The Cost of Digital
The previous section showed that microfiche is a cost-effective alternative to print. Digitization of texts may be able to provide even greater savings relative to microfiche and print. Unlike print and microfiche, which must be produced and delivered to a library, digital texts have the advantage of being stored remotely but accessed globally via the Internet. The cost of reproduction and distribution of digital information in a networked environment is zero. The only costs are the one-time fixed costs of producing and the annual fixed costs of storing and maintaining the data. These fixed costs can be shared by subscribing libraries that, in theory, could drive the cost per library to a significantly lower level than the cost of microfiche.
In the Early Canadiana Online Project microfiche was converted to digital format. Microfiche was sent to Preservation Resources for scanning and the University of Michigan for optical character recognition (OCR). Cost estimates shown in Table 15.4 are based on contractual costs for scanning and OCR.
The total costs for production are $236.08CD per title or $1.20CD per image. Costs in the second and future years for digital storage and access are $35.76CD per title or $0.18CD per image. This includes the cost of salaries for maintaining the ECO Project database (1.5 full-time equivalents for administration, server and database maintenance) and annual costs of hardware storage. Although the cost of producing digital copy from fiche is less than the cost of microfiche, the cost of storage and access for digital, in this project, is more expensive. This is the result of costs averaging over a smaller number of available digital images that will be higher than the average cost per fiche in a university micro-text room that contains hundreds of thousands of microfiche.
|Equipment & supplies||$7,975||$2.41||$0.01||$2.64|
|Construction, utilities & maintenance||$21,053||$6.36||$0.03||$6.98|
|Annual costs of storage & access||$118,290||$35.76||$0.18||$39.20|
There are two factors that significantly lower the average cost per image of digital production and storage: the number of libraries subscribing to the database and the number of images stored. The production costs of the digital images are fixed costs that are constant regardless of the number of libraries that subscribe to the database. If 30 libraries subscribe to the database, the cost per library is $8.63CD per volume. An increase in the number of libraries or other organizations that subscribe to the database will decrease the "cost-share" for each organization. In addition, the annual cost of storage and access to the database is also a "shared" cost. If this cost is shared among 30 libraries it decreases to $1.31CD per volume per library per year.
As the number of images available in the ECO Project increase, the cost per volume will also decline. Space costs (utilities, construction, etc.) and salaries for maintaining and updating the database and server constitute 97 percent of the costs of storage and access. These costs are incurred regardless of the number of images. Storage costs per volume are $0.90CD of annual costs. As the number of images in the database increase, total storage costs will increase, but the average cost will continue to decline.
The cost estimates from Table 15.4 can be compared to similar recent studies estimating the cost of digital production. Estimates from studies at Cornell University and Yale University are shown in Table 15.5. (Cost estimates from Cornell and Yale are shown in Canadian dollars for comparison. Cost per volume is based on a 216-page text.)
|Early Canadiana Online||$1.20||$258.82||Average cost estimate|
|Yale||$0.40||$83.96||Marginal cost estimate|
|Cornell||$0.43||$91.37||Marginal cost estimate|
These earlier studies show a significantly lower cost of digitization. The Cornell study created digital copies from paper while the study at Yale created digital copy from microfiche. The major difference between the Early Canadiana Online Project and these earlier studies is the method used for estimating costs. Both the Yale and Cornell studies estimated costs by timing staff scanning pages of print or microfiche. These studies are based on the marginal cost of scanning images and producing digital copy. The cost estimates for the ECO project are average costs based on dividing total project costs by the number of images, titles, or volumes. The ECO Project cost analysis includes the full cost of producing digital copies and mounting the database on a server for access over the Internet. The ECO project is larger in scope, number of titles, and number of images. ECO costs include all salaries, space costs, and outsourcing of digitization and OCR. Therefore this cost analysis should be viewed as a liberal cost estimate of a large digitization project with Internet access to the database.