The biggest challenge with using Blurb’s free publishing service is knowing whether an author can turn their book into a viable product for self-publishing. There are several black marks going against Blurb and they are serious enough to send most authors on their heels in the direction of the door. Blurb offer no distribution beyond a webpage listing in their on line bookstore. Even more crucially, they do not provide the author with an ISBN, critical for full on line retail listing, book databases and over the counter sales. Blurb’s Booksmart software will not import PDF, PS, InDesign or Quark files. Ah, Bugger…guess we should just get our coats and go…eh?
Well, no, maybe not. Let’s just hold on there. I think the ISBN is the most important lapse on Blurb’s part. What were you thinking Eileen? Without an ISBN, an author is dead in the water, unless, of course, they just want to make books available for family and friends. I know Blurb is used by professional photographers, artists and small businesses alike to present corporate booklets, full graphic books, and I think it is only a question of time before Blurb make this option available. For now, authors need a quick ‘fix-it’. To be fair Blurb has shifted some of the way. They offer an option where an author can choose to insert a custom logo, unfortunately, it comes at a price. And in my opinion, that price is simply too high.
“We know you love Blurb. We also know that sometimes you may not want our logo on your book. All standard Blurb books are printed with the Blurb logo on the copyright page and final page, but our Custom Logo Upgrade lets you add your own branding or go “logo free.” “
When you select the ‘logo free’ option, Blurb adds this to the cost per book unit rather than simply charging you a set fee. This can be anything from £1 to £2, depending on the page length of the book.
“B/W Text 5×8 inches (13×20 centimeters)
With Blurb Logo
Prices are per book and don’t include tax or shipping.
Page Count/Softcover/Hardcover/Image wrap
0-40 £2.50 £8.50 £8.95
41-80 £2.95 £9.95 £10.50
81-120 £3.50 £10.95 £11.50
121-160 £3.95 £11.95 £12.50
161-200 £4.50 £12.50 £12.95
201-240 £4.95 £13.50 £13.95
241-280 £5.50 £13.95 £14.50
281-320 £5.95 £14.50 £14.95
321-360 £6.50 £14.95 £15.50
361-400 £6.95 £15.50 £15.95
401-440 £7.50 £15.95 £16.50
B/W Text 5×8 inches (13×20 centimeters)
Without Blurb Logo
• Prices are per book and don’t include tax or shipping.
Page Count Softcover/Hardcover/Image wrap
0-40 £2.95 £10.95 £11.50
41-80 £3.95 £12.50 £12.95
81-120 £4.50 £13.50 £14.50
121-160 £4.95 £14.95 £15.50
161-200 £5.95 £15.95 £16.50
201-240 £6.50 £16.50 £17.50
241-280 £6.95 £17.50 £17.95
281-320 £7.50 £17.95 £18.95
321-360 £8.50 £18.95 £19.50
361-400 £8.95 £19.50 £19.95
401-440 £9.50 £19.95 £20.50″
It should also be borne in mind that while £1 to £2 does not seem a lot, the above prices do not include taxes or shipping, or for that matter any margin for an author’s profit. If the author is also serious about real on line sales and bookstore sales with a retailer discount also added on, then this ‘luxury’ takes on a far greater importance. In truth, there really is only one ‘fix-it’ and that is for the author to own their own ISBN’s registered in their name or their own publishing imprint and purchased from Nielsens Book Data, the UK’s ISBN administrator (Bowkers in the USA). A minimum block of ten can be bought for £108. The author can then include one of these numbers on the copyright page, which will still bare the Blurb insignia, but what matters most is the ISBN is registered and owned by the author and their imprint name. This ISBN can also be used on the back cover of the book along with your own publishing logo when you design the cover with Booksmart. In some circumstances, where the page count of a paperback book is low, it may prove to be financially viable to use and pay the extra £1 for the ‘logo free’ option. If you take a 200+ page paperback, that would push the price to anything above £5.95 and up to £7.50 for a 320 page paperback book! Without shipping and taxes–it leaves no room for a retail discount or author profit.
Blurb’s Booksmart software does not allow you to import a page or whole book designed in many book production applications using PDF or PS. You can design your pages independently in those programs, and then convert them from PDF to a bitmap or jpeg image. This image can simply be dropped in to the Booksmart pages as it is. There are several free converters available on line and one of those is ‘cutepdf’. A simple Google search should bring up a downloadable version.
With my own book project, ‘Thais’, I purchased SmartPro and this offers me a few more conversion options.
Ultimately, if any author is going to be continually working and editing book files, they should seriously invest in a program like InDesign, or the more expensive Adobe Acrobat. Before I leave the issue of ISBN’s, I have been asked by authors many times about how they generate their ISBN barcode to include in a book cover design. Again, here is a free resource site which does the trick for you.
The cover design in ‘Thais’ was the area of most difficulty and frustration. It is important that any images you use in Booksmart are 300dpi resolution or higher, and there is a warning yellow icon which will alert you if the resolution is too low. Most of the images we deal with day to day on the Internet may appear to us to be sharp, but when it comes to book design, the images have to be super sharp for the print process. What you see in your browser of PC is often not of a strong enough quality for print files.
Distribution is the area which causes most concern with Blurb. Like the compatibility of Blurb’s Booksmart software, distribution is something which Blurb needs to seriously look at if they are to develop beyond being seen as just another manuscript display site, with the add-on bonus of offering authors a hard printed copy of their work. You will not find a single Amazon listing for a Blurb book if you go looking there and for that matter any other on line retailer. Without the distribution service from Blurb, authors will have to order a quantity of books, register themselves with on line sellers, and in the case of Amazon, that will mean participating and paying for their Advantage Program and sending them five copies of their book, conceding the 40%+ discount to them, and without any doubt, an author will need their own book site to drive sales with a Paypal option. In many ways, the author will have to operate as a traditional small publishing press and hold their own stocks of the book or find and pay for a small independent distributor to take some stock. As it stands, there is simply no way that Blurb could be a viable option for an author wanting to make a reasonable profit on a book if they were to utilise all the available sales channels. On a small scale, it could work. I am sure the vast majority of authors who have used Lulu, for example, shift more books through Lulu’s on line bookstore than they ever do through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
In my next article on Blurb, I will describe the load up process of the completed book to Blurb’s site and where I believe this company need to go. It’s ok. I’ve already got the title… ‘Adventures with Blurb – Part Four (Come on Eileen)’