they like, let me know! I upload all the images to my new web host. I guarantee I can find one that costs less than $400 a year and that has better functionality than Photobucket.
  4. I transfer my blogs to self-hosted WordPress. This is the step that has me sighing deeply into my soul. I'm not blogging as much anymore, and I'm happy on Blogger. It makes no sense to uproot everything at this stage to a service that requires me to take a more active role in the backend of the website. BUT, WordPress has a plugin that will allow me to find and replace all my Photobucket URLs and change them to my new host URLs. That way, I won't be stuck recoding every post and every image by hand, which would take more hours than I want to count. I've been wanting to switch my blogs over to a responsive template, so this will be the impetus to make the change.
That's just four steps, but it's actually a hundred when I break them all down into sub-steps. For instance, I have to find a template I like, research the transfer process, tweak all the code on the new site, research hosting platforms and choose one, and so on. I'm very annoyed that Photobucket is forcing my hand in all this, and I hope they at least give me access to my photos so I don't have that burden on top of everything else.

If you're wondering, there's no option to pay for a single month's access. It's $400 or nothing. I flat out refuse. 

I suspect they're on the brink of bankruptcy, hence the dreadful ads, and this is their last-ditch attempt to generate some unholy revenue

How this affects you, if you're a reader and not a Photobucket user yourself: Please be patient as I go through the steps of recovering and replacing the black boxes with proper photos. I'm limiting promotion of my archive posts since I don't really want people to see them right now! I have no idea how long it will take to get everything up and running on the new platforms, so here's hoping it goes smoothly enough.

If you're a blogger: Beware of relying on any one service. Any of them can fail, price themselves out of reach, or change their terms of service. Keep backups of your photos and posts, and be prepared to make decisions to move to another service as needed. Though I hope this sort of highway robbery never happens to you!

I'll let you know how the situation goes, and if Photobucket ever gets back to me!

UPDATE July 3: Photobucket continues to be no help at all. I bet they're flooded with customer service requests. Serves 'em right.

I crunched the WordPress numbers (paying someone to transfer, buying a theme, paying for a host, etc.) and couldn't justify it when I'm not even blogging that much anymore. That plan is still the easiest if you can afford it. I recommend One Starry Night to help you transfer from Blogger to WordPress. She might also be willing to manage getting your photos and URLs successfully transferred if you can't figure out how to do it yourself. Her prices are definitely reasonable for the work she does.

But my bank account said no, so here's my sadder, harder plan as it stands:

  1. I don't think I explained this adequately, but Photobucket had blocked access to the desktop version of my account with a huge pop-over notification that I had to pay for more storage. There was no way to close out the notification or get around it, only click the link to go to the upgrade page. When I'd previously downgraded to a free account, my storage was full. However, the only way to delete photos was to pay for another year. (Whut.) There's no way to delete photos on the mobile app. (Whut.) So I had to pay for a year of storage that I don't want. (Blargh.) So I did, and then I was able to get in and download all my albums. If you already can, that's your first step! It took a LOT longer than I thought it would, especially since some albums were so large.
  2. The albums download as .zip files. Usually that's fine and my Mac's built-in archive utility can handle it. But the big albums were downloading as corrupted zip files. I eventually downloaded a free app from the Apple app store called The Unarchiver, and that was able to open the partially downloaded zip files up to the images that were corrupted. I then had to figure out which images were downloaded and which not and delete the ones that had (manually selecting them in Photobucket a page at a time), then do another download round. I hope most of you don't have to deal with this nonsense, but if you have lots of pictures (I had thousands), that was what worked for me. Some albums took 4-5 rounds of downloading, unzipping, deleting, then downloading again.
  3. Once I'd gotten all my photos downloaded, I opened up an account on Amazon S3 (Amazon Simple Storage Service). I got tired of reading hosting service reviews and decided to give Amazon a try since I like and trust them for other needs. (I have no affiliation with this service of theirs.) I honestly found S3 pretty confusing, but it's an option. (I was going to link to the post that helped me navigate S3, but it's returning an error. Oh, well. You can Google search the topic of "Amazon S3 blog image hosting.") The pricing starts out with a 12-month free tier and then charges over that based on what you use in terms of storage and bandwidth.
  4. What I most liked about Amazon S3 was that it was easy to create an alias domain for all my image files, so now my images that were hosted at Photobucket now all have the URL http://images.hobomama.com/image-name.jpg. If I decide Amazon isn't for me, I can switch to a different host in the future but keep the alias (I think/hope). Amazon doesn't easily have folders for images, so if that bothers you, it's not your best choice. As I understand it, you can rename your images with a "folder" name in this way: folder/image-name.jpg. That sounded like more work than I wanted to put in, so I uploaded everything to the same bucket so they can all just have the same beginning URL.
  5. I'm staying on Blogger and going through old blogposts that had Photobucket files to do a find/replace for any Photobucket URLs to replace with the above image alias URL. To begin with, I'm scrolling through my ten years of blog posts in Blogger and selecting the posts that have the most pageviews, particularly ones I know are still popular based on comments, Pinterest pins, and affiliate earnings.
  6. If I get tired of doing this all myself, I might hire a freelancer on Upwork I've worked with before to finish out the recoding. For now, I'm going with cheap.
  7. I wrote Photobucket to end my paid subscription, and they said they did, and they haven't. You know what, though — they're dead to me. I've unauthorized the subscription in PayPal so hoping it won't autorenew. They'll probably be out of business by next year, anyway, hey? I'll take off the suggestion to Tweet at them about my account, since I've gotten my own nonsense sorted as much as I can for now.
  8. Optional last step for me: If I find my Amazon S3 prices are prohibitive, I can pick out my most accessed blogposts and gradually switch over those photos to Blogger's servers. That should help cut down on my bandwidth charges.

