As an avid mobile device user who loves paper books of all kinds, there are a few books I own that I've always wished were in electronic form to peruse on my ereader or tablet. I could break out my $49 office supply store flatbed scanner and get busy scanning into a PDF utility like Adobe Acrobat Pro, but that would entail many, many hours of tedious pressing of book spreads onto glass. And then there would be the task of figuring out how to create a file format that is compatible with my device. Fortunately, there are some services that will do most of this work for a reasonable fee.
Blue Leaf Book Scanning Service is one of a handful of scanning services that cater directly to consumers (as opposed to businesses like libraries and museums). Based in Missouri, the service will scan books you ship to them and convert the scanned images of individual pages into PDF, EPUB (ebook), Microsoft Word text and even MP3 audio formats. They will scan books intact or "destructively," cutting the spines off so that pages can be scanned less labor intensively through an automated sheet feeder. Destructive scanning takes your book on a one way trip--the cut pages are not returned.
The process began with my adding up the total number of pages of two books I decided to have scanned. I initiated the order on the company's web site using a detailed form where I chose non-destructive scanning for the 584 pages. The setup fee was $29.95 (now $24.95) for the first book, and $14.95 for each book thereafter. The first 50 pages were free, then there was a 10-cent charge per page. The subtotal at this point was around $98. I opted for the $12 conversion fee to generate standard EPUB format for ereader devices. There were additional options to create the proprietary Amazon Kindle MOBI format, and even convert the resulting text into an audio file with words spoken by a computerized voice.
I then completed and paid for the online order. After blinking at the $110 charge listed on my confirmation email, I had to wrap up the books to ship to Missouri. I chose Priority First Class for $13.60. The obvious pause here is that the books could be lost in shipping. The company warned of this remote possibility. Don't ship irreplaceable items! One of my books was a title easily found at used book stores for a few dollars. The other was a rarer volume of scientific research in the $75 range. I set my worry aside in the spirit of experimentation.
Nine days later, I received an email announcing the completion of the scanning with a link to download a large compressed archive of all the files. After unpacking on my MacBook laptop, I got a folder full of all the promised file formats for each book. I transferred the PDFs to my iPad 2 to view in iBooks and they looked fantastic. A great bonus was that the scanning process included optical character recognition (OCR) of the printed text, so even though each page of the PDF was a scanned image, there was highlightable, searchable text in an invisible overlay. I was even able to open the PDFs in the Voice Dream Reader app to have them read aloud to me!
The EPUB files loaded fine on my B&N Nook ereader. The OCR'd text wasn't perfect, which was expected. I got some gibberish when there was an ornate headline font. My second book had lots of tabular information, so that didn't come out well in the EPUB, but looked fine in the PDF. I realized that I could have saved the $12 EPUB fee by converting the Word documents myself using the free Calibre utility. But then again, that was one less thing for me to mess with. The physical books arrived back at my home a week later at no extra cost.
So was it worth roughly $60 each to have these two books scanned to digital formats? In this case, yes, because they are books I will refer to over and over again in the future on one of my mobile devices when I am away from my home library. 1DollarScan is another popular and much less expensive service that only destructively scans books. Customers frequent the service when they are downsizing and want to convert batches of books that they don't care to keep in physical form. I'll cover this service and some other benefits of digital book scanning in a future post.