500px, the photo-sharing site that once proposed to take on Flickr and Getty, has been acquired by Visual China Group (VCG), a strategic investor in 500px via previous financings. A publicly-traded image licensing company – and China’s Getty, so to speak – bought Corbis in 2016, and is now the world’s third-largest visual content provider.
It sees 500px, which now has 13 million members, as another means of expanding its visual content licensing business, while also providing 500px with better distribution and access to its existing clients.
Deal terms were not revealed, though one report is puts this deal at the fire sale price of $17 million. Other investors in 500px include Andreessen Horowitz, ff Venture Capital, and Harrison Metal. 500px had raised over $22 million to date, according to Crunchbase.
VCG led $8 million of the startup’s $13 million Series B back in 2015, after a bit of a shakeup at the company the previous year, which saw 500px’s former CEO and co-founder Oleg Gutsol ousted after disagreeing with the board over the direction the company should take. The investment by VCG resulted in 500px’s increased focus in the Greater China market, and was soon followed by a launch in China later that year.
The localized service for China, 500px.me, had first been met with backlash from its community of then 6 million, who didn’t like that their photos were appearing on the site by default with no opt out. The company scrambled then relaunched 500px.me as a beta that required user consent. That service today has around half a million users, and is a key part of this deal.
500px will remain in Toronto following the deal’s closure, and no one from VCG will join. The founders of 500px are not making the leap to VCG along with their team. Gutsol was gone already, and co-founder Evgeny Tchebotarev had left in early 2016.
Current CEO Andy Yang will help with the transition and will remain in an advisory role, but is stepping away from day-to-day duties.
Dustin Plett, who has been with 500px for over five years, will lead the community side of 500px. Kelly Thompson will continue running the Marketplace and Stock sides of the business.
As the shareholder of 500px, VCG will now play an important role in the decision-making process going forward. The two companies will also combine their resources to launch new products and update existing ones.
This year, the two plan to roll out improved statistics for photographers to help them better understand the reach and impact of their work; top charts and badges to reward users’ accomplishments; private messaging between members; and sub-communities around shared interests, styles, and locations.
The companies will also both offer improved software-as-a-service products in big data, AI and blockchain technologies, according to an announcement shared with press, but didn’t go into detail.
Founded in 2009, 500px never quite lived up to its earlier promises of creating a new home for photography to rival Flickr or Getty, as it once hoped. Meanwhile, it continued to face competition from Flickr, other stock photo sites like Shutterstock, and Getty (which had done a licensing deal with EyeEm), as well as the increased number of freely available photo sites, like Unsplash, for example.
“As one of the largest visual-content-licensing companies in the world, VCG has always been excited by the passion of the 500px community,” said Amy Jun Liang, Chief Executive Officer of VCG, said in a statement. “This acquisition is in line with VCG’s strategy to build a world-class photography ecosystem that delivers high-quality images. By integrating our learnings and resources across both 500px.com and 500px.me, we will further enrich our content creation, technology expertise, product offering, and continue to deliver the best service and experience to our millions of visual creatives.”