When you choose to buy a new car and you pick a particular model, it is clear that you have excluded the purchase of some other model of car. So your choice is made among competitors for your hard-earned car purchasing dollars. In addition, your choice is likely to affect your future purchases of cars for some considerable time. If you are like me, you keep your cars, usually, for more than ten years, even though I know the average time is much lower. In a real sense, the car manufacturers are in direct competition with each other. Choosing one, excludes the others.
So, do genealogical service providers compete in the same way car manufacturers (or TVs, or computers or whatever) compete? Hmm. An interesting question. From the Ancestry.com TV ads, you would think that they were like a car manufacturer competing against other genealogical service providers for your hard-earned genealogical dollars. But there are some significant differences. I am not aware of anywhere nearby that I can go to use a car for as long as I want for free. But I can go down to my local FamilySearch Center (remember the names have changed) and use Ancestry.com to my heart's content day after day, as long as I want to sit there in the center.
If Ancestry.com is competing with some other entity, who are they competing with? FamilySearch.org is free. (There is, of course, another discussion on the concept of "free" but that will have to wait). For example, MyHeritage.com's WorldVitalRecords.com is also free at FamilySearch Centers. So if Ancestry.com and WorldVitalRecords.com are both free, how can they compete? It seems there is a fundamental difference between genealogical service providers and other commercial entities who compete in the marketplace.
In addition, if I have a subscription to Ancestry.com (which I do), I am in no way disincentivized from subscribing to another service. My commitment to Ancestry.com could be as short as a one month's subscription or as long as a year and the amount of money I have invested is much, much less than the cost of a car, and even considerably less than the cost of a TV or even a computer. I might be thinking, should I purchase an iPad or subscribe to Ancestry.com, but that is not the same thing as deciding which model car to purchase.
But how do you account for the fact that most of the genealogical information in the world is available to those willing to spend time and sometimes money to acquire it? Doesn't that mean there has to be competition there somewhere? In a very general sense, all commercial enterprises compete with all
other commercial enterprises. You have to decide whether to eat or do
genealogy. You may elect to do both or one or the other.
Let's expand this idea a little more. Do the various genealogical conventions around the country compete with each other? This is a little more difficult to determine. Some of the very local conventions are "free" or free to members of the organization, but the larger conventions all have a cost associated with attendance. In addition, the genealogists usually have additional expenses of travel and accommodation. You may choose to go to one national convention a year or all of them, but the factors determining your attendance are decidedly more complex than simply looking at the different conventions as competitors. Personally, I would go to them all if I had the money and time. But I would soon get tired of living in hotels and eating out. I know a lot of genealogists who have never been to a convention and don't intend to go at all. So does the fact that RootsTech will be in March next year, exclude you from attending a local convention of your genealogical society? If you live in Australia, it might work the other way around because of the cost. You may not be excluded from attending all of the local conventions, but not an expensive one like RootsTech.
What about other genealogical services? Are they in competition with each other? If they are not, then should they cooperate?
It looks like this topic needs some more development. Look soon for part two or three or whatever.