Monday, December 20, 2010

Unintended victims of the digital photo revolution

I spent a bit of time last week with Blurb's newest employee, photographer extraordinaire and proponent of all things AgX, Dan Milnor.  While the digital revolution has been game changing for companies like Blurb, there are downsides as in all industrial progressions.

To Dan, it's the loss of some of the magic and art that make photography his passion.  To traditional photo labs it was really the end of business as they know it.  The latter is what I'd like to blog about today.

Between high school and college I spent some time in Dallas working for a high-volume photo lab, Snap Shots, Inc.  Snap Shots was a wholesale photo processing company, doing business with drug and grocery stores as well as camera shops.  My first job in the photo business was as a film splicer.

As the new kid, I got the hardest, most undesirable job--110 film splicer.  Back in the 70's the definition of a "compact" camera was one that used 110 film.  This was tiny stuff and was difficult to manage once you got it out of the container.  Oh, did I mention that when you spliced film you had to work in total, complete darkness?  No darkroom red lights like you see in the movies or from your college fine art photography program.  We're talking dark here.

So a splicers job was to batch up hundreds of rolls of 110 film into one big reel so it could be processed on a continuous-feed "cine" film processor.  The name came from a repurposing of the machines used to process motion picture films.  Your roll of Christmas shots was heat-spliced with a bunch of other irreplaceable memories by way of a less-than-one-inch piece of tape.  So if any of these splices long Grandma's house pictures from 1975.

It was stressful, sure.  But I developed skills that I still use today.  When you are in total darkness, just like if you are sight-impaired, your other senses take over, primarily your hearing.  I quickly got to the point that if I dropped a small, rolled-up, unprocessed 110 film on the floor among the menagerie of backing papers (yep,  you had to remove the backing paper for each roll before you spliced and many missed the garbage can), I could hear where it dropped and reach directly for it.  That prowess comes in handy in daily life believe it or not. I'm still really good about finding my way around in the dark.

The folks that were the best at this process were blind or semi-blind.  Any photo processing house worth it's salt had a few sight-impaired people that excelled in these kinds of jobs.  When I moved to Seattle and worked on the pro side, I had a film splicer, Juan,  that was great at his task.  And with weddings and other one-chance events, the level of stress was ratcheted up a few notches.  Juan was not only great for the company, he was great for the community.  Film processing gave him a job that made his lack of sight an asset and the opportunity to work in a creative environment.  I'm afraid that these types of jobs have all but gone by the wayside.

I don't always agree with Dan on the virtues of film.  I actually prefer digital from a pure imaging science standpoint.  But I do mourn a bit for the days of analog photography and the businesses associated with it.  And I do feel sorry for the Juans of this world who have lost an opportunity to participate in a visual medium.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Conflicted on the Horn-ics

A small aside from the craziness that reigns this time of year in the self-publishing/personal book industry.  I've avoided railing here on the absurd decision and lack of loyalty that was the move of the Seattle Supersonics to somewhere in the Southwest under a name that I won't mention.  It was the final nail in the coffin in my mind for a league that has really lost it's way under David Stern.

I moved to Seattle in January, 1979.  That year the Sonics won their first and only world championship in five games over the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards).  I was hooked.  Lenny Wilkins was our coach and he was a Hall of Fame player while with the St Louis Hawks of my childhood.  Gus Williams was our star and he didn't look any taller than me among the giants that he had to play against every night.  Paul Silas was the enforcer along with young Lonnie Shelton.  It was a wonderful team.  I bought into season tickets for many years until the cost just got too high to continue, which was the beginning of the end for the Sonics as we knew them.

So the word on the street is that New Orleans, who lost their first NBA team to Salt Lake City (Utah Jazz? Really?  Got to be the strangest name connection since the Lakers left Minneapolis), are not supporting the team and it likely will move.  This is the team that the City that won't be named should have waited for, as they helped to bridge the time after Katrina by giving the Hornets a place to play.  But, no, carpetbaggers with lots of dollars and nothing else to do had to come steal our team, with Stern as a willing accomplice.

Word is that Steve Ballmer remains interested in an NBA team in Seattle, as he was to try to keep the Sonics from leaving only to see the complete lack of support from Seattle's Mayor, who lost reelection to an unknown in large part due to his stupidity in the matter, and our wise State Legislature, who also managed to run the corporate offices of Boeing out of state.  Members of the Seattle City Council even publicly stated that the NBA had no value to the community.  Zero.

In an urban area the NBA is more than just another sport.  It was a major part of our identity.  It's not an accident that Seattle has become a hotbed for basketball.  Ask any of our young stars and they will call out guys like Gary Payton, or Shawn Kemp as a prime motivating factor.

I feel bad for the fans in New Orleans.  I can't imagine doing to them what the losers in Oil-ville did to us.  But New Orleans is not an NBA town for what ever reason and the Hornets are going to move.  And as much as I thought I would never say it, I hope they come here.

