02 November 2010

Genealogy Magazines, Newsletters, Speakers, etc.

This is more opinion than usual. And it's not as organized as I usually am, but that's because my thoughts on this subject are somewhat in flux.

Genealogy print magazines continue to "bit the dust." A genealogy magazine in the UK, Practical Family History, will cease publication in the near future. Ancestry magazine recently ceased publication as well and others in recent years have also stopped publication.

Part of this is due to general trends in the publishing industry and part of it is due to the fact that some genealogy how-to magazines are really not responsive to the needs of the genealogy "public" and that editors of some (not all) genealogy magazines are not actually genealogists. Many of the editors got "into" genealogy because they were hired by a company to edit a genealogy periodical. In some cases, that's part of the problem. Some editors understand editing, but they do not understand genealogy and they do not understand what genealogists need and want in a genealogy periodical. And when editors change, the focus of the periodical changes which also can lead to a decline or change in readership. Some former genealogical periodicals really "watered" down their content in an attempt to reach the masses. The problem is that long-term subscribers were put off by the change.

New readers, who liked the "fluff," were not likely to be long term subscribers, at least in my opinion. A few of the beginners got "converted" to long-term genealogy researchers who end up needing more than fluff after a while. A high number of beginners move on to something else besides genealogy for a variety of reasons. Both groups are not going to renew their subscription. When you are reaching out to beginners, and only beginners, you constantly have to reach out and get new subscribers because experienced people don't want beginning articles all the time and those who lose interest do not renew their subscription anyway.

Periodicals that focus on light pieces end up repeating content after a while. And to be frank, after you've run 6 articles about the 1880 census what else is there to say?

Genealogy newsletters and magazines used to be the place to find out about "news." With the internet, that's no longer true.

Some may say that the blogs are the place to learn genealogy "how-to." I'm not certain of that myself. Most blogs are about personal research and (in my opinion) very few really explain the "how" of research. It takes a great deal of time and practice to write how-to material clearly. Some that do, don't really explain the research adequately or the explanations offered indicate the researcher might not have quite as much experience as they think they do. For many blogging is a great way to share research with others and to reach "new" relatives. There are not so many that really offer expertise to the intermediate or advanced researcher. And the people who have that level of experience often do not have time to really write well on their blog for free. Time blogging takes away from other revenue producing activities.

Some magazines tried to be all things to all people. The problem is that it shows. Trying to please everyone means that you actually please very few people. I see genealogy newsletters (both paid and free) that write on topics where it's clear to those with some experience that the writer really does not know their stuff.

The same can be said of some speakers and lecturers. I recently heard a presenter make a presentation about their research in early twentieth century records. Very interesting and, for the most part, well put together. It was a well-done presentation.

As attendees do, a question was asked that had nothing to do about the presentation. It focused on early seventeenth century research in frontier New York. I'm asked questions that have nothing to do with the lecture I gave and about which I am nearly clueless. I usually indicate that, without using the word "clueless" of course, and provide a general reference and indicate the researcher search for case studies on similar people in the same location for approaches if I can't think of any off the top of my head. The speaker gave an answer and several research suggestions, but it was clear that the question was out of her area of expertise because her answer referenced records that were not available during the frontier period and an approach that was more appropriate for an urban ancestor. She wanted the audience to think she had an answer for every question and "knew everything."

I've always been a big fan of admitting when you don't know something.

I have a few more ideas on genealogy publishing, newsletters, etc. but won't share those here because I'm trying to use them to market Casefile Clues. I've always been wary of people who claim to share "everything they know" about a certain industry, marketing method, etc. Usually people who "know everything" know enough not to share it. For the same reason, I don't believe people who claim to give investment advice. If the advice is so great, why aren't you using it youself?

Sharing what you know about genealogy research is a little different--lots of people aren't going to do it anyway as sometimes it's boring and tedious and people tend to avoid things that are boring and tedious.