Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Publishing your railroad book

We've been puzzled by seeing several people spending thousands of dollars to self publish railroad books in the conventional way that results in high up-front inventory costs, and an expensive volume, with the result that they strain their finances while making the information much less accessible than it could be.

You might want to consider electronic publishing either on the internet or using on demand printing (or both). If you can scan the pages and convert the text using optical character recognition, yourself, then publication costs can be very low while maintaining extremely high quality (and you can get bound volumes while avoiding having to spend hours running a photocopier yourself).

If you created your book as a computer file, putting it online is incredibly easy. Putting a converted book online as a PDF file also costs almost nothing, and takes very little time and effort, now that scanners and on-line storage costs have dropped so dramatically. Our website despite having thousands of pages, thousands of pictures, and multiple books on-line, still has a vast and growing amount of unused space, so we'd be glad to host such an electronic railroad book on our website at no cost to you (and at no incremental cost to us) if you don't have the capability yourself and want our help to do this. Here are a few examples of books or book chapters already on our website:
Many other examples can be found at in the history readings.

Judging from Bruce Cooper's experience in publishing Riding the Transcontinental Rails this way, printing copies from such an electronic manuscript a few at a time shouldn't cost very much per copy, and requires no up-front investment.

Contact the CPRR Museum if you would like us to publish your railroad book online for free.


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Making Photos Available

A major problem that researchers are experiencing these days is the cost of acquiring reference prints of historical photos from archives and institutions that hold them. There seems a fundamental conflict between the needs of institutions with large holdings to cover costs of making reproductions available and to care for their collections, on the one hand, and the ability of patrons and researchers to acquire copies of those images that the institutions hold in the public trust at a reasonable cost that is affordable. In this age of escalating photo reporduction costs, I'd like to suggest that archives of significant collections consider an alternative to help keep costs down and increase availability of the material to the public. This is scanning photos and producing high-quality prints from the scans. With modern quality color ink-jet and laser printers a good quality 8.5 x 11 print can be produced quite inexpensively especially when compared to prices being asked by many photo finishers these days. True photographic prints could also still be availabe for those who need (and can afford) them. Recognizing the investment in scanning all images, I might suggest approaching it much the way the California State Railroad Museum (and many others) handles reproduction of prints. If a negative does not exist, the patron pays for producing a copy negative (which the institution keeps for future use) in addition to the print cost. Similarly, a scanning charge could be made for images (either negatives or positive prints) that have not yet been scanned, in addition to the print charge. Clearly there would need to be an investment in quality printers, scanning equipment, and in computer memory (both RAM and stored), but the cost of both is relatively modest, particularly when the output is to be no more than, say, 11 x 17, and likely no more than 8.5 x 11. As an example, the Pacific Coast Chapter, R&LHS, has recently posted on their web site the following prices for such digital prints from scanned images.

Costs for prints are as follows:
5" x 8" paper - $7.00
Letter size paper - $10.00
Cost includes postage and packaging.
[Within US only Additional fee for International Mail]

Send inquiries and photo orders to: Pacific Coast Chapter, R&LHS
Attention: Carl Rodolf
5810 Hemlock Street
Sacramento, CA 95841-2308 or e-mail:

By greatly lowering reproduction costs I think institutions will greatly increase the availability and use of their image collections while adequitely covering costs (including staff time), and while still being able to include a margin for support of the collection. As public trust institutions, it does little good to acumulate and hold collections if we are not able to effectively make them available to the public. As a separate question, institutions may consider making available images as digital files, and choose the formats and image qualities they might (or might not) make generally available that way.

Kyle Wyatt
Curator of History & Technology
California State Railroad Museum

8/10/2006 12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reproduction costs are dropping rapidly with digital technology, but are only a small part of the actual cost – to do a complete cost analysis, all of the costs need to be taken into account. For example, the rapid depreciation on the equipment used, the time cost of money representing the value of the collection, the facilities cost (rental value of the facility, storage, utilities, etc.), the salaries and fringe benefits of not just the person doing the copying, but also any administrative or custodial staff needed to maintaining the facility and collection, etc. and to catalog the items, do conservation and restoration, answer questions, identify, locate, and retrieve photographs, and so forth. Some of these costs are hidden because the collection may have been donated, the costs covered by taxpayer funding, gifts or endowments, the costs shifted to grant overhead or other programs, or by using volunteer labor – but if these hidden costs are not recovered, the result could be to put out of business other institutions or collections unable to fund a similar subsidy.

