NOTE: This article contains personal opinions.
I received a sad note in the mail recently. It came from Debbie Roberge, Editor and Publisher of "The Pine Cone and Tassel," an excellent newsletter devoted to genealogy research in the State of Maine. I have subscribed to this newsletter for several years and was saddened to read Debbie's note. She wrote (in part):
It is with deep regret that I must inform you that "The Pine Cone and Tassel" will cease publication.
Debbie went on for a bit more to explain the reasons for her decision. She specifically cited the cost of gasoline required to do research trips around the state and stated that she could not pass those expenses on to her subscribers. She didn't cite printing and postage costs although I suspect those were also significant. Whatever the root causes, she states that she is unable to continue publication due to financial reasons.
It is interesting to note that Debbie also runs a web site at http://www.pineconeandtassle.com but has always focused primarily on the printed newsletter.
The letter was sad but certainly was not a surprise. Printed genealogy newsletters and magazines alike are disappearing these days. Not only are smaller publications like "The Pine Cone and Tassel" disappearing, but in recent years we also have lost several of the larger, glossy magazines. Genealogical Computing magazine and Heritage Quest Magazine have both disappeared. Everton's Genealogical Helper also disappeared for a while but has since resurfaced under new ownership. Genealogy societies are also feeling the pinch; several have reduced the number of pages in each edition.
Indeed, serving a specialty marketplace with a limited audience is difficult in this day and age of rising fuel prices, printing costs, and postage expenses. I suspect we will see more printed genealogy publications disappear before long.
There is some good news, however. Family Tree Magazine is still in operation and producing a great bi-monthly magazine. (Family Tree Magazine in the United States produced by F+W Publications should not be confused with a British magazine of the same name produced by ABM Publishing Ltd. Both are excellent publications.) The Generations Network continues to publish Ancestry Magazine, another bi-monthly publication, while Family Chronicle magazine appears to be thriving, having launched both Internet Genealogy Magazine and History Magazine in recent years.
So how do some magazines and newsletters survive and grow while others seem to whither away? I am sure there are several answers, involving the expertise of the managers, the skill at selecting relevant articles, the ability to find advertisers, and more. However, one factor that jumps out at me is the Internet.
NOTE: I’ll point out that I am not exactly an unbiased observer, as I publish an Internet publication: Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.
First of all, let's take a look at the list of publications that have folded in the past few years. With the exception of Genealogical Computing, most had no Internet-related material. Oh, they may have carried an occasional article about "favorite genealogy web sites" or something similar, but most were what I would call "regular printed magazines." I would certainly apply that label to "The Pine Cone and Tassel" as well as to Heritage Quest Magazine. Both were full of excellent genealogy articles, but both were distributed by traditional (and expensive) methods: printing on paper and distributing via standard mail. Both had web sites that seemed to serve only as "online brochures:" the web sites only provided advertising for the magazine. The sites did not contain (much) content from the printed version.
Now let's compare that to the other magazines that have survived:
Family Tree Magazine: a very active web site at http://www.familytreemagazine.com, complete with additional material that doesn't appear in the printed version. In effect, Family Tree Magazine is a combined on-line and off-line magazine.
Family Chronicle magazine, Internet Genealogy magazine and History Magazine: these three publications from Moorshead Magazines Ltd. have done an excellent job of leveraging the Internet to attract new subscribers. In fact, subscribers can elect to have Internet Genealogy magazine delivered via traditional means as a printed magazine that arrives in the mail or as an "e-publication" that arrives in e-mail. Those who subscribe to the online edition receive a small discount. Details may be found at http://www.familychronicle.com.
At first glance, Ancestry Magazine appears to be a traditional printed magazine. However, it is backed by The Generations Network, owners of the largest online genealogy web sites in the world as well as the most powerful advertising department in genealogy. The magazine's web site at http://www.ancestrymagazine.com seems underpowered, but the magazine continues because of its past reputation, its excellent articles from top-notch authors, and The Generations Network’s powerhouse advertising department. Even with this power and expertise, the company could not keep afloat the sister publication, Genealogical Computing.
So, in summation, it appears the secret of success is the Internet. Of course, the Internet should not be used simply as an advertising medium; the successful magazines seem to have printed editions that are fully integrated with and supplemented by their web sites.
Of course, some genealogy publications are purely online efforts. I'll proudly point out that Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter has been in business for more than twelve years. Although a tiny effort with tightly controlled expenses, this daily e-publication continues to publish and is still growing at a modest rate with both a free version and a $19.95/year "Plus Edition." It is obviously tightly integrated with the Internet. In fact, it is only available on the web or in e-mail.
Digital Genealogist is a rather new (18 months) e-magazine edited and produced by noted genealogy author and editor Liz Kelley Kerstens, CG, CGL. The magazine focuses on the use of technology in genealogy and its various applications. This bi-monthly publication sells for $19.95 a year and has produced excellent articles, published in PDF format. This e-publication is obviously tightly integrated with the web. The Digital Genealogist is only available by e-mail. Details may be found at http://www.digitalgenealogist.com.
Is there a lesson or two to be learned from all of this? I think so. The first lesson is nothing new: we all are very aware of rising expenses in almost every endeavor in life. Publishing newsletters and magazines is no exception: printing, postage, and even office expenses climb dramatically every year. If a magazine raises its subscription fees to match the rising expenses, the magazine's owners soon find themselves without subscribers. This creates a fascinating quandary, but solutions are available. Avoiding printing costs and postage costs can lead to a financially successful endeavor: publish on the web and/or by e-mail.
Another lesson to be learned is that readers expect to see a web site that includes or at least supplements the printed publication. Publishing solely on paper appears to be a business model that is fading away. Newspapers are abandoning that model, national magazines are adding interactive web sites to attract readers, and now genealogy magazines need to do the same. The majority of the successful genealogy publications publish both on paper and online or perhaps solely online.
If you are thinking of starting a new publication or perhaps resuscitating an existing publication that is saddled with high expenses, you might conceive a plan that is at least partially Internet-based. Publish online or else supplement your printed material with online content. There are several examples today that prove that the online business model works and works well.