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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Comments from the Vendors -- The Future of Genealogy Conferences

I will not be mentioning any names. Nor will I be identifying any people, but during the past few months, I have had the opportunity to discuss the economics of genealogy conferences with several very active vendors. These are the people that set up booths or tables at conferences with the hope that they will sell enough of their product to make up the expenses of going to the conferences or even make a profit. The overall picture that they paint is dismal. Unless they are fortunate to be subsidized by a major corporation, collectively they are not optimistic about attending conferences in the future. If they are subsidized by one of the larger vendors, they are cutting back and only attending very large conferences.

There are two ways to look at conference attendance; as an advertising expense or as a sales opportunity. Some vendors are there only for the exposure. Others need to make sales to continue business. Who buys genealogically related products at a conference? That is the question to answer. Many genealogy companies are very small business and a significant number would fall into the category of "mom and pop" operations. If they are carefully watching the trends and have gone to a few conferences, they likely have moved as much of their business as possible to direct Internet sales. If I were in the genealogy business, I would be looking for some other way to make a living.

Why is all this happening? Lately, I have been talking about shifts in the way genealogy is conducted. We are definitely moving from a paper-based, individually maintained pursuit to an online, collaborative model. If you are a seasoned, experienced genealogist, you may be conducting your research pretty much the same way you did ten or even twenty years ago. But you are living an anachronism. It wouldn't occur to a younger potential genealogist to begin his or her search for ancestors other than online and use one of the online family tree programs. Unless, as a business, you are not addressing this exclusively online market, you will probably not be making many sales in the future.

But why and how does this affect the genealogy conferences? Well, I could make a list:

  • Webinars
  • Online teleconferences
  • Pod casts
  • Webcasts
  • YouTube Videos
  • Local free conferences
The list could go on and on. Let's say you would think about going to a conference to see one of your "favorite" genealogy experts in person. Now what if you had just watched him or her in a live webinar, where you got to ask questions. Are now anxious to fork over cold hard cash to travel to a conference? One concrete example is the major U.S. conference now coming up on its fifth year: RootsTech. Many of the presentations at RootsTech were recorded on videos and distributed to over 600+ locations throughout the world. We all ready know that will happen again this year a much larger scale. This is a huge benefit to the individual genealogist. It makes available talented presentations that would never have come to a local conference. All of these conferences have been and will be free to the public. If you know that you will have a "free" conference in your area in the near future, why would you plan to pay to travel to a larger conference? Especially, if the same people were teaching at your local conference by video?

Younger genealogists are used to watching YouTube and other online presentations. They are involved in Facetime, Google+ Hangouts and other direct video communication. Genealogy does not generate super-star movie actors. Genealogy does not create rock stars or teenage idols. You do not see young people wearing teeshirts blazoned with genealogy company logos. Genealogy does not have the interest of a Comicon, a rock concert or a Star Trek conference. 

There you go. The smaller free conferences do not need or support vendors. The genealogist benefit from the increased opportunities to learn and mingle with fellow genealogists. If they like, they can still go to one of the big conferences, but the smaller commercially operated conferences no longer support vendors. 

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