You are here

Genealogy – What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?


[Editor’s Note: this is the third in a week-long series of posts at GeneaBloggers entitled Genea-Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money).]

“Well, You Pay Your Plumber, Don’t You?” – A Parable

A few years ago I had a discussion with a well-known speaker and educator in the genealogy industry. She was approached by a genealogy society to speak at a society event. After much back and forth in terms of travel etc., the organizer stated, “Just so you know, we can’t pay you a speaker’s fee. We’re a small society.” The speaker simply said, “Well, you pay your plumber, don’t you?”

Genealogy Services – Honoring The True Value

The key words for me here are “honor” and “value” when it comes to determining what my services as a genealogist are worth. And for this post I am using the term genealogist broadly to include my services as an author, an educator and everything I do to make a living in this industry.

Value is determined not only by what I say a service is worth but also what the market is willing to bear. If I price a webinar, for instance, too high, I won’t get the attendance I need to make money or break even. If I price the same webinar too low or free, then I also can’t have that income stream to cover expenses.

Does the genealogy community really value specific services provided by genealogists? Do most consumers or potential consumers realize what goes into preparing a webinar or a book or a research report? Perhaps we should be faulted as genealogists in not making it clear to the consumer.

Take one of my webinars or presentations, for instance.  I spend about 30 hours developing both the syllabus (four page minimum) and the slides for each one.  I charge between $100 and $150 per presentation depending upon the format (live or virtual), the venue, etc. I also do give a price break to those societies in which I have an active membership.

So what does a society get for its $150 when they hire me? For a recent Facebook for Genealogists presentation that I gave:

  • A huge almost standing-room only crowd showed up. Several first timers who have a potential for becoming new society members.
  • One hour of quality genealogy education filled with slides and live demos of Facebook and how genealogists can use the application effectively.
  • A six page handout included step-by-step instructions on how to not only set up a Facebook account but also deal with privacy issues.
  • Many questions were answered both during the presentation and afterwards. In fact, I was at the meeting for almost two and a half hours.
  • Publicity on all my websites and blogs for the event and the society.

Did the society get its money’s worth? I think so and I believe the society would agree with me. Does $150 cover my expenses for that presentation? Well, not one iteration of it but if I give the presentation 10 times in a year it does.

By the way, I don’t do a presentation like this everyday.  I do perhaps two or three a month at about $150 a pop. Not a living on its own but when combined with my other efforts (which I’ll explain more about in tomorrow’s post), it is a decent segment of my income each month.

The Spending Habits of the Genealogy Demographic

I’m always amazed at the folks who say they can’t afford $19.95 for a 90 minute webinar complete with handouts yet I see them drop $200 on genealogy books at a conference. I don’t know that enough studies have been done on the spending habits of those in the genealogy community. I’d love to see a survey that not only asks what is purchased and for how much, but also asks what a fair price is for a webinar, a live presentation, a research report, etc.

Everything Is Free, Right?

This is what irks me the most.  Recently, one of the attendees at one of my free webinars emailed me, very upset that I had decided to not have a free handout but to bundle it with the sale of the webinar CD. I explained that a) the webinar was free and consisted of quality genealogy education and b) that the webinar sponsor had made the recorded version (with pause and play buttons) available for 10 days after the original presentation. The attendee had ample opportunity to takes notes and view the webinar as often as she wanted.

A syllabus or a handout is my intellectual property into which I put a lot of work. It has taken years of education and writing to achieve a style of writing that works for me and my students. And just because you are given that syllabus at a presentation doesn’t mean you can pass it around like a cold at a daycare center or post it on the Internet. It has my copyright at the very bottom and I’m very clear about what can and can’t be done with it.

I think this perception of “everything is free” has gotten out of hand and I’m not sure how it started.  Perhaps because as genealogists we deal with public domain documents so much that folks feel everything on the Internet is free. There is a dire need for education on what is free and what free really means. does use public domain documents but what you pay for is the ease of access and search mechanisms which are Ancestry’s intellectual property. The same would apply if you were to compile an index of public domain documents and sell it as a self-published author.  You’ve done the work, you’ve made it easy for the researcher to find the information, you have a right to sell the “derivative work” at a fair price.

Is the Freemium Concept the Right Concept for Genealogy?

I think the jury is still out on whether the “freemium” concept is a good thing.  I think it might raise expectations of the genealogy consumer for free everything without follow-through of purchasing the premium content such as the syllabus, the CD or the book, in the case of a webinar. But there is still a mindset that would balk at even a $4.95 price on a webinar believe it or not.

