Public Fax Options
February 9, 2018 7:17 AM   Subscribe

The short version of this question is: how can my library set up a fax machine for patrons to use without costing them or us a large amount of money? Details below.

The library I work at currently has faxing capabilities through a contract with an outside company. That company does all the maintenance, provides paper, handles the costs - everything. This is nice, but it costs our patrons an arm and a leg to fax anything and faxing seems to be a moderately popular service here. Is there a way we can set up our own fax machine and charge significantly less to our patrons while making sure that it's not a hugely expensive thing for us? I've been doing some Googling and can't seem to find much information on setting up fax machines or on the costs tied to them.

Another issue is that we serve a large international population who send faxes internationally from time to time. Is there a way to mitigate costs for this? Would it be best to set up some kind of fax over the internet model that could save us some headaches and hassle?

Any advice would be appreciated - I know next to nothing about fax machines, but would really like to find a better way to provide this service to our patrons.
posted by holmesian to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also, we would like to restrict the ability of our fax machine to receive faxes - set it up so that it could only send them. Is this possible as well?
posted by holmesian at 7:19 AM on February 9, 2018


There's a comprehensive review of online fax services here. If you have a scanner, the $10-$40/month (depending on number of pages) HelloFax might be a good option. They serve many countries, and there's no extra fee; they just debit extra pages from your account. If you have pretty consistent monthly usage, you would be able to cover the monthly fee by just charging a fixed amount per page. What is the current "arm and a leg" amount?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:35 AM on February 9, 2018


Do you have a scanner and do your patrons have email?

You can use Fax Zero to send for free if you have email, a scanner/digital documents, and if you are within the page limits. You can either set it up so they have a step-by-step brochure showing how to do it, or you can direct them to the website and be hands off about it.

For receiving, I don't know what to do... as I understand it, there are fax receiving services you can pay for online that send to your email, but you have to pay for it. Maybe you could set up an institutional account if you want that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:35 AM on February 9, 2018


Do you know how much you currently pay per month for the fax service? Do you know how many patrons per month use the fax service? How much does it cost per fax for a patron? Is the cost to the patron different for international vs national? Does the fax machine use the library's phone line or is it a special line brought in by the fax company?
posted by gregr at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2018


All you need to send a fax is a fax machine and a dedicated phone line. The only expense in sending the fax is paying for that dedicated phone line*. The expense in receiving a fax is just paper and ink.

However - are you trying to have a self-service fax machine? That would cost more to buy a machine that can process payments and to do the setup required to process those payments - whether it is cash, credit card, or linked into your library's automated system.

*Assuming the fax numbers are domestic.
posted by slipthought at 7:37 AM on February 9, 2018


I should amend to add - if you are not doing self-service, there is obviously the implied cost of staff time dealing with the sending of faxes and processing payments manually.
posted by slipthought at 7:38 AM on February 9, 2018


Thanks for your replies! The current cost is $1.75 for the first page and $1.00 for each additional page. We would have no problem taking money for the faxes, so it shouldn't need to be a self-service type of machine. Currently the company handles all of the payments for international and national - we do nothing on our end. Would a dedicated fax line have a flat rate or would it be variable depending on how many faxes are sent and where?

Thanks again. I'm lost in this maze of fax technology.
posted by holmesian at 8:02 AM on February 9, 2018


The dedicated fax line would be the same rate as a normal telephone line, and whatever charges come with that, and long distance calls, if applicable. Think of a fax as a telephone when it calls, except it's transmitting computer noises to a fax on the other end, instead of your voice.

Accordingly, I'd just check with your current phone provider to see what can be done for a separate line and get a plan that makes sense.
posted by Karaage at 8:23 AM on February 9, 2018


There's a comprehensive review of online fax services here.

Just a heads up-- I would be wary about going this route. Usually online fax services like this are geared toward small businesses, so they keep an archive of the faxes sent out. That means anyone using it (if unattended) might be able pull up all the old faxes and see other senders' social security numbers/ financial data/ whatever is sent.
posted by bluecore at 8:31 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I would really, really investigate scanning. Most fax machines have this option, and it sends documents (after scanning) as attachments by email. On the receiving end, any device that receives email will receive the scanned document. The only task left to the recipient is to print.

