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Preparing a CD ROM for Commercial Distribution: The History Experience

Helen Carter

Centre for Educational Development & Interactive Resources

University of Wollongong



This paper describes the process of taking a computer assisted learning (CAL) program used locally at the University of Wollongong, to a published product, distributed commercially. It will outline briefly how the final, packaged product was developed after highlighting some of the issues that had to be resolved along the way, such as copyright clearance, intellectual property and marketability.

The paper will also discuss the outcomes of a debrief conducted on project completion, which identified a variety of problems and potential solutions to them. These will be discussed in some detail in the paper but ranged from improving the internal hardware and software infrastructure to considering the extent to which a university unit can publish product. The paper may not provide the answer to this question but it will hopefully provide a stimulus for further discussion.


publishing multimedia, copyright, production infrastructure


At the end of 1993 work began on a series of CAL units to support weekly tutorial discussions in a university subject. In the following year the CAL program, which introduces students to historical methodology, Dispossessed, Diggers and Democrats (DDD), was given its first run. Although initially regarded with some scepticism, the CAL program was received very favourably and has been used ever since. It was developed for the Macintosh platform and runs from CD ROM.

Issues to be Resolved

Distribution Agreement

In order to distribute this program more widely negotiations were initiated with a number of publishers. Allen and Unwin were keen and after a market appraisal in 1995, negotiations began in earnest for them to commercially distribute the history CD ROM. When Stephen Draper discusses delivery scenarios, he states that:

The advantage of (the packaged CD ROM product) approach is that marketing and delivery may be handled by a third party - the publishers. This can be quite an attractive option for designers. However, many publishers are still finding their way in this area. The full infrastructure and division of responsibilities required to support multimedia publishing is still evolving.

(Draper in Boyle 1997 p. 210)

The University did not have the requisite experience, wish or, indeed, the infrastructure to proceed with multimedia publishing and so on the 15th April, 1997 the distribution agreement was officially signed with Allen and Unwin. The agreement was to provide an educational multimedia CD ROM on 19th century Australian history and a printed document booklet. The university was to bear all costs of production and packaging with certain requirements to be met with respect to wording and quality and style of packaging. The distributor in turn would market, publicise and distribute the work to the best of their endeavours.

Although the production group had been involved in the development of a number of products which are available for sale commercially, the extent of this had been limited to the delivery of the finished software program. All packaging, marketing, publishing and distribution decisions were made and executed by a third party. It was also true that the group did not have any depth of experience in negotiating agreements with publishers. There is much to be considered and at play in the processes of coming to such an agreement and in formulating its details. Thought needs to be given to: ownership of product; venture risk, negotiating position and capital input; intensity of relationship with publisher and profits and details thereof.

You may have limited influence over many of these factors and each holds some complexity.

Ownership of Product

If both the development team issues and subject matter owner interests can be reconciled in efficient and equitable arrangements and a multimedia product can then be built for sale, then the issue of publication and distribution can be pursued.

(Meek 1994)

The determination of ownership was not a difficult matter. The content providers and the development team continued through from the original work, although it is true to say this was reliant on goodwill as no formal arrangement exists.

Venture Risk, Negotiating Position and Capital Input

The publisher will assess the riskiness of any venture and obviously this will be a factor in any negotiation. The strength of the negotiating position will be affected by the stage at which agreements are being made and level of publisher sponsorship required by the developer.

A developer at the concept stage alone is clearly at somewhat of a disadvantage when compared to one who has sufficient capital to finance his/her project, has already produced an effective prototype and who has secured the contracted assistance of a substantial subject-matter provider.

(Meek 1994)

This was a well established product and finance was found within the university for final development.

Involved in the creation and distribution of multimedia works are a large number of interests. Each of these has a particular point-of-view and use for the commodity. This is reflected in the kind of constraints which they might introduce to the processes involved in the build or use of a work.

(Meek 1994)

It was recognised that this was unlikely to be a volume seller, as perhaps might be expected of a Microsoft product or the like. The intention for any income earned was that it be used to further develop and maintain the product. While "topic and course focused educational products... cannot expect a volume market" (Zelmer 1995, p.578), this product has recently returned a reasonable first royalty payment.

