Microfilm to Megabytes

Making Cents of Newspaper Digitization

Do you have to replace a microfilm reader in the next few years?

How much is it costing you to sustain your current level of service?

Maybe it’s time to digitize…

For a hands-off project, ODW now offers an all-in-one newspaper digitization service. The all-in-one service includes: managing and implementing the digitization of your microfilm or other newspaper originals, creating transferable digital files, and making the finished product available for online search and discovery. Pricing for the all-in-one service is based on a per project basis, so talk to us about your project ideas and we can provide a free quote. Download our All-in-One brochure for a summary.

If you are interested in managing it yourself, see our Newspaper digitization project page for videos and more information on project planning.

Is digitization worthwhile?

What follows are two scenarios that illustrate the relative cost for a typical library facing a decision to either maintain their newspaper collection with traditional microfilm service or to digitize the same collection and deliver it on the web.

The local newspaper has always been a vital source of information for genealogy and local history research. The Ontario Community Newspaper Portal has given the public access to information that had previously only been available by spending countless hours in front of a microfilm reader with no way to search by subject or words. OurDigitalWorld has made a researchers’ dream come true. Thank you to all those involved.

– Sharon Mulcaster, Old Time Corner

We’ll use these assumptions:

  • Our hypothetical library has 50,000 pages on microfilm in its collection
  • Staff costs will be divided into at least 2 parts:
  • The library pays a clerk or assistant up to $14/hour for up to 2 hours per week to retrieve, load, replace and troubleshoot film for users
  • The library also pays professional level (Tech or MLS) staff at up to $20/hour for as much as 7 hours per week to respond to reference queries, search film and make copies to be mailed or emailed to remote reference queries

NB: Scenario does not include the additional cost associated with replacing damaged and worn out film – that varies greatly depending on usage volume and age of equipment

Scenario 1: Replace reader/printer and deliver service for 5 years

New unit*

Annual maintenance fee (optional) (e.g. 10% x 5 yrs)

Staff time for retrieval, etc (2 hrs/wk x 52 wks x 5yrs x $14/hr)

Staff time for reference, etc (7 hrs/wk x 52 wks x 5yrs x $20/hr)

Total 5 year cost of ownership and operation






Try it yourself!

*Cost to replace a reader can range between $5,000 – $25,000 depending on model and manufacturer; we have chosen $10,000 for our example.
**Not including taxes.


  • Familiarity – this has been the norm for decades
  • Microfilm is compact and durable
  • Brings people in to use the library

  • Requires significant floor space
  • Labour intensive
  • Cumbersome to access content – even with good indexing
  • Access restricted to in-house use and limited by library hours
  • Constant wear on film with expensive replacement cost associated

Scenario 2: Digitize microfilm and deliver using VITA

Prepare microfilm collection (i.e. obtaining clean copies) (50 reels @ < $100/reel)

Digitization of microfilm and positional OCR  (50,000 pages @ $0.10pp)

Derivative files, quality control, and import to VITA (50,000 pages @ $0.15pp)

Hosting – (50,000 @ $0.03pp per annum x 5 years)

News Plus Plan annual fee ($899 x 5 years)

Total cost of services







*Actual vendor pricing will vary.
**Processing varies with original quality and work required
***Not including taxes, shipping, handling, administration, etc.


  • VITA optimizes collections for online display and discovery
  • Full text search and hit highlighting provides instant results for end-user
  • Cloud-based tool means constant upgrading and development is hands off
  • User friendly search and discovery interface
  • Customizable display site(s)
  • Multilingual interface
  • Powerful analytics tools

  • Microfilm reader is getting dusty
  • Reference staff are bored
  • Volunteers are asking to help index the newspaper content
  • Users from all over the world are calling for more local history information

Try this Newspaper Cost Calculator spreadsheet to test each scenario with your known costs and quantities and walk away with some dollars and cents figures to help make your next strategic move.