Right now monetizing your skills as a genealogist especially in an online setting via webinars, book sales etc. is relatively new to the industry believe it or not.  I think the market and what the market will bear is still being determined.


I think that over the next two years the genealogy industry will see a shift towards true valuation of genealogy services and products by the genealogy consumer. This will come about only if we as service providers engage in an education campaign while still providing quality content. We need to hold our ground. When people try to devalue the worth of our services they devalue us and all the hard work we put into creating quality content.

I’m not longer shy in telling people what I feel my services are worth. I try to value my work realistically and attractively. It’s a free market and a free country. If you think you can do better elsewhere, then go elsewhere.

And please don’t ask me to do something as a volunteer or guilt me into believing that the genealogy community has been built on volunteerism. I currently perform between 40 and 60 hours of genealogy volunteer work a week. And I know I’m not the only genealogist who is under intense pressure at home to do less volunteer work and more paid work.  Each time I mention a new project, the response is “so are you getting paid for this or not?”

As I’ve said before I want to make a living in genealogy, not a killing.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

57 thoughts on “Genealogy – What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?

  1. Can you hear me applauding Thomas, nicely done! Personally I think you don’t charge enough. I had to go back and read it again when I started looking at the time and effort, I was a little shocked. I have attended webinars for free but I’ve also paid $100.00 to attend a webinar and I will if I feel it is really going to offer me some relevant take away material. Thanks for sharing your numbers, it really helps those of us who are interested in pursuing these avenues. I would love to hear more, your post really contained the kind of substance to help me determine if this is the path for me.

  2. Amen Thomas! I couldn’t agree with you more!

    There are lots of times that I can’t afford things, but I never fault the person who is charging for it. It isn’t their fault that I’m broke all the time. But there will come a day when I’ll be done with school and working as a teacher and I’ll be spending my salary on webinars, conferences, traveling to learn more about my ancestors – I’ll be in genealogy heaven.

    But that day hasn’t come yet, and thats ok. I still get plenty of research done and I learn more where I can.


  3. On the one hand, I don’t have any income at the moment, and tons of conferences (like FGS) and even low priced webinars that I simply can’t afford. However, I would never dream of thinking the people hosting it or giving the webinar didn’t deserve a fee for their work!

    I’ll admit that the free concept in genealogy made me extremely guilty about getting paid for it (when I had people wanting me to do work that is), but in the end practicality won out. I am talented in very few things that I could sell to make a little money and I knew I was fairly good at genealogy research.

    I have to repeatedly tell myself “You’re worth it. You’re good at what you do, you put work into it, and you can do it efficiently.” though.

  4. Well said, Thomas, and I totally agree with you.

    With WDYTYA’s success, we have a chance to educate newbie genies from the “ground up” [Or would it be from their genie-birth up?] that paying for our services is the “norm”.

    Also, I worked for an Orthopedic Surgeon once, and we encountered a few patients who didn’t think they should have to pay for his services [not someone who couldn’t pay, just didn’t think they should have to.] My reply? Do you go to the grocery store, fill up your cart with groceries, and then expect not to pay for those groceries? [Well, you could try to exit the store with unpaid for groceries, but you’re gonna land in the pokey.] This is the same thing. [Sorta.]

    And about those who balk at the pricing structure? Who leaves a Walmart without plunking down a hundred bucks? And what do you get for your hundred bucks? Crap. That’s what. So why not drop the hundred bucks or more [How many times do you go to Walmart in a month?] on quality education on your most absolute favorite hobby?


  5. (As I wrote this it became a behemoth of a comment. I apologize in advance if I’ve used up today’s allotment of letters.)

    You are doing a terrific job of outlining the issues surrounding free, paid, volunteer work and those trying to make a living at genealogy.

    My interest in genealogy is for my own family research, but I do like a good hunt so help out people if I can and of course volunteer for

    indexing projects.

    But, the great volume of my own volunteer work has been as a founder and director of a non-profit security program that has to do with

    critical infrastructure protection in New York.

    In addition to creating a community for security professionals, we have done our best to create programs for education and sharing of

    information. The really difficult part has been doing these things with no funding and relying on intermittent corporate sponsorship for

    larger events and projects we have undertaken.

    While I think we can be proud of what we have accomplished in NY, it has been an uphill battle getting the community itself to see a value in

    supporting the organization monetarily themselves. In order to make our resources available to the largest audience, we have done our best to

    avoid dues for local membership and we have done the same with most of our events as well. (The national organization is an FBI program and

    membership is free.)

