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

Friday, September 27, 2013

Is Genealogy now in the Mainstream?

Two of the books I consider essential for survival in today's media driven world are the following:
  • Huff, Darrell, and Irving Geis. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: Norton, 1954.
  • Best, Joel. Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
The issue of the reliability of statistics doesn't come up too often in the context of genealogy, but from time to time there are news articles that catch my eye. The one today from Dick Eastman is entitled "More than 80 Million Professional and Amateur Genealogists around the World!" The post refers to another article published on a Voice of America newsletter entitled, "Technology, Word of Mouth Help Genealogy Hit the Mainstream." The Voice of America article refers further to another study described as follows:
A market research firm, Global Industry Analysts, says there are more than 80 million professional and amateur genealogists around the world. It projects the market for genealogy products and services will reach $4.3 billion by 2018, nearly double from last year.
There are two things that immediately caught my eye. First, the generalized number of 80 million and second projections of the market share for genealogy products and services. This type of statistical quotation with a projection is usually highly suspect. This type of report is even more suspect when there are no source citations or links to support the claims. Here is the Global Industry Analysts, Inc. Company Profile:
Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA) is a reputed publisher of off-the-shelf market research. Recognized as one of the most consistently accurate forecasting company in the world, GIA currently serves more than 9,500 companies from 36 countries worldwide. The company was founded in 1987, initially recognized globally as a research boutique specializing in the medical industry. Over the past 25 years, the company expanded its coverage and now publishes extensively upon more than 180 major industries.
The first question is, of course, who paid for the analysis of the genealogy market?  Here is the report, which by the way, came out on 11 January 2012, hardly new news. The summary of the report is entitled, "Online Researchers Spur Growth of Genealogy Industry, According to a New Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc." Here is the lead in summary paragraph:
Genealogical enthusiasts are spending between US$1000 to US$18000 a year to discover his or her roots. The growth of the genealogy research market is being spurred by the spending of over 84 million genealogists. Emerging trends, such as male adoptees using consumer DNA tests to discover their surname, are expected to further promote growth of this industry. In January 2009, the number of individuals undergoing genetic genealogy testing to ascertain their lineage reached almost 765,000, displaying a considerable increase from nearly 650,000 individuals taking the test as of November 2007.
The links are to copies of the reports which cost $1,450 each. Market research companies do not make money by telling people that the market is not large and is not growing. You can probably tell by now that I am highly skeptical of these kinds of reports. Especially where the analysts are making money selling their projections.

Is there some way to determine whether or not some or all of the claims made in this paragraph and quoted in the newsletter from the Voice of America are even reasonably possible? Let's examine the claim to 84 million genealogists (laying aside for a minute the issue of defining a genealogist).

Here are some facts from websites about genealogically related companies etc. has approximately 2.7 million worldwide subscribers across their family history sites. Remember they have quite a number of different sites. has more than 75 million members. If's members are all considered genealogists, then the number of 80 million is easily supportable.

We don't have to much further to find support other than to multiply the combined number of users of the two websites by their annual subscription rate to see how much money is rolling into the genealogical community. Even with approximate billings estimated, the news article and the study have vastly under-estimated the genealogical community. If you figure in the amount spent by, and many, many other websites, genealogy is a vastly larger business than shown by the analysts. In fact, if the estimates in the article were even mathematically consistent the figures would be wrong. For example, if all of the 84 million genealogical enthusiasts were spending only $1000 apiece, that would be 1000 x 84,000,000 or $84 billion dollars.

But the question is, from a world wide perspective, do these numbers put genealogy in the "mainstream?" (Whatever that is?) Here are some figures:

Americans spend $110 billion a year on fast food. Think of the rest of the world.
In 2010 Internet advertising spending was over $26 billion

Well, I could go on and on. But the point is that genealogy is a big business and certainly in the mainstream, but the guys who made the claims cited in the article are probably a little off the mark.

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