Blurb Wants to Bring Illustrated E-Books up to Speed for Publishers and Consumers

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Cutting edge technology of the past.

Illustrated books are not finding the same success in the digital publishing world as plain-text books; San Francisco- and London-based self-publishing service Blurb aims to change that.

Earlier this month, Blurb, launched in 2006 and known for helping users create high-quality illustrated books for print-on-demand distribution, launched a new suite of tools for production and distribution of enhanced e-books. The move is the company’s entree into the lucrative self-publishing production and sales market as well as the software as a service business, targeting authors and publishers, respectively.

While some publishers may be finding success with illustrated titles, many are not and sales for illustrated e-books hasn’t taken off the way it has for other kinds of books. According to a recent story in The Bookseller, the digital market doesn’t yet exist for illustrated books. Publishing consultant (and DBW partner) Mike Shatzkin thinks there may not be a strategy for illustrated book publishers to survive the e-book revolution.

Since the introduction of its new suite of enhanced e-book services about a week ago, Blurb users already have hundreds of enhanced e-books for sale in the Blurb store and in Apple’s iBookstore at prices ranging from $2.99 to $7.99, according to the company’s CEO, Eileen Gittins. How does Blurb already have so many books on the market? It has a huge user base, dwarfing that of Smashwords and Author Solutions (the two largest e-book self-publishing platforms) combined.

In the past 18 months, some 575,000 authors have published books through Blurb. By comparison, the other two services mentioned had at last count nearly 200,000 authors between them.

Blurb’s model for sales is that it takes 20% of e-books sold in its store, giving authors the rest. For books sold in the iBookstore, Blurb will take its 20% off the top, Apple will take its 30% off the top and authors will get the rest. For a $10 book sold in the Blurb store, authors receive $8 and Blurb gets $2. In the iBookstore, a $10 book would net Blurb $2, Apple $3 and the author $5.

“Our job is to make it most economic for that author to sell their book at Blurb,” said Gittins, who added that she believes that most books are discovered through online social networking and not through destination bookstores. (According to recent reports, real-life word-of-mouth is the No. 1 way people discover books.)

Blurb also charges a one-time $9.99 e-book publishing fee, aside from which all of its tools are free to use.

Self-publishing services are currently in a battle for authors and many are wielding price as a weapon, lowering user costs for everything from up-front fees to use the tools to distribution fees to reaping a percentage of sales. Some are wooing authors with offers of better communities in which to workshop their work, enhanced book discovery tools and primers, and wider distribution, even in print to bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Gittins believes that Blurb will be able to succeed because of how easy it makes turning an Instagram or Facebook account, for instance, into a book and its focus on users creating one file that can turned into a print book (via print-on-demand), an e-book or enhanced e-book. The company has had success so far focusing on servicing users who already have content online through a blog or on a social network.

In addition to targeting authors, Blurb is now going after publishers to provide its book and e-book creation software. Gittins was in Frankfurt this week selling the proposition to publishers and, she said, there are some that are already in the process of signing a contract, though she would not disclose which ones.

Blurb is pitching a revenue-share model with publishers that use its software for end-to-end book creation. For larger publishers, which may be reticent to enter into a revenue share on sales with a technology provider, Blurb is considering a more traditional licensing model.

“We believe that the magic is the ability to go to both e-, enhanced e- as well as print,” said Gittins.

For smaller illustrated publishers, Blurb hopes to entice them with an entree into the digital book market, something that relatively low demand combined with the complexity and cost of producing illustrated books for the digital reader has so far made difficult.

While Blurb currently only distributes to its own store and the iBookstore, it will be launching increased distribution early 2013, including to Android platforms.

Founded in 2005 and launched in 2006, Blurb has raised $19 million in three rounds of funding and currently has about 100 employees.

Printing press image via Shutterstock

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3 thoughts on “Blurb Wants to Bring Illustrated E-Books up to Speed for Publishers and Consumers

  1. I think these illustrated books are only for the iPad. What about illustrated books for Kindle and Nook eReaders, not the tables computers?

  2. I’ve published several illustrated books for Kindle, Nook, etc. through Smashwords and the iBookstore. Only the iBookstore makes it fairly easy to publish (but to create, that part’s still hard!) an illustrated book there. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. ALL are making it very difficult (read that to mean, trying to discourage the publisher from publishing illustrated texts) for illustrated books to be published on the .epub format. If you don’t hold your mouth correctly, bay at the moon BEFORE you turn around 3 times, and wipe up your spittal with a wad of toilet paper the size of Detroit, it won’t go through, even when using Smashwords. So, I’m very glad to hear, Jeremy, of another outlet like Blurb. Thanks for the info!!

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