Naspers Buys Controlling Interest In Media Sharing, Social Shopping Site Multiply

The Myriad International Holdings unit of Naspers has acquired a controlling interest in social networking and shopping site operator Multiply, we’ve learned.

Multiply will continue to operate under the same management team.

This company was originally founded in 2004 and raised $26.6 million in venture capital funding over the past few years in a bid to compete against the likes of MySpace and, later, Facebook and Twitter in the social media space.

Obviously, it never became much competition to these social networking giants (although admittedly MySpace itself has lots much of its shine recently), especially not in the United States where the bulk of online advertising budgets is spent.

Its last funding round, secured in November 2008, valued Multiply at $100 million, although I’d be very surprised if MIH / Naspers acquired its interest in the company at that valuation.

Originally started as a straightforward media management and closed-circuit communication service (Microsoft handed over the reins of MSN Groups to the company back in October 2008), Multiply has shifted most of its focus to social ecommerce in recent times.

Multiply, which now blends social networking and private media sharing with an online marketplace, at present self-reportedly counts over 70,000 merchants and 20 million monthly unique visitors.

Presumably, the venture-backed company considers there to be potentially more revenue opportunities down the line. Earlier this year, the company launched the Multiply Marketplace to provide a way for sellers to be found by buyers within the Multiply network.

Sellers can sign up for a customized online shop within the Multiply network and start listing items for sale and promoting them to the site’s user base. I checked out the United States offering and it was a thoroughly underwhelming experience, to say the least.

This is what most of the virtual ‘shops’ look like:

When I signed up for the site, I received a welcoming message from Multiply founder and CEO Peter Pezaris, which read that over 10 million people use the network to buy and sell products and services every month. Having browsed the Marketplace for about half an hour, I can’t possible imagine that’s really the case, although I understand most of its user activity originates from Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Boca Raton, Florida-based Multiply says teaming up with Naspers, which holds stakes in a good number of Internet and mobile ventures from across the globe, will allow it to focus more attention on intensifying its social shopping efforts in Southeast Asia in particular.

To illustrate its reach: Myriad International Holdings, Naspers’ investment subsidiary, boasts a large stake – nearly one third – in top investment firm Digital Sky Technologies (which boasts investments in Facebook, Zynga and Groupon but is also big in Russia) and holds about 35% of Chinese Internet juggernaut Tencent.