When US Air flight 1549 touched down on the Hudson River, all aboard were saved but the major news organs got smoked: They didn’t break the news or the pictures. Instead we got both in nearly real-time, via eye witnesses on Twitter. Naturally, there’s a company stepping in to make that reality into a business model.
It’s telling that one of the major investors is the France-Press Agency—one of the biggest photo services in the world. Just like Getty Image, an industry behemoth that is partnering with Flickr, France-Press seems to be hedging against trouble: Though the trend has escaped notice, professional photographers (and the agencies that represent them) are seeing their business models collapse beneath them, just like journalists and musicians. Advertising companies and media outlets that used to buy from stock photo agencies increasingly just log on to Flickr or iStockPhoto and pay next to nothing for the picture they want. That effect has so far been much less pronounced in the photo news market, though Citizen Side and its ilk might change that.
Yet the big challenge to their model won’t be the big agencies. Will they be able to build a network big enough and far-flung enough to give photo buyers what they’re looking for? And, if you’re a photo editor, why pay Citizen Side when you can just use the next guy’s freely licensed pic on Flickr or Twitter? Whatever happens, the shift in media content out of the hands of professionals, and into the scrum of the crowd has never looked more inevitable.