Someday my grandchildren will ask me what a printed book looks like. Hell, at the rate we're going, my children will probably ask the same question. The physical to digital conversion of books just got a lot cheaper with the launch of 1DollarScan.com, based in San Jose, California. An offshoot of the immensely successful BookScan in Japan, 1DollarScan does exactly what its name implies: it scans your documents for a dollar. 100 pages of a book, 10 pages of a business document, 10 business card, etc - you just mail the text in and 1DollarScan will email you back a PDF. While the transition away from print media has been proceeding a pace for a while now, a cheap book scanning service in the US means that thousands of personal libraries will be converted to ones and zeroes, pushing us ever closer to a world where all printed books (Gutenberg to Gladwell) belong in a museum.
Yusuke Ohki started BookScan after he laboriously converted his personal library of 2000+ volumes into digital documents. Now the company has 200+ employees who do nothing but that, and reportedly the service is so popular in Japan there's an extensive waiting list. 1DollarScan promises to bring the same dependable, quick, and hopefully popular service to the US with its freshly debuted Silicon Valley headquarters. The following video was made for BookScan, not 1DollarScan, so it's only available in Japanese, but you can see the basic components of the technology in action. Send, slice, scan, and email. From book to PDF in about two weeks. We've seen better machines, but 1DollarScan makes scanning books simple, and simple sells.
1DollarScan seems pretty cheap, but there are some hidden costs. First, shipping. You pay for it all yourself. Also, did I mention you never get your printed materials back unless you pay a return fee? 1DollarScan defaults to recycling your paper unless you expressively request otherwise (talk about the death of print). You should also keep in mind that while a single book will probably only cost you 2-3 dollars to convert, an entire library can get relatively expensive. My modest collection (some 300+ volumes averaging 300-400 pages each) would cost me something like $1200 not including shipping. Of course, legally buying digital copies for each would probably cost around $3000, so there's still a savings there.
...If book owners were actually going to use this service. I'm not sure they will. If you have a personal library there are three different scenarios that may apply to you. 1) You own rare/expensive books you would never have shipped away out of your hands, let alone sliced up. 2) You own books you'd like to have scanned, but you're not against pirating their digital equivalents. 3) You don't care to digitize your books because you like print. In each of those situations, I don't see why you would trouble yourself to use 1DollarScan.com.
That being said, I still think the new company will do well. There are certainly going to be those early adopters and digital enthusiasts who want to convert their collections. More importantly, however, there are small businesses. At 10 pages per dollar for business documents, 1DollarScan isn't an amazing deal, but it is fairly cheap - probably much cheaper than having an office admin scan documents on company time. The speed and efficiency of 1DollarScan may make it the preferred service for archivists everywhere, especially considering that their PDF printouts come with an optical character recognition (read: searchable) layer that make it ideal for organized collections in a business environment.
And, while I'm sure they will try to avoid it, 1DollarScan is going to be heaven for pirates. According to their website, when it comes to Digital Millennium Copyright Act Compliance: "1DollarScan respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects its users to do the same." They even say, in their terms, that they won't hesitate to report your personal information if they are requested by law enforcement agencies. But c'mon...they are openly claiming that the scans provided to customers are legal under fair use clauses, and it's not like 1DollarScan is going to knock on your door and make sure you weren't sharing the scans they sent you. Trust me, once word gets out how cheap and quick 1DollarScan can be, I'm sure we'll start seeing professional quality scans for tons of books that don't have retail digital equivalents suddenly appearing on torrents everywhere. Call it thievery, but it's a reality of our modern age.
Whether 1DollarScan's success (or failure) comes from legal uses or not, however, their entry into the US market shows how far along into the death of print we are. Honestly, we might as well be shopping for a tombstone. Not only have major periodical publications announced they are making the switch, not only have digital sales continued to climb unchallenged, not only have libraries started to launch massive digital lending projects, but now we have companies looking to fill niche market applications. Wherever print media tries to hide, some new business is hunting it down to deal it a deathblow. In a generation (or less) the only printed materials we'll buy are those whose value is intrinsically linked to their physical form. If it's not ancient, gilded, or unique there's no reason why the digital copy won't do as nicely. I wish 1DollarScan the best of luck, but their service is sort of like a fireplace in an igloo - even if it succeeds, in the long run, it's going to put itself out of business.
[image credits: 1dollarscan.com]