Make no doubt about it, those impostors that play in the state between Texas and Kansas are not the Sonics the way the Hornets in New Orleans were the Hornets in Charlotte.  They have no legacy.  That legacy lives, legally and rightfully, here in Seattle.  That team is simply a very good expansion team with no real history.  If the Hornets move to Seattle they will be the reincarnation of the Sonics.  We still have our championship trophy.  The names like Sikma, Payton, McDaniel. MacMillan, Brown and Chambers will be part of the rebirth.  The people who stole our team could have done things the right way and had an untarnished legacy of having saved the Hornets.  In the end, they killed the Hornets.  I feel bad for the players that have worn that uniform in the past.

So I'm gradually getting used to the idea that Seattle may once again have an NBA team.  For some reason the Horn-ics seem like a good fit and may be the salve that heals the open wounds brought to bear by Stern and friends.  We'll see how it all works out.

For those interested, Sonicsgate is a great, award winning indie film about the whole move debacle and Steve Kelly has a nice piece on the recent events.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

That ultimate marketing moment

I've been really blessed to be involved with a company from it's earliest stages where we had to sell the whole "vision thing" to the present, where we have become a global self-publishing leader.  In our early days we talked a lot about democratizing publishing.  It is the thing that separated us from the others in the nacent POD book marketplace in 2006 and it is still our passion today.

Self publishing can mean a lot of things.  It can be the opportunity to share your interests to an affinity group.  It can mean taking control of your brand as you market yourself in print.  It can be an opportunity to support a cause and raise money. It can be the entryway to the best-seller list.

But this time of year it is very much about that ultimate marketing moment that built Blurb to what we are today.  It is the moment that your mother opens the package and sees her life laid out in a beautifully bound book.  Or when your spouse sees your first year in pictures, captured for perpetuity. Or the memories you share with your friends of the trip you took to Vegas that somehow didn't manage to stay there.

We can spend a lot of money on marketing, buying Google keywords, or going to conferences.  But nothing we do in the year compares with what happens when bits turn to atoms on the pages of a real book that will live on the coffee table for a while before snuggling into a nice spot on the bookshelf.  And when someone sees what is possible, their creative mind begins to slowly consider what can be--what can come from within them.  That is the ultimate Blurb marketing moment.

We hear from a lot of old and new fans this time of year.  It never gets old.  It is our passion.  And we've got some very cool things up our sleeves for 2011 to continue to enable everyday folks as well as creative professionals to find that inspiration and tell that story.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Traveling light update

I'm back in the States after a week in the EU.  Verdict on my "travelling light" experiment?  Big thumbs up.  I'm off to NYC for the Blurb Photography Book Now Awards event and I'll be sticking to the iPad and iPhone for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My first days of traveling light

Those of you who follow me on ye olde Twitter know that I'm in an experiment of sorts during my current business trip to The Netherlands, Germany, and France. Today is the first day of Photokina, the biggest photo-products trade show in the world, but that's for another post. This post if about how a frequent traveller like me is managing in an all-mobile-device scenario.

My trusty MacBookPro is idling happily in my Seattle office. In my bag of tricks are: iPhone 4 with iOS 4.1, iPad (desperately waiting for sw upgrade to get to par with iPhone) with LogMeIn sw, small charging devices (no heavy converter, something I didn't think about when shedding pounds), Apple bluetooth keyboard (a very happy discovery, easily packable and creates a whole new level of experience with pared wtih my non-apple case/easel), and Kensington power pack.

The first thing I noticed when packing is that I have a whole bunch of room in my backpack. A good thing because I'll be in four cities in five days so I'm a carry-on-bag road warrior. My unofficial professor of historical fiction novels has given me an assignment of a 600-page book, which fits nicely next to my Bose noise-reduction headphones in the space a power converter usually lives. On the plane from Seattle to Amsterdam, I really realized just how much better my iPad screen is over anything an airline can offer. So I got caught up on Meet The Press before my obligatory Ambien nap.

Once in Europe I was happy to find that more and more town centers now have free wifi. So I found a great outdoor cafe in Eindhoven, ordered up some food and coffee (these Dutch folks put Seattlites to shame with how much caffeine they consume) and was able to get caught up on my Instapaper reading along with making progress on my book. Another shout out to Europeans who know now to spend a Sunday. I had a prime spot in the Square and I was never rushed to move along. Along with train travel, Europeans are so much more civilized than Americans in this manner.

Later my first evening the first mini-crisis occurred. I had made a video (with my iPhone 4 of course, extraordinary) of a piece of printing equipment that I wanted to share with my collegues on Monday morning. For some reason it did not sync with my iPad so I was sunk. But not so! A quick fire up of LogMeIn and within seconds I'm controlling my desktop in Seattle. A simple drop into Dropbox and I had my movie. My first feeling that "hey, this could work!"