    We have heard the argument that if we continue to make these things free, then the community will undervalue the resources we provide. But,

    we have also found that as soon as we charge even a nominal fee for events and webinars our attendance drops from the hundreds to the dozens.
    (We have 1400+ members in the NYC area alone, and 30,000 plus nationwide.)

    So, what’s up with that?

    Years of Internet expansion and open access to resources has not only brought great value to many types of groups and companies, but

    has also an oddly stunted and twisted view of economic valuation.

    People are willing to spend time or spend money, but apparently not both.
    Security requires both, as does genealogy.

    I ask people to imagine a switch was thrown and the community we created was gone – what would they do for the information we provide and how

    would they go about finding other professionals to discuss these items with? Then I ask them how much they think it would cost to do those

    things themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes the lightbulb appears and sometimes just a smoldering candle does.

    Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” and Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” depict variations on a theme of the effects of a global economy that

    commoditizes infrastructure. In part they predict that businesses who will flourish in the future will be based on innovation.
    (Those are gross oversimplifications of those books, of course.)

    I have spent many years working for water companies – Far and away the number 1 comment that comes up at public meetings is: “I don’t

    understand why we have to PAY you for the water anyway – it’s free for the taking.”

    Right. Digging wells, pumps, hundreds of miles of water main, meters, treatment processes, salaries for the people to maintain them and

    electricity aren’t.

    People typically don’t see our infrastructure, so it doesn’t figure in their mental equations.
    The same thing appears to be occurring with professional genealogists. And non-profits.

    It is true that innovation is a required part of the new business, but people need to remember all of the knowledge, infrastructure and just

    plain leg-work that goes into the things they often take for granted.

    Thomas, I see you and quite a few other genealogists trying new things and using technology to their advantage. I applaud your hard work and

    appreciate the information being placed out there and hope that the marketplace levels out enough for genealogy to become a viable business

    for the professionals.

    I also hope to find my great-grandfather’s birthplace in Ireland – but that’s apparently going to take awhile.

  6. “And I know I’m not the only genealogist who is under intense pressure at home to do less volunteer work and more paid work. Each time I mention a new project, the response is ‘so are you getting paid for this or not?'”

    Your spouse and mine would be fast friends. I hear this a lot too.

    I don’t necessarily object to doing favors for people, or volunteering, or anything like that. In fact, sometimes people offer to pay me for stuff, and I refuse because their request is so small that it’s not worth charging for (or because I just plain like them and want to help).

    What sticks in my craw is when people act like their *entitled* to stuff for free, or say something like, “Why would I pay for that?” If you wouldn’t pay for it, don’t use it…because I’m paying to provide it to you (with my time and my money).

  7. People are always going to hope to get something free or discounted. I work at a movie theatre and people are forever asking for free passes for this group or that group. They figure the seats are empty anyway so what does it matter if they get in free? And they are working for a good cause or a small organization that doesn’t have the money so…

    Genealogically speaking, I think it’s a matter of times changing and people not adapting quickly. Part of the problem might be that many every-day researchers view genealogy as a hobby. Since this is just a hobby for them, they might not realize that it’s a business for others – especially if they don’t attend conferences or expos for other hobbies. They might think that the presenter has a “day job” and does the presentations for fun. Sometimes people are just going to be upset, but they’ll just have to adjust.

  8. Excellent post, Thomas. More than 35 years ago, one of my public relations mentors advised: “Never give away what you do for a living.” I learned the hard way. Once an organization finds out you can edit a newsletter, LOTS of organizations are beating a path to your door asking for you to volunteer to do their newsletter. So I switched to stuffing envelopes and other odd jobs – but not the skills I use to support myself.

    I also believe that the majority of people who use the internet believe every thing online is free (or should be) and have no regard for copyright. I gave up trying to self-police people who stole content from my web sites (this was back in the mid 90s) and posted it on their own sites.

    My “day job” employer has frequently paid for me to attend in-person seminars and training sessions that cost up to $250 – $500/day. I believe there is a huge killing to make in the seminar industry (Fred Pryor, National Seminars, Career Track to name a couple of the biggies). Today, a one-hour webinar on Great Layout and Design is $199. The webinar and the CD is $248. The same price is being charged for a webinar/CD on using PowerPoint.

    Just because the genealogy community is made up primarily of hobbyists is no reason to devalue the service provided by the professionals (all those categories of possible jobs you mentioned yesterday).