Wishing you all well if you're going through this mess, too!

If you need a free, free, free hosting solution that allows hotlinking, people have recommend TinyPic.com and Flickr.com. I've personally used (am using in some cases) Flickr, and it's fine. However, I fear for the future of any service, particularly one tied to Yahoo. By which I mean, you could use either of those for now, but if you're putting in a ton of time and work to transfer lots and lots of photos to them, you might be doing it again in a few years.

If you're on Blogger or Wordpress.com, you can upload your images directly into your blogposts. However, this doesn't make it easy to reconfigure old image URLs.

It all stinks — sorry. Blame Photobucket.

P.S. I had to uninstall IntenseDebate comments, because they weren't playing nice on all platforms. I tried to reply to any before uninstalling, but that's where they've disappeared to if you were wondering.



Nea said...

Oh boy, this is a mess. I got the funny pictures on my blog too and it's infuriating! Thank you so much for all the tips and possible solutions! Will come handy! ;) Good luck!

Lindsay With An "A" said...

I absolutely HATE you're dealing with this, too! I had NO CLUE what was going on, and your blog post helped a lot. Thank you so much for doing the digging up of answers. Keep us updated!

Sinea said...

I have 6 images for social media buttons on every blog post on my blog. Over 1000 images. I am going with Shareaholic for free version but have to get Photobucket OFF my BLOG! Any suggestions? Is there a fast way or do I click on each image and delete...6000 times?

Blogger said...

Horrible idea to go anywhere near Amazon. This week the web has hundreds of articles detailing how Amazon and eBay were upended due to the insane Photobucket TOS. For many years both Amazon and eBay relied very heavily on Photobucket. Now they're suffering for it.

Detetiv said...

I'm confused though is this a slow configure?
I see nothing that's messed up on my blog and I can still hotlink via the app.

Alistu said...

Just to point out, Tinypic is owned by Photobucket. Even though I've transferred SOME of my pictures over there for the moment, I don't trust that a similar thing won't happen there too.

Rochelle @ eSheep Designs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I don't know who you are; I saw your blog as I was searching for a solution to my problem. I'm frustrated that they are holding your images ransom. Luckily for me, my fear [that something like this would happen] has led me to backup everything. I now use http://imgur.com/ as a temporary solution for a free backup. I hope everything works out well for you. RIP photobucket.

Pedro M. said...

Avoid at ALL COSTS TinyPic and Flickr. Buy a VPS server, there are some cheap and good ones (ovh.com is one I use) and be happy!

Anonymous said...

The issue is not whether Photobucket owes users to provide Free hot linking, they do not, however, the issue is with the way they conducted this change and affected so many people and sites. For many, the impact is an economic one in the way of extra time it takes to set-up with a new image storage service provider , to transfer the images, even if you are one of the wise ones who backed-up your images. This is an impact and loss in Money to many people. This is true if you believe time is money.

