The Demotix Revolution

DemotixI got an interesting email the other day asking if Demotix is good for distributing work – the short answer: No.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Demotix is a citizen reporting/freelance photography agency. Taking an industry standard 50% cut of image sales, they say they broker images to media buyers worldwide.

Which is great if you’re a citizen reporter (not journalists, as some call them, but more on that another time) who happens to photograph a breaking story that no-one else has got. Like Bill Carter, one of Henry Gates’ neighbours who grabbed his camera when he saw police cars outside his neighbours house. The resulting images have netted over $4,000 in sales, with half going to Carter.

This is the sort of thing Demotix thrives on. When the Iran election protests began last year images from Demotix users were featured on the frontpage of the New York Times twice in one week. But unfortunately for photographers there isn’t an uprising or other major breaking international news story every day.

I flirted with Demotix for a month or so last year, uploading a total of 12 stories, mostly of protests but also some other events, a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, ministers leaving a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street and the opening of Banksy’s Summer show in Bristol.

Not one of the images I uploaded has sold. One was featured in the Demotix Widget, which appears on a various newspaper websites and for which I was paid a nominal amount.

It’s quite probable that the images wouldn’t of sold even if I’d distributed them myself, at most of the events I covered there were also staff photographers from large international news agencies: Getty, AFP, AP, Reuters etc. The other events I covered obviously did not fit into the news agenda that day or week so remain unsold, which is often the reality for freelance photographers working on spec.

Slightly disheartened that none of my images had sold, I reverted back to how I had distributed my images previously, uploading a web gallery of images and emailing the link, as well as a small selection of the images directly to newspaper picture desks.

Just after I had given up on Demotix I covered a breaking news story, Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons had just been elected MEPs for the British National Party and were holding a press conference outside Parliament. I found out just an hour before, grabbed my kit and jumped on the tube. I got there just in time and within minutes of the press conference starting anti-fascist protesters appeared chanting anti-fascist slogans and began throwing eggs. I and a number of photographers who were at the front of the press pack captured the moment the yolk hit Griffin as he was rushed into a car by minders.

I quickly got out my laptop and captioned and emailed the images to the newspapers, all within minutes of it happening. As I filed my images I was sat with another freelancer who was uploading his images to Demotix, he complained that the Demotix FTP upload was often slow and sometimes didn’t work at all. He also mentioned another thing I was familiar with from submitting images to Demotix, it sometimes took several hours for stories to be published on the site, as each has to be approved before appearing on the site, often longer outside office hours.

My images appeared in that days Evening Standard, the Daily Express the day after, The Telegraph website and the Sunday Telegraph that weekend. My colleagues images appeared on Demotix a few hours later and have yet to sell.

Speaking to several other Demotix contributors in London they say they have yet to make a sale through Demotix either, even those with hundreds of images and stories on the site. Most have earned the £12.50 Widget usage fee, which is paid if your work is featured on the Demotix Widget. £12.50 might cover your travel costs if you went by train or took a short car journey, it is hardly enough to make a living though. One Demotix contributor I spoke to said he’d made around £150 over a few months from widget use, which is certainly something, but he has yet to make a single sale through them.

There is no doubt that Demotix contributors have taken some excellent images, this image by Alessandro Vanucci of a Cambodian rubbish dump made the Eyewitness page of the Guardian. Other times Demotix contributors are simply the only ones there to get an image. Their coverage from Iran for example or the exclusive photograph of Ian Thomlinson lying on the pavement shortly after being assaulted by police at the G20 protests in London last summer.

But is Demotix the unique factor in these images selling? Almost certainly not. Just like other online photo agencies, Demotix is a (sometimes) convenient middleman for amateurs and semi-professionals. Images from Iran or of Ian Tomlinson lying on the pavement would of sold if they had been on Flickr, Zooomr, PhotoShelter or any of the myriad of other sites that allow users to upload their images for free.

I asked Report Digital founder John Harris his thought’s on Demotix:

Demotix is trying to make money out of low value sales of unique coverage in unusual circumstances – precisely the sort of thing that is easy to find once on the internet. It is not clear to me where they “add any value”.

As soon as photographers realise they can spend an afternoon Googling the picture desk contact details of all the media buyers (PDF) Demotix supplies they can take back the other half of their 50% cut, upload images to Flickr or wherever they want, whilst still charging a professional rate.

So is Demotix good for distributing work? Well they are, they’re just unnecessary.

Well I have tried them and …. no sales, This is the sort of operation that gets merit for the photographers work, without which they would not exist; but Demotix themselves have not got a clue on what to do. I even had to tell them about the G20 coming up in London, they obviously don’t read the newspapers

Jonathan,

Thanks for the heads up on this.

