Thanks to Jim Forbes who caught the debut of this company at Demo back in February, I downloaded the client for Blurb: “Start to finish publishing software simple & smart enough to make you an author.”
Jim made the recommendation as I finish The Reminiscences of Captain Thomas Chatfield that I consider packing it in book form. When my father took the original manuscript and had it bound at a copy shop in the 1980s, the result was fairly dull, boring, and probably relatively expensive to produce in anything resembling a multiple edition. I started the transcription project for the simple reason that getting the manuscript into a digital format would free it from the physical confines (blah..blah..blah) and give me the opportunity to make infinite copies at the press of a print button. I had been toying with taking the final Word.doc and turning it into a PDF file, but as I wrote I realized that I also need to deal with the hand-drawn maps of wrecked Arctic whalers and Florida Civil War sites. Then, if I’m going to get serious about those maps, why not import some more maps, say a Google Earth mashup of the Captain’s voyages, photos of him as a young and an old man, photos of whaling ships. Well you get the picture. This project has only just started and I need to start thinking about the final output.
This is where Blurb comes in. Granted the thing is in beta — what new web business model doesn’t launch in beta thanks to Google? But I downloaded the client software last night, block saved the entire text file — all 69-single-spaced pages — and pasted into a book template. Damn near brought my Lenovo Thinkpad X41 to its knees, but after ten minutes I had a handsome looking, three column, horizontal form factor coffee table book. Without any pictures. I may be jumping the gun — I do have twenty-odd pages to complete (and then I have a ton of Civil War letters to transcribe — but it felt very good to see the fruits of three months of lonely-guy-hotel typing turn into something a heck of a lot nicer than a vinyl bound Kinko’s copy.
The client is slooww, but think of it as a Quark-lite program that flows the copy across the columns, offers image insertion, different formats, and even cover design. When it is all done you submit the book file to Blurb, which will print a single copy for around $30 for a one to forty page hardcover to as high as $80 for a 301 to 400 page book. That’s expensive, but if you think about it, not too bad. Multiple copy runs can knock ten percent off the price. If I were to consider printing ten copies to give to my children, nieces, nephews, and the village library, I’d be looking at roughly a $350 price tag. Steep, but not really if the quality is high, which it appears to be from the site’s pictures.
This price insures that Blurb will not be a threat to Vantage Press (the vanity publisher that failed authors use to get their stuff in print at all costs), nor will it be for casual users. I will play with it some more to determine the layout flexibility. So far it seems too restrictive, it doesn’t import Word files (that is coming in a future version), but judging from the example photos, the quality seems high.
You can sell your books through the Blurb site, so, all things being equal, this is essentially the CafePress of book publishing.
Cool. I think I have a goal now — to finish, get the illustrations and maps together, and run off a copy, adjust it, and then make a larger order for gifts.