Self-publishing made easy online

Blurb.com offers do-it-yourself bookmaking and on-demand printing for aspiring authors who don't want to go into debt. Photos: Blurb books

Elinor Mills
Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
4 min read
Photographer Holly Kreuter self-published her book on the annual countercultural arts festival Burning Man in 2002.

She spent $14,000 of her own money and went $60,000 in debt, had to do her own distribution, and still stores boxes of Drama in the Desert: The Sights and Sounds of Burning Man in her friend's basement. (This reporter was a volunteer editor on the project.)

Today, she could create the book herself online, order as few as one copy of the 144-page hardbound book for $39.95 or get a volume discount, and sell her book for whatever price she wants without having to do any shipping or handling, all through Blurb.com.

With Blurb, anyone with access to a computer can make a book and get it professionally printed. The company offers free downloadable software, called BookSmart, which enables people without design experience to easily lay out the pages, choose background colors and fonts and edit photos. The design templates were created by book design experts.

The company is scheduled to announce Tuesday at Macworld the ability for customers to set their own price for their books and sell them through the Blurb bookstore. Blurb handles all shipping and sales transactions and each month sends all profits on the book to the creator. In traditional publishing, writers receive only a fraction of the profit.


Blurb prices range from $18.95 for a 40-page, full-color paperback and $29.95 for the same hardcover version, to $69.95 for a 440-page, full-color paperback and $79.95 for the same in hardcover. Volume discounts are available for orders of 25 and up, with custom quotes for a print order of 400 or higher. Shipping and handling charges are separate.

Anne Raimondi, a marketing professional in San Jose, Calif., gave her father-in-law, whose nickname is "Gus," a book she called Gustronomic Delights for his 60th birthday in August. It features tongue-in-cheek recipes, insider jokes and anecdotes about the family's culinary antics written or dictated by Gus' children and grandchildren, as well as scanned drawings and photos.

"We were brainstorming ideas about Gus' birthday and wondered what you can possibly give someone who has everything," Raimondi said. Turnaround time was less than one week. "I uploaded it on a Sunday and they had shipped it out on Wednesday. I got it on Thursday for a birthday party on Saturday," she said.

Blurb allows users to slurp the content from their blogs and high-resolution photo sets on Flickr and iPhoto into the software and save it in print form as a book.

Blurb isn't for everyone, though. Authors with manuscripts that could conceivably become bestsellers and others who want to see their books sold in bookstores will still want to go the traditional publisher route, where professionals design and market the books.

But for the rest of us, Blurb offers a chance we wouldn't otherwise get without paying a fee to some vanity press.

"Most of the Blurb users will never write a manuscript. They have stuff, pictures, recipes, stories, something they would like to compile into a book that looks beautiful," said Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb. "We are democratizing publishing for every man."

The idea is spreading fast through word of mouth. Blurb is growing at 40 percent week over week in terms of units and revenue, according to Gittins.

Besides recipes, vacation and wedding photos are popular book themes among Blurb users. People are using Blurb to create promotional brochures and other marketing material. And family histories are huge.

"We are democratizing publishing for every man."
--Eileen Gittins, Blurb.com chief executive

Hilary Horlock of Vancouver, British Columbia, created a book entitled Both Sides of the Ocean as a surprise for her father Peter Horlock's 80th birthday last summer. It features family photos and his memoir from his childhood spent in Canada during World War II, where his family sent him to escape the London bombing, as well as letters his biological mother wrote to his adoptive mother describing life in wartime England.

"This book is a chronicle of the letters that flew back and forth," Hilary Horlock said. "The whole experience of reading the book and putting it together was amazing. I never knew my dad was such a cool guy."

There are other companies that help people self-publish. Lulu.com lets people publish books, print on demand and set their own price, but the company takes a commission on books sold. Xlibris is more of a traditional publisher in that it charges a fee, pays royalties and provides copyediting and marketing services. Similarly, iUniverse charges fees, pays royalties and offers editing and distribution services.

Publishers say they are not threatened by the shift to on-demand printing online and are hoping to get on the digital bandwagon, said former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, president and chief executive of the Association of American Publishers. "Publishers don't own printing presses, paper companies or ink companies, and they would love to get out of the warehouse and the transportation business too," Schroeder said. "So everybody is digitizing everything hoping this gets cheaper and cheaper and it can make publishing more efficient. But it's not there yet."

San Francisco photographer Christopher Irion created his Farley's Pet Parade book of costumed pets with Blurb after looking at other options, including Apple's iPhoto service, which lets people turn their photos into a book. "But as an artist, there was very little ability to lay out the sequence and change the size, plus it was a lot more expensive," he said.

Irion said it took him six hours to create the book and an hour and a half to upload it to Blurb.

"The only thing I'm looking for now is slightly heavier paper," he said.