    I know people who travel the country (and the world) to attend concerts by their favorite rock star. That could be considered another expensive hobby. So is golf. Even pre-internet, I always said that genealogy was an expensive hobby.

    I tend to bristle a bit when I hear folks complain about the fee to join That membership is less than a cup of coffee a day. I actually have a budget for my hobby. I put “X” dollars in savings every month. If I get a tax refund or an unexpected check, the money goes into that account. Then when my membership to Ancestry, Footnote et al come due, the funds are there to cover it. The registration fees for the conferences I attend each year come from that account. It’s guilt-free spending of my genealogy dollars.

    I do think we’ve become spoiled with all of the free webinars recently by you, Myrt, Michael, Lisa, Geoff and the other folks who do webinars sponsored by Legacy. I don’t think twice about spending $3.99 to purchase an online obituary if it’s something I think I need. So maybe we genealogy consumers need to re-evaluate the webinars and realize how much service and information we are getting from the experts – and pay to attend the classes.

    Just learning about Dropbox and Weebly have benefited me in ways I never could have imagined before the webinar.

    Well – I see that I am rambling on all sorts of side topics here, so will leave it at that.

    Thomas, you a a joy to work with and the contributions you make to the online genealogy community are, well, priceless! If you ever add a “Donate by PayPal” button on your site, I’m there to help because you have already given me so much already.

  9. My blogs have a particular theme or “niche”, and I do not have a platform as of yet to add my further 2 cents worth. Therefore, I’m going to put it here, but don’t worry it’s in response to Thomas’ post as well as Kenneth W. Spangler’s post on his blog.

    Kenneth mentioned that genealogy bloggers were in a transitional period. [I took this to mean that genealogy bloggers, or a segment of them, were wanting to take their blogs to the level of professional. If this is wrong, please correct me.]

    I agree that these particular blogs are in a transitional period, or flux. Why are they in this flux? Because most started out as a hobby with no thought as to the correct name for their business (blog), with no thought of obtaining the domain before anyone else bought it, without developing a business plan, and without a strategic marketing plan.

    Therefore, they have blogs that they have poured their heart and soul into, and maybe they slapped a few affiliate ads on their blog in hopes of some income to cover their efforts, but that’s not how a professional blogger makes a true income.

    In most cases, their blogs fit a niche that is too narrow to make any income off of them. Now, that’s not to say they couldn’t be revamped to make them more marketable. Some blogs, however, will just have to stay personal blogs, and that’s okay, but that doesn’t mean a blogger can’t start another money-making genealogy blog that is more marketable to a wider audience.

    Writing and sales are very similar in that to be effective, the writer and the salesperson must take into consideration at all times their audience. Who is your audience? Does your blog or do your wares appeal to a big enough audience? Does your audience even know that they need what you have?

    With genealogy [and all closely related segments], technically speaking, your audience is everyone because everyone has a family and every family has a history. Minus, of course, those who are already amateur genealogists because unless it’s a new item/service, they already know about the it. Many times the general public doesn’t even know that they want to know about their family’s history. One of the things that professional genealogy bloggers must do is stop writing for themselves, and start writing for their audience in order to be relevant and successful.

    Then they need to market themselves [network] like crazy.

    ~Caroline Pointer
    For Your Family Story

  10. Another great article, Thomas. Having done personal research since 1974 and paid research since 1986, I do have some thoughts on this, so I will be adding my ten cents worth. Watch for it on my Genealogy Leftovers blog this Easter weekend.

  11. An excellent article! Thank you Thomas.

    I learned my lesson the hard way when I made an open offer to do free research last summer in Ireland. I was bombarded with emails, including several from people who had never followed my blog, found me by accident, and figured they would take advantage of my ‘need to please’ syndrome.

    I was stunned by some of the requests I received (including “surely you can drive out there; you must be renting a car”), and even more stunned by the response I received when I indicated I could not comply. One person informed me that it was clear I “must be rich” since I could afford to go to Ireland for research. How, I wondered, did my budget or my finances become an issue when I had offered to do a favour for someone?

    Despite my best efforts, I found nothing for two people who actually follow my blog, and they were very gracious about it. I found records or shot grave photos for several others, some of whom thanked me, some of whom did not, two of whom insisted that I mail hard copies of everything to them, and one who informed me that I was no help to her at all because she already had what I found.
    Wow. (Me: gobsmacked)

    My late friend Karen was a wise young bird. She used to say to me, “you teach people how to treat you. If you do any work for free, there will always be some who will decide that free is all you are worth.”

