APG-L Archives

Archiver > APG > 2009-04 > 1239282664

From: "Craig R. Scott, CG" <>
Subject: Re: [APG] Ancestry Expert Connect metrics
Date: Thu, 9 Apr 2009 09:11:04 -0400
References: <49DD8EB6.6090507@ancestralmanor.com>
In-Reply-To: <49DD8EB6.6090507@ancestralmanor.com>

Bravo, Sharon. I wish that I could have said what you have said.

Heritage Books, Inc's experience with Ebay is similar to yours. On the
surface it appears that some money is being made, but when one looks at the
larger view of what it costs to process, pack, ship, email and further
communicate, the numbers turn red very quickly.

Our experience with AbeBooks was the same, especially when they moved to
their own credit card processing, more red numbers.

Stuart Nixon once told me that you can't be a publisher and a bookstore,
too. I did not believe him, at first. Now, I do. My failure to see the
difference cost me dearly.

We do sell on Amazon, but the volume of sales is the only reason that it is
worthwhile. It represents currently 8% of our sales which is sad,
considering that in the past it only represented 2%, and sales have been
level for years. Amazon has always accused us to trying to divert sales. We
do contact the customers directly except to notify of shipment and do not
include our marketing material in the shipments so I don't understand their
position. Our returns are usually due to mistakes in the Amazon descriptions
or customers who do not understand what they are buying to begin with. But
in Amazon the customer is always right and that can be expensive.

We sell through our own website and it is very steady and about four times
greater than Amazon. We sell through our own annual catalog, which used to
generate ten times printing and mailing cost but that is now down to three
times that cost. And we sell to dealers, but many of them are gone from the
marketplace in the last ten years.

What we seem to be best at is getting books published. We are really good at
packing and shipping. The next best thing we are good at is teaching a book
to gather dust. Fortunately by changing our processes three years
ago about half our titles are now print on demand (not one offs) and
there are fewer copies of a title learning to gather dust. Right after that,
we are good at selling them. We have never been good at marketing..

My experience is that the best way to survive in this marketplace is to do
it yourself. Control the things that can be controlled and sleep poorly at
night about the things that you can not. But that without that control you
can not build your own business and when you rely on other commercial
entities to do your work for you there is no control over your destiny.

How does this apply to Ancestry?

Ancestry has a publication program. Over the years they have created some
pretty good books. Many of those titles are on our keep close bookshelves.
But that publication program always operates like it is on its last legs. It
has always appeared to me as a dealer in their materials to be the poor step
child of the operation. Knowing the publications business as I do, I know
that if Ancestry were to look at the entire forest of their publication
program and saw the lack of ROI as compared to other operations, that
publications program would be in danger.

The issue is that Ancestry is a content driven subscription service that in
spite of its bad reputation among the believers in citation and proper
indexing has managed to do a good job at collecting revenue from those who
know better and those who do not. We can cast dispersions on their product
all we want, but we use it and will continue to use it. And, because of our
small numbers, our disappearance from the marketplace would be insignificant
from a revenue perspective. It might be significant from an expense
perspective, since the voice crying in the wilderness would disappear.

Ancestry suffers from something that I have not ever had to suffer from;
investors. They expect a return on their investment. Money in today's
marketplace is constrained. My estimate is the genealogical money resource
is, based on my company's numbers, one-fifth what it was ten years ago. The
number of customers that I have is the same as it was ten years ago (not the
same customers, the numbers) but that where someone would spend on average
$200 with us, the average customer is now spending $40 to $45 a year. Thank
you all, who spend more and keep the average this high.

$40 to $45 a year does not compare to the Ancestry subscription price,
although it does compare to Footnote.com.

So Ancestry must look for other venues to reach this market level.

The Beatrice Bailey-like do your own publication program was one.

Expert Connect is another.

Although I have just come in contact with their Webinar program and was
offered the opportunity to perform. I declined. It would have been a
marvelous opportunity to get my face in front of a lot of people.
Unfortunately, Ancestry under the contract would allow that presentation to
be viewed by millions (okay, thousands) after the initial performance
without remuneration or residuals to the performer. Why would you hire me to
lecture, if you could put me on the big screen at your local society meeting
for free? All it would take would be a computer, a microphone and a digital

Ancestry like the rest of the world is trying to survive. They should be
commended for their innovative approaches and for involving many of us in
the process. They should be condemned for not recognizing that their
business is content and subscription services and that everything else
should be seen as a distraction. Total Quality. Some of us remember Juran.
Some of us have forgotten or never knew him.