No extra cost, to either you or your patrons other than that of normal email and having a scanner function on your fax. Even relatively inexpensive actual faxing is more expensive for your patrons (and you).
posted by citygirl at 9:24 AM on February 9, 2018


It may be possible that your state library association has a service they either use or suggest for this sort of thing. The library in my town just goes the fax machine + phone line route. They only allow domestic faxing (so don't have to worry about crazy expensive international calls) and have a pricing structure similar to yours. I don't think they have a second phone line but our town is pretty small. Fax machines are basically free nowadays (I am pretty sure I have one in a closet somewhere) and depending on the frequency of faxing, you may just be able to use your main phone line for this. It's also possible to have a copier/scanner that faxes (like literally you just plug a phone line into it) which can be nice because they can do "plain paper" faxing, where you get your faxes on paper.

For the international company, if it's literally only one, you could help them get set up with an online service for them which shouldn't be too much over what they already pay you (or if it is, you're charging too little). So I suggest

- asking on your state library association mailing list how other local people deal with this (and/or if they have a free fax machine which i bet someone will)
- doing an assessment of how much faxing is actually done from your library
- decide if you need a second phone line (I agree with other people, for privacy reasons the online services may not work depending on your privacy policy)
- making some decisions at that point
posted by jessamyn at 9:33 AM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


A business grade fax will run you about $300. I suppose you would have the fax machine print a sheet that says the fax was sent successfully, so that's one sheet of printed paper per fax. Ballpark, toner will cost about $0.02 per page (that's for the official expensive toner, if you buy the cheap toner it would be about $0.006 per page) and paper is about $0.006. (Note that you will only pay the paper cost until you print about 3000 pages and have to buy another toner cartridge.)

If you're sending faxes to modern fax machines on good telephone lines it takes about 3 seconds per page. If you're sending faxes to an ancient fax on a bad phone line it might take 1 minute per page, though this is unlikely.

Depending on your phone plan at the library you might pay $0.025-0.10 per minute for a national phone call. International cost per minute varies a lot between countries and phone plans; depending on plan and country it might be between $0.08-3.00.

So, what do you charge? Going with the high end of national calls, at $0.10 per minute lets say you charge $1 for anything under 10 pages, and $1 for each additional 10 pages. That more than covers your cost and will quickly help pay for the fax machine and is a lot cheaper than the current fax service.

International is harder since the cost per minute is so variable. You probably wouldn't lose money if you charged a flat rate of $0.25 per page, though I would go over your phone bills for a year carefully to make sure that you didn't have someone sending a bunch of $3/minute faxes. Or you could get a rate sheet from your phone company that lists the actual rate you would pay per minute calling a variety of countries. To be on the safe side assume it'll take 20 seconds per page to fax, and charge the per minute rate for a 3 page and under fax and for each additional three pages charge the per minute rate.

Ultimately the real cost of doing this yourself will be having someone take money and deal with the fax machine if there are problems. Which probably means that the service is cheaper.
posted by gregr at 9:48 AM on February 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm a librarian in an academic library. We do not have any kind of public fax service. When patrons, usually students, ask about faxing I ask them to check with the intended receiver of the fax whether a scanned copy of the document would be acceptable. Almost all of the time- maybe 95%- it is and we do have scanners. If necessary, we show them how to use the scanners, and how to attach the scanned document to an email.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that faxing is becoming obsolete, at least in the US.
posted by mareli at 10:55 AM on February 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


Faxing is still alive and well in healthcare.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:58 PM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


At our library, our copier also faxes - if you would like more info message me and I'll see what I can find out.
posted by lyssabee at 7:50 PM on February 9, 2018


Ah, yes, if you're already paying for a multifunction copier lease it's highly likely it can send faxes and then it's up to them to keep it going. That said, do check your pricing, since the extra sheets could bump up your monthly bill.

Sometimes it's more cost effective to have a separate fax machine, sometimes not.
posted by wierdo at 7:55 PM on February 10, 2018


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