Charging for softcopy

Subject: Charging for softcopy
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Wed, 9 Apr 1997 09:01:40 -0500

Tammy Sudol wondered what to charge for copies of docs on
diskette instead of in printed form. Tammy, you noted that
your product costs millions of dollars, so isn't it kind of
a niggly point to charge for a $1 diskette or a $2 CD-ROM?
This strikes me as unwise and petty, particularly since
you've already built cost recovery for the printed
documentation into the cost of the software. I'd lean very
strongly towards providing the diskette docs for free.

However, there's likely a profit opportunity here if you
want to take it. There are only two real reasons to have
the docs on diskette: so you can print your own copies, or
so you can access the docs online (to replace or complement
the online help, if any). This suggests an opportunity for
some audience and market analysis... is there money to be
made (perhaps hire another writer!) or customer
satisfaction to be earned by meeting one or both of these
needs?

You mentioned that a concern about providing the documents
on diskette is effectively a transfer of copyright to the
client. Not so. Just as your software has a "you can't
resell this and can't modify it" license, you can protect
your diskette version of the documentation with its own
license agreement. However, add a very clear "if you tamper
with the docs, you negate our careful quality control
process, designed to ensure your safety, and this absolves
us of all responsibility for any damages that result". Your
lawyer will give you details of appropriate wording.

Finally, why not ship the docs in Acrobat format? You can
protect the docs from being modified in that way, so the
client will really have to hack ("crack", if you prefer)
the files to modify them. The fact that they have to break
the password protection to do so means that you've got even
stronger legal grounds to go after them for copyright
violation, if that's really an issue. (If the information
is proprietary, I'm not sure how copying a file is any more
difficult than photocopying the printed manual, so that's a
non-issue.) I've seen demos of the new Acrobat, and it's
pretty sharp... the search and annotation facilities are
lovely, and it's Web-ready. It sounds like an ideal
solution for your clients' situation.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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