    I have not yet decided if I will make the offer again this summer, but I have no doubt that if I do, once again I will probably be stunned by how far some people are willing to push it. I can picture my husband shaking his head and asking me why I am surprised by such things.

  12. Three points came to mind after I finished reading Thomas’s post: 1) genealogy must be a tough field in which to make a living, 2) people generally value a product or service more if they have to pay for it and 3) value to a consumer doesn’t always equal the supplier’s cost of production.

    The first point is just a passing observation. I don’t envy anyone trying to make a living from genealogy. It must be tough trying to sell services to people who enjoy “the challenge of the hunt” as much as they enjoy learning the ultimate answer.

    The second point is kind of personal. I do photography for a hobby. I almost always give my photos away but I’ve found that a great photo given away is almost always viewed by the recipient as less valuable than a lesser quality photo for which the recipient has had to pay something. If I give away a photo, it’s apt to end up hidden away in the recipient’s closet or basement. If I sell a photo, it’s almost certainly going to be prominently displayed in their home.

    The third point is one on which I would like to challenge Thomas a bit. I spend a fair bit of money on genealogy. I’ve paid several thousand dollars for genealogical DNA testing. Between, newspaper archives and other online data repositories, I spend about $600 a year. I pay for LDS microfilms to be kept at my local Family History Center. I’ve bought old books and other materials related to my areas of interest. I pay for birth certificates and other types of public record copies. On the other hand, I have never paid to participate in a webinar, and I see myself unlikely to do so in the near future. That decision has nothing to do with skimping on costs. It’s because I don’t anticipate that I would get any value from participating in any of the webinars or seminars that I have seen offered. The single exception I have encountered so far is the free RootsMagic webinar series on how to use their software. Other than the RootsMagic webinars I don’t feel that there is any genealogy research area or technique that I need to brush up on by participating in a webinar. I could well be wrong but that is the framework within which I am currently making my decisions. In essence, my decision to not buy more webinar products is not because I think the cost is too high, it’s because I don’t perceive most webinars to have any value for me. I respect that it may cost several hundred/thousand dollars to produce a webinar. Even so, if I don’t perceive that I will get value at least equal to my attendance time, then I don’t participate. If the webinar isn’t free, then I’d have to anticipate receiving enough value to equal both my invested time plus the enrollment cost. This is why I almost never participate in webinars, free or otherwise. I just don’t see what value they have to offer me. In my case, it’s definitely not a cost issue. I think that the challenge for suppliers like Thomas is not just to keep the enrollment cost down, but to convince potential participants that the webinar will be of value to them. The concept woven into Thomas’s post seems to be that because the production costs can be significant, therefore participants should be willing to pay to cover them (plus a little extra for Thomas’s work). That’s not how economics works. People pay for perceived value. The goal ought not be to merely cover the production costs of the webinar. The goal ought to be to create so much value for the potential participants that large numbers of people will enroll, even at a price that will return several times the webinar’s production costs. Obviously that’s easier said than done. If it were otherwise, the world would be flooded by millionaire webinar producers.

    Regards, Mardon

  13. I sort of drift in and out of reading Geneabloggers, but this one really caught my eye. Your content is spot-on, of course, but the real irritation to me came in the comments.

    What you, the blogger, are talking about is not the same as the people who complain about the cost of They might be the same people but there are different issues behind them.

    What I take away from reading this column is that rightfully so, you are asking to be reimbursed for your time and expenses in getting to, promoting, preparing, and doing, a seminar (whether web or not). People forget that a physical seminar has costs as does a virtual one. You’re not asking to be made rich, but for a fair wage. I agree with that wholeheartedly. People forget that a virtual building costs money just like a real one, and that’s something one sometimes has to beat them over the head with (in the nicest way possible). Your column is spot on.

    Now, the other issue, arising from your commenters, like Susan Peterson, is that doesn’t cost a lot, so we should just buck up and pay them.

    It came off as rude and unrelated to the problem at hand, because the blogger isn’t arguing that his documents, time, and prep are public documents that he’s just copying and pasting. He’s asking for payment for a legitimate service.

    Lastly, my own opinion on the subject: I can’t afford’s membership fees. I can’t afford hundreds for webinars a year. I have a very small genealogy budget that I can use each month (less than $10), and many of my genealogy buddies have even tighter budgets than I do because they are on fixed incomes with less and less for food and basic necessities, much less genealogy. I make great use of the library, RAOGK networks, and family and friends to get my family tree information done. I’m asking for a NEHGS membership for Christmas from my family to go in on for example.

