Costs of paper manuals?

Subject: Costs of paper manuals?
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 4 Mar 1998 08:15:30 -0700

Our seemingly neverending discussion over the merits of moving
documentation online brings up a point that's always bothered me: the
assumption that documentation is nothing but a cost center, and the
associated notion that paper manuals are more onerous than their
online kin. I'd like to propose an informal survey, and use the
results to write up a short article for STC's journal _Intercom_
(with a summary to techwr-l, of course) if the results prove
promising. Here's my angle:

Most organisations operate on a cost-recovery basis, and
recover the costs of their documentation groups too. For example,
at FERIC, we've estimated how many staff hours go into producing a
typical report, and used this as the basis for a costing multiplier:
for example (and these aren't the real numbers, which I'll have to
confirm for the summary), a report that cost $1 to print might sell
for $10 to cover both staff time and printing costs. Even companies
that don't do formal chargebacks do have a good handle on the costs
of their documentation group; presumably, this must be accounted for
somehow in the product's sale price.

So here's the question: How does your company incorporate the cost of
documentation into their product sales price? For example
(simplistically), if you know that a given manual costs about $10 to
produce (staff and printing time combined), and your company tries
for a 10% profit margin over costs, the price of the software would
include $11 to cover the manual's production cost plus generate that
10% profit. That being the case, the documentation actually
represents a profit center, not a cost. Interesting notion, not so?

I'd love to receive some feedback on this from techwhirlers working
for companies that do implement some similar form of cost recovery.
I'll keep all results strictly confidential, of course, and I
certainly don't expect any exact details that your employers might
object to releasing. For the purposes of this survey, a good estimate
would be every bit as valuable as precisely calculated costs, and a
confirmation that this is the way your company works (without
releasing any numbers) would also be useful if you're worried about
releasing numbers. Please note: this isn't a scientific study
(hopefully one of our academic members will take this notion and run
with it!), nor is it an attempt to get a competitive advantage over
those who contribute (FERIC is not-for-profit organisation and does
forestry research, so we're almost certainly in a different line of
business altogether from most techwhirlers). Please respond directly
to me, not to the list: I'll probably miss your answer if you respond
to the list, and won't be able to include them in the summary.
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

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