Demotix Hits A Million Images

Crowd-Sourced Picture Agency Can Work


Thursday, October 11th, 2012
We?ve been covering Demotix since their controversial launch in 2008 and frankly the jury at the time was out on whether they really could create what many had tried and failed to do: a crowd-sourced, breaking news pictures and video agency with a viable business model. Other startups had come and gone in that space, partly because they had focused too much on camera phones. Those images might have been ?on the ground?, but they didn?t turn into businesses which interested major news outlets. We saw Twitpic stumble as it tried this last year, for instance. But Demotix went after real photographers close to the scenes of breaking news. And that question appears to to have been answered today as they hit a million images produced on the platform.
Turi Munthe, CEO and founder, describes Demotix as ?the freelancer?s AP?. It splits the revenue with photographers 50/50 each time a photo is sold into a media outlet (by contrast major photo agencies take a much larger cut and only pay photographers once). Photos sourced from Demotix have appeared on the front pages of New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, and The Guardian.
They?ve produced some 75,000 stories from a user base of 35,000 users and 6,500 active users (an active user is someone who is uploading content). Those numbers might sound small in tech terms, but it?s an indication of the quality filter the images have to go through, and it means global news outlets have access to photographers who are much closer to the action than their traditional bureaus. Indeed, many bureaus have been shut down due to costs, and Demotix has cannily moved in to that space.
But with the recent launch of its iOS app, Demotix is poised to become the picture agency closest to any breaking news action anywhere. An Android app will be out soon.
Munthe tells me there are further plans to make the process of crowd-sourced news gathering smarter. This includes a soon to launch system where contributors will get an automated email or push notification on their smartphone if a breaking news event happens near their location. With camera phones getting better and better, clearly this is going to be a way for Demotix to scale up dramatically.
Their competitors are MeeporterAllVoices and Citizen Side in France (which broke the John Gallianno drunken ranting story). But while most have switched to becoming enterprise platforms, Demotix has ploughed its own path, picking up investment from picture agency giant Corbis on the way
?The reason Demotix is going is because it is run journalistically. Every image has been looked at by a human,? says Munthe, who we interviewed last year
The Demotix system checks the metadata of an incoming image against what a contributor has told them. This translates into a ?Green, Red and Amber? mechanical turk operation which verifies each image coming in. Of the 1,500 to 2,000 images a day posted, only a quarter end up being sent out to media company partners, which include the WSJ, The Guardian, Telegraph, Le Figaro, among others.
And in case you?re wondering, the millionth photo was taken by photographer was Mahmoud Illean of Palestinian protesters at a demonstration in Ramallah.
Turi Munthe has been a participant in Chobi Mela
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Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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