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Blurb.com—I Want To Smile/I Want To Cry

October 24, 2011

See the full post for details about my recent print on demand adventures.

GabiCover2083Left: Cover of the recent book I printed through Blurb.com.

Over the past several months I've done two projects with Blurb.com. Several friends had done one or more self-published books with Blurb and I'd seen the results. I was anxious to try it out for myself.

It's a long, and tortuous story so I'll only give you the short version. The first project was a retrospective catalog of a friend's final art show. I incorporated the captions from the show, created the book in InDesign using Blurb's templates and Photoshop color profiles and PDF presets. (A professional photographer took beautiful photos of all of my friend's work; I was working with those images.)

The first book I ordered (to see how it all worked) came back quite a disappointment. My friend's predominant medium was graphite on white paper. Every one of those pieces printed with a blue cast so severe it looked as if he had drawn on Magnani's blue Pescia! One such image was also used on the cover where it printed more or less correctly. 

Blurb was very quick to respond to my queries. They reprinted the book (I sent them images showing the blueness of the printed pieces). The second book arrived looking "normal" however the cover was totally "bleached out." They tell you on their site the covers are printed separately on a different printer so I wasn't surprised, but I decided that I could live with the cover since the guts of the book were so improved.

I ordered the four presentation copies thinking my work was done. The new books arrived more blue than the first very blue book, and nothing like the reprint they had sent. Again Blurb was quick to reprint, but here's the problem. They acknowledged that there was nothing I could do. I had followed all their instructions. I had used their presets and profiles.

I asked them if I would have better results if I recreated the entire 80 page book in their proprietary page layout program? The answer was no, they have the same problem.

I asked if we could electronically tag my file in some way so that we knew it was always sent to the same printer who did the non-blue-cast books.

Nope, and besides both sets of books under consideration at that point were printed by the same printer on different days.

BackCover2086Left: Back cover of Gabi's Shower book. (The bubble wrap in these images is what I wrapped the book in before wrapping it up to give to the expectant mom.)

I scrambled for every suggestion I could think of and customer service said no to all of them: It's our problem.

Now it's great that they admit this, but it sucks that they don't fix it. We needed to have confidence that people would be able to order a book and not get a blue copy. As a result of this problem with Blurb, the book of my friend's work has not been made public. And that's sad because I know so many people who would love to see his work and own it in book form.

Flash forward to a couple months later. I showed up at the baby shower of a friend and was asked to take photos. I had my new camera and wasn't used to it at all but I gave it a good try. One hundred and forty nine photos later I was wondering how I could present this to the couple. Printing out even a few of those photos would be expensive on my ink-guzzling printer.

GabiSpine2085Right: The spine of Gabi's Shower book.

Happily I'm pretty fast at laying things out in book form. So I decided to try another book with Blurb. Am I a glutton for punishment? No, I just really want this print on demand thing to work!

Besides there were no graphite drawings on white paper in this selection of images.

In this post you'll see the various parts of the book I had made to commemorate that shower. It turned out to be about 30 pages long. To give the book a bit more heft I used their hardcover, image wrap (i.e., the image covers the boards of the book and there is no dust jacket) option. (Heads up: their template for this cover option does not show where the hinge will fall so you need to take this into account on your own when positioning text and graphics on the cover, so they don't seem to be eaten by the hinge.)

When Gabi's Shower book arrived, I was please, overall. The images printed well (they weren't great images to begin with because I was just getting used to the camera and shooting in very low light). 

RectoTrim2090

Left: Note the folio and the short distance from the folio to the right edge of the page. Compare that with the space from the folio to the left edge of the page in the next image. On this recto page the trim actually came inside the safe area as indicated by Blurb's own template.

There was however, one great disappointment. I had used Blurb's templates again which show the trim area for your book along with the edge of the "safe zone." The template is generated in InDesign using the Blurb plug in. And everything on my screen and in my InDesign file was correct, and it prints correctly on my printers.

The Blurb book however, trims all the recto pages TOO CLOSE, well within the safe zone. The verso pages were trimmed with excess space.

VersoTrim2089Left: Note the folio at the base of the page and the distance to the left edge of the page. This distance is greater than that same distance on the recto page shown above. Every verso page was off by the same amount and every recto page was off by the same amount.

I know, from past experience with Blurb, that if I had complained about this they would probably have rerun the book for me at no cost to me.