Severe underpricing, however well intentioned, can have the unfortunate result of making it unlikely that the large number of historical photographs that are not iconic images, and historical records, etc. will be widely preserved and made available. Underpricing is a significant risk as the marginal cost for an additional website visitor to view an historic image typically is exactly zero. Much of railroad history has been thrown away because it was not valued sufficiently for it to be economically viable to be retained. There is a real danger that historic collections will not be formed (the "unseen" that economists talk about) or that existing collections will be disbanded; a specific example of a very prominent historic library being disbanded and the contents sold off come to mind. Because of underpricing, donations of collections are likely to be refused unless the donor will provide an endowment to cover the cost of cataloging and maintain the collection, or the donated collection will be immediately sold, contrary to the donor's expectations. It would be ironic if the rapidly falling cost of digital technology for image reproduction results in loss of collections (or potential collections) and defunding of the institutions that have traditionally been the repositories of our history.

However, it is mostly the total cost recovery that matters, and it has long been understood that charging different prices to different market segments may result in a spectrum of over and underpricing that makes a good or service economically viable that would not be viable if all were charged the same. In the transportation industry, charging a variety of fares to different passengers is an example of such efficient "Ramsey pricing." So perhaps a solution is a combination of underpricing personal copies of photographs while overpricing reproduction rights for publication use, if this can be made to work in an era when electronics reduces the reproduction cost of photographs to almost zero. The CPRR Museum is an extreme example of this, as the cost charged is zero more than 99.99% of the time without underpricing in the circumstances that other collections would typically need to charge to cover their costs. However, overpricing publication rights could also inhibit scholarship and publication, so it may be, that extremely low cost internet subscription pricing (like cable or satellite TV), advertising revenue, or micropayments might be a way to achieve a better overall result.

8/10/2006 12:05 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Making Photos Available

You make a number of good points. However, most of the costs you cite will be present regardless of whether the archive chooses to reproduce images digitally or photographicly. What good to hold an image if most people are effectivly prevented from seeing it. But then what I was advocating was trying to increase availability of images AND increase income dirived from said images, while also increasing the protection of the original image (by having it exposed to light and handling less often).

And none of my comments spoke of posting on the web – although that surely is a way of greatly increasing the availability. And a very valid subject for a whole different discussion. (I think CSRM should be doing much more on the web.)

Granted, depreciation of equipment should be considered. But if a given re source (such as a scanning setup) was purchased and expensed for another purpose, and now sits underutilized, it should not be double-expensed just because it now has a new use. I do agree that the operation needs to be sustainable – which means the periodic replacement of equipment needs to be figured out, including funding source for same (which may not necessarily be from proceeds of the digital photos process).

As to labor, I think I observed that the staff time spend should be compensated out of the proceeds – something that is not happening presently with the photo reproduction (although granted staff is not doing the actual darkroom work). Similarly with overhead. If the existing workload is not increased, then there is no marginal billable amount that should be credited against the digital reproduction (unless zero-base budgeting is instituted and all time accounting throughout the institution is refigured on a new basis)

What I'm getting at is modifying an existing system, compensating for any marginal increase in costs out of the amount charged for product, and pocketing for the program any marginal increase in profits, which is part of what I hope for. No public archive in the world can support itself nor much of its actual programming from the proceeds of the sale of copies there just ain't enough sale out there.

Some other factors to consider for non-profits and governmental entities such as CSRM. First, making this stuff available is part of our public educational duty. Second, staff and infrastructure is largely provided and paid for through other mechanisms. Third, volunteer time has a wholy different set of ways it figures into accouonting.

Bottom line – an institution needs to be financially sustainable based on its many sources of income, and its numerous sources of expendatures. As the note on my friend's wall says: "Non-profit is a tax status, not a business plan."

But if copying charges are expected to cover basic operating costs, you might just as well shut the whole thing down. That isn't where the support money comes from. Rather, making the stuff available is one of the services provided that justifies receiving support money from other sources. and if the institution as a whole isn't providing services, then it will justly collapse, and not just the archive.


8/10/2006 12:07 PM  

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