Marriage… or Monopoly?

By Crystal Conde Premium

In a move that rocked the family history world, and A&E Television Networks (AETN) announced in April that MyFamily, owner of online genealogy giant < >, has acquired <>, producer of the top-selling Family Tree Maker software. The deal puts, free grassroots site RootsWeb <www.rootsweb. all under the MyFamily umbrella — and allows MyFamily to dominate the Internet genealogy business. Together, these Web sites receive more than Illion monthly visitors and boast more than 1 million paid subscriptions.

A survey on our own Web site <> asked if this business marriage was for better or for worse. Of the 100-plus responses we received, an overwhelming majority indicated that the merger creates a monopoly and isn’t in consumers’ best interest. Here’s a sampling of the feedback submitted:

“Monopoly is never good. I believe competition is healthy in any field. The bigger an entity gets, the harder it is for smaller ones to compete, until they’re forced out of the market. We all know there’s money to be made in genealogy, but if it’s all in the hands of one company, it will ultimately control everything available, as well as the price we pay to use it. Many were fearful of Roots Web’s demise when took over. Thus far, it still operates much as it did, despite MyFamily’s quietly appending the WorldConnect database to its database. We can only hope this additional merger will not compromise the future of genealogy online.”

— Betty Malesky

“I believe that when all is settled, this will be a really big boost to online research. I feel that keeping all the Internet properties separate is not the way to go. Since two of the three Internet sites require paid subscriptions, they should be combined. Giving those who now use either one or both the chance to have everything under one umbrella would be mind-boggling. As someone who uses two of the sites, I think the combination will make online research even better.”

— Jerome P. Rosenthal

“Regarding the merger of and, I am concerned. By operating both sites as completely separate divisions, they will be such a behemoth that there will not be much incentive for the two to keep trying to outpace each other with new online data collections and other services. Considering that they both do essentially the same thing and have significant overlap, if they decide not to merge their online data, I may start looking elsewhere. I have the same comment if they want to continue to charge separate fees to those of us who subscribe to both services. I will also be very disappointed if they don’t merge their online subscriptions so that my Family Tree Maker software can search both sites for data. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see the subscribers coming away as winners unless they merge these two operations into one completely integrated unit from the user’s standpoint.”

— Karl Nordstrom

“I’m a bit concerned that this takes consolidation too far. When Broderbund was the parent of three good genealogy software packages, it started to dilute the sales effort for Family Origins in favor of the more expensive Family Tree Maker. By the time got hold of the programs, Family Origins was totally wiped out. Other programs such as SierraHome’s Generations simply couldn’t withstand the out-of-control freight train plowing down the track at it, and it, too, disappeared. Attempting to rise from the ashes is the successor to Family Origins — RootsMagic. But now, instead of having the power of a large company to promote it, the maker must try and go it alone, selling one copy at a time from his Web site.

“Wholly Genes’ TMG [The Master Genealogist] has a strong user base among serious genealogists, but this type of consolidation will kill off programs designed by genealogists in favor of one designed by programmers. Family Tree Maker makes pretty reports — period. It has none of the flexibility that real genealogists require — and do find in TMG and RootsMagic. But it has millions of dollars with which to promote itself, and as a result, plastic and cardboard replace the solid gold of good genealogical record-keeping.”

—Dave Birley

From the August 2003 Family Tree Magazine