The largest genealogy website in the Netherlands, WieWasWie, will introduce a paid subscription starting 1 January 2016 [Update: this has been postponed to 8 February]. The data can still be accessed for free, but some of the advanced functionality will be behind a paywall.
The following functionality will be behind a paywall:
- Advanced search options: searching for 2 persons, using wildcards, option “begins with.”
- Saving searches and documents as favorites.
- Email notifications for updates for searches.
The following functionality will remain free:
- Quick search (one search box, no wildcards).
- Advanced search for one person (no wildcards, no ‘begins with’). This will allow you to fill out the search form for one person using multiple fields (e.g. first name, last name, role, place, date, record type).
- Access to all the indexes.
- Access to all the images.
The subscription will cost € 18.50 per year or € 5 for a single month.
Members of the Central Bureau for Genealogy get a discount: regular “Friends” pay € 10 per year, “Digital friends” get a complimentary WieWasWie subscription.
How I feel about this
As the former webmaster of the predecessor of WieWasWie, Genlias, I know how costly these sites are to operate and realize someone has to pay the bill. I can understand wanting to generate income to cover the cost and feel that it is fair that the people who use the website the most pay their share.
As paid subscriptions go, this one is rather friendly. The subscription fee is very reasonable, especially compared to some of the larger commercial genealogy sites I subscribe to in other countries. It’s also nice that you can still access the data for free so any links you already have will still work.
However, the free option will be too limited for serious researchers. There were so many spelling variations that you need to be able to search using wildcards or ‘begins with’ to have any chance of finding your ancestors. Also, searching for a record that contains two persons is the most efficient way to find all records about a family, and often finds information that can’t be found another way.
The Netherlands has laws that require archives to provide their information for free. A new law to reuse government information has just been passed, that requires archives to provide free access to all of their raw data. Government organizations are stimulated to provide their information as “Open Data” to stimulate reuse and the economy. This paid subscription doesn’t fit in that trend, even though it follows the law by only asking money for the functionality, not for access to the data.
Based on my experience managing similar websites, I expect that the running costs of WieWasWie will rise significantly with this subscription model:
- Payment functionality will have to be added, which will require a level of security that wasn’t necessary so far.
- The code for the paid functionalities will have to be changed to test if the user is logged in with a paid subscription.
- All this new code will have to be maintained. People will probably try to find ways to bypass the paywall and hackers may try to gain access to the customer database and payment information, which will likely require regular patches to the code.
- Doing the accounting and taxes of all the subscriptions will take time.
- Paying customers have more issues than free customers, which will need to be dealt with by the back office. I’m thinking of things like charge-backs or people losing access to their accounts. Paid customers are also more demanding than free customers, so if there’s an outage, you can expect more complaints and claims for refunds. Reasonable or not, these will take time to deal with.
All in all, I’m afraid this subscription model will seriously undermine WieWasWie. Dutch genealogists aren’t used to paying, so they will be turning to the free regional alternatives. I think the revenues from this new subscription model will be less than expected, while the costs may be higher, so I think they will struggle to even recover the additional cost of the paid model, let alone make enough money to recoup some of the cost of running the existing site.
If visitor numbers drop, this could reduce the willingness of archives to keep paying for the shared infrastructure. If that happens, archives will start to leave WieWasWie and focus on their own platforms. The unique selling point of WieWasWie is that it provides access to all the information in one place. If archives start to leave, that may set a chain reaction in motion since that will cause visitors to leave too, which will further undermine the willingness of archives to participate.
Get a subscription
To make sure that my doom scenario doesn’t happen, I encourage everyone to get a subscription. You will get access to essential functionality and you will be sponsoring the most comprehensive genealogy website in the country. This is one occasion where I will be happy to be proven wrong!