01 Oct 2015 500px Review
500px started life as a photo-sharing community. Despite comparisons to Flickr, they seek to set themselves apart as a platform for serious hobbyists and professional photographers, rather than a community portal for the masses. Images on their website are very artistic and high quality.
Last year, they entered the stock industry with the launching of a photo marketplace. This year, they raised $13M in capital, closed a strategic partnership with a strong Asian traditional stock company, and added experienced media licensing professionals to their team. Although their position in the market is not solidly defined yet, their latest moves prove that they’re serious about building their stock business.
500px is headquartered in Toronto, where it was founded in 2009 by Evgeny Tchebotarev and Oleg Gutsol, who bootstrapped the project until the first $525K seed investment was secured in 2011.
From its roots as a photo-sharing platform, the site has a social networking feel and feature set. In early 2012, the company took their first step into stock photo licensing with a service that was mainly for prints. In 2013, they secured $8.8M in series A funding from various investors, boosting their business development.
A month later, they added Extreme Startups’ Andy Yang as COO and microstock celebrity Patrick Lor (iStockphoto’s co-founder, and currently co-founder and CEO of Dissolve) as a director. With these experts on board, they introduced their digital stock photo marketplace, 500px Prime, in March 2014.
Their executive board was a bit shaken last year. Around March 2014, Oleg Gutsol was downgraded from CEO to Product Manager, and Andy Yang took over as Chief Executive. Gutsol ended up leaving the company six months later, citing profound differences with Yang and the rest of the board regarding the future of the company.
In July this year they announced a capital increase of $13M from their series B round, along with a strategic partnership and a joint venture with the funding round’s lead investor Visual China Group, for general business expansion and penetration into the Asian market.
Other recent news includes a full re-structuring of the marketplace‘s collections and tiers and the addition of more experienced industry professionals to their leadership team: Ellen Desmarais to Head of Marketing, and Paul Friessen to Content Management for Media Distribution.
Contributors earn 70% royalties, but to put images for sale on the marketplace, you need to be member of the platform. There’s a free membership, but it comes with a very limited account. The “Plus” plan features unlimited uploads and access to a wider range of features for $2 a month, and the “Awesome” plan at $6.25 per month includes all of the above plus full contributor features, including a personal portfolio with bonus assets.
They sell RF licenses. On-demand price structure has been recently redesigned and bases in collection and image size. Newly introduced Core collection’s prices are $35 web size and $150 print size, with a ‘Resale products’ option –like an extended license– available for $350; Prime collection maintains the original marketplace premium prices, at $50 and $250 per image –size based–, with Resale license at $750. They originally had subscriptions (priced higher than microstock) but that has also changed. They started doing free ‘bundle’ offers this year, and now they’ve gotten rid of monthly buyer plans to offer pre-paid bulk purchases, cutting from 5% to 15% from total price.
According to the company, the new pricing strategy has been successful, and sales are increasing on a week-to-week basis.
Because of 500px’s social networking origins, they’re often referred to as a competitor to Flickr or Instagram. But the company says they cater to more professional users than those platforms. Most, if not all, of their product development and marketing efforts have been focused on reaching that ‘pro’ audience. To date, only a small 10–20% of their users are either professional or serious hobbyist photographers, while the vast majority are simply photography enthusiasts.
However, their content does project their desired image. Their collections contain very high-quality and artistically relevant photos. Stock libraries follow the same aesthetics, and reviewers look for authenticity and content quality as well as commercial value. The ‘stocky’ look is something you will not find in this site.
Development & Expansion
A great user experience is a high priority for 500px, and they’ve continually refined their interface over the years.
In 2011 they launched an iOS app. It got a little extra press coverage in January 2013, when it was removed from the App Store and restored within a week due to “easily found” nude photos. Later, they released an Android version as well.
In October 2014 they announced to be among the first companies partnering up with Adobe in mobile space, by integrating Creative Cloud’s Lightroom into their mobile suite. In July this year, they did a full redesigning and relaunching of the iOS app, seeking to turn it into an educational and inspirational mobile platform, hoping to reach and further engage mainstream users as well as to assure quality supply for the marketplace. In the two months it’s been out, company reports the new app has gained significant traction.
In 2013, they introduced fully customisable portfolio pages that include custom domains and enable integration with their marketplace and blog, similar to a storefront. While maintaining their community-oriented style, they continued adding features for stock contributors. Their blog, 500px ISO, is very popular among the photography enthusiasts, and the website’s design in general is edgy and visually appealing.
Since 500px doesn’t seem to be overly focused in attracting independent buyers, they work hard on closing distribution partnerships. In February 2014, they teamed up with creative graphic content platform Takks, which is similar to Creative Market, but less well known.
The recent partnership with Visual China Group promises to expand 500px’s business to Asia and grow their user base in the region. They’ve founded a joint venture with their new partner to explore business opportunities for stock photography in the local market.
However they are now doing some moves with independent buyers in consideration. Company has been collecting and processing data from their content, and now aims at providing content analysis for customers, to help them pick potentially best-performing content for their desired audiences.
They’ve also made strategic acquisitions over the years, related to some of their development projects. In July 2012 they purchased the recommendation software engine Algo Anywhere. They bought the iOS and Mac developer Pulpfingers in November the same year. In May 2014, they added the sales drive analytics company Authintic.
The company currently has over 6M users and around 60M photos. In the nearly 18 months since its launch, the marketplace includes roughly 170,000 contributors and over 1M photos.
500px’s position in the stock industry is not yet established. Their marketing strategies for the stock photo service are not very defined, and it’s not clear where are they going with it, other than that they want to sell commercial licenses for their highly artistic style of images.
But the recent big moves from the company indicate a greater interest in this business. With plenty of capital, a partnership with one of the largest traditional stock suppliers in Asia, and the hiring of several veterans of the media licensing industry, 500px is seriously trying to carve out their piece of the market.
(Header image by Michael Matti)