My problem is I don't have the time to keep asking for things to be reprinted. And in some ways I don't have the heart. Each little disappointment…

I sent the book off to my friend. I will always know that there is this trimming error in the book, but 90 percent of the people who look at the book won't notice. And of the 10 percent who do notice only about 2 percent of them will really care. (Yes I spend my whole day worrying about things that 98 percent of the world's population doesn't care about!) I thought it more important that my friend get her book in a more or less timely fashion. 

Will I use Blurb again? Probably. Every friend I know who has used it has had a simple and clear time of it, and good results. I have purchased a number of journal facsimilies and sketchbook facsimiles on Blurb and I don't notice these issues. I've purchased Blurb printed show catalogs at shows and haven't seen these problems.

Here's what I think about the process.

1. Blurb lets me work in InDesign, so I have complete control over the project's look and don't have to learn their proprietary software. (I have to stuff my brain with enough software upgrades as it is!)

2. Blurb customer service is quick (typically I received an answer in 2 to 4 hours if it was during the business week; once over a holiday I had to wait a day). The customer service is quick to suggest things, and in my case they were quick to reprint at no cost to fix the problem that was obviously theirs.

3. I got to upgrade in both projects to a thicker, more opaque paper which enhanced the image reproduction.

4. The process was quick (the actual submission and printing). (Unfortunately it took 4 rounds to finish.)

5. Prices for even an 80 page book seemed reasonable compared to other sites.

Looking at the other vendors of print on demand:

I'm still looking at other vendors. Some, connected with the various photo sharing sites, produce books which seem of a lesser quality, lower grade paper. (I've seen and held actual physical specimens.) You are limited to working only with their proprietary software and that software doesn't seem very versatile. The pricing on those sites also seems geared to a 20 page or so book. Once you exceed the "limit" of pages you can of course add more pages but the prices go up steeply.

I've found a couple other sites that claim to be geared to print "professionals" but you have to join those sites before you can see any pricing, which is always a bad sign.

So I'm still looking. If you work with InDesign and have printed a book with a print on demand vendor that you like, please send me a note about the experience and a link to their site so I can check it out.

(NOTE: I am not asking you to write in and advertise your print on demand service in the comments section of this post. I'll toss such comments into the spam folder. I want to hear from people who have used print on demand.)

  1. Reply

    Thanks for sharing this post. Congratulations on a book. Good work really.

    • LizzieBo
    • October 24, 2011
    Reply

    What a wonderful gift! As part of the 98% (actually the 90) I heartily agree with going with what works, rather than waiting for the perfect product. I’d be thrilled to get such a gift.

  2. Reply

    When I was studying illustration, my semester project was to illustrate a book. All of us used Blurb and my professor was pretty pleased with all of us. I believe that I had 32 illustrations, hand-drawn, digitally colored and all were full bleed. I just uploaded all of my final jpgs into their layout. Since, at that time, the jacket and flap design was so limited on their part, I designed it and had the school print it. This book still sits out on my coffee table. Love it!

  3. Reply

    Donna, it’s great to hear about your positive experience with Blurb! Part of the fun of Blurb for me is that you get a book almost right away. In the regular course of events it takes so much longer!

  4. Reply

    Thanks Lizziebo, the couple enjoyed the book, so I’m glad I went forward as is. It’s just that I want to like this company and then something happens to crush my joy! But I’m already working on something else—hopeful.

  5. Reply

    Before I hit the print button on my project, I found (deep in Blurb’s own blog-help files) the discussion among users that they were wonderful to work with and great about reprinting, but absolutely could not print acceptably the first time through. I think I was wise to back off, but I still haven’t found a satisfactory self publishing option. Thank you for helping confirm my choice – and please keep us in the loop if you find something that works.

  6. Reply

    Carol the real problem is that EVERY Time is a first time with Blurb, the way they run their model. So my first printing which was too blue was reprinted for me and the second item was printed within reasonable range (i.e., not horribly blue cast) so I purchased the 4 presentation books thinking that they would all arrive at that same standard.

    Wrong. The 4 presentation books arrived with severe blue cast again. So it was like we were starting over. You couldn’t count on the one “good” copy you ordered being the standard of what you would receive in the future.

    That’s why we couldn’t put the book up for sale. There was no way of knowing what quality book people would get, blue, or OK.

    That’s the frustrating thing for me, that every order is a “first order” and you can’t build any expectations on a “good” order being followed by a good order.

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