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Toronto startup 500px teams up with Canon for anti-showrooming experiment

Canon has recruited Toronto-based startup 500px to curate the photos on display at its “Image Square” shop in Calgary.


Canon has recruited Toronto-based startup 500px to curate the photos on display at its “Image Square” shop in Calgary. In downtown Calgary’s Eighth Avenue Place, Canon has opened a shop called “Image Square”. Except that it isn’t a shop. There’s no inventory. You can’t buy anything on-site.

The staff at Image Square are not, strictly speaking, sales staff. In a reversal of the phenomenon of “showrooming”, Canon has created a showroom designed to show off their products and attract photography enthusiasts through a combination of tech wow factor, public workshops, and interactivity. It’s essentially a theme park for photographers. One can’t help but think that if Kodak had had a tenth of Canon’s foresight, we would be talking about it now as something other than a memory.

Another savvy move on Canon’s part was to recruit Toronto’s 500px to curate the photos on display, and to emphasize the talents of local photographers. It’s a nice place to be for 500px, demonstrating their photo software alongside heavy hitters such as Adobe. “We’re pleased to partner with a company that shares our commitment to pushing the boundaries of photography,” says Oleg Gutsol, 500px CEO.

It’s certainly more like the kind of notoriety 500px is after, in contrast to having its popular app yanked out of the Apple store for “adult content”, a move reminiscent of “Nipplegate” in which Facebook banned The New Yorker’s page over a cartoon depicting Adam and Eve. Facebook deemed the dots on Eve’s chest to have violated its “Sex and Nudity” terms of use. Sanity eventually prevailed, and 500px is now back in the Apple store, with a mechanism for flagging “inappropriate” content.

500px, short for five-hundred pixels, was founded in 2009 by Oleg Gutsol and Evgeny Tchebotarev to provide a place for amateur photographers to display their work, for which the company takes a commission on sales. The site, which has been described as an upstart rival to Flickr, was named by TIME as one of the best blogs of 2012, and now boasts more than 1.5-million users. 500px has raised its Series A financing from High Line Venture Capital, ff Venture Capital, and Deep Creek Capital.

The Image Square, which Canon refers to as an “Experience Centre”, may be the first attempt at creating a new genre of “shopping” which places the consumer in the position of navigator, sailing in a sea of test cameras, touch screens, state-of-the-art printers and a fully functional photo studio. It’s a first for North America, set in Calgary perhaps as a kind of test market, a little out-of-the-way with an affluent population, with the intent of seeing how it goes before rolling out to other centres. In any case, it’s just the kind of forward thinking about retail that might fend off the “death of bricks and mortar” pundits for a little while longer.

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