NEW YORK (Reuters) - Corbis, the stock photography company controlled by billionaire Bill Gates, is close to being profitable for the first time ever, even as the industry grapples with price declines and a move to the Internet, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
"We're on the verge of profitability," CEO Gary Shenk told the Reuters Media Summit in New York. He wouldn't provide a time frame, but said: "I have the moment planned when I can send Bill Gates the first dollar."
In 1989, Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), founded privately held Corbis, which has yet to post a profit. Shenk took the CEO role in July and was charged with turning the company around.
The company has laid off nearly 300 employees this year, closed several sales offices globally and invested in operations to sell design graphics and lower-cost microstock photography to diversify its revenue base.
Shenk said the company was already profitable before accounting for nonrecurring costs, including some severance expenses and investments in its technology infrastructure.
He also said the image business still had plenty of growth potential, despite lower spending by traditional print media.
"They want quality images, they want rights protection, they want a good search experience, they want customer service," he said, adding that none of these services were provided by Google Inc (GOOG.O) or microstock companies that often sell work by amateurs at low prices.
Shenk also said shares in larger rival Getty Images Inc GYI.N and Jupitermedia Corp. JUPM.O may have been oversold after merger talks between the two were called off in March. He said Corbis had the advantage of being private.
"I think that they certainly wish they were private right now," he said.
(Click here to see Reuters MediaFile blog)
Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe