Are you debating the elimination of printed docs? (An idea...)

Subject: Are you debating the elimination of printed docs? (An idea...)
From: David Neeley <dneeley -at- usdata -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 10:45:14 -0600

Hi, folks.

We're in an ongoing debate between those who believe we should eliminate
printed docs for our applications (large manufacturing software programs),
and those who stick firmly to the "It's not documentation unless it's in
print!) school.

The former group consists of the entire tech pubs staff, while the latter
includes some of the higher-ups who haven't actually used the program for
years. (Sorry for the editorial!).

As it presently stands, printed documentation beyond the reference set which
is shipped with the software is charged for beyond the original software
application price. Updated manual sets are always contained on the software
CD, and they are posted on the company Website for download as required. Our
printed manuals are saddle-stitched black and white contents in color

The documentation sets are produced in various languages, as our programs
are sold in many countries.

As for the paper versions, from version to version no matter how carefully
we estimate the demand we often are off a good deal. No matter how much we
charge for the printed pieces, it's wrong--frequently on the down side. I
may have come up with a simple idea which can potentially please both sides.
In fact, I think so much of it that I'm going to research the subject over
the coming weeks to determine its feasibility.

There are now a number of companies which print books on demand, ordered
over the Internet, by telephone, fax, or mail. This is used as a modern-day
equivalent of vanity publishing for those authors who cannot place a book
with a conventional publisher. It is also used for reprinting older volumes
which have an uncertain market.

What I will seek to determine is which firms would be competitive in
printing on demand for our documentation sets (or book-by-book, as the
customer wishes). The normal marketing efforts these publishers expend as
part of their service would be eliminated, of course, so the manual prices
would be lower than the typical book of the same length. Some details, such
as tracking publication for registered owners or resellers, would have to be
determined. For instance, we might choose to have a publication coordinator
who would take orders, send instructions to the printing house, etc.
Otherwise, they would take care of this function. Additionally, we'd
determine if they would be a fulfillment house for the original software and
documentation set, etc.

There are demand publishing houses abroad, as well. In my cursory
examination on the 'Net, I've seen some in Europe already, and I'm sure a
more extensive number will result from a more extensive search of the Web.

To sell it to the brass, it might be possible to design the program to be an
income center to partially offset the documentation department overhead.

I'd love to hear from any of you folks about any problems you see with this
idea. I'll be happy to include any points I've not considered as I flesh out
the details.

Kindly let me know your thoughts. If there is sufficient interest, I'll be
happy to summarize responses. Let me know if you wish ongoing information,
and I'll add your names to the group so we can develop the idea off
TECHWR-L, then present summaries of progress from time to time to keep
others informed.

David Neeley
Technical Writer
USData Corporation
Richardson, Texas
(972)680-9700 ext. 579
dneeley -at- usdata -dot- com

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