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Distributing Copies of the Interview (β)

What playback formats will be produced?
(considering their cost per item & durability over time)

     All of the previously mentioned "nice" aspects of a professionally produced CD don't really amount to much if you can't afford them. Spending $100 on duplication and packaging is one thing; spending $1,000 is quite another. And, the more distribution formats you try to release the recordings in, the more expensive duplication & distribution becomes. Ultimately, limiting yourself to one or two formats will save a lot of time and grief ... for you and for the recipients of the copies of the interview.

     The formats that the interview copies are produced in should theoretically continue to be supported by playback devices for several more decades; the interviews start to become "family heirlooms" beyond a couple of decades, and the appreciation of them grows with time. The recipients will wish to revisit the recordings more frequently, usually just as the format that they are in finally ceases to be supported by any manufacturer. So, what distribution formats are likely to still be supported in the years 2030 or 2040?

     In terms of purely electronic formats, computer audio files in the .MP2 or .MP3 format will be the most likely formats, with the Windows .WAV file format being a distant third. If, every 5 to 10 years, the recipient copies the files to a more modern storage medium, the interviews themselves should last, intact, for 100 years or more. If a new audio storage file format comes along (say, .MP5) you may just take the existing files and convert them to the new file storage format and "burn" them onto new disc media (or, if it ever gets off the ground, a holographic storage media — this technology has been "right around the corner" since the 1960s).

     As for physical media itself, the audio CD format (and it's internal sound file formatting) are likely to still be supported by somebody 20 or 30 years from now — you can always purchase one or two cheap CD players and keep them in reserve to play back the interview CDs. Until the players physically fail (and/or the discs become damaged), the interviews may be played back indefinitely. Or, flash memory media such as compact flash cards or USB memory sticks are another option — in theory, they also have a fairly long life span. The issues with them currently revolve around the relative cost-per-megabyte of storage capacity over other digital media.

     In 2012, blank audio CDs are costing less than a dime each, even less when purchased in bulk quantities (spindles of 50 or 100). 1 gigabyte USB "flash drives" (roughly comparable, space-wise, to an audio CD) are running in the $10 range & a 1 gigabyte Compact Flash card will run about the same (different computer interface but same storage media internally). The disc media wins out over the "flash" memory media by a factor of more than 10-to-1 (at least, for now). Unless you are seriously rich, the audio CD distribution format wins the price war. If you are willing to spend about a buck apiece, "archival quality" CDs are available — the reason to consider them: up to 100 year reliable storage as opposed to 15 to 20 years of reliable storage for the off-the-store-shelf kind. You'll need to do a web search to find sellers, but you might just consider them to be the best long-term investment for your project.

     As a bonus, all of the audio file formats are supported on the CD — you may make it to be a stand-alone playback disc or as a file holder (to be played back using a computer device). For me, the only real choice is the standard CD as the distribution medium, burned as a stand-alone ("regular") audio CD ... the recipient just puts it into their audio CD player and hits "PLAY" to listen.

     Audio cassettes, on the other hand, although currently cheap to purchase and play back, have always been a disposable storage medium. The plastic tape gets old and starts drying out; the adhesive that keeps the magnetic material stuck to the plastic backing drys out and starts shedding oxide; tapes stretch, snarl & break much too easily. Whatever you do, DO NOT distribute the finished product on audio cassette (no matter how much moaning and complaining you hear from the recipients).

Who should receive a copy?
Plan for secondary copy requests.

     Well, you already know two potential recipients — the interview subject and yourself. Beyond those two copies, the answer becomes a bit murkier.

     There is a temptation to poll the pool of potential recipients to see how many might be interested in receiving a copy of the final product. BAD IDEA. The negative consequences that may flow out of this query are numerous, and the most extreme may kill the project before it gets started. The time to ask is after the interviews have been conducted and after the interviews have been edited & mastered. Having a sense of the potential list of family members that would actually appreciate having the disc to be listened to over time, as opposed to just making a bunch that will handed out like pretzels to whomever says "sure, I'll take one", will permit you to gauge the size of the first run of copies.

