How Much Does Microfilm Digitization Cost?

“How much does it cost to convert microfilm to digital?” is one of the most common questions we get from libraries, law enforcement agencies, museums, school districts, and other organizations interested in digitizing their microfilm collections. “It depends” is the most common answer.

There are many factors that impact the total cost of a microfilm digitization project. In order to get the most accurate estimate for your microfilm conversion project, make sure the conversion partner you’re considering takes into account all the aspects of your job, not just the amount of microfilm images you need digitized.

Microfilm Conversion Project Cost Factors

Type of Microform

“Microfilm” is the catch-all phrase used for any microphotographic reproduction of books, manuscripts, maps, journals, and other documents. Technically, the correct umbrella term is “microform” (which includes microfilm, microfiche, aperture cards and other types of film). For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on microfilm proper. When pricing a microfilm conversion project, vendors should first consider the type of microform in your collection. There are two common forms of microfilm:

  • 16mm microfilm comes in rolls that are either 100- or 215-feet long and is most often used for office-sized 8-1/2″ x 11″ / A4 documents or for financial records.
  • 35mm microfilm comes in 100-foot rolls and is used where larger frames are required due to larger source documents such as newspapers, architectural drawings and engineering plans.

Learn more about the different types of microform and converting microfilm to digital.

Number of Microfilm Rolls

One of the main factors in determining the cost of a microfilm conversion project is the number of rolls that will be converted and the number of images that will be scanned. The distinction between “rolls to be converted” and “images to be scanned” may seem trivial, but when you are getting quotes on microfilm conversion you need to determine whether the vendor charges per roll or per image. BMI, for example, normally charges per microfilm roll while some of our friendly competitors charge a per-image fee. In either case, most microfilm companies offer volume pricing (the price per roll/image goes down the bigger the project is), so if you are considering digitizing in stages with the idea of saving money, it may actually cost less overall to convert your entire collection as a single project.

Condition of Original Material

Microfilm is a (potentially) delicate medium and susceptible to damage from poor handling, improper storage, and natural disasters. The impermanence of microfilm* is one of the biggest reasons to create digital backups in the first place, as well as being a factor in determining the total cost of a digitization project. Dirty or damaged microfilm will need to be repaired prior to scanning, and the extra care and attention may result in a slightly higher cost per scan for the project overall. If your microfilm smells like vinegar, you should have two thoughts: 1) “my film smells like vinegar. This can’t be good.” and 2) “It might be a little more costly since my film smells like a salad dressing.”

*Side note: granted, microfilm has an expected lifespan of around 500 years, so we’ll all be dead by the time it goes bad if it’s handled properly, but it’s still a limited timeline in the grand scheme of things.

Indexing Requirements

Adding descriptive metadata to each scan makes them easier to search and discover, but the extra steps involved with indexing digitized microfilm may also increase the cost of the project. Depending on the project, the descriptive metadata creation process may include time spent researching and creating standard tags and vocabulary, data entry and re-use of existing metadata.

Metadata information can include:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Date created
  • Date digitized
  • Disposition date
  • Format
  • File size
  • Pages
  • Description
  • Location
  • Access restriction
  • Keyword

Storage and Delivery

The final cost factor is the output, or delivery, of the images once they are converted. Document image delivery options include USB drive (thumb drive or hard drive) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol, which currently may enable tax advantages). You can also choose to have your digitized microfilm stored in a secure, cloud-hosted portal (think SaaS application with online web-based access) that centralizes important records in one simplified and protected location. Whatever you decide, make sure you know what the output will be whenever you get a quote on microfilm conversion.  

Is In-House Digitization Cheaper Than Outsourced Microfilm Conversion?

If you’re overseeing the planning and execution of a microfilm digitization project for your organization or business, you’ve probably considered saving money by bringing the project in-house. However, when you add up all the direct and indirect costs of an in-house digitization project, the cost to outsource can be a lot more attractive. Outsourcing a microfilm conversion project can typically save money in the following areas:

    • Staffing – Expenses related to staff training and turnover are incurred by the vendor, which means no need to reallocate internal staff to the project or hire new/temporary employees.
    • Equipment – Outsourcing a digitization project can also save tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment costs, including scanning equipment and image processing software.
    • Volume – Vendors can typically perform a higher volume of scanning then can be done in-house thanks to highly-trained staff and top-of-the-line equipment, so your organization can start enjoying the benefits of a digital microfilm collection sooner rather than later.
  • Space – Do you have the physical capacity to put multiple scanning units, processing equipment, and employees to convert your microfilm? This is an often overlooked part of taking a project in-house.

In-House Digitization Cost Calculator

The Digitization Cost Calculator from the Digital Library Federation (DLF) assists organizations in digitization project planning and benchmarking. The calculator aggregates a large set of data on the time it takes to perform various tasks involved in the digitization process, including preparation of original materials, image capture, quality control, post-processing, and metadata creation. Simply input your project parameters (i.e., quantity of material you will digitize, which staff will conduct which processes, and the hourly wage or salary of the staff involved) and the calculator will produce an estimate of the time and costs for each process of your digitization project.

Note: The calculator is also only meant for in-house digitization and does not cover processes related to outsourcing digitization, nor does it include estimates of cost and time related to administration and overhead (meetings, emails, HR, facilities/utilities, scanning equipment costs, etc.).

Interested in learning more? Request a Quote on Microfilm Digitization.