Open Thread Thursday: The Content Wars

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Some readers may or may not know, that in my business – High-Definition Genealogy – one of the services I offer is market research within the genealogy industry. I follow the trends and issues, look at figures such as website traffic, demographics, etc. I attend conferences, meet with management of genealogy vendors both large and small, and generally try to have my “ear to the rail” so to speak.

One issue that has become more noticeable is The Content Wars or as some call it, The Content Race.  Namely, the practice of acquiring access to holdings of research information – both public domain and proprietary – and then digitizing them for use by genealogists and others.

I will have more to say on this topic later this week and into next, and I don’t want to share my thoughts and insights just yet.  I’d like input on this topic just from a reader standpoint without the influence of my written word.

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For our Open Thread Thursday, please comment on these issues:

  • Once a collection of documents is digitized and indexed, should they be made available to researchers for free or for fee? This means they would either follow the FamilySearch (free) or the Ancestry (fee) models. Note: there are many other vendors and providers both free and fee – I am only using the most recognizable vendors as examples.
  • Does it matter if the documents themselves are in the public domain when it comes to charging a fee for access? Does a good index and search mechanism add value to the record set, to the point of justifying a fee for access?
  • Think about the holdings that genealogical or historical societies have.  Should they place access behind a members-only website, even if the documents are in the public domain? What about making the index free but the images members-only?
  • Let’s say that 20 years from now, most records of use to genealogists are digitized and accessible – either free or fee. What will genealogy vendors need to offer consumers to keep them engaged in genealogy? What will genealogical societies need to do to survive if their public domain holdings are made available for free?

©2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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