    But when there is content that I need and I’m let know in enough notice to save for it, I can swing it. Let me know now that there’s going to be an awesome webinar on Northern Italian genealogy in December for $150, and I’d push my way into the income to afford it (provided I could still register in December). Heck, I’d sell my budget for the year out for that!

    The content has to be there to pay more for the webinars that are out there. I have yet to see one that offers advanced or specialized enough content that I’d attend it. I subscribe to the major genealogy newsletters, Twitter and such, and I work with the GenWeb community but I’d still not be surprised to learn there might be such content out there. Rarely are they advertised well across multiple outlets. Most of the webinars I’ve seen are free ones for intros to genealogy or how to use various software programs, which hook our new fans out there and get them interested in the real thing.

    And if people are getting pressed into doing more volunteer work, they should refer people to the existing volunteer networks and firmly say that they cannot do more volunteer work. We need our experts in this field enough to be able to pay them something for their time, effort, and experience in teaching.

  14. Thomas,

    Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Amen!

    I have seen several of the commenters on this post mention webinars. As one of the few “early adopters” of the webinar platform, with yourself, dearMyrtle, Relative Roots, and a handful of the software companies, I would like to bring a little more attention to this issue specifically.

    In March, for promotional reasons, I offered four free webinars, including two in a single day. For these two, there was less than 24 hours notice, yet I completely filled my 100-registration limit. Contrary to the statistics I have heard other webinar organizers in other industries (who stated that normal attendance for a free webinar was about 50-60% of the registration), I had 90% attendance rate. Each attendee was asked to complete a short, anonymous survey, and the response was 100% positive.

    Last week I offered one of these two webinars, a lecture that has been extremely popular when given live as well, on the U. S. Civil War. The cost was a very low $7.99. Without getting into exact numbers, I basically lost money on the endeavor.

    Here are all of the possible reasons that I can come up with as to why the registration was not there (and some of these are obviously unlikely):

    1. In the sesqicentennial of the Civil War, no one is interested in learning more about the records and resources available for research.

    2. All of those who are interested in learning more about the Civil War attended my free webinar on the subject.

    3. Despite having almost two weeks between my initial announcement and the webinar itself (far shorter than the 24 hours notice of the free webinar), very few people knew about my webinar being offered.

    4. Genealogists are willing to attend a free webinar, but are not willing to pay $7.99 for the same material.

    To refute #3 above, I can state that over 300+ genealogists on Facebook were sent invitations. The webinar was announced several times on both Twitter and LinkedIn. And, because I have a web reporting service attached to my professional website, I know that over 150 people *actually viewed* the registration page for my webinars. #1 and #2 are patently absurd in my opinion.

    Now, if my presentation is completely horrible, or unhelpful, I would not expect any repeat customers. However, I do not believe that this is the case. When giving this particular presentation live to genealogical societies, I have actually been invited to give the same presentation to other societies. And I will reiterate that all of the *anonymous* feedback (and therefore presumably honest) from my free webinars was completely positive.

    This leaves #4. Is $8 too expensive for most genealogists? Maybe, maybe not.

    But the bottom line is, of course, the bottom line. While webinars have been offered in the corporate world for over ten years, they are a relatively new platform for genealogy, and I believe, will be a large part of the future of genealogical education. Webinars offer access to non-local speakers to genealogists around the world. And all without having to leave one’s home. With the cost of gas rising lately, this is itself especially important and significant.

    Unfortunately, if no one is willing to pay even a small amount to attend a webinar, then webinars will go away. No one can afford to spend their own money to provide a service for others, in any industry.

    Very few genealogy speakers are willing to lecture for free, unless to their own society. Like Thomas, I generally earn from $75-$150 per lecture in-person. Yet we as webinar producers are expected not only to lecture for free, but also to pay out of our own pockets to produce these webinars. Meanwhile the attendees are benefitting from the convenience of the medium (not to mention saving the gas that it would take to attend even a local society meeting).

    This really cuts to the heart of what I have been trying to convey in my blog posts and comments throughout this conversation this week.

    I feel that it is an unfair expectation, and is ultimately detrimental to the field of genealogy and genealogical education.

  15. Great article and one that I learned alot from. It is hard for me to tell people to pay me for genealogy services, but I am learning to do it much more lately as I try to start a business from it vs a hobby.

    When the “free” Webinars came about, I knew eventually they would come with a price, so I knew to enjoy it while it was there. While I hope free ones will continue during special conferences, etc, I can completely understand and agree with those that charge. Doing Lectures locally, I know how much time and effort is involved. When travel is involved on top of that, you just about HAVE to charge now.

