But, as a business decision, I understand Getty's move completely: fundamentally, the Scoopt model doesn't work.
That's not to say that people don't want to sell their newsworthy images; many of them do. Nor is to say that the mainstream media has little appetite for such pictures; it most certainly does (note, that's newsworthy pictures we're talking about, not 24,000 snapshots of snow). But it is to say – in my personal but rather battle-weary opinion - that the dedicated cit-j agency model isn't the way forward.
While it's a no-brainer to say (as I did endlessly) that whenever news breaks there's likely to be a punter with a cameraphone on the scene before a pro, the chances of that punter already being a member of your agency, or even having heard of it, are vanishingly small.
It doesn't matter how much marketing budget you throw at this, nor how clever you are with partnerships and iPhone apps: it's simply impossible to reach sufficient potential contributors to have a sporting chance of getting the next scoop. There are precious few scoops to begin with so you're forever chasing odd crumbs from a skinny slice of the editorial pie.
When Janis Krums photographed the plane that crash-landed on the Hudson river, he sent his photo to TwitPic directly from his phone. Only after the event did he consider that maybe he could – I would argue should - have been compensated for the widespread commercial usage of his image. A cit-j agency would have looked after him, of course, but he didn't belong to any agency - nor will the next right-place-right-time snapper or most of the ones after that.
Crucially, too, his instinct as a witness to an extraordinary event was to share his photo, not sell it. My instinct would be the same. But that doesn't mean I'd let a newspaper use my photo for free given the choice.
When Krums uploaded his picture, what if he had had the option to control licensing there and then? I'm talking about a simple one-click option to, for instance, permit free usage and distribution of his image for non-commercial ends but reserve the right to charge for commercial usage. A Creative Commons (CC) licence with commercial partners tie-in would do the trick (as indeed Scoopt prototyped with CC).
If he wasn't aware that this option existed, you can be sure that some of the tens of thousands of people who viewed his image would tell him pretty pronto. That's all it should require: a flag that tells media editors that yes, they can use the image - but they're going to be billed for it retrospectively.
Maybe it's as simple as a tag or a keyword (something Scoopt tried with Flickr two years ago). Whatever the mechanism, it should have these features:
- Must work in any online environment or platform: TwitPic, Flickr, Moblog, wherever. We need a universally recognized tag - #breaking or similar.
- A search engine that finds #breaking tagged content wherever it appears and ranks it by popularity (views) and buzz (e.g. retweets). This would filter out inappropriate use of the tag (enough snow already) and propel genuinely breaking news to the top. Quite an asset in any newsroom.
- No up-front agency membership required.
The real trick is being able to find, suck in and license that (very occasional) #breaking image or video – without building a dedicated cit-j agency around it.
Kyle MacRae is the founder of Scoopt and writes at The Midlife Crunch.