1DollarScan.com – Scan your books to PDF!


The digital age has been good to us.  We’re able to carry around thousands of books, cds and games around with us in our pocket or handbag.  Amazon and Google have provided almost endless reading in the way of eBooks for cheap (and even free).

But what happens when the book you want isn’t available digitally?

Amazon helpfully suggests you contact the publisher and beg for the book to be offered electronically.  You MIGHT get lucky and find that another fan of the book has painstakingly scanned it – and posted it online somewhere.  You might even buy a physical copy of the book, tear it apart and scan it yourself (been there, done that – you don’t want to ever put yourself through that).

Now there is another option.  1DollarScan.com.  See their promo video:

Back in October of 2011, I discovered this service and posted about it on Google Plus.  I promised I would try the service and do a write up about it.

I signed up for an account – quick, easy and free.  My next step was to grab a book I wanted to have scanned.  I chose a childhood favorite that I just happened to have two copies of – so I wouldn’t be crushed if the results weren’t what I had hoped.

When you start your order, you’ll be given a scan date.  Mine was about 4 weeks out – November 20th, 2011.  You’ll be asked to choose how many “sets” you want scanned.  This is a little confusing.

A “set” is 100 pages – be it a portion thereof, or counted across mutliple volumes.  For example:

  • 1 book @ 75 pages = 1 set
  • 1 book @ 100 pages = 1 set
  • 2 books @ 75 pages & 100 pages = 2 sets
  • 3 books @ 200 pages & 150 pages and 325 pages = 7 sets

Each “set” is $1 each.  My book was 185 pages, so I selected “2 sets” for my order.

The next option is OCR.  For $1 more per set, you can have them OCR the pages.  They support English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.  My book was old and the pages dark and yellowy.  Having scanned my own books before, I knew this wouldn’t yield the results I wanted.  I passed on the OCR option.  Besides, I have top notch PDF OCR software of my own – no need to pay extra.

They will also name your PDF for just $1 per set.  That made no sense to me, so I skipped it.  More on this later.

Next up is the big kicker.  Want your file(s) on a DVD?  $30.  Nah, I’m good.  I’ll pass.

Finally, you will have to agree to their terms and conditions and you’re ready to go.  My cost to place the order?  $2 at this point.

Once your order is made, you get the confirmation email that gives you more information:

i. General Limitations
– You must be at least 13 years old or older to receive the Services.
– Please be aware that some media (e.g., glossy photo-print paper) may not be able to be scanned despite of 1DollarScan’s best effort. Those documents that were not accepted and will be returned to you.
– BOOKS WILL NOT BE RETURNED ONCE SCANNED REGARDLESS OF REQUEST TO RETURN.
ii. Books
– No more than 2.5 inches in thickness.
– No more than 11.7 inches in width.
– No MAGAZINES accepted.
– We don’t scan the cover page. (This option will be available in Premium Service in the future)
– WILL NOT BE RETURNED ONCE SCANNED REGARDLESS OF REQUEST TO RETURN.
– Book must have ISBN number otherwise it is considered as “business document”.
You are also given some extra instructions:

– On your envelop or box, write your Order Confirmation # clearly so that we can identify.
– Make sure to print out this Order Confirmation email and include in your shipment.
– If you are sending a non-English book, please indicate the language on the front cover.

Since the book would be destroyed and there would be no cover scanned, I took it upon myself to do a high quality scan of the cover.  I packed it up, followed the directions and shipped it off.  Cost me $3 to ship – so my total cost at this point was $5 total.  It is worth noting that if you live in San Jose, CA – you may be able to use their local drop off.
They received my package on November 1, so I still had to wait almost 3 weeks before my item would be converted.
On November 21, I received an email saying my scanning was complete.  I followed the link and my book was accessible.  It was named:
0101-20111118110444379_check.pdf
… No big deal, since I only had one book.  I can understand why you might pay to have the books named; if you sent in like 100 books.
I downloaded the PDF – a whopping 103MB.  Remember, this is a “scanned image” PDF, not a “Word document printed to PDF”.  I planned to inject my cover into the PDF, but oddly enough – the cover was already there!  Delightful.  I skipped to the end, and even the back cover was scanned.  VERY nice.

