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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is genealogy just another market?

We are all smothered in advertising. Almost everything we buy, even the produce at the market comes with some kind of label. To say that the communications channels are jammed with commercial advertising is a vast understatement. I am looking at my computer screen and see dozens of logos, ads and enticements to buy. Cars, buses, and buildings are plastered with advertising. Almost every app on my iPhone contains some kind of advertising message. Have you tried to buy your children or grandchildren clothes that don't have some kind of prominent logo? So are we, as genealogists, just another market segment and a very small one at that?

If you go to a larger genealogy conference, a significant portion of the presenters are really selling something, a software program, a genealogy service or some other product. Even if the product is "free" whatever that means, you are still being sold something at every turn. So am I a part of the genealogy market? A consumer of genealogical products? Is there some marketing firm out there trying to figure out what it will take to entice me to spend money on their genealogical product?

Of course there is. Even though my perception of the genealogical community is that they are one of the hardest markets to sell that you can imagine, products do survive and even prosper in the genealogical community and I have to admit that I am on the advertising bandwagon by trying to write and sell books about genealogy. So is this blog just a subversive front for an advertising scheme? Aha, now I have you in my clutches!! Hmm.

Yes, genealogy is a market, just as fishermen, skateboarders, chess players, university professors, astronauts, and presidents of countries and everyone else in world are part of some market. Advertising and selling may not be bad, per se, but our reaction to advertising can be. You might notice that I said, "may not be bad." Some advertising is evil. People are trying to get you to do things or buy things that are not only against your best interests, but are destructive and can destroy your life. Fortunately, there is almost none of this in the genealogy community. Some genealogical products may not be exactly as advertised, but they are not harmful in any absolute sense.

You can always argue that commercialism is bad, but most of the advances in our particular field have come about because someone wanted to sell something, even if the service or product was and is "free." So, we should be glad there are some people who want to sell things to the genealogists. If this were not the case, for example, we would not have the fabulous wealth of online database offerings. We would not have excellent programs for storing and organizing our family information. We would not have reference books and resources in abundance. None of these benefits would have come about without someone wanting to make a few dollars (or more) from genealogists.

So what should be our attitude towards those who would market to genealogists? Should we think of them as a bothersome annoyance and ignore the ads and walk by the vendors at genealogy conferences? In my opinion, that is exactly the opposite of what we should do. I think we all need to be vitally interested in any new or better products offered to genealogical community. We can't buy every program or book or organizer, but we should still encourage anyone who wants to try to support the community with products. We should welcome the vendors at our conferences and be grateful that someone cares enough about genealogy to try to sell us something.

Do what most of us do anyway, if you don't like the world's ads, then tune them out. But don't forget to tune them in when they deal with genealogy.


  1. You know I WANT to buy things; that is why I am part of a market.
    I have just been to my first two genealogy conferences, and there were sellers at each. I bought something at each conference, but I LEARNED more than I bought. I paid for access to this learning, but the presenters gave away LOTS of information.
    You and other bloggers give us you expertise all the time. Genealogy is a market. It is also a meeting place of some of the most incredibly helpful and generous folk in the entire world.
    Sue McCormick

  2. AMEN. I've always found it interesting that so many genealogists are simultaneously politically conservative and anti-capitalist (at least when it comes to genealogy companies).

    I think the fact that companies have recognized the potential of the genealogy market is a great thing. In the nearly 20 years I've been doing reserach, the number of resources I have has grown tremendously. That's good.

    If I don't like a company, product or service, I can vote with my dollars. It's a good system. What's not to like?