Smaller is better for Historic Map Works. The company recently relocated from the former Portland Glass building in Westbrook to a 1,285-square-foot office in Portland's Marine Trade Center, downsizing by two thirds.
The reason for the downgrade? Owner Charles Carpenter Sr. says the company has digitized millions of maps, atlases and images that previously took up space in the Westbrook location, a project that cost $5 million and took five years to complete.
Now that Historic Map Works has digitized its entire collection and holds the licenses to those products, Carpenter says the firm is ready to increase paid website subscriptions and will soon launch a Facebook application that will incorporate its search engine, Historic Earth. Carpenter expects both to be available by the end of this year.
Carpenter would not reveal details about the company's sales, but says "we expect to double every year for the next few years" now that the company's entire collection has been digitized, thanks to contracts that have "guaranteed minimum royalties."
"There's no better business than an Internet subscription business. Once you've created your data and once you've created your website, the cost of doing business is very, very low."
Currently, the company makes most of its revenue from license fees ranging from $2,000 to $70,000 a year it charges public libraries and universities to access its online collection. Website users can also choose to download images for fees ranging from 99 cents to as much as $60 for a large size print similar to some of the framed maps of Portland and New York City from the 1800s displayed in Carpenter's office.
The company has more than 2 million images of documents, fine prints, maps and other records online and more than 226,000 images that are geocoded, which means a user can drag an older map of a city or town over a current map to see how various communities have evolved over time. "We have the largest digital collection and online collection in the world," he says. In a room adjacent to Carpenter's office five servers run 240 to 250 terabytes of data, he says. A terabyte is equal to 1,024 gigabytes.
The Historic Earth application, launched last year, allows users to enter a location by city or town in the United States and a few other countries and learn about its evolution from the early 1400s to 2002. The company's website has 15,000 to 20,000 registered users and sees 2,000 site visits per day.
The company is hoping to capitalize on the rising interest of genealogy, a multi-billion dollar industry. "Genealogy is the second biggest hobby on the Internet," says Carpenter's son, Charles Jr., who serves as Historic Map Works' national director of sales.