A couple of points:

You and John Harris are wrong about what Demotix is building. Our Henry Louis Gates pictures, or our Iran pictures – those examples of ‘unique coverage in unusual circumstances’ – are a fraction of the revenue we generate, and are incidental to our model. Demotix is building a wire – our revenue comes from the daily licensing of far more ‘banal’ editorial imagery. For example :): http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/810213-hungarian-castle-for-sale-for-just-0-3p

As we grow, the value add is precisely in our community. We are far more likely to be able to license your images of Nick Griffin because we’re also licensing someone else’s images of a train wreck in the Pankisi Gorge or a mango-eating festival in Papua New Guinea. There is strength in numbers: together, the Demotix community is a global image wire.

Of course, if you have good personal relationships with all the big UK and US picture editors, they give you bandwidth and take your work regularly, then you don’t need an agency, whether that’s Demotix or anyone else. But there are fewer and fewer freelancers who have that access anymore as individuals – in large part because the Getty, AP, Reuters oligopoly has squeezed them out of the market – so we’re bringing that access as a platform.

[And finally an apology. The Demotix upload system (and process) has not always been as smooth as it might have been, which has stopped you and others getting us your pictures as quickly as you should have been. We’ve thrown a lot at it recently, and hope you’ll agree it’s a lot better… http://www.demotix.com/blog/231953/new-upload-methods ]

All best

Turi

You are right, it is useless as a distribution medium for news photographers. Took me a day to upload my last set of pics (I was doing other things as well.) But then I wouldn’t have thought of trying to use it for this.

I see it as a way of getting stories (with pictures) to people that would not otherwise be published because of the peculiar priorities of the commercial media.

But financially, no. I guess it sometimes pays my fares – I seem to get £25 btw, perhaps it’s my age!

What is disappointing to me is that it doesn’t yet seem to be selling over the longer term for features. I’ve not heard of a single sale from people I know. Even Alamy seems to do better. I don’t begrudge them their % because these are sales that I would never have made.

I find myself in a quandary over how to comment. As I have used Demotix in the past and sold both to the widget and for online use. But have also suffered with the upload process.

But I think I approached Demotix with a different attitude. I didn’t expect them to fulfil my income or even to sell very much. They are a new(ish) outfit, when I first signed up, very new. I viewed my submissions as testers, to see how it goes. I like the concept of open journalism, I call it that, as ‘citizen journalism’ to me, means nothing. Anyone can and should be a journalist. Journalism is one of the kingpins of democracy and should encouraged. In my eyes this is what Demotix does.

If you’re an interested party with a camera and something to say, you should have outlets and be promoted, hopefully to slow the tide of abstainers.

If you join Demotix because Santa gave you a DSLR and you fancy a crazy fast paced lifestyle, making small fortunes from snaps of lifes events that others only get to read about. Oh well.

Seriously, if you’re trying to make a living, really trying, you will, not a great one, but hopefully one you enjoy. But for now that won’t happen purely through Demotix. But that isn’t because the Demotix business model is flawed, it is still in it’s infancy, don’t berate the child for not competing with the grown ups.

Many of the previous and now obsolete open (citizen) journalism vendors have, in my opinion, been very much pursuing the money. But Demotix have one string to their bow that in my eyes, gives them an edge, Turi. Turi has a passion and belief that stems from the on the spot average joe reporting the news as they see it from place where you won’t see many photojournalists. Yes this has been dismissed as occasional, but it is a growing occasional and a worthwhile pursuit. But on top of this is the establishing foundation of Demotix as a regular photo agency. They are making connections and getting known. They are succeeding and growing, which is good to see.

Journalism is a freedom, is empowers freedom and the voice of a population, too much news is spoon fed and filtered, the more is becomes tainted, the more important outlets like Demotix become.

This type of media outlet will never stand shoulder to shoulder with the big names, but that’s a good thing, so long as they prosper and continue, that is what is important.

For the photojournalist, it’s not should I submit to Demotix, it’s what should I submit to Demotix. I personally feel that Demotix will become the home of the underground feature, this could well become a source for story seeking reporters. We shall see.

As a footnote, because that’s all it deserves. The FTP process, it was a headache and when I first tried to use it for breaking stories, I too pulled my hair out. A big lesson learned for Demotix I am sure, they do now appear to be addressing this, good. As for publishing the stories and the time taken. Again I think this was down to the submission desk not being manned 24/7. Many agencies don’t. This is not just Demotix. But this is something all agencies must offer.

