Genealogical and historical society members will no longer be able to stay home and log on to ProQuest <www.proquest.com> genealogical databases including HeritageQuest Online through their societies’ Web sites.
About 40 societies are losing remote access as their contracts expire. That’s not a big deal for most researchers, who can go elsewhere for HeritageQuest’s census, Revolutionary War and Freedman’s Bank records, plus the Periodical Source Index. Roughly 4,400 libraries across the country provide access to patrons logging on from home. (Ask your library or state archives if it offers this service.)
But the “elsewhere” worries struggling genealogical societies that used HeritageQuest remote access to attract new participants. “Of course we are concerned that the loss of access to ProQuest databases will cause us to lose some of those members,” says Harry Macy, vice president of the 4,800-member New York Genealogical & Biographical Society <www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org> (NYG&B). The society may discontinue in-library access, too, since two-thirds of its members live outside New York City.
ProQuest’s decision comes after a business review started last December. “We went through all the accounts and looked at usage patterns,” says senior vice president of publishing Rod Gauvin. “Genealogical societies were among the heaviest users, with usage well beyond the original assumptions we used to develop pricing for those services. We were absorbing a significant financial loss in offering them remote access.”
Libraries also complained they paid more than societies for HeritageQuest. “We have models that work for us with public libraries. We know the size of a community, so we can set prices accordingly,” Gauvin says. “With societies, the usage is completely unpredictable.” He added the decision isn’t related to ProQuest’s accounting irregularities, first reported in February, that caused the company to overstate its earnings by $80 million in less than five years.
Gauvin suggests societies that fear losing members may need to update their business models. “We don’t know what they were doing before these databases were available. Some societies are providing massive amounts of content for obscenely low price points.” NYG&B is already heeding his advice. “Our long-range plan is to develop our own online databases so we’re no longer so dependent on outside resources,” says Macy. “We’re pursuing that goal as fast as funds permit.”
From the October 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.