Using blurb.com

Almost all photographers have a dream of publishing a book of their photos. Now anyone can easily publish their own photo book using an online printing service like blurb.com which I have recently tried out.

I first heard of blurb on the Webby Awards list for 2008. Some months later, I finally got around to trying them out. I also looked at similar photo book-making services at Apple, MyPublisher, lulu.com, etc., but I found that blurb offered the most serious options for bookmaking via their free software.

Blurb’s bookmaking software, called BookSmart, is free for anyone to download. They have a Mac version as well which I downloaded and used.

The software is easy to use, however, it’s still quite buggy with some display and formatting problems, at least on an Intel Mac. None are catastrophic, but troublesome and time-consuming to work around. One glaring bug is the program’s inability to wrap Japanese text within the text box. If you copy Japanese text from MS Word and paste it into BookSmart, the text won’t word wrap. So what you have to do it close the book and open it again. Then it appears correctly.

The software hasn’t come of age yet and I’m sure they are working to refine it. I use a 24″ screen so I can see the entire layout and all the necessary windows. On laptop screens, it might be a hassle to keep scrolling around to see things.

I created a 40-page (20 sheets), 7-inch square book with a soft cover. My very first blurb book arrived via FedEx which took about a week after I ordered a copy. The paper quality and overall impression was good. It was quite a thin and light book, more like a booklet or thick pamphlet than a real book. The colors on the cover photo though came out very saturated (too red). The people’s faces looked sunburn. But it was within tolerable limits.

Fortunately, the photos inside the book came out fine. The text was nice as well. Most of the photos were adjusted to 300 dpi and shrunk to fit the image box on each page. A few images came from my iSight camera on the iMac and even those came out decent. If you’re a Mac user, be sure that the gamma setting is set to 2.2 instead of the default 1.8. This will make the on-screen images look darker, but it will more accurately reflect the brightness of the images printed in the book. Go to Preferences/Display/Color/Calibrate to change the gamma. I wish they told you these things when you start out making your blurb book.

My blurb book cost $12.95. Shipping to Japan costs around $12 for one copy. So the shipping cost becomes a major issue if you’re in Japan and ordering only one copy. Things get much cheaper when you order multiple copies. Even the book price is discounted by 10 percent if you order 10 or more copies. If you’re targeting mainly people in the US, shipping would be much cheaper for them.

The main advantage about designing and publishing your book by yourself is that you have total control over the design and content. BookSmart includes a variety of page formats for text and images, but they can be somewhat limiting. You can format the page anyway you like by using Photoshop for your images/text and importing it to the book.

Another major advantage is on-demand printing. It’s no problem for them to print only one copy. They print only after an order is received.

And if you see a mistake or typo in the book, you can correct it on the fly and subsequent printed copies will reflect the correction. If your book is printed by a regular publisher, any mistakes will remain in all the copies you initially print (hundreds or thousands).

But if you need to make hundreds or thousands of copies, find a publisher or a real printing company to publish the book. I’m sure it will be cheaper per book.