Intensity of Relationship with Publisher

The involvement of the publisher may be as part of the original development team and an investor in the entire process or as the organiser of any combination of copyright clearance, manufacture, marketing and distribution mechanisms. The mix and the depth of commitment to each act as factors in the equation of costs to be carried. These in turn affect the calculations of rights in contract negotiations over the dispersal of any profit made from the product.

The history of the development team may either lend them strength or force them into deals with publishers which at best recoup costs in the cause of establishing the group as a name capable of producing successful multimedia material.

(Meek 1994)

In this case the publisher had limited involvement and was sought only for the distribution of the final packaged product. This was our first venture into this area and so there is a degree of "proving oneself" in the marketplace before any further commitment could be or indeed was expected.

Profits and Details Thereof

The dispersal of any income from a product is completely negotiable and may range from simple sale of product to publisher to royalty-based arrangements. Royalties may be calculated on a sliding scale or be a fixed percentage. Rights of distribution, whether national or international are also subject to determination.

The exact details of the DDD agreement are confidential in terms of the nature and extent, however, it can be said that negotiating with an outside company was by mutual agreement and proceeded amicably.

Sundry Issues

Other issues which had to be considered in making the agreement were the product price and packaging. The product sale price was more than desired but was negotiated down from the original stated on the contract and this can be reviewed at any time. Consideration was given to the full boxed packaging given to commercial products produced by such organisations as Brøderbund and the like but the cost involved ruled out this option. A four colour cover was designed, including booklet for the CD ROM jewelbox and a glossy cover for the document booklet. The CD ROM could be sold separately or as a shrink-wrapped item with the document booklet. This significantly reduced costs but still gave a professional finish to the product. The University was also responsible for technical support for customers and a contact address was required to be printed with the CD ROM.

Copyright Clearance

Although the contract was not signed until April of 1997, work had commenced in preparation for final publication many months earlier. The program made extensive use of historically relevant, pictorial material, which had to be sourced and copyright requirements met.

"Individual extracts or elements digitised and contained within a multimedia production will retain the copyright protection due them in their original form; as literary works, artistic works and so on."

(Gerdsen 1996 p.230)

As it turned out, the lengthiest part of the project development was the sourcing and seeking of copyright clearance of the pictorial material on the CD ROM. This was all coordinated by Dr. John McQuilton, a senior lecturer from the Department of History and Politics, who was also the major content provider on the CD ROM. Fortunately for the project, he was well versed with searching out copyright for pictorial material from previous (print-based) publishing projects. However, approximately eight months and some thousands of dollars later, copyright clearance, payments and substitute pictures, where required, were ready to go into a publishable version of the product.

Final, Packaged Product

The previous discussion has shown there are many issues to be considered before assembling a product for commercial distribution. However, you might observe from the dates that the process does not necessarily happen in a linear fashion: Project development and negotiation went hand in hand. A degree of trust is necessary from both partners in the venture, although development was very driven by distribution deadlines.

Project Development

In mid-February of 1997 the Interactive Multimedia Production (IMP) unit of the Centre for Educational Development and Interactive Resources (CEDIR) began work on the final version of the history CD ROM. The major facets to this development were:

Rescanning (where obliged) from negatives supplied by the various State libraries and private collections and adding in a source button which would contain the relevant bibliographic details for each graphic element in the program.

The original authoring program lacked some necessary programming features which meant that the electronic library in the original version had to be written in another language. To avoid licensing complications this would have to be rewritten in the same language as the main program.

Although the History department used Macintosh computers, it was recognised for the CD ROM to be marketable it would need to be cross-platform.

"Windows-based PCs and Macintosh computers continue to be the most popular delivery environments for CD ROM products thus cross-platform products for breadth of market are a requirement."

(Draper in Boyle 1997 p.210)

Converting the electronic library of documents from a Macintosh-specific language to a cross-platform language and the use of fonts were the main areas of concern here.


How much to convert, needed to be considered. Was it worth making use of the added features of the latest version of Authorware or do you work with what exists and what currently works?

"Traditional software systems are often developed as bespoke systems for specific organisations. A multimedia system may be developed in the same way. For economic reasons, however, there is often pressure to deliver the system beyond the original situation. This demand can complicate the delivery factors considerably and make it difficult to deliver the system more broadly ."

