Back in 2003, Eileen Gittins, a photographer who had spent several years working for Kodak, wanted to create her own photography book. It would be a mixture of images and text, “a truly published book that would look like something I would buy at Borders,” she told us.
She tried consumer photo albums but found the binding and image quality too low. She talked to on-demand printers but found they demanded a print run of at least 400 — and Eileen only wanted 40 copies. ‘[I] also needed to figure >out how to design and lay out the book and frankly, it just became too hard and too expensive to produce,” she said.
So when the capital markets started waking up, she leveraged her experience as a former software CEO and set up her own on-demand publishing business: a company that would allow anyone to produce their own coffee-table book at an affordable price and in the numbers they wanted — whether that was one copy or 1,000.
According to Eileen, Blurb now prints “many thousands” of books each week, with the most popular genre, ‘arts and photography.’ Prices start at $18.95 for a softcover book of between 20-40 pages and rise as high as $159.95 for a large format, hardcover book of up to 360 pages, complete with dust jacket. Although books can be printed individually, Blurb also offers discounts for orders as low as ten.
According to Eileen, the relatively low prices are a result of their software, Blurb BookSmart, a free download that works on both Mac and PC, and that makes the set-up economic even for print runs of single books. The number of volumes the company now prints also gives it some bargaining power. “And of course, overarching everything, is the fact that the print-on-demand technology is improving rapidly — and as with everything, costs come down as technology improves,” Eileen said.
Printed wedding albums, produced by both the photographer and the participants, are the most popular books ordered by photographers, but portfolios and exhibition catalogs are frequent orders too.
But perhaps the biggest opportunity that Blurb offers photographers who want to do more than show off their skills in print is the ability to sell their books through Blurb’s own bookstore. Photographers set their own price and receive all of the profits after printing costs.
That creates a world of new opportunities. One of Blurb’s own employees, for example, recently created a yearbook for his child’s school — and made a quick $500.
Creating books that sell though requires some skill. Photography books might not have structures as complex as novels but they still have to keep the reader’s interest if people are going to buy them, enjoy them and recommend them to their friends.
“It’s less about length and more about telling the story,” Eileen explained. “Books have a beginning, a middle and an end — like a movie or an installation at a gallery. The beginning might have a sequence of ‘establishing shots’ to set context. Pacing and white space are also important.”
But with photo-sharing sites, automated slideshows and digital images, why would people want to put images on paper that they can share for free online?
“I think that the tangible and tactile has even more value in an increasingly virtual world,” answered Eileen. “People just like to hold something in their hands and turn the pages at their own pace…”
Photo by bigdaddyhame.
[tags] blurb, blog books, booksmart [/tags]