15 June 2015

Subscription Switcheroo

*NOTE: This is written from the perspective of a U.S. resident and Ancestry.com subscriber. I am not aware of any new subscription plans for Ancestry.co.uk, Ancestry.com.au, or any other Ancestry sites.

If you have your Ancestry.com account set to auto renew you might not be aware that Ancestry is "testing" a new subscription strategy. These are subscription options we are familiar with:

You should still see these options if you are a current subscriber. That would lead me to believe that if your subscription is set to auto renew it will renew at the same level. Of course Ancestry hasn't actually said anything about testing a new price plan. Nothing on the community news board. Nothing on their blog. Nothing on the message boards.
Screen caps are included after the jump but if you'd like to see Ancestry's new subscription options for yourself click this link. You may have to log out of Ancestry to view the new options. It's because it can only be seen on certain browsers. Even clearing cookies/cache won't change that. (Stopping myself from going on a rant about Ancestry's programmers here.)
AFTER THE JUMP: What they're willing to tell us

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From the new titles you can't tell what's included in your subscription so you scroll down.

Looks like the top two items were added so the Standard subscription wouldn't look pathetic with only one check mark. You can do those first two things with no subscription at all, you would just be limited to the free collections for receiving hints and saving records. Maybe Ancestry's going to take those things away from non-paying members. Put down the pitchforks and torches. I don't think that's going to happen but if it does I'll bring the lighter.
Clicking on the question mark tells you a little more about what's included in that category.
 1. Census, civil, birth, death, and marriage records, as well as photos, stories, and ancestor information from the family trees of the Ancestry community.
 2. Gain a fuller sense of your family story with school yearbooks, wills and probate, homestead and land deeds, occupation, military draft cards, initial enlistment and casualty records, and other family and local history sources.
 3. Take your family research further with rich historical documents, like passenger travel manifests, citizenship and naturalization records, and birth, death, and marriage records from church collections.
 4. Discover details of ancestors’ military experience with a full membership to Fold3.com. Search a collection of 444+ million U.S. military records dating back to the 1600s, including service files, regiment and unit histories, pension files and medal rolls.
 5. Search for news stories about your family and learn about where they lived with a full membership to Newspapers.com, including 100+ million news articles dating back to the 1700s.
 6. Learn what you want, when you want with our library of video courses by family history experts.
The focus of the remainder of this post will be on items 1-3.
Ancestry's copy says, "census, civil, birth, death, and marriage records." Yet "birth, death, and marriage records from church collections" are under #3. Other civil records like wills and probate collections are under #2. Neither of those is included in the Standard subscription so Ancestry actually meant "census, civil birth, death, and marriage records." Commas matter. I called Ancestry to find out what collections are included in line item #1. There is no detailed list available with collection titles so it's impossible to find out exactly what you're paying for.
Here is the only information they would give:
 Census Records
 Civil BMDs
 Voter Lists
 Public member trees and the contents of those trees
Notice that none of this is country specific. If the Standard membership includes records from all over the world, to get to ancestors in other countries we first need immigration records (e.g. ship manifests, naturalization records, etc.). Those are only available with a Plus subscription. Yeah, that's convenient.
Here are the items added when you upgrade to a Plus subscription:
 Church (BMDs, baptisms, etc.)
 Wills & Probate
 City Directories
 Land & Homestead
 Family & Local Histories
Getting around the missing 1890 U.S. Census, or any other census where you can't find a relative, is gonna be fun for anyone who signs up for a Standard sub. A lot of the collections used as workarounds are only available with the Plus.
They could have said that Plus includes all the collections available on Ancestry.com but they didn't. I called and asked. I was told it included "virtually everything." So I asked the obvious follow-up, "What collections would be added with an All Access upgrade?" That's when the customer service rep walked back her answer to "as far as I'm aware the Plus subscription includes all the collections on Ancestry.com." How's that for a CYA answer?
Ancestry will not give consumers purchasing a subscription during this "test" phase the details about what they're getting for their money. That's bad business. Is it even legal? A focus group could have told them the problems that would arise from this pricing structure. Like most issues with Ancestry these problems could have been predicted if their employees knew the first thing about genealogy or if they had bothered to ask the genealogists that Ancestry has on staff.
It took friends of mine matter of minutes to sum this up.
Friend 1: So a first-time subscriber, Firefox user, and careful consumer reviews the offerings and chooses U.S. Discovery (same price as Standard). Tries to access draft cards and gets the increase your subscription message. To the new consumer, that sure looks like a bait-and-switch ploy.
Friend 2: and the old subscriber who has always just needed US records now has a 50% rate increase to access all the same records they currently have access to. World records are useless for many many subscribers because either Ancestry doesn't have the records or because their research hasn't taken them across the pond yet.
Friend 3: And are the labels intended to be confusing? A lot of people refer to the US only records as a basic sub. That can easily be confused with "Standard" if you don't realize that changes have been made. There is already a Plus that includes Fold3 and Newspapers, but this "Plus" does not. A bit of a switcheroo.
For returning customers it's a pretty big switcheroo. What will new subscribers think when they find out what is included in other members subscriptions? Newbies are also being thrown into the BETA site. You know, the one that has basic features that aren't functional yet. That rant is for another time.
If Ancestry wants to change pricing they need to be clear about what they're offering. Given a choice these different categories may actually suit some researchers but if customers are just thrown into them Ancestry is just going to damage their brand.
One last thing, it seems that the m.o. of Ancestry employees is to never finish what they start. Here's the bottom of the new subscription page:

