Subject: e-books
From: Erin Cullingham <ecullingham -at- linnet -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 15:56:11 -0600

Quick background:
I work as the lead Tech Writer for a Custom Software company that develops
supply-chain-management solutions for the agriculture and forestry

Recently, these industries have been experiencing slump big enough to have
them reconsidering the cost-efficiency of shelling out for a software
solution. At the same time (and for the same reason), our company is
tightening the proverbial purse strings. Thus, the higher-ups here at Ye
Olde Software Shoppe are trying to find ways to hang onto our clients and
keep them happy, while at the same time, reduce our expenditures on things
deemed "less-than-vital."

One of the things that came under close scrutiny was our ever-so-very
expensive User Guides. These books are quite large (about 500 pages each);
they deal with an entire suite of applications, and how they work and
integrate with one another to get certain forestry/agriculture tasks done.
These books cost us about $60 each to print and bind. Each client is
entitled to two books per release - after that, any additional copies will
cost them about $100. So there is potential to make a tiny profit (however,
our client numbers are small, and the $40 profit per book is quickly eaten
up by the monetary value of the man-hours needed to write the darn things).
So no, we don't rake in a ton of profit from these things - but then, I
don't suppose that's the point of product documentation, is it?

I digress... The managers caught wind of the fact that we could quickly and
easily convert these large book files into very nice, user-friendly PDFs
through which the users could navigate easily, and from which they could
print out only those pages that *really* applied to their specific,
respective tasks. The idea was to upload the PDFs to a password-protected
website, allow our clients' access to this site, and let them download and
print the book to their hearts' content.

I have to come up with a big pros and cons list for this idea. I'm having a
heckuva time with it, because I can only really look at it from my own
personal point of view: as a software user, I dislike reading from my
monitor, and even when I use Online Help I have to print it out before it
makes sense to me. I personally like having a book at my side. On the
other hand, as the person in charge of the writing projects, I can see great
merit in the speed and ease of the distribution of e-books. And yes, they
are "free" to produce, so as a budget-minded manager, I can see the benefit
there, too.

What I need, though, is some market research: has this type of thing worked
for other companies in the past? I can't think of too many software
applications I use that have made electronic copies of their books available
for download on the web... I believe Adobe has done it (of course they
would, wouldn't they?), but who else? And are the costs generally the same,
more or less than the cost of an actual printed book? If a user could
essentially print off a million copies of an e-book if it suited them,
should the cost of the e-book license reflect that, and be incredibly high
to account for inevitable bootlegging? Or should the charge associated
with the e-book be low, to reflect the reduced production costs?

What have been your experiences with e-books? What are your thoughts? What
do you think users generally prefer? Do you know of anyplace where I might
be able to find actual "market research" on this matter?


Erin Cullingham
Communications Specialist
Linnet - The Land Systems Company
1600-444 St.Mary Avenue * Winnipeg, MB * R3C 3T1
Tel: (204) 957-6459 * Fax: (204) 957-7568 * Web: www.linnet.ca

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