Are you debating the elimination of printed docs?

Subject: Are you debating the elimination of printed docs?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 14:50:19 -0500

David Neeley is engaged 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!).>>

Interesting dichotomy, huh? But you (collectively) may be missing
two important points: (i) I see no mention of the preferences of the
users of the product, though you may be acting based on your
knowledge of their needs and simply forgot to mention it; (ii) it's
never an "either/or" situation, since you really should try to create a
mix of both printed and online documentation that best meets user
needs.

<<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.>>

I don't know about you, but I really, really (really! REALLY!
***reallly***) hate this, particularly when it's an expensive
application. If you're selling your product for $1000 (say), and the
docs cost $5 per copy, what's the percentage cost increase? For
such a small price, what increase in customer satisfaction do you
get? My guess: for such a small price difference, the customer
satisfaction will increase greatly.

<<no matter how carefully we estimate the demand we often are off
a good deal.>>

Whereas if you ship a set of the documentation with each product,
your estimates will always--surprise!!!--be exactly right. <g>

<<There are now a number of companies which print books on
demand>>

If you really do end up jumping on the Microsoft "What's printed
documentation?" bandwagon, this approach is generally an
excellent idea. Once you've established a working relationship with
a reliable printer; you can print out batches of 100 manuals on
demand whenever your supplies are running low. The biggest
"gotcha" with this approach is determining when to generate new
versions of the documentation and how to handle the existence of
multiple versions of the manual as a result of such ongoing revision.

<<What I will seek to determine is which firms would be
competitive in printing on demand for our documentation sets>>

Avoid the "vanity" publishers you mentioned, since they're likely to
charge you much higher rates than local printers; they make most
of their money in consulting services, not in printing. Ask the
techwhirlers in your area (and other local companies) who they use
to print their documents, then call up these printers and ask for a
quotation. Ideally, pick someone nearby so you can drive over and
discuss details, but once you're comfortable with print production,
there's no reason you couldn't work at a distance with a reliable
supplier. (I've worked successfully both ways for some 12 years.)

<<Additionally, we'd determine if they would be a fulfillment house
for the original software and documentation set, etc.>>

Many printers will happily do this for you at extra cost, but you can
also look in the Yellow Pages under "mailing services" firms. The
prices and service are often better.

<<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.>>

In fact, naysayers notwithstanding, documentation is always a
profit center. Since your department and the programmers are both
included in the company's total cost of operation, and product
pricing is based on this total cost plus enough of a percentage
markup to generate a profit, the more expensive your
documentation, the more profit it generates for the company. (The
logic is a bit skewed, but not correct in essence.)

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein




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