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 16:22:38 -0500

David Neeley provided additional details:

<<The application... starts around $50,000...and it's much smaller
than the main product the company produces.>>

That suggests that producing quality printed docs would really be
an infinitesimally small part of the total cost.

<<Our software becomes an environment in which the integrator
who sells and installs it and the end users themselves develop
finished process programs. In any given installation, there may be
a handful of manufacturing client stations or there may be hundreds
or even thousands.>>

That's certainly a much more compelling argument for producing
only a few copies to go with the product, then selling additional
copies if the customers don't want to print their own from the PDF
versions.

<<I have already put in a request to spend time in the field at
customers' sites promptly when this rush project is done. As to
user preferences regarding type of documentation--my philosophy
is to give them every style of documentation they wish to use,
consistent with our staffing and our deadlines.>>

Excellent! The approach sounds pretty reasonable to me.

<<In future, I want to add motion video files of some type to
illustrate areas in which users may have problems.>>

And you'll certainly have trouble putting that in print. <gdr>

<< I am also reviewing types of binding...>>

Your suggestion of "wire-o" binding (or some equivalent "lay flat"
binding) sounds like the best solution given the operating
environment.

<<The demand publishing I'm referring to scales down to single
copies. Because of the nature of the vanity press, this is a very
good form.>>

It's still likely to be very expensive. Conventional "short-run" printing
starts at around 500 copies; with modern alternatives such as
"computer to plate" or Docutech, much smaller runs are possible,
but you're still probably going to find a lower per-copy cost if you
look at runs of 100 copies and up. The problem is that you're going
to be billed once for the setup and cleanup time no matter how
many copies you print: if those costs total $100 and you print 1
copy, that copy costs you $100 per copy. If you print 100 copies,
the cost is spread out, and adds only $1 to the cost per copy. You
could analyze this mathematically, but the principle is clear
enough: analyze your past history of demand for the products, and
pick a small print run that spreads out the costs acceptably.

<<In our case, we would supply ready-to-publish .pdf files (which
we produce already and put on the CD) to the demand publisher.>>

Make sure you talk to the printer well in advance and provide test
files for troubleshooting. Some printers are quite happy with PDF,
but the majority still seem to be getting used to the format, and the
last thing you want is surprises.

<<I would submit that documentation is generally not regarded by
management as a profit center.>>

More's the pity. If I had time and funding, I'd dearly love to provide
hard numbers to support the economics behind my suggestion.
Maybe if I go over to the Dark Side of the Force and pick up an
MBA?

<<Taking the physical printing requirements out of the loop, we
gain at least two weeks in every release cycle for finalizing the best
documentation we can provide.>>

That's an important factor indeed. However, it suggests that
another strategy may also be appropriate: document the things
that change rarely, if ever, on paper, and put the reference material
online. For example, a product overview that provides readers with
an understanding of the parts of the software and how they interact
isn't likely to change much over time, but the specific details of
how those parts function will change, and should go online.

<<If the demand publisher were to do the entire fulfillment job, that
would be great. Our printer currently does that for us, anyway.>>

Why not talk to your current printer? They may be able to offer a
solution for you, even if it's only to subcontract the job to someone
that they trust, at an appropriate cost. The printer I work with is
slightly more expensive than others in my area, but I've worked with
them for so long that they know my requirements and how to meet
them; knowing that I can get dependable results (and an in-person
consultation on a moment's notice) is certainly worth a few extra
bucks in my book.

--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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