Category Archives: Publishing

Building a Digital Library

Even the smallest genealogical or historical society can afford an impressive library – if they build it digitally. Space and costs are not the only reasons to consider digital. There are a number of other advantages too:

  • information is easily accessible to both local and distant members
  • digital publications and records are searchable and can have functional hyperlinks
  • also serves as off-site backup for society records collections
  • color doesn’t cost extra when publishing digitally.

The easiest way to build your library is to take advantage of an existing platform such as Scribd. A free Scribd account allows you to upload and present all the documents and publications you want. These publications are created using tools you already have such as your word-processing or layout software. Once uploaded, they can be read online or downloaded as PDF documents. When you upload a file, you decide whether it will be a public document – visible to all – or a private document that is only visible to those who have a direct link to the publication.

You can set a price for your publications and sell them via the Scribd store. Scribd will handle all the presentation, sales transaction and customer support efforts for a 20% commission.

Scribd also supports revisions. Go to the edit document screen for that document and follow the steps to upload a revision which will replace the existing version. Scribd even keeps track of your revision history allowing you to revert to a previous one if you wish. And, if it’s a publication being sold, those who have already purchased it can download the revision at no charge.

What to publish?

Your society’s quarterly journals are a good place to start.  Begin with the current issue. Upload the finished publication and make the members’ edition available as a private document. Upload a second version as the public edition and put a price on it. When you post a publication for sale, you can define which pages will appear in the “preview” displayed in your Scribd profile. Include the table of contents for that edition along with a page describing your society and how to join.

Don’t stop with just the current quarterlies. Collect the digital files for any back issues that were created using computers and begin adding them to your Scribd library. Again, set a price and use the preview to display the contents of each edition. Include links on your society web site to your Scribd profile and individual publications.

What about those quarterlies that were published before the days of desktop computers? It will take time and effort to scan and prepare them to include in your library at Scribd. Even if sales of your recent publications aren’t breaking records, it might still be worth the effort. Why? Because once they are digitized and posted on Scribd, you’ve also got an off-site backup of these publications protecting your society from disaster.

Don’t stop with just the quarterlies either. What about the transcribed records your members have spent hours collecting, the cemetery inventories and other publications created with society support? Scribd will not only protect them from disaster, but also make it easier for distant members to access them.

You aren’t restricted to for sale publications only. This is also a good place to post your bylaws, newsletters, new member packages, forms and fact sheets.

One last Scribd goodie you might find interesting . . . You can embed a publication on a web page in much the same way you embed a YouTube video. Below you’ll find a family history I’ve been working on for some time. Since this is a free publication, you can view it in its entirety. Publications for sale will only display the designated preview pages until the reader purchases it.


Publishing Outside the Box – The Henry Store Ledger

CCHS Quarterly Cover

You are looking at the cover of a Chattooga County (Georgia) Historical Society Quarterly from 2010. Two volumes were combined as one so the volunteers at the society could create an amazing document. Using a ledger from a country store that began operation in the county’s earliest days as its basis, the society members created a history of the community surrounding that store. Presented in a table format, ledger entries have been transcribed with additional notes to include short sketches describing the person or family mentioned in the entry. Scanned copies of ledger pages and old family photos from society members were collected to add even more value to this amazing document.

Ledger pageTranscription

I only have one complaint. Had a digital version of the publication also been created as a searchable PDF document, this would be a valuable research resource as well as a delightful look at the county’s history.


Designing for Digital

Like most family historians I belong to several genealogical and historical societies which means I have a growing collection of quarterly publications in all sizes and shapes. Although my collection is growing, my available storage space isn’t so most of these publications wind up donated to my local library. While physical space is at a premium at my house, I have plenty of digital storage and would love to have digital editions of these quarterlies.

Digital publications have a number of advantages – for both the society and its members. For the member, it means a library of searchable articles that can be accessed on either their desktop or tablet/reader of choice. Publications can be created in full-color at no extra charge and can include working links – both internal to the publication and external to supporting web sites. For the society, it means reduced printing and shipping costs. Yes, there will always be a need for print editions, but on a significantly smaller scale.

The most common society publications are based on a letter size (8.5″ x 11″) page. Second is the digest size (something in the neighborhood of 5.5″ x 8.5″). I personally find the digest size easier to read. It’s also a great size for making the jump to digital.

I’ve found that setting up a document with a 6″ x 8″ page size and ½” margins gives me a PDF file that can be easily read on both my iPad mini and my Kindle Touch e-Ink reader. On a larger tablet, this size makes a great two-page “spread” when viewed in landscape mode. Granted, ½” margins aren’t going to work on a print version, but if you create a print template based on a digest-sized page and use it to create the print edition of your quarterlies, it shouldn’t be that difficult to edit the margins and create a digital edition too. A little more experimentation could result in a “sweet spot” template that creates both a print and a digital edition with minimal formatting changes.

The first step is experimentation. Create some mockups and ask your members for their opinions. Keep your entire membership informed about the project, changes being made and how they will benefit them and the society.

Change is always tough, but when the result benefits both publishers and readers it’s well worth the efforts.

Publish for Profit with Scribd

Most societies have a gold mine right under their noses – their quarterly journal archive. With minimal effort and expense, those back issues can start generating revenue today! Thanks to the Scribd publishing platform, societies can now build an online library of publications with no up-front costs where digital copies of those back issues can be posted for sale as e-publications.

Scribd profile screen

A sample society profile in Scribd.

Scribd offers individuals and organizations a free and easy-to-use facility to store and present digital publications. Your society can build a profile and upload all sorts of publications – from monthly newsletters and activity flyers to issues of quarterly journals or other research documents. You can post publications for free access, put them on sale as downloadable ebooks or make them available to Scribd’s new subscription service (think Netflix for books). Both the sale and subscription options will generate revenue for the society.

Scribd publications can be embedded on your web site in much the same way you embed a YouTube video. When uploading a publication for sale, you can determine what portion of that publication will be available as a preview. For quarterly journals, you could use the preview feature to display that issue’s table of contents – making it easy for prospective buyers to see if this issue contains articles related to their research.

Scribd stats screen

Scribd stats screen

There’s no up-front costs to using Scribd. When publications are made available for sale or subscription, you set the price for the publication when you upload it and Scribd will take care of the storage, sales and download functions for you. They take a 20% commission from your sales before sending you your profits. Scribd maintains stats records on all your posted publications which not only tell you how many reads you’re getting but also where your readers are and how they are finding your profile and publications.

Scribd makes the technical side of digital publishing quite easy. Convincing your society’s board to take these steps can be a tougher challenge. Most of us still have a significant number of members who have little or no use for computers. You will need a plan that begins the move to digital publications without leaving them behind. Fortunately, most of us are already using digital tools to create our publications so those issues can easily be uploaded and made available for sale. Suggest the board agree to a trial using these digital issues to see what kind of response you get. One selling point for you plan is the “long legs” digital documents have thanks to today’s search engines. These documents can reach a worldwide market and could well attract new, online-only, members. You may also find that the more tech-savy members will prefer digital publications to print because they are searchable and much easier to store.

Take a look at Scribd and see for yourself the potential it offers societies large and small.