Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Self publishing in the current economy

As a start-up we certainly look carefully at all economic factors as we project growth 6-12-18 months out. So what are we seeing in our crystal ball? One of the primary things is with a people powered company like ours that allows people to market their products (in our case, books), consumers may actually be making MORE product as they look for new family revenue streams to offset higher prices, losses of jobs, or the interest in building up their nest eggs a bit.

Blurb is now in it's second full year of selling products to the general public. So this current downturn is our first experience into this type of economy. We will continue to create products our customers want but we also will continue to evolve our marketing tools made available to them so they can promote themselves and their books. We also believe that our strategy of offering great value for our customer's money will serve us well both in the consumer and professional marketplaces.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Refections from Photokina

It’s really interesting to reflect on how the printing business has changed over the past 20 years. In 1988 I was running a professional photo lab and coming to grips with a new technology, the Canon CLC500, which we initially thought was “not good enough” for commercial uses but ended up as a game-changer because of it’s improved color, quick turn and lower price.

In the early 90’s I joined Continuum Productions, a spin-off of Bill Gate’s Interactive Home Systems that later became Corbis, and quickly realized that the game was getting ready to change once again. Only this time is was the sellers of heavy iron that were doing the dance. The days of high-commissioned sales persons selling mutli-hundred thousand dollar “imaging stations” were soon to end and we were preparing to be the first digital image library with over one million pre-press quality images. We were working closely with Scitex at the time and they were having trouble understanding why we would want to scan images an RGB color space. All of their systems assumed that content was being scanned specifically for print output, for a specific job, at a specific size. The idea of mulit-purposing was not really in their vocabulary yet. But we understood that the future was not simply paper based, and the idea of archiving the full spatial content of a transparency without knowing what it’s final use would be key in monetizing the Corbis Digital Library. So me and my colleagues, along with the our counterparts at Getty Images, began the process of defining the workflow of converting photographic output to digital in a pre-digital camera age. Working closely with the Scitex engineers in Herzlia, Israel and the Linocolor color scientists in Kiel, Germany, the resulting software and hardware solutions became the standard for archiving millions of legacy images.

Around the same time I remember seeing a new printing technology at Drupa 1995. It was an on-demand, ink-based output device that promised to deliver on the 1:1 marketing goal, only a pipedream a mere 13 years ago. In order to see the demo promising the personalization of product for each attendee (including unique pop cans!) you needed to secure a ticket a full day before. The hottest product at Drupa 1995? The first generation Indigo press.

Fast forward to 2002. Indigo had gone through a few generations of devices (and you no longer were required to buy two presses per installed site) and a new product was cropping up that was ready to change the game. I was consulting for the first “photobook” manufacturer at the time, and communicating to the folks at HP, who had recently purchased Indigo, what I called the “RIP many, print one” problem. You see, the Indigo, while made for personalization, was really good at unique text when the rich content of the product was unchanged. Also, it was good at short runs of fewer than 500 copies. Most Indigo installations ran one or two jobs a day where the time for rasterizing the print files as not very material to the overall production process. We had a totally different model where the average order for each file was one copy. Keeping the press running without waiting for each file to RIP was a huge problem and, just as in 1994 with Scitex, the Indigo engineers were trying to get their heads around what we were asking for and if there would be a market for it going forward. What started as a homegrown “mother of all RIPs” created by HP Labs became what is now the standard for high-volume, rich-content consumer production, the SRS, or Scaleable Rip Solution, now known as SmartStream Ultra.

We are certainly in a day where "necessity is the mother of invention” was never more true but also so critical in determining the fate of new companies that are appearing each day, pushing the edges of the digital economy. Those of us that lived to tell the tales of Web 1.0 each have personal stories of great business ideas that were just ahead of their time due to being ahead of the curve technology-wise. It’s great to see the attention that Print 2.0 is getting today because the time to market for new printed products gets smaller each month and the thirst for new rich-content consumer products is only beginning.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blurb + HP

Update from Photokina, the massive photo products show held bi-annually in Cologne, Germany. Blurb announced a global partnership with HP and we are now printing book pages exclusively on HP Indigo printers. So what's behind it? Basically as we are growing Blurb really needs to continue to standardize all of our systems to maintain the high level of quality that our customers expect. Also, HP is dedicating significant development resources to the on-demand printing marketplace and that gives me lots of confidence that they will continue to innovate on both quality and reduction of prices for 4-color output.

Steve Nigro, SVP and General Manage of IPG, announced the new partnership at their big press conference at the show. Pretty cool to see us being discussed in the same category as other new partnerships with Nikon and Microsoft. Not bad for a little start-up in it's second full year of business to the public. Here are the full ├╝ber HP release and the Blurb/HP specific releases.

This is really just a continuation of a growing relationship that has been building for the past 18 months. Another example of our partnership is the HP Creative Studio where we are supporting HP's consumer print initiative.

Maybe I'm biased, but not a lot else to get too excited about at the show. Great wurst and beer though.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Getting set for the flight from Seattle to Cologne for Photokina. While I've been at so many trade shows worldwide I can't even begin to count, this will be my first Photokina show.

If you are going to be there, please join the Blurb Team for a meet-up after the show on Tuesday. Here's a link with info and to RSVP.

As time allows I'll add to the blog with any cool finds or up-to-date information.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


At Blurb we are consistently pushing the envelope on the quality of output from the digital presses in our network. Part of the reason for this is that we have become a tool of choice for a great number of professional users--photographers, marketers, architects for example. Our relationship with the press manufacturers gives us a voice into the process as we look to bring the output of high-speed digital presses closer to what is available for slower-speed, more expensive inkjet.

One of the ways we are showing off our progress is by sponsoring a competition and traveling symposium that celebrates self-published photography books while at the same time communicating the advances made in the on-demand output space.

You can take a look at some of the great submissions here and also see the winning works in person at one of the events taking place in San Francisco, London, Cologne and New York.

The reason for promoting services to this market are somewhat obvious (these folks are repeat buyers of Blurb products) but it's also about the general public understanding that every one of our customers benefit from having high-end, discriminating users in our mix. We're happy to have hundreds of thousands of users that validate our business and help us to keep pushing the edges.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


At Blurb we don't buy any printing presses, linen, or paper directly.  We are a software and marketing company primarily, with a heavy Operations presence as well.  But we definitely have an effect on the printing marketplace in the role as influencer.  We produced over 80,000 4-color titles last year so we've directed millions of "clicks" to presses and sheets of paper around the world.

Our indirect vendors have different names for us (mostly good I think) but at HP we are called a "non-PSP" (Print Service Provider) and by creating this more formal relationship we have made really great strides into helping influence our supply chain from a print side.  Other links of the chain are not as straightforward to influence.

Paper for example.  Over the past few months we've been doing a lot of research into different paper stocks and the global supply chain to better understand how we can stay agile when we want to add options or make changes as well as take advantage of our worldwide reach.  Not as easy as it sounds.  While a relationship with a press manufacturer is pretty straight forward, buying paper is much less so.  There are lots of links in the supply chain but none as important as the guys that handle the paper the last mile.  And those folks may not even know who Blurb is or how much we influence the paper being used by their customer, our print partner.

Having an influence on this piece of the puzzle is one I want to really get my head around.  The likely place to start is from the manufacturer but it may come down to building local relationships with the suppliers for each of my print partners.  Not the easiest way to do it but as we grow we need to maintain our ability to move quickly, efficiently and at favorable prices to keep our products competitive in the marketplace.