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How much does Digitisation cost?

Bound book being digitised

Understandably, one of the most common initial questions we are asked by archivists and other collection holders when speaking to them about our digitisation services is…

“How much will it cost to digitise my collection?”

Unfortunately, there’s rarely an easy answer to this. A lot of different factors influence the ultimate cost of a heritage digitisation project; the format of the analogue items to be digitised, the equipment used, and the desired image outputs are just a few…

In fact, in his 2010 “The Cost of Digitising Europe’s Cultural Heritage” report for the Collections Trust, Nick Poole notes that the per-page cost of digitising archives ranged from as little as £0.27 (€0.36) up to £2.97 (€4.00). And more recently, our own quotes for digitising bound book collections last year ranged from £0.20 to £3.90 per page, and from £0.67 to £3.90 for photograph collections.

The Cost of Digitising – Key factors

Because every heritage digitisation project is different, it’s not possible to give accurate broad costs in this post. But we understand that if you are considering having a collection digitised or planning a digitisation project, it’s useful to have an idea of what factors impact cost and how. So below we’ve outlined the key factors that we take into account when calculating a digitisation quote…

1. Format of Analogue Material

The format of the analogue material to be digitised has the most impact on cost per scan. This is because the media format dictates which equipment we use to digitise the material, which in turn, influences the set up time of the equipment and the average throughput rate (scans per minute).

For example, scanning a bound book on our medium format planetary scanner might allow us to digitise 200 pages per hour, whereas scanning loose photographs on our flatbed scanner might be significantly less than this. Although, as noted below, other factors influence throughput rate beyond simply the archival medium and equipment used.

Newspaper, photo, & book archives in disrepair

2. Condition of Material to be Digitised

Our technicians take great care when handling all of the items that we digitise. But with particularly fragile and timeworn collections, which are more susceptible to damage, they naturally take an extra special level of care. This extremely delicate and conscientious approach does take a little extra time and so does result in a slightly higher cost per scan.

It is also important to note that in the case of extremely fragile items, we always recommend having the collection appraised by a conservator prior to digitisation to assess if any conservation procedures are needed to stabilise the items.

3. Volume and Composition of the Collection

With larger collections, and particularly where collections are composed predominantly of items of similar formats and sizes, setting up digitisation workflows and calibrating equipment between scanning batches takes much less time. This time saving and economies of scale reduce the cost per scan.

Conversely, as you might expect, digitising collections containing materials in a variety of different formats and/or sizes, involves a greater amount of set up and calibration time (likely utilising a variety of scanning equipment) – resulting in an increased cost per scan.

4. Digitising On-site versus Off-site

We scan the majority of collections at our specialist digitisation studios in Northamptonshire, as this provides the most efficient and, therefore, the most cost effective solution for our clients.

Ordinarily our staff personally collect the archive materials to be scanned from the client’s premises and transport them to our studios for scanning, before returning them safely to the client once the digitisation is complete. Naturally there is a small charge for this service, mainly to cover the cost of our staff time and fuel.

Alternatively, we also offer an on-location scanning service for organisations that hold collections that they would like to digitise, but which are too at risk of damage and/or too valuable to be transported off-site.

With this service our imaging technicians travel to the clients premises with our scanning equipment and perform the digitisation on-site. This on-site service necessarily incurs additional travel, accommodation, and labour costs for us – increasing cost per scan.

onsite vs offsite scanning

5. Image Capture Resolution

For the majority of digitisation projects, as standard we produce 300dpi uncompressed RGB master TIFF image files, together with 80% quality surrogate JPEG images.

The exception to this is when digitising photographs, 35mm slides, and glass plate negatives using our flatbed scanning equipment. When capturing these items to resolutions of 600dpi or higher, the scanning time is increased, resulting in a slightly increased cost.

6. Metadata Captured

To quote JISC Digital Media “Metadata creation can be very time-consuming: it will usually take longer than the time required to capture and edit the digital content”.

Simply naming the digital image files in a certain way, such as sequentially in order of capture (i.e. TWA_Img001, TWA_Img002) or to reflect the physical collection/volume of which the images are a part (i.e. TWAmag2015_Jan_pg001, TWAmag2015_Jan_pg002), is a service we offer as standard.

However having additional descriptive metadata (such as names and dates from records, or notes on photographs) transcribed or printed text documents put through an OCR process to make them keyword searchable can involve significant time and so incur increased cost.

7. Image File Formats

Creating image outputs in different file formats for the most part has no effect on cost, even when producing multiple different file formats as part of a project (including TIFF, JPEG, PNG, BMP).

The main exception to this is when combining digital images into multi-page Adobe PDF files – which does present an increased cost due to being a longer production process.

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We hope you found the information above useful. If you are planning a heritage digitisation project you might also find our Best Practice Planning Tips helpful, or if you are looking for funding for a project our Sources of Funding for Digitisation directory.

If you would like a more specific idea of costs for a specific collection or project please get in touch.

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