For the field of genealogy, newspapers have served two traditional roles:
• Newspapers have been repositories of important milestones in a person’s life (birth, graduation, engagement, marriage, anniversary and death announcements).
• Newspapers have helped chronicle how our ancestors lived and documented important events in their communities (death notices, legal probate notices, estate sales, social events, school events, club activities, land & home sales, property tax lists, accidents and general news). They also help shape our perception of life (see Obituary Photos are Getting Younger).
The advent of the internet (and computers more broadly) has provided a powerful new media for people to document their life and the life of their ancestors. For genealogy, the internet has become both an enabler and a disabler.
The power of the internet has created a much richer, broader and ultimately more robust genealogy platform to study our ancestors and to collaborate with others in the pursuit of our roots. The ability to capture digital memories and disseminate it to a broad audience through email, internet sites or social network sites is an unparalleled strength of the internet for anyone interested in genealogy. A traditional print newspaper cannot compete with such span and scope. Thus, computers and the internet will have largely supplanted the traditional role of newspapers for our descendants.
The death of the traditional print newspaper is not imminent; newspapers are simply evolving into a new form. Everyday, some 48 million newspapers are sold in the US and some 20 million newspapers are sold in the UK. The industry took in $38 billion in 2008 and the market for news continues to grow even though advertising sales were down some 17% in 2008. Newspapers became over-reliant on classified ads for revenue, which the Craig’s List revolution of free online classified ads did much to undermine.
Craig’s List alone is thought to have accounted for some 36 to 38% of the negative economic impact on newspapers. Traditional print newspapers simply have too large a fixed cost base and cannot support large decreases in advertising revenue. Internet news sources generally have a much lower cost base and thus do not suffer to the same extent.
The internet enables specialty news sources to coexist with much larger, broader news sources because the cost of disseminating news to a global audience via the internet is small. For example, various genealogy blogs, newsletters and publications like GenealogyInTime Magazine play a role by helping to disseminate specialized genealogy news to a specific target audience. However, it takes over 1,000 visitors to a site to generate about $5 of click-ad revenue because very few people click on the advertisements.
The vast majority of free genealogy sites get less than one hundred visitors a day. Thus, free genealogy sites are supported by extremely modest revenue generated by helpful readers clicking on the occasional advertisement. In a fateful twist, much of the online advertising revenue that internet publications depend on comes from Google. Google’s search capabilities have allowed small internet publications to gain access to roughly the same massive body of information that is enjoyed by large newspapers. It also allows for specialty search websites such as the Genealogy Search Engine.