The genealogy market is forecast to grow by 11% between now and 2027, becoming a $12Bn business. The problem is that it’s dying; it just doesn’t know it yet.
There are legions of hard-core and casual family historians being well-served by the various genealogy websites such as Ancestry, MyHeritage and FamilySearch. People are building detailed family trees going back many generations.
My father was one of these people. He used to love digging out the slightest clues from census records over 100 years old. When he died several years ago, I kept a copy of the research that he did, but as much as I’m interested in what he discovered, I have no desire to go over the same ground that he did. So, unless I choose to look at a particular branch of the tree, as far as I’m concerned, the job is finished. There’s no reason for me to have a subscription with any of the leading genealogy websites
Genealogy companies have embraced the golden goose of DNA testing without realizing that it is a herald of their doom.
The problem for any subscription-based business is churn, losing customers faster than you’re adding them, or in fact, just losing them at all, because it’s more expensive to add new customers than it is to keep the ones you already have. As family historians like my father grow old and pass away, the torch passes to the next generation, and they don’t need that service anymore.
Now that view is definitely on the pessimistic side, but even if it’s partially true, it leaves the genealogy companies with a growing problem. You might think that the recent boom in DNA testing to find out an individual’s heritage shows that interest in genealogy is alive and well, but the same argument applies. If my mother and father have records based on their DNA, what’s the point in me having one?
And yet, in genealogical DNA testing, we see where the future lies. There’s a subtle difference in motivation between DNA testing and traditional family history research. With traditional research the quest is to find out about our ancestors, who were they, what did they do? A DNA test has nothing to do with the individuals of the past, it’s an answer to the question of “Who am I?”.
Genealogy companies have embraced the golden goose of DNA testing without realizing that it is a herald of their doom. People are less interested in the past than they are in themselves.
What family historians and others are just starting to realize, is that they are the ancestors of future generations, and there is an opportunity to leave a digital personal history that could endure for generations to come.
The tools to create these personal histories now exist, the problem is how to make them persist for generations to come?
Thus, we come to the salvation for the genealogy companies. They have large numbers of subscribers, every one of whom has the potential for a personal history. They can sell a new service to all of their subscribers, one that doesn’t look at the past, but instead looks to the future. They can then turn their attention to solving the substantial problem of ensuring that personal histories can be created, archived, refactored and presented for the generations to come.
Genealogy is dead. Long live mea historia.