Distributing your Society Newsletter as PDF

Rick Borstein, FAAS Webmaster

Several years ago, at a Greater Chicago Cichlid Association meeting, I posed the question—should we eliminate printing the Cichlid Chatter, the club newsletter, and distribute it electronically?

As I expected, the result was an emphatic “No way!” to exclusively distributing the newsletter electronically. However, everyone wanted to be able to have access to back issues on our web site and considered the Cichlid Chatter to be a valuable part of the club. 

Fast forward ten years later and nobody has a problem with electronic distribution. In fact, we don't even print a newsletter anymore. We now make it available in a members-only area on our website.

Background and Disclaimers

In the next few paragraphs I’ll discuss options for electronically distributing newsletters and other materials in the PDF format. I have worked for Adobe Systems Incorporated for over ten years. I will be discussing Adobe tools as I am most familiar with them. In fact, I am an Adobe Certified Expert in Acrobat.

Newsletters and Cost

I have held posts as editor of two society newsletters, so I know the challenges facing newsletter editors. Between begging for stories and content and waiting for regular columns (why are Club Presidents the last ones to submit articles?), it is a challenging job.

For many clubs, printing and mailing the society newsletter is largest on-going cost for the club. The Cichlid Chatter costs about $250-$300 to print and the club incurs a further $300 in mailing costs. Since the club publishes six times per year, it costs GCCA $3000 to $4000 per year to get out the newsletter.

We also use the newsletter to post meeting announcements, etc., but that could easily be replaced with a less expensive to produce/mail postcard. With almost every member on our email list, I am not sure it is even necessary.

Despite this, one of the only exclusive benefits of the club is getting the newsletter and people like getting it! Our editor Mike Mazurkiewicz puts in a lot of work on our pub and it shows. Most likely, our members don’t want to give up this membership benefit and I can’t see us going away from this in the near term.

Since our publication is seen by our members as a benefit, it only makes sense to electronically preserve your newsletters for your membership.
What’s the best way to do this?

The Pitch for PDF

Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) is the defacto standard for distributing electronic documents. It solves many key issues associated electronic document distribution:

  • Self-Contained
    PDF documents contain all images, text, fonts and images and illustrations necessary to reproduce the publication. PDFs can be made from electronic sources (a word processor, for example) or from paper using a scanner.
  • Free to View
    The Adobe Reader is free to download from the Adobe Systems Incorporated website at http://www.adobe.com.
     
  • Ubiquitous Format
    There are billions and billions of PDF documents on the internet already. Over 750 million people have the free Adobe Reader software needed to view PDF files. The Adobe Reader is installed by default on virtually every computer that ships today. PDFs may be read on today's mobile devices, too.
     
  • Compact
    PDF documents are generally one-third the size of the original file. The format cleverly compresses the entire contents of the entire file into a single PDF.
  • Web Friendly

    PDF files are easy to post on websites and documents may be easily viewed in the browser.
     
  • Print Accurately
    Accurately printing a PDF file is not dependent on the type of printer you have. PDF files automatically scale to the page size of the printer you have. Unlike web pages, they print reliably and the same without cutting off information.
     
  • A Digital Stapler
    PDFs can contain pages generated in different applications. For example, you might digitally bind together your publication (done in Microsoft Word), your BAP Standings (done in Excel) and a document that was scanned in from a piece of paper. Acrobat even allows you to number across all the pages.
     
  • Forms
    PDF files can contain form elements that users fill out. E.g. a membership form.
  • Navigation
    PDFs can contain bookmarks that act as a table of contents for your publication, hyperlinks and multimedia.

What You’ll Need

Unfortunately, you cannot use the free Adobe Reader to create a PDF. However, Adobe does offer a few alternatives

  • Create PDF Online—http://www.createpdf.com
    This is Adobe’s low cost on-line service for creating a PDF and supports most common file formats. For example, you could upload your Microsoft Word document and Adobe will email you’re the completed PDF within a few minutes.
     
  • Adobe Acrobat Standard
    This $299 program allows you to create PDFs from any program on your computer. It also allows you to scan your old pubs and turn them into searchable PDFs. It installs one-button PDF creators into all Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which makes it very simple to create a PDF.

    This product also installs the Adobe PDF print driver which converts the print output of any application into a PDF.
    Additionally, Acrobat Standard can add security to PDFs, reduce file size of PDFs, and add notes and comments on top of PDFs.
  • Adobe Acrobat Professional
    This $449 program is a superset of Adobe Acrobat Standard. It includes an entirely separate forms design application (Adobe Designer) and the ability to perform batch operations on files.

For most clubs, I believe Acrobat Standard is adequate, but I have made extensive use of Acrobat Professional to produce forms that our club uses often such as our GCCA's on-line auction form.

If you use a professional page layout program—such as Adobe InDesign—you already have built-in, high-quality PDF generation.

PDF Versions and Settings

You want the PDF you post on your website or email to be as small as possible, but still maintain good optical quality. Further, it is important to understand that there are various versions of the PDF format. Your PDF settings adjust both of these parameters.

The default settings that ship with Adobe Acrobat do a good job in most cases. These settings do the following:

  • Create an Acrobat 8.0 (PDF 1.7) version file to ensure compatibility with older versions of the Acrobat.
  • Offer a good balance of quality versus file size.

Creating PDFs from Paper Documents

Older publications that only exist on paper can also be converted to PDF.
You will need a TWAIN or ISIS (standard scan driver) scanner. To convert a paper document:

  • Make sure your scanner is turned on and plugged into your computer.
  • Launch Adobe Acrobat Standard or Professional
  • Put the paper document in your scanner.
  • Click the Create PDF Button and then choose From Scanner.
  • Check Recognize Text using OCR

Acrobat will scan in your document and add an invisible searchable layer of text on top of the document.

If you are looking for a great document scanner, consider the Fujitsu ScanSnap. This small machine scans fifteen, double-sided pages per minute directly into PDF format. The input bin accepts up to fifty pages at a time.

In fact, the ScanSnap comes with a full version of Acrobat Standard for about $400, so it is a great way to get into Acrobat inexpensively.

Checking File Size and Version

Before posting a PDF on your website, it’s a good idea to make sure it is the right version and that the file size is small.

To check these settings, choose File-->Document Properties and click on the Description tab.

If you need to change the version of PDF or make it smaller, choose File—Reduce File Size and choose Acrobat 5.0.