Just as we vote or go to rallies to be heard, we must let Companies like PHOTOBUCKET.COM hear from us if we really feel the way we do and are affected by their recent actions. SO, HERE IS HOW:

Here are unadvertised Photobucket Direct Telephone Numbers in the U.S.:
(303)226-6801, Press 1 to Enter any of these Extensions as follows: Extension #5154 for Accounting Manager, #5163 , or any of the following Internal Extensions: 5104, 5107, 5121, 5122, 5127, 5130, 5132, 5135, 5137, 5139, 5149, 5175, 5177, as well as many other telephone extension number sequences in between the ones listed above. Alternatively, you can surpass their telephone menu system by dialing any of the extension directly, by dialing (303)+228+The 4-digit Extension Number(s).

At the very least, you will have the opportunity to leave a detailed message for any of the extensions and Let them know that they did not have to resort to this method of getting rid of their users.
Since everyone who used Photobucket entered the site thru the front door, they could have easily used a pop-up banner each time you logged-on to inform you about the upcoming changes in their terms and business model, with a reasonable grace period and well in advance of their deadline.

You would think that with as many advertisements that the users had to tolerate, photobucket would have been able to successfully fund their former business model.
Even Now, when you go to download your images off of their site, they inundate you with so many adds to stop and slow down the download process. If they have moved away from the Ad business model, then why still so many ads?

Resorting to ransom and blackmail tactics are the tools of a failing company who has little to loose and even less in business longevity.


Best of Luck to Everyone!

mtui said...

+1 on the AWS S3 image hosting. It's a pay as you go system, you pay based on total amount of images stored plus the amount of traffic they generate. But their rates are SUPER cheap. I have at least 1000 images on AWS linked into 3rd party sites. My bill for that ends up being about US$0.10/month.

mike jones said...

good luck with rebuilding your photo albums.
just a note for those thinking about using tinypic..
at the bottom of their page
© 2004-2017 TinyPic®, a Photobucket Video & Photo Sharing Company

Anonymous said...

In all fairness, everyone should take precautions and BACK THEIR FILES UP whenever they upload something to a site. This stands whatever the site is, and whatever the files are. There really is no excuse for only hosting one's files on a single website. Photobucket is certainly in the wrong for holding users' files hostage; it was an appalling move. But a little foresight would have prevented your files from being held hostage in the first place and thus your account from becoming a victim of that misstep.

JAy said...

Photobucket feels like it is run by hackers now with no care in the world other than for the $$$ they can make off advertisers and people stuck because they have no image back up anywhere else. I knew there was something very wrong with their service years ago when it got all bogged down with adds but now it is just laughable how many ads come at you. It is truly like being in a war zone with ads being shot at you from every direction instead of bullets. Who in their right mind would stay with this company any way. Their days are seriously numbered now. I deleted everyone of the images stored there and then closed my account which I can still log into so not sure if and when they will really close it.

As far as I am concerned they excrement behind Photbucket is the worst form of organized crime imaginable.

I did a lot of searching to find a replacement to host images for free with no ads and I found it in "postimages.org" and have already used it for images I uploaded to forums. It is dirt simple and basic with no ads to bother you and I love it so far.

Angela S said...

Thank you! I'm seriously pissed at Photobucket. >:[

Jeremy S said...

Use s3 browser (http://s3browser.com/) for more "familiar" file management in Amazon. Should retain folder structure.

Bitsy Boo said...


Maybe bring some awareness to this petition?

George Jones said...

At least now I know I can call the bank tomorrow and let 'em know I got swindled.......

Anonymous said...

Its a joke, luckily most were on my old site so they don't matter but even after deleting all their images from my new site I still get the silly popup at thr top of my page GRRRRR

Sinea said...

Ugh... me too! I was not hosting many photos on Photobucket but utilized them for my social media buttons on over 1000+ blog posts. After they ignored all my pleas, I removed the images from Photobucket and closed my account. Honestly, that didn't do much. Now I have a big square saying "photo missing" where the ransom note was. I have started to manually remove them on my most popular posts and will work my way through over time. What I haven't figured out is where their code is embedded on my blog for one remaining "photo missing" square to show up in the footer underneath EVERY post, even the new ones. My blog is on Blogger. Anyone have a suggestion where I can look?

The Artful Diva said...

OMG this is all Greek to me. I keep getting the 3rd party hosting ad on my blog and really have no clue as to solve this problem. I cannot and will not pay $400 to do so

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...