Demotix Hits A Million Images, Proving The Crowd-Sourced Picture Agency Can Work

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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 Meeporter, AllVoices 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.