If a story is breaking news and the competition are all there shooting, it is now possible to shoot and transmit straight to the desk and have someone else edit, caption and post. If you’re competing for breaking news, this is the future, if you’re not trying this now, you’re not really competing for breaking news.

To end, I think the concept that Demotix is just the same as posting your work on any of the free image sharing sites is underestimating Demotix. Comparing Demotix to AFP, Getty, AP etc is unfair. Demotix have a lot to learn and a lot of ground to cover, they also need to concentrate on the whole submission process. But they are an open submission model and this means they have far more to do, but above all, they are going in the right direction but I believe this is not a standard route for a news photo agency, but it is their one, and one that should be taken.

Good luck to them, they’re not perfect but they are doing it.

I find TURI MUNTHE’S (DEMOTIX) reply disingenuous.
Regardless of the squeeze on employment there is always
an open door for images by freelancers to newspaper picture
desks irrespective of a “personal relationship”.

Demotix is however, a solution for the person who happens to be in the right place at the right time (of global importance only) and who wouldn’t normally have a clue who else to send images to.

On an other matter,citizen journalism is incredibly detrimental to professional press photographers, as in the main,no fee is sought, just the misplaced and misguided satisfaction of having a byline. NOTE: the Hungarian picture link TURI mentions doesn’t credit anybody at all !

Interesting comment, I can’t see how Turi’s reply is ‘disingenuous’, but as for the comment on ‘personal relationship’ and open doors. If you have an exclusive photo of value, there is always a door open. But you need to get it in before anyone else.

But I think Turi was referring to the the direct sales to publications, by freelancers, now being limited by the growth of the subscription based business model. This elbows the big agencies in and shuts out the little guy. Editors are then bound by budget to take the agency images, even if they like another, it’s no longer a choice.

I disagree about Demtox being a solution for global importance images only and people not having a clue who to send an image too. If you don’t have a clue how to sell such an image, you won’t have heard of Demotix anyway. Any image with value will easily be sold just by dialling 118118, get a major news publications number and call it. If you can’t work that out, camera’s are also probably beyond comprehension.

The trick is knowing what is saleable.

There are a lot of reasons photojournalists feel threatened currently, if you’re main concern is ‘citizen journalists’, then you need to take better pictures.

The only reason publishers will make use of amateur shots is that a professional wasn’t there to cover it, so this isn’t a loss of earnings concern.

As for credits, it’s not common for revenue generated shots to be credited, unless requested, and this normally means a credit to the agency more often than the shooter.

A photojournalist trying to earn a living will be competing, with other like minded underpaid soles, to get their images in and out first, if not then it’s amateur hour and you won’t be earn a living, most ‘citizen photographers’ won’t even know what they have taken is saleable until a friend tells them to ‘send it to the paper’! Many ‘events’ these days are camera bun-fights, stop and count how many people are sat on a step with the laptop out, they’re filing, they’re selling, everyone else goes to the pub to look at pictures, too late.

Once again it feels strange to defend Demotix but I understand and admire their principles, they are not just selling images. The trend to lambaste them for not being like other press photo agencies is a floored argument, they are not like other agencies. Even worse is the accusations that they are depleting the ability for photojournalists to earn a living.

Are they a good option for a photojournalist to distribute images (the topic), maybe, depends on how you currently distribute. Surely more is better, unless you are assigned to an agency, then it’s not a question.

My beef against citizen journalism is not against taking better pictures
or losing out , but that publishers exploit amateurs and undermine
professionals.Assuming a staffer was not available to cover a story ,then
the only reason they will agree to make use of your image is for no
fee or rights whatsoever.
It is these submissions welcomed on a daily basis,by calls to
“send us you pictures” which make it more and more difficult to earn a living.

I would like to give Demotix credit,but for the record ,i have also failed to sell any images through them.I accept your other points.

I whole heartily agree with the ‘send us your pictures’ comment, many publishers are doing this and this is content for free! This is the real enemy, not citizen journalists or agencies with different business models.

These publishers are not exploiting citizen journalists,they are exploiting the fact that every third person has a DSLR or high MP camera.

But this has nothing to do with Demotix or any agency for that matter. The current trend/economy with all publishers is to cut costs, the first thing any business will do to reduce overheads, is squeeze suppliers.

As for only using your image for credits and no fee, if your image is not saleable or has any monetary worth, you can only expect a credit, if it is however, you can sell it, if one publisher wants it for free, sell it someone else. If you’re not a commercial photographer, you just don’t sell it. An unsaleable image works the same if you’re commercial or not. You don’t make any money.

