My experiment with Blue Leaf book scanning service

Blue Leaf Book Scanning Service

Update! I’ve completed the experiment below and written a review of the experience.

Original post follows:

Earlier today, I read a post on about Blue Leaf, a company that will scan your book and send you a searchable PDF file. The service costs about 4 cents per page, plus a flat $15 fee to cover operating costs and return shipping.

I immediately wondered whether this was the answer I’ve been looking for to convert the small collection of books I have that aren’t available digitally. I’m too lazy to do all the book scanning by hand, as I suspect most readers are, so these books have remained on my To Do list for years now.

An affordable way to convert a personal library? MAYBE.

I decided to try out the service on an out-of-print book that the publisher has yet to make available as a digital file; in fact, it was never even published in the United States. I bought it from Amazon UK back in 1997, and physical copies of it now go for $50 or more on various websites. It’s listed on the Google Books site, but of course you can’t preview it or purchase it digitally there because so many authors and publishers don’t want Google to sell their books.

I deliberately picked a book that’s written in English but uses lots of accented characters and foreign names (it’s about Hungarian history), and that has photographic inserts, a bibliography, and an index. As soon as it’s returned, I’ll post a follow up about how well the service worked.

There are three things I realized as I clicked the button to proceed with the order, and I think they may impact how useful Blue Leaf can be for readers who want to convert their private libraries:

  1. It’s emotionally hard to send off a physical book. I’m not a fan in any way of physical books, and yet I felt a twinge of fear as I slid my book into a padded envelope to ship to Connecticut. What if it gets lost? What if I never see it again? What if it’s returned in pieces? I know it’s irrational, but it’s what I felt.
  2. I’m not sure I’m brave/foolish enough to try the service on the few books I do consider precious. I have an oral history of one of the few survivors of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1978. I would love to have a digital copy, but I’m not sure I would ever be able to willingly part with my copy. Even with postal insurance, I don’t know that I’d be able to replace it if it went missing. I’ll probably have to scan this by hand myself or never do it at all.
  3. It’s just too expensive to convert an entire library. To convert the <300 page book I chose, the total cost was just under $28, not counting the extra $5 or so I'll spend on shipping supplies and fees. I'm going to end up paying about $33 for a digital copy of this book. I have another one I wanted to try, but at 400 pages it became too expensive for my test. One could argue that if you value your free time at more than a few bucks an hour, Blue Leaf still works out to be far cheaper than doing it yourself. On the other hand, you can just leave those books alone and hope that someday they'll be made available in the marketplace

Realistically speaking, unless you’ve got a big pile of cash, Blue Leaf is best for special editions you just have to have in digital format.

An affordable way for authors to convert their own out-of-print works! YES.

The real beauty of the service may be for authors. David Rothman on Teleread noted that Blue Leaf offers an incredibly cheap way for individual authors to convert their own out-of-print titles into digital formats.

This could be a helluva a deal for individuals and small publishers. Talk about the potential for getting back lists into E and POD!

An average book would cost someone around $30-50 to convert into a basic PDF or Word doc that you can then adapt into various ebook formats. If you’re really anti-DIY, you can even pay Blue Leaf extra for them to create the device formats for you. (Note however that to get all the formats delivered on CD, plus an audio version using technology similar to Amazon’s text-to-speech functionality on the Kindle, you’ll be paying closer to $100.)

In fact, I hope the author of the book I’ve sent in for conversion takes note, and converts his book on his own for digital distribution. I’m sure services like Blue Leaf will continue to appear, and between those and various ebook retailers (yes, including Google Books), there’s no reason for any author’s older works to languish in “not for sell” exile.

[ via Teleread]

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