Imgur newly announced massive round of funding ( $40 Million by Andreessen Horowitz) is a captivating shot at the bow of the photo tech world, and here’s why:
Practically unknown outside the geek and nerd world, Imgur is not your traditional photo sharing platform because it has nothing to do with photography. Users do not go on Imgur to look at pretty images, or to review last night party or even post photos of their latest vacation. Rather, it is a photo hosting site for everything else : memes, LoLcats, gifs, explanations, photo quotes and yes, pornography. In fact, at first, most users never went to the site itself but rather viewed imugr’s content because it has been posted somewhere else, like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and Bulletin boards. Now, users spend an average 11 minutes browsing it directly.
Imgur is a photo hosting site for people not interested in photography. And it’s hugely successful. With 130 million views each month, 5 billion images, 1,5 million of them uploaded daily, it could put Flickr to shame. And because photos connect people, it is certainly a threat to both Facebook, Twitter and Google +, especially since the audience is young, engaged and connected.
A $40 million investment is a lot for a company that has been around since 2009. But unlike a lot of its most recent peers, it is profitable thanks to a $2 pro version and a very small team ( 13 people). While part of the funding is to create a sales team, according to founder Alan Schaaf, founder and ceo, it is yet unclear how they intent to monetize the content. One of the key roadblock is that Imgur, like all photo sharing sites, has no control over the content it displays. In fact, it is a massive source of copyright infringement that could turn into a legal nightmare as soon as they flip the commerce switch on. Unlike Instagram or even Flickr, who both rely mostly on user created content, Imgur is much more like Pinterest in that most of its content has been ripped from others without authorization.
Obviously Imgur is protected under the “safe harbor” law which makes them impervious to legal action as long as they have an effective take down process in case of claims. But they also do not make any remuneration on these images, which, for now, has kept lawyers at bay.
It is quite possible that part of the investment agreement requires Imgur founders to deal with this issue and it will not be a surprise to hear that a Getty- Pinterest style resolution has been signed in the near future. It is also possible they will try to address the issue by other means.
Advertising seems the most obvious option to increase revenue and while its content might turn off luxury brands, there are plenty of other industries – like gaming – who would love to take advantage of their reach.
Imgur success over the year is based on its simplicity of use ( no registration required), it’s laid back attitude towards content ( everything is game) and its non-photography oriented photo sharing aspect ( no judgments on image quality). It is, in a way, the anti-Flickr. With investment money in, the pressure for ROI will force them to take an accelerated route to growth which could bring them to becoming a new full-scale social media site. They certainly already have the base.
One final thought : Andreessen did not invest because Imgur needed the money but because they want a piece of the pie when they sell the company.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.