“Since Archives.com’s launch in January 2010, the site has rapidly grown to more than 380,000 paying subscribers who pay approximately $39.95 a year,” said the Ancestry announcement. “Archives.com offers access to over 2.1 billion historical records, including birth records, obituaries, immigration and passenger lists, historical newspapers, and U.S. and U.K. Censuses.” Archives.com is owned and operated by Inflection, LLC.
“I want to emphasis that our plan is to keep Archives.com as a distinct brand and site, to continue to nurture its existing partnerships, and to continue to invest in new content, product and technology,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry.com.
Following the announcement, Sullivan convened a conference call with genealogy news writers to answer questions about the acquisition. Sullivan was joined by Joe Godfrey, general manager of Archives.com.
“Like we did with fold3, we’re only going to increase the investment,” Sullivan told us. “We’re going to do what we can to support their vision.”
“We’re not terribly worried about cannibalization.” Sullivan said there is an opportunity to have product and feature differentiation. Sullivan avoided saying how much content will be shared between the websites. Instead he stated that even with similar content, users will interact with that content in different ways. Godfrey explained that the user experience will differ on each site, such as complexity of search options and data presentation.
Sullivan said that one of the big values of the acquisition is the staff coming with the assets. “We wouldn’t do this deal if we weren’t incredibly excited about the Archive.com people that will be part of it.” Ancestry hopes to acquire a team of about 40 talented engineers, digital marketers, and family history innovators, including some offshore.
According to DearMYRTLE, volunteer indexers for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project were already expressing concerns about the acquisition, wondering if they wanted to continue indexing if the index would be subsumed by Ancestry.
“I would encourage them to continue digitizing this important collection,” said Godfrey. Sullivan applauded efforts by the project’s volunteers and reassured indexers. Their work would be published free on Archives.com and Ancestry will continue to pursue its own index through their paid indexers. He said that having two or three indexes is good for the category.
Sullivan admired Archives.com’s partnership with the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). Archives.com hosts NARA’s 1940 census website. While Sullivan denied the acquisition was influenced by brightsolid’s entry into the U.S. market, the acquisition places Ancestry squarely into the same business model brightsolid uses in the United Kingdom: offering the same content through multiple websites, partnershipping with the National Archive, and hosting websites for the archive.
I asked about monopoly concerns. The acquisition of one website by another in the same category always raises the question as to whether the acquisition will harm consumers by decreasing competition. Sullivan declined to say much concerning the company’s efforts to acquire governmental approval. “We’re pretty confident we can get through [the antitrust review],” said Sullivan. “We’re doing this to increase investment, increase choice. There is no negative to consumers.”
I asked about genealogy.com, another website that Ancestry acquired and subsequently allowed to decay into disrepair. “We made a decision that we didn’t have the bandwidth to do Ancestry.com and still support genealogy.com, our second brand.” Sullivan acknowledged the parallel in the acquisition of an additional brand, and admitted that they haven’t decided what they can do with genealogy.com. He said that part of the problem is that genealogy.com is built on old technology . “We are thinking, what can we do? What should it be?”
I asked who approached whom. Sullivan would not say. He and Matthew Monahan, Inflection president, had talked before Inflection created Archives.com and the two had kept in touch ever since. Several months ago the two had decided that the deal made sense.
According to Godfrey, “Ultimately, we and Ancestry have a shared view on what we want to create and fulfilling that vision is something we’re excited about.”