Online versus paper

Subject: Online versus paper
From: Dorothy Cady <dorothy_cady -at- NOVELL -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 1994 09:33:52 -0600

Steve Christensen said:

>...users will spend more time searching for a "guru" or looking for the
> one manual than searching in the online documentation.

If this is not true, why are there so many third-party publishing firms
making money by producing books (aka paper documentation) on
software applications and operating systems? And, why are companies
still producing at least some of their documentation in paper form when
online is cheaper?

As the author and/or coauthor of six such books, (I'm also a tech writer
for the company whose products I write about in these third-party
books) I can tell you that people still want and need hard-copy
documentation. The third-party books that I write do sell despite the
useful CD ROM-based online documentation and contact-sensitive help
that my employer ship's with its products.

Gwen Gall contributes the following comments saying:

> If no one is reading hard copy before/during/after software use, why
> is there such a HUGE market for non-vendor user guides? Maybe
> nobody is reading the documentation that comes with the product. I
> know plenty of people who opt for reading these user-centered,
> task-oriented books instead of reference-style, product/function
> oriented product documentation.

A large percentage of people do buy these third-party books for the sole
purpose of learning about the product. These buyers often read these
books from cover to cover, and may even come away knowing more
about the product in a few nights of reading than do those harried users
who can dedicate as much as a few hours each day to struggling with
the software itself.

Gwen Gall also states:

>(Oh, and before anyone else points it out, I know that lots of people
> don't HAVE the product doc.--thanks to pirating, but I don't think that's
> the only reason these books sell so well.)

You are right about lots of people not having the product doc, however, I
do not believe that software pirating is the main reason people do not
have the documentation. It's more likely that users do not have product
doc because enough copies are not shipped with the product. Many
companies today use network versions of software, and/or purchase
site licenses. Even though you may purchase a 10-user version of a
software product, you still often get only one copy of the documentation.
Companies producing the product save money, so you can buy a
network version or site license for less than the same number of
individual copies. However, this approach forces the users into one of
four options:
o Learning the product through trial-and-error (often the most
frustrating option
o Attending one or more training classes (often the most expensive
o Hunting down the sole copy of documentation and/or a software
guru (often the most time consuming option)
o Buying and reading third-party documentation (often the most cost
effective and time efficient option)

Yes, there are a great deal of positive comments that can be made about
online documentation and help, and about trial-and-error, button-pushing
learning. But until the human race can "absorb" knowledge rather than
having to work to acquire it, "books" will have a place in our world,
whether they are the reference-types produced by the company selling
the product, or third-party books that you can read whenever your
schedule permits.

********** [ Note: The opinions in this message belong solely to the author.
The corporation for which she works does not endorse and should not
in any way be held responsible for her comments.] ***********

Thanks for your support. - Dorothy Cady

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