"Content is King," declared Ancestry.com's Tim Sullivan last Saturday night. This is the mantra oft repeated by the genealogists at Ancestry.com to each new executive that joins Ancestry.com so I was glad to hear it from Sullivan's own lips, even though I believe market forces like Google, FamilySearch International and others might one day overthrow the King.
Sullivan, president and CEO of the Generations Network (TGN), which owns Ancestry.com, made the remark in Salt Lake City at a special invitation-only dinner Saturday night which Ancestry.com hosted for various genealogical world luminaries: keynote speaker for the dinner, Elizabeth Shown Mills, a fellow of both the American Society of Genealogists (FASG) and the National Genealogical Society, and an esteemed academian and author; Loretto Dennis Szucs, award-winning author and FGS co-founder; Jay Verkler, president of FamilySearch; Kathleen Hinckley, APG Executive Director; Jake Gehring, APG President; Curt Witcher, Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center Manager; Drew Smith, Genealogy Guys co-host; other APG and FGS officers; Dick Eastman, Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter; Pat Richley (DearMYRTLE), genealogical e-community pioneer; Elissa Scalise Powell, author and lecturer; Jennifer Utley, Ancestry Magazine editor-in-chief; Diane Haddad, Family Tree Magazine managing editor; and genealogy uber-blogger, Randy Seaver.
Many were in town for the 2009 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy starting today, Monday, January 12, 2009 through Friday.
Sullivan presented Ancestry's three pillars for investment in 2009. Pillar #1 is content. Ancestry.com will spend more on content in 2009 than any company ever has before, according to Sullivan. I glanced at FamilySearch's Verkler for a reaction to this statement, but he maintained a perfect poker face. I don't know what FamilySearch's budgets are, but I know the numbers of people they deploy and the amount of equipment involved is huge compared to Ancestry.com.
- Go to www.familysearch.org .
- Scroll to the bottom and click on Records Custodians.
- In the left side-bar, click on Worldwide Activities.
- Click on a country or area to see FamilySearch's collection statistics for that place.
FamilySearch is also currently bearing the expenditure of building their content pipeline. Again, I don't know dollars but I've seen headcount. Mind you, I used to run a software development group and I know what headcounts cost six years ago. It's not fair to compare pipeline development costs of the two organizations, since Ancestry's pipeline is a mostly smooth-flowing machine. But if you do, FamilySearch is far, far outspending Ancestry.com. Thank goodness for those tithe paying Mormons and Church leaders who are willing to expend countless dollars preserving genealogical records.
Now, if I could just access them all on the Internet... But that's a topic for another day.
"If content is king, then technology is queen," said Sullivan. The other bloggers present Saturday night and Friday have covered some of this technology pretty well and I'll provide some links to their articles as soon as time permits. The one item from Sullivan's presentation that I wish to mention here concerns international websites. Sullivan said that the company would be creating a lot more websites internationally in 2009. These would be different kinds of websites than what we've seen, but he didn't specify any more.
Lastly, Sullivan talked about the company's investment in marketing. Ancestry.com has received lots of public criticisms over the percentage of revenues spent on marketing, both by commenters on my blog as well as elsewhere. Having been a software company executive, the numbers never bothered me as they are in line with the industry as a whole. Sullivan was kind enough to walk through the scenario of cutting those numbers and using it to obtain more content. Initially, the annual increase in content would jump. But without marketing activities, the subscriber base would increasingly erode. With the decrease comes decreased investment in content. Year-over-year, the effect snowballs until revenues drop below what is required to keep the website up and running and they have to pull the plug. It's not a pretty thought.
The reason Ancestry.com is able to spend more on content in 2009 than it ever has before is only because its marketing efforts are growing the number of subscribers, according to Sullivan.
Sullivan closed by repeating the key messages that had been presented repeatedly to the bloggers and writers on Friday. They were...
Well, actually, its late and I'm out of time. That round up will have to wait. Stay tuned...