I just got my Yellowstone book from Blurb today and overall I'm impressed. In this post I'll take a look at what worked and what didn't - partially for anyone thinking of making a photo book like this and partially for my own note-taking purposes.
First of all, I love coffee table photography books! I've got a small collection of them and I'm always looking for new ones. I'm no "expert" or "connoisseur", but I know what I like. I look at things like the colors, the finish, the construction, etc. After the Vietnam trip I put together a book with Apple's Aperture software and printing service and was pretty happy with it. The things I didn't like were the small size, the thinner paper, and the lack of "pop" in the images.
Blurb recently came out with a new premium paper which is supposed to be thicker, and also with a new 13" x 11" size. I think prints and books should be big, so to me 13 x 11 is about right. I could go bigger...
I did my layout, imported everything into BookSmart, uploaded my book, and then I hit a hiccup at a most unexpected place: entering the shipping address. No matter how I laid it out, their system would not accept the address of my daytime job as a valid shipping address. This is a large publicly traded company with hundreds of employees and a real shipping department and everything, so it seems weird that their system wouldn't accept it. After consulting with Blurb customer service they basically told me they couldn't fix it and to try a different address. A better response would have been "Sorry for the technical trouble - We've manually entered the address into our system so you're good to go."
After picking a different shipping address, the book ships via FedEx and seems well protected and in good shape upon arrival:
Inside the box, the book itself is shrink-wrapped:
Let's look at the binding. This was a 40 page book which is about the smallest coffee table book I've ever seen and the Blurb binding process barely accommidates it. The binding would look a lot more normal if there were at least 80 pages in the book:
A big discussion item on the forums is how to lay out double truck images and how much of the image gets lost in the gutter. The "lay" of the book is important too since the binding, paper weight, and page count all affect how the gutter behaves.
The quality of the color and black and white images is good. The dust jacket is ultra-glossy but the pages are pretty much matte. The colors are just as I expected and the shadows didn't print too low at all. I don't have anything to complain about with the printing of the photos.
The text, on the other hand, is another story.
There are two ways to layout pages for a Blurb book - by using one of the fixed templates in their proprietary BookSmart software or by using an external program like Adobe InDesign to layout the pages and then export the whole page as a full-bleed jpg image. The page layouts in BookSmart are a bit limited so I chose to use InDesign to lay out the pages.
There's a lot of discussion on the Blurb forums about printing quality, especially with text. As it turns out, there's a serious downside to laying out your book in an outside program: the text turns out pretty blurry. As explained in a post about text quality on the Blurb forum from Mark Lentczner, here's what's happening: When you put text in one of the text containers in a pre-made BookSmart template, the text gets rendered at around 800 dpi and looks very crisp. When you have text rendered by InDesign at 300 dpi and then re-folded, spindled, and mutilated by the BookSmart software and then again by the printer. The result is acceptable for large print (like 50pt.) but horrible for smaller stuff like 24, 12, etc., as seen here:
Overall, I'm pretty happy. I like the photo printing and I like the size, especially for the price. I can see ordering a few of these for friends and family but there's no way it would be suitable for commercial sale, due to the text printing issues. So what would I like to see Blurb do? Here's a list:
- Find a way to fix this text printing issue Right now in order to print any small text at "bookstore quality", you HAVE to enter your text in a pre-made template in the BookSmart software. Uploading files at 800 dpi would result in page images that are 7 times larger (and upload times 7 times larger), but if that's what it takes then that's what it takes. Perhaps it might help if we could upload PDF files instead of rasterizing everything?
- More sizes I like the larger 13 x 11" size, but why stop there? How about a 11 x 13" choice? How about even larger? I guess supply and demand...
- Cover options We can choose a glossy dust jacket or a "cover wrap" option. Why not both? Why not a matte dust jacket?
- Printed or colored end papers Right now the end papers are plain white paper. Nothing wrong with that but it would be really nice to be able to print on those pages, like lots of my other coffee table books.
- Better customer service Two things here - first of all, they could have handled the shipping address better. Second, they could be much more informative in the forums. There are lots of forum discussions where technical questions could easily be answered with an authoritative answer from a staff member but instead forum members waste lots of post speculating and arguing.
So again, I'm pretty happy overall. Give Blurb a try and see how it works for you!