     To that first run count you should also add additional copies for those much younger family members (infants & toddlers) who are not presently interested in family history but may become so once they reach early adulthood (another reason to go with a long shelflife storage medium). Stash the extra copies and give them out as the person comes of age and displays genuine interest in the project — they would make a nice 18th or 21st birthday present.

     A person that has been a pain in your rear end for decades can just live without a copy. If they absolutlely "need" a copy of the project disc(s), let them cozy up to someone that has already received a disc — a disc may always be copied in a computer.

     This is the stage of the project where eating the cost of the project has it's greatest benefit — since you are spending your money on the project and giving away the discs, you have exclusive control over who gets a copy & why they might receive one. There is no entitlement to receive one within the family — someone that has been a pain in your butt for 40 years can just live without a copy (although, giving a copy to their grandkid 20 years later might make sense — especially if the then-18 or 21 year old also thinks that grandpa was a big horse's patoot).

     Giving a family member a copy in exchange for being the next subject of an interview is a nice carrot to dangle in front of a hesitant family member that would contribute significantly to the project but is begging off because they don't see any benefit to doing it. It gives them an opportunity to hear what happens during an interview and grow comfortable with the concept & format. They now have a sense of the kinds of questions that will be asked. A good interview establishes your credentials with them — they won't just be wasting their time on something that may just turn out to be a "mess."

     With each additional family member that you conduct interviews with you increase the number of copies to be made by at least one. They get a copy as well as all of the recipients of the previous interviews. It almost works like a subscription to an ongoing service — once they receive a disc copy, they'll keep receiving new disc copies, until they tell you to stop sending them. As the set grows, in more and more family member homes, the likelyhood of recipients acting on your behalf to prod new family members to participate will increase — they might have a good relationship with a distant & reclusive aunt that you'd love to interview. If they play the existing recordings for that aunt, she might consent to a "test" interview, something she would not have agreed to if you had asked directly. All of those "I'd like to interview them someday" members of the family — you should probably make a copy for each of them (but maybe not give it to them unless they ask for a copy).

     Adding to the quantity of copies to be produced will be the need to account for lost or damaged media. Home-burned audio CDs should not be left in direct sunlight for any reason; people will do so anyway, so you'll need some replacement copies for those individuals who toast their CD by accident (as opposed to the clueless nit that keeps leaving the new discs on the car dashboard and then wondering why they don't play). And, discs will be put in boxes that then become lost or damaged (CDs in boxes stored in hot attics die a warped death). Depending upon your family's history with CDs you might need to have two made for each recipient. Of course, as with the "horse's patoots", recipients ruin their discs at their own peril — you are not obliged to keep coming up with new copies to mitigate their negligence. Typing up a DOs and DON'Ts sheet to accompany the disc might act as a deterrant to the more casual forms of destruction.

     A nice aspect to editing and mastering the interviews on a computer is that you do not need to make all of the copies that you will ever anticipate needing at once. You might run off a bunch for the intial distribution, then the rest only as you need new copies. This approach also has the benefit of permitting the more recent copies to be done on more recent storage media. As DVD-R media supplants CD-R media on most computers, the additional storage space means that more audio files may be placed upon a single disc. 10 years down the road a single Blue-Ray disc might be able to hold the hundreds of interviews that cover an entire family over three or more generations.

     If you've faithfully backed-up your interview projects you will be able to load them onto new computers as they are purchased. New computers almost always come with the most recent disc media burners (and necessary disc burning software), so acquiring a new computer will not mean the end of a project's availablility; it usually ensures another few decades of availability. And, as "cloud computing" grows (dumping files off to an external storage facility that is accessible through the internet) you achieve a modest form of data backup (be very careful to have read the terms of service before agreeing to the use and uploading the files — you might find a nasty surprise buried in the fine print).

     However, in the end, there is only one person for whom a single copy needs to be produced — that would be you (even the interview subject may not be interested in owning a copy). If no one else in the current generations of the family are deemed worthy of receiving a copy, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labors, and wait — 10, 20, 30 years. As the subject of the interview passes and exists only in stories & pictures & home movies, new generations of the family may be much more receptive to and respectful of what you had accomplished; you may find that one or more of them wish to repeat the project for the new generation, building upon what has gone before.

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