We would like to begin by acknowledging the amount of time it has taken AREP to develop answers to your questions. We can understand that, from your perspective, it feels like it has taken far too long to get back to you. For that, we apologize. Each board member works very long hours trying to run our respective companies. As such, we are trying to dedicate as much time as we can to the development and management of AREP. Your patience is much appreciated!
It's humbling to see how engaged the PFRE community has been with the launch of AREP. Admittedly, we should've been more thoughtful in our preparation for the launch and the language we've used in our initial announcement. Since the launch, we have had several positive conversations with industry members and are confident that things are moving in the right direction. That being said, there is work to be done with regard to clearly identifying needs and communicating the future direction of AREP. We need your help and input in both of these regards.
At this point, we'd like to offer answers to the questions that came out of Brandon's analysis of the themes he found within your comments on our launch:
1. How many of the 2500 members are independent photographers?
At the current time, our membership is drawn from 20 or so companies that have 1-2 photographers; 10 companies are on-board that employ 1-20 photographers, and we have 6 companies that contract over 100 photographers. One of our most significant challenges has been to establish high membership numbers quickly. It is imperative that we do this to get the attention of the likes of MLS and NAR which have hundreds of thousands of independent contractors, brokers, and realty teams under one umbrella. I know it sounds political but right or wrong, power comes from numbers. Without the larger companies joining the independent photographers, we simply would not get a seat at the real estate industry table.
Because of this reality, when we started AREP, we needed to get numbers up very quickly. So, many of the founding companies agreed to pay for membership for the independent contractors that work with them. Doing so was not meant to be exclusionary in any way; we were simply trying to build a critical mass to show the real estate industry that there are thousands of people affected by the policies and practices of the real estate industry--people that we hope will be represented by the association. The association will only work if the majority of the real estate photography industry, which is mainly individuals and small businesses, engages and participates.
2. Why were no independent photographers invited/consulted when forming AREP?
We've actually invited hundreds of independents to take part in the initial meetings, including PFRE leadership, to ensure we didn't leave anyone out. Twelve independent operators joined the group, which outnumbered the representation from the large companies.
We invited several hundred independent photographers to the organizational meeting in February, along with Brandon. Unfortunately, the timeline and the money involved to come prevented many from making it, however, we did have several sole proprietors in attendance. Each provided meaningful input and shared many of your same concerns. Feel free to reach out to them directly; we would be happy to connect you. We are sorry we could not accommodate a general open invitation. We could only manage a small group. We assure you that there'll be plenty of opportunities to get together at future events and we look forward to meeting you there.
We are still in the very early stages. To date, we have only established a platform that will be recognized by the other significant real estate associations. Our goal is to have the membership drive the direction of the association and make it everything you want it to be. With all that said, nothing will happen unless committed members who want to grow real estate photography, step up and take action.
Finally, we hope you will appreciate that a vast majority of the time that's been spent forming AREP has been devoted to the inner workings of setting up the foundation of what we hope will be a large organization. This involves spending a lot of time on operational considerations (e.g., legal, financial, and cooperation considerations.) Now that AREP is formed, it is entirely up to the membership to make decisions on how it will operate and be governed. In particular, those who are willing to step up and actively participate in committees and working groups are critical. There is a lot of work to be done to make the association a vibrant and productive organization. It will take the commitment, focus, and effort of a lot of individuals.
3. In the set of service agreements and usage licenses that are being developed, who retains ownership of the media?
US copyright law states that the creators of the works/intellectual property control who and how their works are used. In the case of a fragmented and relatively small real estate photography industry working within an industry controlled by some very large firms, this tends to get lost in the shuffle. Property data has been a point of contention within the real estate industry. It is incumbent upon AREP to educate and enforce the fact that the licenses and rights are granted by the original author--not the user. In general, most concerns regarding licenses and rights come into play with third parties, and after the subject listing is sold, not with direct clients of our members.
4. How is AREP's leadership structured?
The governance of AREP is still being developed. One proposal is to have 11 Board of Director (BOD) seats; 3 filled by large companies, 3 filled by small companies, and three filled by individual members, with 2 for independents. Any/all members would vote on the individuals filling those seats. From there, the priorities of the association can be voted on, and working groups created to pursue those goals.
5. Can you please clarify the membership fees/structure?
Membership dues are in place to cover the operating cost of AREP. Contributions are "per company," based on the number of photographers in the company. The goal was to find the most inclusive way to cover as many photographers as possible. The companies also wanted AREP to be a benefit to their photographers so they could get discounts to training, conventions, etc.
The initial membership fees were set at a rate high enough to discourage anyone who is not a serious professional from joining the organization but only high enough to help fund the anticipated operations of the association. It is expected that a majority of the operating funds will come from affiliate members/sponsors who will benefit from having access to our industry as a whole. Larger companies can provide corporate memberships to the independent contractors that work with them and to receive a discount based on the number of members they pay for.
6. If there are independents who want to get involved and take on some responsibility with AREP, how do they go about doing that?
Just like we invited those we spoke with, we are inviting you. If you want to elevate the field of real estate photography and you feel strongly about a topic, let's discuss how you can use the AREP platform to make that happen. Feel free to reach out directly at any time.
7. Is AREP a non-profit? Will the association be transparent with their financials?
We are in the process of applying for non-profit status; it takes some time. We are working in an industry with NAR, one of the most influential associations in the world. The professionals we need to employ are expensive (i.e., lawyers, consultants, executives, etc.). I assure you that you will have access to see the financials in the future. Currently, we are volunteers donating our time and money.
The entire reason for creating the association was to create a forum and a voice for the individuals who participate in this industry. All funds collected by the association will be applied to these efforts. A treasurer will be elected, and a finance committee of the BOD will be elected to ensure that the funds are being put to the best use to achieve these goals.
8. Why create a new association? Why not just be a spin-off of another photographer association?
Several of the existing photographer associations were approached about being the home to a real estate photographers sub-group. Only the Digital Media Licensing Association put forth a serious proposal. In the end, the first working group felt that while licensing is a key reason for coming together, the real estate photography industry would be best served by having an association dedicated to the unique aspects of our business. We intend to work closely with organizations like the DMLA and Copyright Alliance, but we also aim to address needs that are specific to our members only.
9. The idea of "certification" raised some concerns. Can you clarify what is required in this regard?
When talking about certification, we're merely talking about finding a way to ensure that photographers/photography companies in our industry are licensed and insured so that we can continue to promote consistency and professionalism. Certification might not be the best word; perhaps designation is more fitting.
10. How do we keep the conversation going?
The only way we know to overcome skepticism is to do more of the things that increase credibility and trustworthiness… We know that deeds speak. We recognize that AREP must improve communication and be more effective in how we share information. So to support increased and more effective communication, we've put some infrastructure in place. For example, we have added a Slack Channel for instant communication on several topics and member support.
We have also added a Forum to discuss essential topics; and given that copyright seems to be highest among all concerns, we would like to start off with that topic for the Forum. As an FYI, AREP has hired lawyers to review licensing documents again, and all members will have access to use these documents with their agents if they choose.
We would like to thank you once again for your patience and cooperation. Please feel free to reach out directly with questions and concerns, and we would encourage you to make use of the slack channel to suggest forum topics.