Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Affordable Digitizing and Publishing...No, Really!

I have to admit it! I am hooked on the $$$ values I find all over the Internet, but especially in the areas of family history research. As any genealogist will tell you, hobbyist or professional, genealogy is not necessarily a cheap pursuit, particularly if you want to do it right.

It is pretty clear that the Internet has made genealogy so much more affordable and convenient with records availability. Sites such as Family Search,, Cyndi's List, RootsWeb, and others seem now to have been around on the Internet for years. However, what about other aspects of family history work, like digitizing old photos and slides or publishing a genealogy book?

I have found two very excellent sites that I just have to share. Many of you may have already heard of these sites, especially the first one, in genealogy conferences or family history periodicals or even message boards. I want to share with you my personal experiences with both sites, so you can also get a firsthand review of their services, affordability, quality of work, etc.

1 - For digitizing, I absolutely love ScanCafe! Digitizing is becoming a must for all genealogists in order to preserve our precious work well into the future. Up until recently, we had only two options. Pay for a high-quality scanner and slide scanner, and then spend hours and hours of our time scanning photograph after photograph -- only to find we don't have the expertise to restore faded color or make tears in photographs disappear. Our second option wasn't much better. We had to find a local photography store that did digitizing and restoration, and then pay quite the hefty sum to have them do it for us. Now, there is a third option!

I recently ended up with a box of old 35mm slides from my grandmother's personal things. There were approximately 265 of them. I don't have a slide scanner, and didn't even want to consider buying one as these would likely be the only slides that ever passed through my hands. The expense would hardly have been justified. So, I decided to give ScanCafe a try. I'd read about their services from a genealogical magazine.

The process works like this: you go online and make an order. You choose whether you want tin plates, photographs, 35mm slides or negatives digitized. It will ask you for the approximate quantities of each type of media. They will calculate the estimated order total based on the numbers you provide. You will pay for half of that amount plus the cost of shipping to them up front. At the end of your order, ScanCafe will create a UPS shipping label. Find the nearest UPS Store, take your originals and label, and they'll help you package it right. When ScanCafe receives your originals, they will scan them in and notify you when they are done so you can view them online. When viewing them, you select the ones you want to keep and have digitized (you can delete up to half of the original number without paying for them). You can also select extra restoration services at this time, which are very affordable. They do some basic restoration on all of the media as part of the deal, but you can select certain images that might need some extra care. You pay any remaining cost of the order, they digitize them, and then mail back your originals along with your digitized copy (a CD or DVD are just a couple of the options).

I was nervous at first about letting the precious originals go out of my hands, but they use UPS to ship, which means you can track your package all the way to their office. Then, they offer a tracking system while the originals are with them so you can see what stage your order is at. They use UPS to ship everything back to you, so once again, you can track your originals until they show up at your door.

I sent approximately 265 slides. I deleted about 80 of them, and my total cost ended up being a little less than $50, shipping and all. I honestly don't know how their customer service is because with their order tracking system, I never found the need to contact them. The only drawback was it took about 8 weeks from start to finish as they have been featured in several prominent news stories and genealogical magazines, and they are being flooded with new orders every day.

2 - On to my next Internet gem. How about publishing a family history? Let's say you're not a professional, and you just want to create a Christmas gift for your family of some of the stories and research you've found. Most publishers have minimum order quantities, which means it will cost you a pretty penny. You could do it yourself on a home printer, but how would you have the book bound or finished so it didn't look so, well, homemade?

I have worked with over the past two years. They are an online publisher catering specifically to those of us who don't want to pay for minimum quantities but still want professional results. I have done two different family books through them. Both were perfect bound, 100-200 pages, black and white on the inside, with full color covers. The paperback books cost approximately $6.00 a piece plus shipping. (Yes, you read that right.) The hardcover versions were approximately $19 plus shipping. Remember, there is no order minimum, so I can order just one book if I choose. However, they do give discounts for larger quantity orders, as well.

They offer several different binding options, color options, book sizes, and covers. They have templates if you aren't as creative for cover choices, or you can custom-create your own and just upload it as a PDF. They even offer the option of purchasing an ISBN for your book, if you'd like to go that far with it. You can set up your book to earn you revenue, as well. In your Lulu account, you can make any of your individual projects available to the public. You can then set a commission you'd like to earn, and if your book sells, you make money.

When I make an order, I usually have the books within 2-3 weeks (a little longer for larger quantity orders or for hardcover books).

The only drawback to using is making sure your formatting falls within their guidelines so you are satisified with the results when you get them. However, there are plenty of Lulu publishers, including myself, who are more than willing to help edit/format books pre-publication specifically to Lulu's requirements.

The Internet has made genealogy as a hobby and as a profession, much more widespread, more affordable, and more convenient. However, I still think we have yet to see the greatest contributions to genealogy from the use of the web. This includes digitizing our media, publishing our research, and coordinating and sharing information with researchers all over the world.


Lars said...

Here is a list of all the scanning options.

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