Re: saving trees (printing)

Subject: Re: saving trees (printing)
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- westnet -dot- com -dot- au>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com, techcommdood -at- gmail -dot- com
Date: Fri, 06 Jan 2006 23:35:21 +0800

Hi Bill -

Sorry, this is a high-speed brain dump, as I have about 5 minutes till dinner is ready (Oven Baked Risotto Carbonara--yes, I know--risotto carbonara. It sounds weird.)

IBM stopped providing paper manuals with all z/OS (mainframe OS) a few years ago. A handful of manuals are still provided as hardcopy, while the other 100+ are shipped in PDF and BookManager (IBM's own online) format.

According to surveys taken after the paper manuals were withdrawn, a small percentage of customers really want hardcopies, while an unknown percentage would prefer them back but aren't that bothered. A small but vocal minority are concerned that IBM will withdraw the BookManager versions and they'll be stuck with PDF only. I say 'stuck' because, although BookManager has its limitations (clunky viewer and butt-ugly formatting) users love its search capabilities. Acrobat's search facilities have just about caught up but not to the extent that a comfortable BookManager user would feel compelled to switch.

Meanwhile, IBM is working on browser-based tools that sit on top the existing library and provide easier search and navigation. The main one is a Windows Explorer-like tree view of the entire z/OS library. Any user with web access can drill down to select an OS component, publication, chapter, topic, and so on.

To sum up, IBM has managed (mostly) to do away with paper manuals, without a user revolt, even though customers pay a hefty premium for the software. I think they've managed this quite cleverly:

* a few manuals are still supplied as hardcopy where it makes sense
to do so (I forget which ones, but there is some logic to it)
* all manuals are supplied on CD as PDF so they can be viewed and,
if the customer wants, printed
* all manuals are supplied in the familiar BookManager format
* IBM is working hard to improve cross-book searching and navigation
to make it easier to find a particular chunk of info online than
it ever was on paper (find the guy who borrowed the manual, scan
TOC and index, riffle through pages...)

If you have a small library with reasonably self-contained manuals you can probably get away with just providing PDFs. As the library gets larger and more interconnected I think you have to provide multiple formats (HTML; Help; perhaps XML with smart search capabiltites). If you're worried about user resistance and bad PR I'd have a transition period where you make hardcopies available on request for a fee. With on-demand printing you don't have to carry inventory. Some customers might be unhappy with just a PDF, but I bet if you give them PDFs and the option to buy bound hardcopies for $50-$100 a pop most will decide the free PDF is not so bad after all.

Second case study: AuthorIt

I think you've used AIT. If so, you'll know you get softcopies of the manuals and you can choose to pay for hardcopies. I found the manuals not very useful so I didn't order the bound copies. Eventually I worked out that the knowledge base on the AIT web site had the content of all the supplied manuals plus more, and was kept up to date (as opposed to the PDF manuals, which were a snapshot of what was available whenever the manuals were last cut). If I need to do another AIT job I'll probably not bother with the PDFs and just bookmark the KB.

I think the lesson is that you can't stop customers being unhappy when you withdraw printed manuals, but you can help them get over it by making the online versions clearly superior in at least one respect (for example, by gutting the printed manuals ;^)



ps. the Oven Baked Risotto Carbonara turned out pretty well

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