Japanese-style Print-to-Ebook Scanning Catching on in the US

In Digital by Daniel Kalder

Replacing a 200-page novel with a PDF file will cost a grand total of $2.

By Daniel Kalder

The idea behind 1dollarscan.com is simple: why not take all those old paper books or documents that are cluttering up your home, and send them to the firm’s offices in San Jose, where they’ll be scanned and turned into searchable PDF files? Rates start at $1 for 1-100 pages, which means that replacing a 200-page novel with a PDF file will cost a grand total of two bucks. It’s a lot cheaper than buying a replacement on Amazon, that’s for sure — and that’s if the book you are replacing is even available as an electronic file.

Hiroshi Nakano is CEO of zLibro, Inc., which operates the 1dollarscan service in San Jose. Originally launched as BOOKSCAN in Japan in April 2010, the American version of the service opened its doors on this side of the Pacific little over a year later:

“BOOKSCAN was extremely popular in Japan, so we decided to do the same process in the US. We launched 1dollarscan services in August 2011, so we have been open here for almost one year. Demand is growing, and soon there will be more.”

Indeed BOOKSCAN’s almost instant success in Japan was a business dream come true, and part of that was due to an influential IT blogger raving about the service on his site, which says Nakano, had a “huge impact.” Soon the firm had a four month backlog of people demanding to use services, and — perhaps the greatest measure of success — 100 competitors who had sprung up almost over night, like mushrooms after rain. But while an influential endorsement can create buzz, it doesn’t sustain a business long term.

“A large part of our success is that our pricing is very good for users. We charge 100 yen in Japan, or $1 in US, for a set of 100 pages. Nobody can do this kind of pricing model and get profitable, but we do. I believe we are the most affordable scanning service provider.”

Big In Japan

Housing conditions in Japan also help: people live in apartments where space is at a premium, and so a service that reduces the space consumption of books and documents is highly desirable. “Scanning also increases the mobility of books, which users like. Our PDFs can be read across many devices, like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and so on.”

In the US by contrast, most people have a much greater amount of living and storage space, and so 1dollarscan’s development over here has not been quite as spectacular as the instant success of the parent company in Japan. Here, Nakano says “Space consumption is a big reason for using product but the main reasons are greater mobility and the search function. Once a book is scanned, the user can search for any keyword in any document or book. This is a great benefit for users, especially professors, students or researchers.”

Individuals Still Primary Audience

So who are 1dollarscan’s customers, individuals or institutions?

“So far in the US, the individual is the primary consumer. In the future however our target will be libraries or big enterprises — corporate users. However we do have some customers from publishers right now. They use our services to take old paper books, and then we scan them and create e-books which they put on the market.”

Following a period in Japan when demand was so huge that users might have to wait four months before receiving their scans, the average wait is now down to two months, while platinum membership guarantees a PDF will be in your inbox within 5-10 days. Currently in the US, all customers enjoy a platinum-style service, as all scans are guaranteed to be done within 10 business days.

1dollarscan uses industrial-level scanners, and during the process books are split open and destroyed, after which they are dispatched to be recycled. In Japan, Bookscan employs 200 staff, while in the US there is currently “about 20.” “In both countries half of the employees are operators who do the cutting and scanning. The other half are quality checkers. They inspect each page of a PDF file, and then there are two more approval processes after check. After that, we deliver to the customer.”

Nakano stresses that the service complies with all copyright laws; scanning services are provided under the condition of Fair Use and all customers have to agree with the Terms and Conditions to use the scanning services.

“In Japan we have no issue with publishers, though seven authors did file a lawsuit against a rival, poor quality scanning service, though they later stopped the lawsuit. On our website we make it clear that we do not want to compete with publishers. We want to work with them to expand the market. We also have a copyright management system on our website for authors and publishers. If publishers do not want us to scan their content, they can register with us. We are open and cooperative, and so far nobody has registered.”

Amazon Direct

1dollarscan does not disclose precise figures for users or the number of books scanned, but Nakano sees immense potential. “The market for e-books is bigger in the US than in Japan. One interesting option we offer in both countries is Amazon Direct. A customer might buy a book on Amazon that isn’t available in an electronic format, and have it delivered directly to us. We scan it and then the customer receives the e-book. This is a good service since many books are not available as e-books, especially older books. The usage for Amazon Direct is really high.”

In addition to scanning books, 1dollarscan also scans documents, business cards, photo albums — if it’s paper they’ll scan it. For instance, says Nakano: “We are getting quite a lot of orders for old high school yearbooks.

As for the future, Nakano sees global potential. “We are thinking about Europe and Asia. Everybody on earth has demand for this service. We are also very interested in increasing cooperation with institutions and publishers. We have one or two deals currently running with universities. For instance we can take research papers and can make them digital and searchable, and our pricing model for this is very affordable. We also want to cooperate with libraries. There are lots of essential books in libraries and most are not in the digital format. If we scan them, then users can search for and find the books they are looking for much more easily. Finally we want to cooperate with publishers. We can support and help them with their back catalogues, helping ebook market expansion.”

DISCUSS: Have the Ethics of Book Scanning Changed?

About the Author

Daniel Kalder

Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist originally from Scotland, currently based in Texas after a ten year stint spent living in the former USSR where he (more or less) picked up Russian. He has written two books about Russian life and culture and contributes features, reviews and travel pieces to publications around the world.