    There have been several Webinars recently, in particular Michael Hait and Shamele Jordan that I really had wanted to attend. Not being able to find full time work, I can’t do it now, but as soon as I am working, you bet I will pay for those great Webinars and/or handouts!

    There are many MANY genealogists that have recently given FREELY of their time (Thomas, Myrtle, Cyndi, Lisa C. Lisa A., Michael among lots of others) that I want to personally thank, but in on way do I expect every future thing they do to be free. They also have bills, family and things they want to purchase as well!

    Thomas, this article has really gotten me and others thinking! I look forward to future articles. Which brings about another question: will the future bring genealogists having subscriptions for their blogs? hmmmm

    Tina Sansone

  16. Following up to Michael’s comments: his Civil War webinar was excellent! I attended the first free session, so did not view again when it was offered at a fee.

    Another consideration to add to your list of why people don’t attend. Timing. I’ve noticed that many of the webinars occur during day time hours, Monday – Friday. For those of us who are employed during those hours, it is not possible to attend. For me, the Saturday afternoon time frame happens to be a better solution. This is probably a reason why I lean toward the webinars offered by Legacy because they remain on the site for viewing for a few days after the live webinar.

  17. Thanks, Susan.

    So far, only one of my paid webinars has been offered on a weekday, and I knew and expected that this might be a problem (and it was to a certain extent). But the others, which have had even lower registration than that one did, have been offered on weekends.

  18. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone’s talking about the idea that you should pay for products or services that aren’t of use to you. I don’t generally sign up for webinars (partly because of scheduling, partly because my hearing isn’t great and I’m not an auditory learner anyway). If a topic isn’t a fit for you, or you just plain can’t afford it, or whatever…that’s cool.

    What I think we’re talking about here is when people DO like the product or service…but don’t want to pay for it. My original remarks in the early hours of this discussion stemmed from email and other comments I’ve had from people who say, “I love your blog, but I won’t use affiliate links to buy stuff I would buy anyway because I don’t think you should make money for it.” Now, if you hate my blog, that’s cool. If you think it’s useless, that’s cool. But if you love it…I don’t get that.

    It’s the people who truly want the product or service being offered that should pay for it (or use free-to-them tools to ensure some big company pays for it, as in the case with sponsorships and affiliate links).

    I don’t think anyone is saying that you should support stuff if you don’t really like/use it.

  19. Thomas,

    I want to say that I truly appreciate what you do. You give so much to the genealogical community at large, and how dare that lady think she should get your syllabus!

    Although I would pay for educational webinars and such, my funds are tight and I tend to pay for things that I can use directly for the benefit of my clients. Although the argument could be made that educating myself is beneficial to my client, I am simply meaning research aids and such that I can use.

    Depending on the content of the webinar, and whether or not a syllabus is included, I would consider paying $20. However, if I expect to take multiple webinars, then $20 is a bit high.

    As for people expecting things for free, we live in a society that has huge entitlement issues. I volunteer for Girl Scouts, and have led 4H, been a soccer coach, helped with the swim team, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents who just run all over the volunteers because they feel entitled to this, that, and the other. I mention this, and other things in my post “A Sign of the Times”.

    I, and I know others, truly appreciate all you have given. And I know, personally, I am truly thankful for those people who share their information and expertise so that I may be a better researcher. So to you, and all of them, thank you.

  20. I’m amazed that the average genealogist somehow has the idea that everything genealogy related should come at no cost. For instance, does provide some access to information for free, but if you need further access to documents, you pay. And I would caution people that not everything free is of value. When it comes to Mexico genealogy, I have read articles that contain question advice to one article that recommended an action that could put someone in jail for committing a federal offense. And at some point a professional service may be your key to finding a relative and moving forward with your genealogy search.

  21. If you look at the comments, you can tell that everyone knows this. Yet, we still think we have to apologize or explain.

    I do online marketing and teach others to do the same. I used to run a very popular “preparedness” website and always felt I had to explain. Finally I decided, “forget the explaining.” Now I charge what my time is really worth (based on return value, etc.) But the real test is with the market. Charge too much–no customers. Charge too little–you quit producing.

    Make your value great and charge for it.

  22. If the knowledge is so valuable perhaps you should hoard it so that the unwashed masses will not taint your fortune. Keep it to yourself and enjoy it.

  23. It is sometimes difficult to determine when someone is being sarcastic – I hope that comment 48 was meant to be sarcastic. If not, the comment was, in my opinion, unfortunate and offbase.

