18 January 2009

Genealogy and the economy

Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings wrote a post on how the economy will affect genealogy, and Leland Meitzler of Genealogyblog has also also written this post with the same focus.

Randy offered some interesting comments on a variety of topics. Genealogy businesses (including websites, publications, software) may find fewer customers among both newcomers and a lower renewal rate for subscription site members. He writes:

If the economy has a high inflation rate, then older genealogists living on a fixed income will really suffer due to higher prices and stagnant income. The result will be fewer long trips and vacations, fewer books and magazines purchased, fewer software and database purchases, and perhaps more visits to close repositories along with more use of the Internet (assuming it is not priced much higher). Nobody has a crystal ball about the current and future economy, or the impact on a group of people. My hope is that the recession is short and the country has a short recovery to steady growth. Obviously, the tax, spending and monetary policies of the new administration will affect the economy, and by extension the genealogy industry.
Even Economics 101 students know that fewer customers plus higher subscription and material prices may equal some business closures. Public institutions such as libraries and government archives may reduce hours and services or raise fees.

I certainly agree with Randy that more printed newsletters, journals and magazines may be going over to online status (and, in my opinion, should have done this some time ago) thus saving money for subscribers, as well as printing costs and postage for the sponsoring entity. Nothing beats holding a printed journal in one's hand - and they look so nice on our shelves - but if the choice is between an online version, closing down a publication or print subscriptions not renewed, online (or PDF) seems the better action. As one example, Everton's Genealogical Helper offers a choice (print subscription or lower-cost online access) to subscribers.

A continuing bad economy means that a good number of researchers may well cut back on expendable income outlay. While Randy indicates that national seminars and conferences could well see fewer people flying in or looking for less expensive accommodations, I also believe that local and close-in regional conferences (one example would be the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree) and seminars will benefit from the larger participation of those already "in the neighborhood."

A reduction in financial resources earmarked for hobbies - even passionate ones like genealogy - will definitely impact book sales, magazine subscriptions, for-fee website renewals. I wouldn't be surprised to see professional organization membership renewals also suffering.

My genealogy expenditures have always been impacted by where we live. Books are always expensive, and international postage sometimes make acquiring materials impossible. Conferences in North America are big-ticket items when international flights are figured in. For this reason, I've always looked to online resources as much as possible. Records may be available in various archives, but if those records are available online, it makes more sense for me and for other international researchers to utilize those.

While we geneabloggers are always saying that not everything can be done sitting at home in our collective bunny slippers and pajamas, an extended downturn means researchers will depend much more on accessible-from-home resources.

Everything is a balancing act and will become more so if the situation continues.

As far as conferences and seminars, nothing beats attending a conference in person and staying at the venue hotel for the uplifting experience of meeting interesting people and learning from experts. I am a firm believer in conference attendance - if it is possible.

I suggest that event organizers should begin investigating innovations to allow the participation of researchers, who live at great distances, via today's technology. Organizers might consider a lower fee, based on distance from the venue.

Conference sponsors who figure out a way to help people participate "virtually" - rather than simply not attend at all - will be the winners.

I'll end this post with Leland's words, which sums up the balancing act that each person may face at some point in his or her life:
I’m old enough that I remember the great depression. No, I did not live in the 1930s - but my parents did, and they never seemed to quite get out of it, so I got a dose of it as youngster myself. If you have to choose between eating and doing genealogy research, eating wins every time. If you have to choose between staying warm, and genealogy, staying warm wins. If you have to choose between a roof over your head and genealogy, the roof wins. Get my point?
Interesting views and I hope more bloggers will be chiming in. Of course, I am looking optimistically at a quick economic turn around for everyone.

Which is better in your opinion? A researcher who can't possibly attend an in-person event due to travel and/or hotel fees (multiplied by many such individuals), or a prospective attendee who can and will participate using today's technology at lower access fees?

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