Product Review: Blurb
OCTOBER 08, 2010
One of the tougher stories I wrote for PDN this year actually
wasn't a story at all; it was more of a chart. For the January 2010
issue celebrating PDN's 30th anniversary, I decided to create a
timeline of the most important imaging product innovations of the last
decade. Though it sounded fun and easy when I came up with the idea, it
turned out to be a gigantic pain in the butt.
Who do you
include? What are the criteria? What's a true innovation versus
something that's merely interesting? It was a difficult task and
involved a lot of browsing through past issues of the magazine and
looking at pictures of gear. And while the finished piece, entitled
"Pivotal Products: A Timeline of the Digital Decade"
(http://bit.ly/9mMEgM) had the fewest number of words of anything I've
written this year, it was definitely the most satisfying in the end.
product I decided to include in the list was do-it-yourself photo book
publisher Blurb. I made the choice not only for how Blurb has
popularized the low-cost, short run print-on-demand photo book but also
because it was a good antidote to the high-tech gadgets on the list.
These were books. You opened them up and turned the pages and looked at
the pictures. You could even sell them via Blurb's Web site and hold
onto 100 percent of the profits. Imagine that.
Though I've seen
many Blurb photo books created by other photographers, I've never
actually made one myself. (I have tested some competing services,
though.) Since the "theme" of this month's product reviews seems to be
snazzy low-cost ways to present your work—see the review of Animoto Pro
on page 88—Blurb fits in well, offering a good "analog" counterpoint to
the multimedia slideshows from Animoto.
BYE-BYE B3 BUT PRO FEATURES CONTINUE
Animoto, Blurb's main audience is consumers and the ease-of-use of both
products reflects that. But pros admire ease-of-use as well as long as
the quality is up to snuff. To court more professionals, Blurb launched
a business-to-business service a couple of years ago called B3. For a
premium, pros could enroll in the B3 program and receive one-on-one
support from Blurb employees, rush production for quick turnaround on
books, and a customized workflow with ICC profiles, color management
and soft proofing.
Unfortunately the B3 service is no longer
offered by Blurb but some of its services, including a trove of Color
Management resources (documents, info and how-to videos), are now
available to all users on Blurb's Web site. Yes, this is not exactly
like having someone walk you through the process but if you don't mind
doing your own research, it helps.
In the last year, Blurb has
also rolled out new features that will likely appeal more to pros than
the general public, including a 12 x 12 large square book option (yes,
Hasselblad shooters should like that), a new, thick, premium lustre
paper option, and the ability use a PDF layout or an InDesign template
to create a Blurb book.
Blurb's very good BookSmart
software—which doesn't require you to be logged on to the Blurb web
site to create a book—also continues to evolve in positive ways. The
version I tried, which is 18.104.22.168.1723 (talk about incremental
upgrades), now has a feature called "moveable containers," allowing you
more customization in your layouts. Along with full bleeds of images,
which have been available for some time, you can create a two-page (or
double truck) spread with your images. BookSmart, which is PC and Mac
compatible, also lets you save your custom templates for future use.
I found the software to be fast and relatively intuitive to use,
there's a consumer focus to its design and some of its functionality.
One thing that particularly annoyed me was that BookSmart seemed to
want to pull images from Apple iPhoto, a consumer program I hardly use
rather than just letting me pick and choose from my old folders. To fix
this you have to go to the filter menu and uncheck iPhoto since it's on
Other than that, I breezed through the layout
process. You can either upload your images directly to BookSmart—sorry
just JPEGs or PNG files—or import ("slurp" in Blurbspeak) them from
Flickr or SmugMug. Along with the book size, layout, and paper options
(lustre and matte are the two premium choices), you can also pick
whether you want a matte "ImageWrap" cover or a hardcover with a dust
jacket. (Personally, I think the ImageWrap looks more professional.)
you've completed everything, you can preview your book using Blurb's
BookShow flipbook widget. Not only is this a nice way to proof your
tome before publication—just digitally flip through the pages using
your mouse—it's great for sharing your book online, especially via
Facebook. You can also, of course, sell and share your books directly
through Blurb's Web site.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
I was pleased with the image quality of my test book though the next
time around I'll probably spend more time color managing my shots. Some
photos that were spot on when I printed them at home using an Epson
3880, looked a little dark and a bit soft in my Blurb book which was
printed using an HP Indigo four-color digital press.
prices Blurb offers though, I was more than pleased. Softcover 7 x
7-inch books start as low as $12.95 and there's no minimum order number
required. On the higher end, you can get a 20 to 40 page 12 x 12 book
with a hardcover and a dust jacket for $59.95 which is still pretty
Other photo sizes offered include 10 x 8 inches
Standard Landscape (starting at $19.95), 8 x 10 inches Standard
Portrait (starting at $19.95), and 13 x 11 inches Large Landscape
(starting at $54.95). Though you can generate sales of your books via
Blurb's site, I really see the potential of these products more as
marketing materials or modified portfolios.
For a minimal cost,
photographers can create a very nice self-promotional leave behind for
a client via Blurb's service. Or you can simply show a client the
recent photography book you've published. They'll likely be impressed.
THE BOTTOM LINE
the do-it-yourself, print-on-demand photo book world, Blurb is still
the king. While it was disappointing to learn the company has abandoned
its members-only B3 business service for professional photographers,
Blurb continues to roll out enough top-line features including premium
lustre paper, large square 12 x 12 sizes, and PDF to Book publishing,
to keep pros interested. Best of all, Blurb's affordable pricing still
leads the pack. Before you dive into printing a book with Blurb though,
I advise you to slurp up the company's extensive color management
resources on its site to get the most out of your photo tome. In this
world of e-Readers, Kindles, iPad's etc, there's still nothing that
beats a beautifully made book.
Great book pricing; easy to use BookSmart software doesn't require you
to log on to the Web site; nice thick luster premium paper option;
impressive 12 x 12-inch large square book size.
Consumer-oriented BookSmart software kept trying to pull images from
iPhoto; B3 one-on-one color management help no longer available.
Price: $12.95-$74.95 per book