Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making the Case for Digital Over Print in Genealogical Publications

Like several other genea-bloggers, I was contacted by Leland Meitzler last week regarding the press release for Everton’s Genealogical Helper as a digital Online Edition. My first reaction was joy because I have been saying this is the direction that genealogical societies need to go with their publications for going on two years now. I haven't specifically addressed national genealogical publications in regards to the print vs digital debate but as far as I'm concerned the same reasoning applies to those publications too.

After I read the Everton's press release I got to wondering just what you'd be getting for your subscription fee. Would you be able to download the online edition or just view it on the web site? Would the articles be word searchable not just on the web site but on my hard drive as well if I downloaded them? I assumed these would be givens, but I've made bad assumptions about such things in the past. I checked the Everton's web site and couldn't find any more information. So I sent an email to Leland and asked him these questions. He was kind enough to write back and honest enough to say he didn't have all the answers. (But he assures me that articles will be word searchable! :-)

Here's my position on the digital vs print publications debate. Like most other people, I prefer to read printed material to print on screen. I find the type easier on my eyes, I don't get a repetitive stress injury from holding a magazine, and magazines are lighter weight to carry around making them more comfortably portable than say a laptop computer. These are all wonderful things that a print publication has over a digital publication in the short term. However, the story plays a little differently in the long term. And the long term is particularly relevant to genealogy researchers.

Let's say I read the latest copy of my favorite genealogy magazine, cover to cover, and then put it on my bookshelf with my other 24 copies of said publication that I've subscribed to for the past few years. Then next week I hit the genealogy pot of gold... I break through that proverbial brick wall! After doing the happy dance and sharing the good news with everyone on my blog I find that I have new surnames and a new location to research. Yeah! But wait a minute, I remember that new location from an article I read in my favorite publication. The location was mentioned in an article about how somebody found their Auntie Josie after many years of looking.

As I stand before my bookcase, looking at 24 issues of my favorite publication, I ask myself, "Now when did I read that article? It must have been a couple months ago." And so I start to pull the magazines off the bookshelf one by one looking through the table of contents and hoping something there will jog my memory. Hmmm. I'm noticing I haven't dusted my bookcase lately as I thumb through one after another of my magazines. After about 45 minutes of this I begin to wonder why I liked printed publications so much. It was short term thinking. In the long run, I'd be better off if all this information was on my hard drive and searchable.

The ease and convenience of reading a single print edition of a magazine pales in comparison to the potential hours of frustration I will encounter when I want to reference something from that publisher in the future.

Personally, I made a decision this year to not renew or newly subscribe to genealogical publications that aren't available to download in digital format, genealogical society memberships included. It's not enough to have the publications available online for subscribers. If I pay for a subscription I expect to have possession of journal/magazine articles just like I would have with a print publication, not simply access to them online. So they must be downloadable. And they must be searchable.

Notice, if you will, that I specified "genealogical publications". I'm not looking for the demise of all printed publications. In fact, just the opposite is true. I want to see the printing/publication industry thrive! (My husband is in the print/publishing industry and if it doesn't thrive I could be the next bag lady you see on the street corner ;-) I enjoy reading the Wall Street Journal in print, as well as Writer's Digest and my local hometown newspaper. But once I've read these publications they're "old news". I don't keep them for future reference. And therein lies the difference. Just about every genealogical publication I've ever owned I've wanted to keep for future reference. You just never know when you'll find a long lost cousin who'll turn up somewhere you haven't researched before or fought in a war you've previously not had reason to collect resources for. Am I not right here?

One of these days, I hope to scan the articles in the journals and magazines on my bookshelf so that I will be able to reference them more easily. But that will be a big undertaking. And the very last thing I want to do is add to that undertaking by subscribing to even more printed publications! No thank you. And I won't even get into all the issues of organizing and storing publications. Does anyone have excess space on their bookshelves? Would you rather buy, build, and find a place for another new set of bookshelves or buy a new external hard drive and plug it in? You see what I'm saying?

I'm pleased that Everton Publishers is offering their publication in a digital format. I applaud them, in fact. I hope that when it all comes together next month it is both downloadable and searchable. And I hope a lot of people will subscribe to their offering. (It does sound like a great deal!) I wish them much success with this latest endeavor. And I hope that other genealogical magazine publishers and genealogical societies will follow suit. It will benefit us all in the long run and make our genealogical research that much easier and less time consuming... leaving us more time to blog about our successes! {grin}

There have been several other articles on the print vs digital debate recently. You might like to read what some others have had to say on the subject.

Digital Genealogy Magazines vs. Print Publications
Would You Read a Digital Magazine?
Online Editions for Everton's Genealogical Helper
Everton’s Genealogical Helper adds online edition


  1. You've nailed it once again! There's nothing like the pleasure of turning the glossy pages and enjoying each photo and story as it appears, but for storage and reference there's nothing like a digital copy with table of contents that links to specific articles - and all of it searchable. My copy of Evidence Explained is digital for that very reason.

  2. If I'd known Evidence Explained was going to come out in digital format I wouldn't have bought the traditional print version. I sure wish I had the digital version every time I have to look something up in it!

    You were the smart one, MC!

  3. Thanks for your support of digital publications. There's a place for them, as well as the old paper and ink variety. I'm also finally getting answers to my questions. This I know so far. The digital Online Edition of the Genealogical Helper WILL be fully word searchable. The magazine WILL be downloadable. The indexes at the back (Surname and Advertiser) will be hotlinked to the page within the magazine. The same goes for the Table of Contents. And of course, all web and email addresses will also be hotlinked. It's looking good, and I think our readers will love it - (From Leland K Meitzler, Managing Editor - The Genealogical Helper)

  4. Thanks Leland! Good to know :-)