PHOTO CREDIT:Blurb no longer has its B3 series for pros but it still offers top-drawer features including premium lustre paper and large book sizes.
© Michael Creagh

Product Review: Blurb


OCTOBER 08, 2010

Dan Havlik

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.

One 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


Like 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 2.8.0.3.1723 (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.

Though 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 by default.

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.)

Once 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


Overall 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.

For the 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 reasonable.

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


In 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.

Blurb

www.blurb.com

Pros: 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.

Cons: 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

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