Distributing updated PDF files?

Subject: Distributing updated PDF files?
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 3 Dec 1998 06:03:06 -0700

Amy Nolan wonders <<We release a new software version about every 15
months... I'm looking for advice regarding how to update the pdf
files and get current information to our new customers. If we burn a
CD in January and make changes to the manuals in February and March,
how does a customer who buys in July get the most current pdf
files?>>

If it's just a question of keeping the pdf files in synch with the
software, then it's a trivial task: simply create a new directory
(called, say, "Feb98 release") and put both the source code and the
PDFs into that directory. Your developers probably do something
similar already. When you build (compile) the new release of the
software, the most current PDFs are already in the same directory,
and can be dumped directly to the same CD you put the new code on. If
you mean that the release is every 15 months but that there are many
intermediate updates, bug fixes, etc., then you can still use the
same approach, but we now come to your second question:

<<Should we burn every quarter (which gets expensive)? Should we
burn once, at the beginning of the release, then post pdf files that
have changed to our website (which makes the CD outdated for a
customer who just bought our software)?>>

I don't understand why it's expensive. Are you doing all the work
in-house? At ca. $600 (Can.) for a decent CD-burner and ca. $2 (Can.)
per disk, that's hardly expensive. OTOH, you can produce a master
disk, then turn the job of making copies over to a firm that
specializes in making copies. One local firm advertised about $1 per
disk in quantities of 1000 and more about a year ago, though it may
have been a one-time promotion; I'm sure you can find comparable
deals in your neck of the woods given that the costs have decreased
over the past few years. Putting files on the Web site will certainly
work, but personally, I hate having to search a poorly organized site
to find downloadable files that I'm not sure even exist; you'll have
to organize the site efficiently and find some way to alert customers
to the existence of the new material.

My initial impression is that you should burn a new CD whenever you
release a new version of the software (_not_ every 15 months) and
send out a bulk mailing to your customers telling them that the
update CD is available for $5 (to cover duplication and mailing
costs) but "please allow 6 weeks for shipping and handling". Collect
all the orders that come in over the next 3 or so weeks, send the new
CD out for duplication (make as many copies as you need plus, say, a
10% safety margin), then ship the CDs to those who requested one.
Microsoft earned incomparable amounts of goodwill by doing this with
the SR-2 patch for MS Office; they actually swallowed the shipping
costs, though you may not want to. That kind of consideration builds
customer loyalty if you do it right (e.g., don't ship patches, like
Microsoft tried to do at first for SR-2; ship complete updates of the
software, and make sure the updating process is bulletproof).
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.


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