(Draper in Boyle 1997 p.210)

Limited funds meant we were not able to capitalise on new features but as the current program worked, this was not a significant drawback.


Scheduling of work, who will control the deadlines? Ten weeks later the final pre-master CD was sent to a CD mastering firm for reproduction but the story did not end there. It wasn't until four weeks later that Allen and Unwin had the final finished product delivered to them. If ever Murphy's law applied to the development of a project, this one would certainly fit the bill.

Project Debrief

At the conclusion of this project a debrief, involving a number of meetings and filling in of evaluation sheets, was conducted. The aims for holding the project debrief were to: Identify problems that arose from working on the History project; Disseminate information about problems and potential solutions to production staff and the educational consultants that typically lead the production teams; Make recommendations to management; Provide a basis for writing a paper on the process.

As a result of the debrief, recommendations were made which could be categorised as relating to the production infrastructure, procedures and communication. Although it is recognised that the recommendations here relate to a specific setup in a specific environment, I think it is useful to leave in the detail to consider just a small amount of the factors involved in multimedia production.

Production Infrastructure

Having the setup to produce multimedia products costs money and money is scarce but we can't produce professional products if we don't have the infrastructure. You need to spend money to be able to produce quality products.


The need for good operational procedures is recognised and it is always intended that next time it will be done in the right way, but when deadlines are nearing, some things get lost.


These were factors beyond the scope of the project and really of a more general nature. Communication throughout the project was good but tight deadlines can put strains in unexpected areas.


Preparation of a CD ROM for commercial distribution involves negotiation over ownership and publishing and copyright to be considered and then there are the technical and internal production issues to resolve. A range of additional concerns arise for universities engaged in the initiative of publishing CD ROM products but just two are discussed here:

Help with Publishing University (Computer-based) Products

As a result of CUTS-D (formerly CAUT) and university-specific innovative teaching initiatives, there are a large number of educational programs developed. The conditions of the grant usually encourage the dissemination of these but experience has shown that there are often significant problems in delivery. Such projects are often developed in university departments geared to teaching and research, which do not necessarily have the support mechanisms in place for delivering and maintaining multimedia software. This may be provided through special support units, such as CEDIR at the University of Wollongong or through collaboration with commercial software houses.

"There is a clear need to develop organisational support structures to help academics to deliver more effectively the systems they develop."

(Draper in Boyle 1997 p.211)

Alternative Delivery and Development Platforms to the CD ROM

The Internet is viewed by many as an attractive alternative for delivering computer-based product. A system developed using HTML can be delivered via the World Wide Web with a guaranteed delivery platform and can be relatively easily authored. These attractions, however, may be paid for by limitations in educational design. The Internet may well be the primary delivery medium of the future but for the present, there are significant problems in ensuring adequate delivery of multimedia systems. As well, the associated copyright issues are extensive and likely to be a long time before they are properly resolved. Hybrid World Wide Web and CD ROM products are another alternative and although this may allow more flexibility for the type of product that can be delivered, copyright problems still abound.

It is hoped that the reader is left with some appreciation of the complexity of issues involved in the development and commercial distribution of an educational product. This paper merely skims the surface of some encountered in the production of one particular product.


(1995) Ownership of Intellectual Property in Universities: A discussion paper, AVCC: Canberra

Draper, S. (1997) in Boyle,T. Delivery, Design for Multimedia Learning, Prentice Hall Europe: Hertfordshire, pp.209-219

Gerdsen, T.J. (1996) Copyright: A User's Guide, RMIT Press: Victoria

Johncock, W. (1996) Developing Interactive Educational Software: an overview, Australian Computers in Education Conference proceedings

Kerans, S. (1996) CD ROM Production in Schools: a second vehicle, Australian Computers in Education Conference proceedings

Meek, J. (1994) Ownership and copyright, contracts and publishing agreements: A look at some of the commercial and legal questions needing consideration in the development of interactive multimedia materials, unpublished manuscript

Negroponte, N. (1995) Being Digital, Hodder & Stoughton: Rydalmere

Zelmer, A.C.L. (1995) Re-examing the Myth: Developing truly affordable multimedia, ASCILITE'95 Conference Proceedings, Melbourne, pp. 571-578


(c) Helen Carter


The author(s) assign to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author(s) also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 97 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.


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