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  1. Thank you for brining this to our attention. And, shame on Ancestry for blocking your blog from FB. The truth may hurt, but needs to be heard. Re the beta, not so beta anymore.....absolutely the worst.

  2. Well, I have been using ancestry since 2007....I rarely visit their web site as I can't stand how slow and difficult it is to use. I only go there for the DNA site and to answer emails. The new changes they are making now, just suck!! I think I would dump them if it weren't for the FTM software I use and the compatibility with the site search. I wish the familysearch.org had not partnered with ancestry.....it is a free site, with record translations done for free....and when you reach a record you wish to view....no longer free unless you are a member of ancestry. What is even more strange....I, more often than I care to deal with, am unable to find those exact records I'm searching for by going to the ancestry site using the same search criteria I used at familysearch. At least at family search, if you get desperate for info that has not been put into a database, you can view the actual records and search....long process but it works.

  3. Thank you for the post. I have been giving thought to changing from MyHeritage to Ancestry, however, after reading this complete posting, I think I will just stay put.

    1. Gerald, I'm not sure about MyHeritage. Can you tell me more that would make me consider going that route? I feel like they just don't have the records access I need. Yet, I hear some good things about it.

  4. I think what you are misunderstanding about Ancestry is that they do not now and have never give a d--- about customers. They see themselves as your only good option (well, they have taken over almost all genealogy on the internet) and until that changes they have no reason to care.

    I usually do a ton of research on Familysearch, get a long list of docs i can not seem to locate elsewhere so I need from Ancestry and then every so often purchase a month and go grab all those docs real fast. No sense wasting any more money than I need.

    And I did notice the fact that databases we once had with the standard or basic packages are now in the higher level packages. My hubby thinks that you are wrong in the fact that they do not know what they are doing with the packages. He says it sounds like a typical scam to force people to purchase the more expensive packages. (Get them in and let them have a taste. Then go, Oh my! Found out that your family XYZ? Then here is the more expensive package that you need to follow up on that...)

    I remember years ago when they first started out and they would allow you to do a search for free, tell you all the great records they found with that exact name and qualifying info and then try to sell you the package. Then when you purchased and ran the same search with all the same criteria there was next to nothing. It was so bad that I remember doing screen prints of before and after to share with people and prove what I was saying. My first ever purchase with Ancestry all those years ago was refunded when I showed them the con they were running. It took several years before I was willing to try them again. Looks like not much has changed.

    1. RnR...I remember the exact same thing...a hundred years ago in the beginning stages of Ancestry.com. I had forgotten all about that.

    2. That happened to me, too! I thought I was the only one! It's driven me nuts all these years that I can't find a phantom child of my ggrandparents.

  5. You said the plus didn't include Newspapers.com and Fold3. Their website does say that it is included now. Was this written before they made some final changes or are we still to be suspicious of what we are receiving? Have they really screwed with the US standard subscription? Have they really moved most accesses to records to the next level?

    1. PS: My signup page says pretty much exactly as before 1) US - see ALL U.S. records 2) US Plus - see ALL U.S. & INTERNATIONAL records and 3) US Star - see all plus Newspapers.com and Fold3. Are they back to normal again?

    2. One of the really confusing things about this is the naming of the subscriptions. First there's U.S. Discovery, World, and World Plus. Then there's Standard, Plus, and All Access. The World Plus and the Plus subscriptions are not the same. World Plus and All Access are the same. If you're seeing the U.S. Discovery sub option then you're signed in. Try signing out. If you still don't see the new options it's because you don't have the browser that Ancestry is "testing" the new options with.

  6. Okay...I must not have the "testing" option. I'm signed out and all I see is the screen I mentioned before. Thanks.I think I will take a long, if not permanent, vacation from Ancestry for a while

  7. Has ancestry jumped the shark?