Blurb books – Is it worth the time, effort and cost?

final-coverThis turned out to be the final cover for the book, but unfortunately, I am not overly thrilled about the results.  This is the 2nd time I’ve put time and energy into making a book with Blurb, and both times I felt disappointed when I finally received the much anticipated finished product.  So, instead of sharing with you my excitement of this new book, I’ll instead give you a little review of the product and my perspective on Blurb so you can know what to expect if you plan on using their services to self-publish a book.

First of all, I do think that self-publishing like this is getting better and better and I strongly suspect it will eventually allow for “bookstore quality” books without having to spend 10-15k to publish a run of books.  Eventually, you’ll be able to make individual books made-to-order that are as good as the coffee table books we pay 50+ dollars for at Borders, but regardless of what they say, these are not yet “bookstore quality.”

The first Blurb book I made, Time Exposed, took quite a number of hours to do.  I’d say I spent at least 30 hours on it.  This time was spent getting the picture files sorted out, sized and ready.  Figuring out which images to include, a layout that flows in a sensible manner, finding and/or writing text to include, and then laying it all out with the software provided by Blurb – it ends up being a lot of work!  After weeks of this, couple hours here and a few hours there, it was ready to publish.  The book was printed and delivered fairly quickly, around a week, and I was very excited to flip through the 158 pages.  But right out of the packaging, I was already disappointed with the cover.  The cover image, which I had done with the “image wrap” style, simply did not look very good.  The image was Cosmic LifeCosmic Life and the deep rich blues in the upper corners were choked and transitioned poorly into black (which no blacks exist in the image!).  I mean, I personally don’t agree with – you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Hell yes, you can!  Not to mention there was a scratch on the back cover!  You can certainly come to some conclusions simply by the cover and this wasn’t looking good.  It didn’t get any better from there.  Immediately upon opening the book, I noticed the paper quality was anything but the “bookstore quality” that they claim in their product.  It felt thin and cheap, and just by turning the pages, dents in the paper were forming.  Not good.  To top it all off – the colors were a bit inconsistent throughout.  After spending so much time on this, to say I was disappointed was an understatement.  Sure, I should have slept on it and let myself settle down some, but I didn’t.  Instead, I wrote an email to Blurb and it probably wasn’t the nicest letter.

Blurb responded promptly and I must say, they do seem to have good customer service.  They began a new book and I sent that one in to be replaced, mainly due to the scratched cover.  I was hoping for some kind of miracle, but the 2nd one was much of the same without the scratch.  I didn’t announce the book to anyone and figured it would just sit on my bookshelf.

With a little time, my feelings settled and I forgot how frustrated I was over the book.  Then, Blurb announced a Premium paper upgrade (that you pay extra for), and I thought – Wow, that could make a big difference.  With Christmas around the corner, I ordered one and had it delivered to my parents.  Now, I guess this is all relative and I’ll surely be more critical of the final product than anyone else because I put in the time and want it perfect, but my parents absolutely loved it and still mention it from time to time.

Months later and skipping up to this latest work – I’m 75% of the way finished with a series of black and whites and I’m thinking – a Blurb book might be worth another try.  Better paper, black and white images so you can’t mess that up, right?  I’ll do a smaller 8×10 book so it won’t cost as much… So, I get started on it.  This time, I consciously try to stay patient and not rush it to get published.  I work on it a couple hours here and a few hours there for over 2 months!  Definitely, a good amount of time gets invested in this.  In my mind, I’m hoping to use this book to help market this series of works, almost as a portfolio.  I spend much time making sure the images are sharpened correctly.  I make full pages in Photoshop with the images and text and simply plug-in full bleed pages as opposed to using their software, just to have total control as to how each page will turn out.

page-sample

I finally send the book to the publisher and there’s no turning back then.  Once again, Blurb is quite quick with getting the book printed and delivered and I have it in a week.  This time, I go with the book cover instead of the Image wrap, because that was sucky last time.  I kept the book to 80 pages in the 8×10″ size so it would be a little more affordable, in hopes to actually sell some books.  Again, the book is packaged well and this time, I am quite happy when I unwrap the book.  The cover looks amazing!  Shiny and perfect and the image looks great!  So far so good.  I open the book and the feel of the paper is better – I’d call it getting quite close to what you expect from “bookstore quality”, but not quite there yet.  Even as a still-new book, the pages are a bit wavy when you lay it flat on a table.  No $50+ book from Borders does that!

blog-sample-a2It’s new…it has “Premium Paper” which costs more…it’s called “Bookstore Quality”, but it still is wavy???  Oh, and this problem tends to get worse with time.

blog-sample-a1The front cover turned out great this time!  If only the whole book had been done this well…

blog-sample-1The printing seems to have the most problems in the blacks and darker areas, and in the more extreme transition zones.  It’s hard to see here in this picture, but the pointed out area is highly choked and it really ruins the image.  Over 1/2 the images in the book either have this sort of choking, or lightly colored (!?) blue and purple rainbows (!?!?).

blog-sample2Again, this has bad choking, colored rainbows, and a much darker vignette than the image should have.

I want to like Blurb as a company.  I like what they are trying to do, but I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that the quality isn’t there yet.  This sort of self publishing absolutely does not produce “bookstore quality” books and that’s a bummer.  I wish it did because I would absolutely love to have a quality book out there in the world for people to view.  Even if it were more expensive and I wouldn’t make any money on, which is generally the case with Blurb books.  My first Time Exposed book costs me over $90 to make a 158 page book!! and the quality isn’t there.  This Dark Coast book costs over $35 and it’s a small book of poor quality!  What do I do with that!?  I suppose my parents might be able to overlook the poor quality and enjoy it…

I had hoped to enter Blurb’s 2nd annual book competition with this book.  It seems to be a reputable contest with many big name sponsors, but I don’t see how I can enter this.  I had hoped to use this book as a tool to help market this series of images, but I certainly won’t be doing that either.  Instead, I will most likely take both books off Blurb’s storefront, remove the announcement of the books from my facebook page and website, and start saving my $15k to do a real book the right way!  And in the meantime, control the work I put out with excellent quality fine art prints.

So, if you are looking to make a book as a gift or for mom and dad, then you’ll probably be happy with Blurb.  If you are thinking that you are gonna make a fine quality book of your work to sell, market, or show in public, then I’d recommend not wasting your time with this sort of publishing and start saving your fun-tickets to do it right.  Unless of course, you have a better idea – then, please share it with me.

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