Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Money, Money, Money and Genealogy

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That's too bad
In my dreams I have a plan
If I got me a wealthy man
I wouldn't have to work at all, I'd fool around and have a ball

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It's a rich man's world

All of the posts lately about making money or spending it on genealogy reminded me of the 1976 ABBA song. The song became a number-one chart hit in Australia, Belgium, France, West Germany, The Netherlands and New Zealand, while reaching the top three in Austria, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway and Switzerland. This was ABBA's fifth consecutive number-one single in Australia. Wikipedia.  The words don't fit the discussion much but, hey, it was a catchy song.

Now, down to business. Just a short time ago I did a post on the demographics of those who read genealogy Blogs and mine in particular. I might note that that demographic group is not known for spending a lot of money. Why do genealogists think they can differentiate their services from any other group in the market place?

Here is an example. Back in the early 90s, I had a Web Design/Graphic Design company. Yes, I was one of the first in my neighborhood to design web pages. We could make money charging people to put up websites. Then, what happened. As the Web matured, everyone got on the bandwagon. I would talk to a potential customer about a website, show some ideas and quote a price. Eventually, I always got the same answer. "Oh, my sixteen year old neighbor knows all about computers and he is doing a site for me." So how does this apply to genealogy?

Have you seen any of the ads on TV for lately? What is the one thing that they are selling? It can be summarized in one word: EASY. They repeat over and over how easy it is to do genealogy. If it is so easy to do genealogy, then why would any sane person pay big bucks to hire me or anyone else to do the work?

In other words, we have been so successful in convincing the public that what we do is easy, we haven't left anything we can charge for. Genealogists are no different than any other service, most of the customers think the product is too expensive. Genealogy is definitely discretionary spending. No one loses weight from not getting enough genealogy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American spends only about 1.8 percent of their income on miscellaneous expenditures. See That comes out to be roughly about $1000 a year or so depending on age. Everything else comes first.

To be a little bit serious, the issue has three components; the spending habits of the demographic group who would even consider genealogical services, the amount of income that group has to spend on a purely discretionary service, and last, the perceived value of that service as depicted in the media.

In order to make money at genealogy you need to produce a product or service that has a perceived value to the customer. Good Luck, you have an uphill battle.

That said, can you make money? Yes, definitely. Look at the list of specialties on the website of the Association of Professional Genealogists and you will get a good idea of how people are doing just that, differentiating their services to produce a perceived value.


  1. James, you are a jewel, but is there not a little arithmetic problem? You said, "The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American spends only about 1.8 percent of their income on miscellaneous expenditures. See That comes out to be roughly about $1000 a year or so depending on age. Everything else comes first."

    Your conclusion suggests average adult annual income is $55,556. The US Census Bureau estimate for 2010 was that ~median~ *household* income in the United States was $46,326 (half above and half below that figure). I am having trouble finding an *average* household income, much less *average* adult income for all adults. So take the median, if there is an average of 1.6 adults per household, then the median adult income would be $29,854. I still think that is way high.

  2. I totally agree with your comment about Ancestry's ads. At a talk given by a representative of Ancestry, the audience (genealogical society members) made it clear what they thought of 'You don't have to know what you're looking for - you just have to start looking' (or similar). Needless to say the representative was unsympathetic, because the whole idea of the ad is to attract newcomers who don't yet know any better.

    The 'fun, profit, career' discussions have been interesting and in many cases quite helpful. My point of view is on Genealogy Leftovers.