I think the term ‘citizen journalism’ is very confusing and make the whole discussion complicated. A person who witnesses an event is not a citizen journalist, if they choose to tell the story of what they witnessed, they are acting in a journalistic realm. This doesn’t make them a journalist, except while they are telling they’re story.

There is a large group of people who have been inspired by technology making photography much easier and are now looking for ways to commercialise their hobby, if only to afford more expensive kit. This group are more likely to be considered ‘trainee photojournalists’ or ‘apprentice photojournalists’.

The last group would the semi and fully professional photographers.Trying or earning a living from the craft.

All three are citizens and all three are journalists, in the context where they act as journalists.

Jumping in here again.

1. Jools is 100% right. ‘Citizen Photojournalism’ doesn’t exist.
We reckon that c.90% of our regular contributors (those are the people making money from Demotix) are pros or semi-pros. The rest are amazingly driven amateurs, who are only amateurs because they don’t make a full-time living from their photography. The quality of their work is top notch – as good as anyone’s. The point? Only quality sells.

2. What you call ‘citizen photojournalism’ – those one-off snaps that professionals weren’t there to cover (like the Henry Gates pic, or the plane on the Hudson) – is very simply eye-witnessing. It’s always happened. I’ve listened to our predecessors describing picture sourcing in the 1950s. Train crash at Waterloo, they’d run down, find anyone with a camera, and buy their film roll.
No difference from today, except – of course – the 2.0 web tells the BBC and others they don’t need to pay for the content.
What Demotix does is ensure the photojournalist – whoever they are – gets paid the price they’re owed!
We’re putting payment back into the crowd-sourced model. Why Marc and others get exercised about what we’re up to is beyond me: we’re fighting their fight for them. When we license a picture to the Guardian, we’re licensing it for the same amount they are. We’re on the same side – and if they see us as competition, then they must realise it’s competition based on content not on price.

3. The problem is price point. And because we’re all competing with ‘free’ Creative Commons content on Flickr and elsewhere, we need to be absolutely clear what our competitive advantages are.
If you’re a fantastic photographer, as I said above, with amazing links and relationships, and you can ensure you regularly have pictures everyone wants and nobody has, you’re made.
Otherwise, we all need to think of alternatives.
Demotix is just one of those alternatives. We think – because of our network – we’re more likely to license more imagery. And we’re doing that. Perhaps not as fast as we’d all like, but then we’re 1 yr old, and we’re taking on two enormous oligopolies (the newswires, and the Getty/Corbis monsters). Give us a minute.

And please stop bashing us for killing off paid photojournalism. We’re doing the exact opposite.

The important thing to remember here is that Demotix is an open community to which anybody can contribute, whether you are a working “pro” freelance or just somebody who was in the right place at the right time. The opportunity is open to all.

If anything, Demotix is just giving photojournalists an extra stage to market their work, tell their stories and maybe sell a few pictures every now and again.

As a working photojournalist i’m very happy Demotix exists and wish them the best of luck.

However, i do wish they would reply to emails a bit more promptly 😉

Jools absolutely nailed it with…. (and well said Jools)
“I whole heartily agree with the ‘send us your pictures’ comment, many publishers are doing this and this is content for free! This is the real enemy, not citizen journalists or agencies with different business models.”

This is the biggest factor/enemy by far and away. I know my local newspaper instead of paying will accept low res and print them smaller instead of paying if their man didn’t get the shots. How you beat or compete with that is beyond me.

Demontix isn’t perfect, in fact they have a ways to go. But they are a tool, just like all the other tools we use, they need adjusted a lot to work best, to be fine tuned.

I’m sticking with them for a while yet and see where the ride takes me.

for the genuine scribe to be demotix encourages good journalism and counter attacks employment bias from established media in an industry in need of ethics and standards maintenance and payment issues can be made easier by default selling photos directly to demotix

yeahh I think i have to take a deep breath for a while after take 42 stories upload which cost me 500 bucks and no sales happen to my picture. Upppfhhhhhh #deep breath.

Genuine scribes (photojournalist) V citizen journalism always pops up like traffic lights when working in media. Is it all about money and news? Or money only? Or news only? So far there are mixed views on this good photojournalism must be given its rightful honour like any legit profession.

This makes for good watching and should be all the way to the end.

Marc, I was very interested in you example of the beeb using the same generic image of protesters to tell parts of your story of ‘police interaction’! A big part of the decay of paid work for photojournalists is the cheapening of the story, by the publishers, doing so only works in their favour at the expense of their suppliers, the photojournalist. It’s an excellent example.

It was also good to hear a positive note to end the discussion.

Thanks for posting.