Blurb is the modern day photo album and gone are the days of plastic sleeves displaying boxes of 4×6 prints with hand written messages on the back. Blurb books are perfect for family, personal, memory and vacation books. But what about fine art? or what about for resale?
I have a growing book collection from some of my favourite photographers. I only have so many walls to enjoy prints, so for me, books provide an easier way to support and enjoy the images of other photographers. But this also means – that for no other reason than desire – I also want a book of my own.
Many photographers would love to be published and because only the most successful will ever get picked up by a publisher, the self-publishing market is growing and becoming easier and easier. Arguably, Blurb has become the leader. Maybe even more so now that they have embedded themselves in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
I have several mid sized Blurb books printed between 2006 and 2012. They have been consistent and I can’t see any significant printing changes. In December of 2011, I stepped it up and took a chance by ordering four large 12×12 160 page books with the heaviest paper and all of the upgrades – for a grand total of $187.42 CND each. Definitely more pricy than anything equivalent in a bookstore.
I was satisfied with the results and throughout 2012, I created two alternatives of the same book but at a much smaller scale of 8×10 120 pages and 7×7 80 pages. In the end, I had a sampling of almost everything Blurb had to offer. Here is my non technical review.
So how good are they? Very good if your expectations are reasonable, but, let’s make it clear right from the start that these are not fine art prints and I don’t think Blurb intends to be either. Blurb’s print reproduction is quite good compared to the majority of books you’ll find at a bookstore but they fail in comparison to the super high quality books some artists offer – even with Blurb’s most expensive upgrades. This is an unfair comparison but it’s worth setting reasonable exceptions for the rest of this review because I do own books in my collection where each page could rival any original inkjet print.
Already mentioned above, this 160 page 12×12 hard cover book finished off with all the most expensive and heaviest papers came just shy of $200 per book (before discounts that are easily had). This averages $1.25 per page, which is actually half the price of ordering the same number of 8×10 individual prints from your local Walmart. If viewed this way, the price for a single book begins to sound pretty good because it can be dangerous to compare prices to similar sizes in bookstores that are priced on huge quantity discounts. The extra costs are worth the on-demand, no-inventory, no-investment printing but it will make resale look incredibly expensive.
Small vs Standard vs Large
I don’t want to make Blurb sound super expensive because pricing starts at only $12 – which will get you a 7×7 20 page soft cover book. A price that would be hard to beat anywhere.
Here are a few photos comparing three of Blurb’s book sizes.
Soft Cover vs Dust Jacket vs Image Wrap
For my purposes, I prefer the dust jackets but I found the image wrap covers did provide more contrast and saturation. And every time I order a family or vacation book, I opt for the soft cover.
ProLine Paper vs Premium Paper vs Standard Paper
This is where my review gets super scientific because I ordered one over everything. Standard Paper, Lustre Finish Paper, Matte Finish Paper, and ProLine Pearl Photo Paper. The problem was, that all books were shipped together and not labeled. While it’s easy to visually see and feel the difference between standard, premium and proline, I could not see the difference between lustre and matte. Maybe I made a mistake in ordering?
In the photo above, there are five 8×10 books in the middle. The three books with the standard paper and the same number of pages are noticeably thinner. For a comparison between matte premium with proline pearl, take a look at this image on flickr.
I’m not entirely sure what the difference was but for a select few images, the printing has an odd compression / mosaic pattern. Since I do not know what the cause is (on repeat orders and file uploads) and it only happens on a couple of images – for the purpose of this review, I’ll assume it was a bad file (they print fine elsewhere). With only these two exceptions, everything else looks good.
Edits can really be frustrating because there are none. Once you have submitted a book to the blurb store, you have 15 days to buy a copy or they will delete it. If you find an error, your only option is to upload a new book and delete the old. This will however require another purchase for the simplest spelling updates making minor mistakes very costly. On the positive side, once you buy a single copy, Blurb will archive it forever for future purchase.
Now that Adobe has married Blurb by offering book building directly from Lightroom 4, Blurb publishing is an easy choice. It’s great for one time printing of your own work or the occasional gift. For story telling, vacations or any other personal event, it is easily superior to the traditional album of small prints. For this reason, I will continue to use Blurb for all simple and quick family related albums.
I’m also satisfied with the printing and would consider it acceptable. If however, you are looking for a super high quality fine art book, or you wish to offer it as a product for resale, I find Blurb hard to get overly excited for. I value my work but still sold the books in these photos at cost feeling any markup was just too much.
The difference in paper is weight and a noticeable thickness when turning pages. I did not see any significant increase in print quality on heavier papers.
Blurb comes close but I still have my heart set on a coffee table book to call my own and at some future point – I may actually push forward and self fund my own production run of a very high quality portfolio book. For a rough comparison, I have talked with publishers and to lower prices to bookstore level (buyers expectations), an initial investment of 500 books at minimum would be required. A large up front cost that would require serious sales for a break even.
Blurb is the modern day photo album. There is no need to buy plastic sleeves or order 4×6 prints when you can create a very nice hard cover book. For this, the price per book is very reasonable and recommended.