    Thanks Thomas for an interesting discussion topic it brought to light a number of considerations.

    (1) The genealogy community is quite lucky to have a wellfunded group interested in providing information free of charge for the asking – the LDS/FamilySearch organization. I have made use of their websites, their library in SLC and attended seminars or conferences put on at their local facilities. I understand it is part of their faith/belief system to do genealogy but the rest of us get a tremedous gift resulting from their activity.
    (2) However, we need to remember that someone is paying for this service AND that information is not and never has been “free.” Perhaps you have not paid for this service but you have benefited from someone else paying for it.
    (3) It is great that people volunteer their time and effort to put information out there for the rest of us. But volunteer work it is not something we should demand or feel entitled to.
    (4) It is also understandable that people would provide their knowledge and services for a fee – this is employment and something to be encouraged! No one would expect a doctor, lawyer, teacher, manufacturer, assemblyline worker, (and the list is endless) to work for free and/or give away their service – why would we expect it in the field of genealogy? The dignity of work and a fair standard of living for all people is a basic right.
    (5) Knowledge is valuable in every field – that is why people go to school and get an education. They invest their time and money and deserve a fair return on their investment. This is what the marketplace is all about.
    (6) No one is talking about “hoarding” knowledge and no one is referring to “unwashed masses” or “tainting fortunes.” Words matter, they can be taken several ways and they can be taken out of context.
    (7) Thank you to all the people who blog and share their knowledge with the rest of us, thank you to all the people who develop software that the rest of us use in doing genealogy, thank you to all the companies and indviduals that provide information through websites, webinars and societies. I appreciate not having to travel to Sweden, Norway, Ireland and Canada to conduct my research and happily budget for and pay the costs associated with software programs, “pay” websites, and conferences and seminars.
    (8) We would all be well-served with a little less of an entitlement mindset and a little more of an appreciative/thankful/respectful mindset.

  24. I am in business offering a service that I used to provide for free. I applaud Thomas for his comments, as I found that when I started making a nominal charge for my “free services” people stopped asking me to do them. Over many years it has become apparent to me that “value for money” is the key to get people to pay for goods and services. I love what I do and sometimes do not my charge clients the full “value” of my service, however by the same token I flatly refuse to take on clients who wish to devalue my efforts by not paying (or wanting to pay a reduced amount). Keep putting your “product” out there with a full explanation of its content and you will eventually get the people who do not have the “freeloader” mentality (that seems to abound these days) and appreciate your value.

  25. I thought it odd when people asked if I get paid for wdytya and various articles. Like most, I volunteer also, but I offer my volunteer hours to Midwest Genealogy Center and indexing projects. Thanks for sharing. I agree the professional community needs to value their knowledge and expertise.

  26. Well written, Thomas.

    In these budgetary times, I lament that I can’t travel to and pay for genealogical seminars as I wish. I really have to count my pennies.

    That said, I get offers to speak at organizations; some will pay but many will not (somehow, they feel they are doing ME a favor by providing an audience). LOL

    I think we have to figure a new way to monetize our passion/skills/expertise.

    Perhaps more importantly, we have to continue to love what we do.

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

  27. While I do actively seek out free genealogy resources for both myself and for visitors to my blog, I don’t begrudge those that charge for access to their products or services. Being on a budget, I just have to be very selective with what I pay for.

    Like one of the previous commenters said, I look for value in what I spent my money on. If a webinar, conference or book provides information or resources that I need to further my research and it isn’t available elsewhere for free, it’s worth it to me as long as the price isn’t out of my budget. Others may find value in different items than I do, but it all comes down to what a particular product or service is worth to you.

    The value for money principle also applies for resources such as Ancestry. I know I can access the subscription site for free from my local library. However, I have a young child who isn’t going to sit quietly while I do my research. The subscription price is worth it for me since it allows me to research from home at my convenience while she is sleeping or busy playing with her toys.

    It never ceases to amaze me that some people feel like an offer for assistance entitles them to whatever they ask for, even if it’s outside of the bounds of what was offered. I have a standing offer on my blog’s Facebook page to help people with getting started in genealogy or offer direction if someone is stuck. Yet, there are still some that send me a message asking (demanding) that I research their entire tree and get mad when I tell them I don’t do genealogy research for free.

    I prefer my freebies benefit the genealogy community at large. That is why I devote my volunteer efforts to FindAGrave, Restore the Ancestors and FamilySearch.

Comments are closed.