Once scanned, you are offered a “Fine Tune” option.  This allows you to “tune” the PDF to a particular device.  Before I went through the process, I copied the full sized PDF to my Asus Transformer and pulled it up.
Looks and reads great, but is 103MB totally overkill?  Probably.  So let’s explore the “Fine Tune” options.
Each “device” supported (currently 32 different ones) offer different types of optimization and tuning.  The chart on the right only represents a handful of the options, but you can see they have things they do to each one.  Click the chart to see it larger and note the Fine Tune options for each one.
It is an impressive list of tablets, phones and ereaders.
Since they have a dedicated Android Tablet Tuning option, I went for that first.  As a “Basic Member”, you are only allowed one Fine Tune job at a time.
The Tuning to Android tablet took about 10 minutes, and I got an email when it was done.
The resulting filesize was about 43MB, which seemed more reasonable for this material.  While I didn’t have any issue with my Transformer tablet viewing the 103MB version, this tuned version was noticably quicker to load and faster to page through.
I used Polaris Office to view each of the two PDFs on the Transformer and as you can see for yourself, the results showed that my “Fine Tuned” PDF looked great and the quality was right on par with the much larger file size.
Take a look.  Both have 10% JPG compression on them in the interest of file size.
Original Document (103MB – Click for larger image)
Fine Tuned Document (44MB – Click for Larger Version)
I chose to Fine Tune the file down to my HTC Thunderbolt phone – using the standard Android Tuning option.  The resulting file was 13.7MB.  Impressive.  I opened it with PDF To Go on my phone and here was the result.
As you can see, the yellowing pages offered a lot more of an obstacle in viewing.  I decided to take a look at the Android tablet version and see how it fared.  MUCH better.  The bright yellow is gone.
Definitely explore your options with Fine Tuning.  The smallest and most logical one may not be the best possible choice.
For completion sake, I decided to Fine Tune to my wife’s Kindle DX eReader.  This is a BOOK after all, and certainly there are a number of people that will want to read your new scan on your pearl eInk reader.
It’s a bit .. dirty.  I blame this on the poor quality source; it IS like a 30 year old paperback and I knew it wouldn’t be perfect.  Still, easier on the eyes than either the tablet OR the phone.  eInk still wins.
Early, I mentioned I have my own OCR solution.  I’m currently using NitroPDF which has great OCR options; not just “textifying” a scanned document PDF but also conversion to other formats like RTF.  Unfortunately, the yellowing paper is going to make OCR almost impossible but why not try?
I OCRed the page shown in the screenshots above.  As you can see, the results weren’t what I was hoping for.
Another option for OCR in NitroPDF is the ability to make the PDF a “searchable” document.  This means that the text gets OCRed as best as possible, and the resultant text is indexed.  This allows you to search for something in the book (provided that word got OCRed correctly in the location you are looking for) and retain the look of the original scan.  I think this is what MOST people are looking for anyway.
Here, I searched for “sonny” which was found easily.
The last thing worth mentioning is the Premium Membership option.  It’s a MONTHLY membership of $99(!!) and includes:
  • Scanning of 50 sets
  • Free OCR of 50 sets
  • Free Book Title on 50 sets
  • 5-10 Business Days Scanning Window
  • Accept shipment from Amazon (buy a book, ship directly to them)
  • … Future upload to a Drop Box account

Essentially, if you max out the offering, you save $50.  They say “cancel any time”, so it really looks like a “bulk discount” deal – buy membership for a month, get 5000 pages scanned, cancel.  I imagine that happens a lot – so they are just getting you to commit to a giant $100 order with discount.

So … is this the real deal?  So it would seem.  Is it legal?  These guys have been around for some time, so it must be.  This isn’t some off-shore Taiwan sweatshop – it’s in California.

My guess is that the legality comes from the process of destroying the book after scanning, but I’m no lawyer.

Finally, they do have other scanning services – like greeting cards, business cards, photos and documents.  There are restrictions for each of these.  The one thing they don’t scan are magazines.  Apparently the paper is too thin and botches their equipment (according to the FAQ).

I can see myself using this service again.  Recommended!

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About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+