Craig R. Scott, CG
President & CEO
Heritage Books, Inc.
100 Railroad Ave., Ste. 104
Westminster, MD 21157
410 876-6101

Visit www.HeritageBooks.com

On Thu, Apr 9, 2009 at 1:59 AM, Sharon <> wrote:

> Todd,
> Thank you for your efforts to explain Ancestry's approach to
> genealogical research services.
> I have signed up with the program.
> I have previously registered my surprise that Ancestry has not
> investigated their own liabilities more deeply, but I view an active
> participation in the program as a way to monitor the evolution of such a
> service.
> I will report on my findings to my peers and Ancestry based on a notable
> comparison base in my experience. Some of that experience that may be of
> interest is as follows.
> - After more than 10,000 transactions on the Ebay commodities
> marketplace with genealogical products and services, I found that the
> shopper's inquiry to sales overhead to be a ratio of 4 to 1. Viewer's to
> inquiry ratios were 200 to 1. The net of the Ebay revenue and direct
> expenses did not approach the combined overhead costs of the Ebay
> "marketplace venue" fees and staffing for the inquiries.
> It was also not a loss leader that lead to upgraded services. Ebay had a
> successful model for it's own purposes of turning buyers into sellers,
> so their churn practices had no investment in practical price point
> models for the seller.
> Ancestry's model is even more intrusive in that Ancestry hinges on and
> manages the whole process of delivery and payment, yet has no industry
> standard criteria.
> I will be interested to see if Ancestry's program to educate and manage
> expectations results in any appreciable difference in the overhead
> ratios or the delivery and payment system. The real cost of generating a
> revenue stream and the real profit/loss calculations for a non-hobbyist
> is a crucial business decision.
> - In 2004 I wrote an article for the APG Quarterly about the business of
> genealogy, when Ancestry was riding high on breaking into the 100
> million dollar gross revenue market. For three years afterwards Ancestry
> went relatively sideways, and in 2007 went through some significant
> restructuring. Just in the last year, Ancestry has doubled the monthly
> unique visitor count from 3 million to 6 million a month. That doubling
> of the unique visitor count has not translated into a doubling of the
> Ancestry revenue, but certainly has again introduced an optimism that
> gives this Ancestry Expert Connect program a euphoric slant. I will be
> very interested to see whether Ancestry is spending it's capital wisely.
> ("Turning a Cottage Industry into a Business Sector," Association of
> Professional Genealogists Quarterly 19 (June 2004): 61-64)
> - Actual research projects (beyond a marketplace for commodities in
> specific document and photo procurement) require a paid research plan.
> Research plans are living documents that first identify what the client
> goals are initially - then identifies whether the client premise (based
> on existing documentation and/or assumptions) is actually valid once a
> review of what the client supplies is completed.
> This is the crux of the issues I address in a 21 hour (perhaps expanding
> to a 28 hour) module in the new Certificate in Genealogical Research
> program at Boston University. In this course I am preceded by an
> overview of the methodology and followed by zeroing in on evidence and
> citation, specific applications in legal situations, then ethnic and
> geographic specialties.
> Those who have been educated in many other venues know that
> specializations and case studies can be highly complex. But the bottom
> line is that research plans need to be front funded. Even if the client
> chooses to do the work themselves, a viable and often cost effective
> alternative, it is the expertise of the plan that makes or breaks the
> success.
> Experts need to be paid for their expertise. While there certainly is
> room for new information and a change to the evidence assessment, the
> framework that experts provide in research plans is a product in and of
> itself. A moderate retainer figure for such plans is $500. A common
> elapsed time for actually getting the information and documents from the
> client is several months. If Ancestry doesn't set realistic expectations
> for professional research projects, then the entire service is really
> geared towards the commodities base with "runners.". That's ok as long
> as the client base expectations are realistic.
> Metrics in the Ancestry concept of what their customer base needs
> requires a deeper understanding of the process. Many many people have
> given various views on that process that are highly informed. Ignoring
> those expert views is a signal that the volume commodity model is the
> easier target. However, even if the Ancestry system ignores metrics in
> it's own evaluation scheme, metrics from the outside are possible and a
> valuable assessment vehicle for those who participate.
> Thus I encourage my peers to also participate as at least an education
> expense.
> Sharon Sergeant
> .
> -------------------------------
> To unsubscribe from the list, please send an email to
> with the word 'unsubscribe' without the quotes in
> the subject and the body of the message

This thread: