The Crunch: When Eileen Gittins couldn’t find a publisher to print a book of her photography at a fair price, she decided to start her own business. Her company, Blurb, makes it easier for aspiring bookmakers to create, publish, and share their work, a process that has long been too costly and time-consuming for creatives. The self-publishing platform, founded in 2005, offers several templates and tools, including web-based and desktop software, along with plugins for Adobe programs. Blurb can print any book, including image-rich work and ebooks. Users can also sell their completed projects through Amazon, Apple, or for free in Blurb’s bookstore.
Twelve years ago, Eileen Gittins simply wanted to make a book of her photography. However, she encountered two obstacles during her journey to bring her book to life and put it into the hands of others: Making it would be costly, and distributing it wouldn’t be simple.
“Why should anyone have to take out a second mortgage and hire a small army just to publish a few copies of their own book?” Eileen thought.
That frustration led her to start her own company, one that would clear the roadblocks that deterred others from distributing their work. In 2006, Eileen launched Blurb, a platform for creating, printing, and publishing books independently.
Blurb, based in San Francisco with an office in London, has caused a boom in the once-desolate realm of independent publishing. Blurb authors have created more than 2 million books since its founding, an incredible number considering the self-publishing void that existed before the company’s launch.
“At that time, in 2005, there was no solution to inexpensively print one book,” said Estee Shechter, Blurb’s Senior Manager of Brand Marketing. “You had to do a large order, which could be costly. If you were going to print it yourself, you had to go through a publisher, which can be resource-intensive and time-consuming.”
Those facing Eileen’s dilemma, aspiring publishers who are newbies in the trade, now have a new best friend in Blurb. The platform serves amateurs and professionals alike and accommodates any type of book whether it’s print or digital. Authors have total freedom in the production process with the help of numerous templates and tools. And Blurb offers several sales and distribution avenues, including Amazon, Apple, and even Blurb’s own bookstore, once a project is complete.
A Professional-Grade Platform for Crafting Books and Magazines
Blurb helps authors unleash and immortalize their creative ideas, and that means it places no limitations on the book format they use. It all started with the capability to do photo books, and has expanded to include three other formats: trade books, magazines, and ebooks.
“In 2014, we launched our self-publishing platform, which gives users the ability to create and sell their books,” Estee said. “We launched a handful of products that were a bit more diverse than some of our original products.”
Blurb broadened its offerings and touched a chord with hopeful entrepreneurs who had been stuck on islands of creative solitude. The company has three main audiences now: individual bookmakers making them as a personal gift or keepsake; professionals creating one for a business purpose — like a portfolio or manual, and self-publishers creating books to sell widely.
The first group makes up Blurb’s largest customer segment, but the company attracts creatives of various experience levels.
“We have folks that are just getting started. We also have a lot of customers that start with a personal gift book,” Estee said. “Once they create their first, then, maybe they’re a photographer, and they get this motivation, ‘Well, what if I list a book for sale? What if I create something that other people want to buy?’”
Blurb authors run the gamut from those publishing their first book to those trying to sell a couple of copies and professionals who come prepared.
“They’ll hire a designer, they’ll hire an editor, and put a little more investment into the book knowing it’s a bigger piece of their business,” Estee said.
Templates and Design Tools Give You Complete Creative Control
One of Blurb’s core missions is to ensure authors have the tools they need to — essentially — print their imagination. To that end, the site provides numerous photo book and magazine starter templates from BookWright, which is free software, as well as Bookify, a web-based application.
BookWright is highly customizable and allows users to change fonts, tweak placement, and adjust layouts. Meanwhile, Bookify has preset colors, fonts, and layouts. The options cater to the two most prevalent types of user Blurb sees: Designers are inclined to do everything from scratch (BookWright) and non-designers who need some guidance (Bookify).
BookWright has templates for cookbooks, travel books, family books, baby books, and portfolios — that’s aside from four different magazine templates.
Blurb has also partnered with Adobe to connect authors with two beneficial programs. A Blurb book module in the Adobe Lightroom app allows users to create a book directly on the platform, while Adobe InDesign also has a free downloadable plugin. The InDesign plugin can be used for all four formats, while the Lightroom plugin is for photo books and ebooks.
“We allow our professional customers to use the tools they know and love, and create books directly in the app,” Estee said.“They can start with any templates that we provide or they can start from scratch and do whatever they want.”
BookSmart is another free desktop software option. The tool, which can be used on photo books and ebooks, has nifty features such as autoflow import and placement of photos, along with drag-and-drop control over images and text.
Sell Print or Digital Versions Through Amazon, Apple, and More
Blurb wants its platform to encourage customers to continue their authorship. It does that by offering lots of free services, including creation tools and many sales channels.
Aside from Blurb’s own bookstore, where you can sell books in any format, you can sell photo books on Amazon, ebooks on Apple, and trade books through Ingram. In addition, authors can pre-sell in any format on Kickstarter.
“We do not take any cut of your profit,” Estee said. “So whatever you list your book at, 100% of the proceeds will go to you. It’s completely free to list your book on the bookstore, but it is up to the author to market the book from there to achieve success.”
Selling through Amazon, Ingram and Apple, involve paying fees, but authors have the potential to reach a wider audience of readers.
Blurb’s Getting Started tool provides guidance on finding the ideal format for a given idea. Its Pricing Calculator assists in determining what a project will cost. And customers can adjust anything from book quantity, page count, cover type, etc. to get a sense of what they’ll end up paying.
Blurb’s printing options fall into three different categories: print on demand (pay for each book individually), offset printing (750+ copies), and enhancements (100+ copies of books that don’t conform to standard size). The company also offers warehousing, which takes care of storage, order fulfillment, and shipping for large orders.
Blurb Helps You Bring Your Ideas and Stunning Visuals to Market
There’s an unmistakable commitment to visuals at Blurb that can be traced back to the company’s origins when Eileen was a photographer just trying to publish a book of her snapshots. Now, Blurb delivers high quality, visual products to those creatives. Premium printing and photo quality paper are available for photo books and magazines to help projects stand out, and that’s by design.
“We excel at visual books, specifically photography books,” Estee said. “Our audience includes designers, illustrators, architects, anyone who would be creating a book that’s more visually image-rich.”
Blurb has a client services team that offers one-on-one support and project management, mostly with self-publishers who print 100 or more copies of their books. The team can answer an author’s pressing questions, or even negotiate a lower price on bulk products.
Authors can also hire an expert from what Blurb calls its “dream team of collaborators.” This portal contains links to several focus areas like design, editorial, art, marketing, and publicity. Blurb also has a partnership with Reedsy, which offers marketing and PR support.
“As a self-publisher, we can’t market your book for you, so we try to give as much support as we can via some of our third-party partners, but, also, educational content in general,” Estee said.
Blurb began as a simple search for a publishing partner that would print a single photo book. Now, the company that Eileen started gives all creatives the opportunity to immortalize and share their work from one easy-to-use platform.