Do you know the difference between upfront costs and total costs? If not, you might think you’re scanning your records for a steal but will end up paying more than you planned for. 

Before starting your scanning and digitization project, take a few minutes to better understand the two types of costs, what to look out for, and how they might affect your project. 

What Is Digitization?

“Digitization” is the process of converting hard copy records into usable, electronic files. It goes by many names (scanning, conversion, digitalization …), but in effect they all mean the same thing. 

One little extra we can add is that the process of converting already-digital images from one format to another (such as PDFs into TIFs) or migrating data from one system to another can also be considered digitization.

Types Of Digitization

Hard copy to digital

The majority of digitization projects are hard copy to digital: scanning the hard copy records and converting them into electronic files. 

  • Paper records – Paper records include folders of student records, bankers boxes of files, oversize bound books, large format engineering drawings, and index-card sized card stock files, among many others.
  • Microforms – The other type of hard copy records most commonly scanned are microforms, which include microfilm, microfiche, and aperture cards.

Digital to digital

Another type of digitization is the conversion from one digital format to another. Although the images are already “digitized,” the phrase is used often enough that it’s just common language when we’re talking about any sort of electronic conversion, even from digital to digital. 

  • Born digital imports – One subset of the digital to digital conversion is “born digital” imports – this is when you have a bunch of files in electronic format that you want to load somewhere. Often, these files were never in hard copy format but were “born” as digital files, such as newspaper articles on a website that can be downloaded as PDFs.
  • Data migration Data migration is another already-digital conversion in which you have us transfer batches of digital files from one system to another. The data and images are already electronic files, but we can still call it “digitization” as a catch-all.

What Are The Differences Between Upfront Costs & Total Costs?

Upfront Costs

Upfront costs are the easy-to-see stuff, such as individual prices for scanning paper pages, indexing file names, project fees, and so on. They’re what you can tangibly make sense of without too much trouble. 

For example, if you have 200 boxes of paper records and you’re given an estimate for $195/box, it’s easy to figure out that you’re going to pay around $39,000 for the project.

Total Costs

Total costs are the sum of what you pay when you wrap it all together; said another way, it’s what it’ll cost you in the long run. 

For example, let’s say you have 250 rolls of microfilm with 300 files per roll. You pull records from the rolls an average of 3 times per day for requests. 

If you’re trying to “save” money by keeping indexing simple and just get one PDF per roll named by the roll label, you’re looking at a project of about $10,000 ($40/roll x 250 rolls). 

Let’s assume that to get each file indexed (250 files per roll) would be an additional $30/roll, for a total project price of $17,500. Instead of spending an additional $7,500 up front, you decide to keep the indexing high-level and only by the roll name. 

When the project’s complete, you have your PDFs. Every time you look for a record, it takes you about 10 minutes because you have to find the correct PDF file then scroll around for the exact file you need. At 3 times per day, this is 30 minutes per day and 130 hours per year! If your employees are paid $20/hour, that’s $2,640 per year spent pulling records and not doing something else (double whammy!). In three years, all that money you “saved” by not indexing up front will now cost you $2,640/year. 

This is one example of a “hidden” total cost item, though others lurk below the surface waiting to drain your energy and pockets if you’re not careful.

Why Does Knowing The Difference Between Upfront & Total Costs Matter?

You might think you’re buying a $30,000 project, but you won’t be happy if it turns into a $50,000 project. 

Or, you spend $30,000 on a project and think you’re done and your scanning partner is out of the picture, but you find yourself spending as much time hassling with your records as before; that’s a “total cost” gift that keeps on giving. 

Instead of spending $30,000 and being happy with your project, you’re still expending resources, time, and money slogging through your records. Over time, this expenditure accumulates to dozens of hours and thousands of dollars that you didn’t plan for.

Types Of Upfront Costs

Below are examples of upfront costs that you might see when you’re getting quotes for your digitization project:

Project fees

A project fee means a flat rate for a project. If you have a small project or something that’s not unit-based, you’ll see a flat fee such as “$5,000 for digitization” or whatever the project is. This makes it very easy to know how much you’ll pay. 

Setup fees

Also known as general management fees and testing fees, this covers the groundwork for getting your project set up, tested, and running. 

Scanning prices

The per-unit price to digitize materials – this could be a price per image, per page, per box, per microfilm roll, or whatever else is being scanned. 


Logistics is the transportation of material and includes pickups, deliveries, shipping, and electronic transfer of data (such as an FTP site). 


Indexing is the file naming and organization of your electronic files. You might be charged per microfiche sheet, per folder scanned, or however you decided to name your digital files. 

These are a few of the more common upfront costs that you’ll see on a quote for digitization projects. The main point is that the units and prices are quantifiable, not something that will likely sneak up on you later in the project.

Types Of Total Costs

Below are examples of total costs that you may not think about when you’re starting your digitization project but could run into as the project goes forward:


Indexing is on the upfront costs list, but if you don’t do it right the first time it might end up in the bucket of the total cost. Indexing can be simple and it can be complex, but above all it needs to make sense! If you get too fancy and overcomplicate your indexing, you could pay for it later and have to rework it, which can be a massive expense. 

System maintenance/oversight 

If you’re storing or hosting your own records once they’re digitized, the system maintenance and oversight can be a sneaky cost that you never really know about. Running document management and content systems can take a good amount of hardware, software, and people hours, so be aware that if you’re purchasing a system or planning on using one internally, this will be an ongoing cost to you. 


Saving a few dollars now only to spend hours and hours later either fixing something or cleaning it up can be a huge total cost expense. Scanning companies are built to do the hard part of digitizing, processing, and organizing images and files. Be careful about being pennywise and pound foolish, because if you don’t do your project right the first time, it’s a headache to fix later.

Next Steps

Reach out to us today! Click the “Get Your Quote” button below, fill out the form, and we’ll quickly reply to you to discuss your project.

Further Reading

Take a look at the following articles for more information about digitization and costs:

“How Much Does Microfilm Scanning Cost?” describes the 9 factors that will be used to determine your microfilm scanning price. Factors include microfilm type, indexing, schedule, and image output. 

“Breaking Down The Box” is an overview of how you can approach your paper scanning project. Paper can be messy, and it’s important to understand the different layers of paper scanning so that you end up with a clean digital image delivery at the end of your project. 

“Records Scanning vs. Records Storage” compares the pluses and minuses of scanning your records vs. storing them. If you’re considering either path, read this post.