Train from Eindhoven to Cologne. Many trains in Europe have WiFi but not the case with ICE. So I'm back to managing my meager 50MB data allotment on my iPhone for the 3-hour trip. I had dumped all of my email onto my iPad so non-critical emails easily managed with my trusty B/T keyboard. By the way, the Europeans really like my iPad but they LOVE my keyboard.

Check into hotel and next probem occurs, the first failure on my part. The wireless coverage in my room is non-existent. They of course have ethernet but, alas, I have only an iPhone and iPad. Note to self--get a mini hot spot to add to my bag. Has to be light though or it doesn't pass the test. It will fit right in the space along with a reasonably-sized book (got that, LZ?). Fortunately the hotel has screaming fast wireless in the lobby, which is where I am now happily typing away and readying for the opening of Photokina. Time for the real work to begin! More on my traveling light series at a later date.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Late summer update

Summer on the West Coast is winding down and that means that trade show/conference season can't be too far behind.  There has been a lot of churn about eBooks of late and I'm sure that will be a major point of discussion as we move into the fall.  At Blurb we've been busy with a new web-based creation tool that is in beta as well as a few new wrinkles that are upcoming.  Planning for capacity in the fourth quarter is always paramount to the Print Operations team and we're in great shape as we move into autumn.  Customers in France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have personalized services, pricing and shipping options.  All that and we're trying to get a bit of R&R in before the deluge hits.

Personally I'll be on the road in September and October at the Photography Book Now events in NYC and Seattle, Photokina in Cologne, PhotoPlus Expo in NYC and at the Interquest Forum 2010 de l’impression numérique de livres in Paris.  I love to get out and meet with suppliers and customers and it really gets me fired up for the end of the year.

Here's hoping your year has gone well and that I'll  see many of you during my travels.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review of iPhone 4 and iOS4

The friendly FedEx driver dropped of a highly anticipated package yesterday just before the 3PM deadline.  It was my new iPhone 4.  Several folks have asked about my opinions on it so here goes.

First off, if you have a 1st generation iPhone or a 3G, you can skip the rest of this review and just head down to your local Apple or AT&T store to try to get your hands on one.  You are now in the dark ages of iPhonery.

I was still on my first iPhone, a 3G which I've been using for two years, so this was my initial experience with migrating to new hardware.  It was a breeze.  Apple obviously has this right and the only delay was in getting the final activation from AT&T, which took about 15 minutes.  The migration is absolutely flawless--it even remembered what web page I had up on Safari. All of my settings are exactly as I had them on my 3G, except it added a new "lock" screen image and the Compass app.

I had upgraded my 3G to iOS4 last week.  The new OS is a much a part of the iPhone advance as the hardware of the 4, but it caused my 3G to run very sluggishly, almost to the point of being useless.  The 1st Gen iPhone will not run the new OS at all. My suggestion to those who plan to keep their old devices is not to upgrade to the new OS.  But the primary suggestion here is that you need to move to the 4.

If you have a 3GS and have not upgraded to iOS4, do so right away.  You'll love it.

When I unpacked my new iPhone 4 it was obvious right away it was a bit heavier.  Not clumsily so, but noticeable.  I think it must be the new longer-life battery that has added the weight.  In your hand it's also thinner on the edges as well as a bit so on the width, sort of like the Gen 1.  It feels good in your hand, very substancial, like a quality device.

The Retina display is fabulous, all that it has been puffed up to be.  But honestly, like most quality improvements, you don't really notice it after a short time.  I'm sure I would notice the difference if I had to go back to my 3G.  Looking at a book in iBooks, the text is crisp and readable.  Images look stunning but this is still a small device so nothing earth shattering here.

The new camera is great.  Users of the 1st Gen and 3G in particular will immediately notice no shutter lag time. The new zoom feature is great, and the focus select is new for me since I didn't move to the 3GS.  The image here was my first shot taken with my new phone.  I'm very happy with it,  plus it has an LED flash for low light situations.

Like any new iPhone, there are a lot of little things that have improved with the device, as with the new iOS4.  I'll let you enjoy those little surprises on your own.  But for me this is a major improvement and I cannot recommend it too highly.  A great device.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A print-resolution color display...for $199.

It's been pretty much a done deal that I was going to upgrade to the newest iPhone when it was released this summer.  I decided not to bite on the 3GS when it launched last year, thinking it wasn't really a major improvement and wanting to wait to see how the whole carrier issue/AT&T coverage problem would work through.  I use my iPhone as my one and only phone for office and personal.  I get five bars of 3G at my home/office in Seattle so I have no big complaints with the coverage I'm getting.  So committing to AT&T for another two years is no big deal, especially given my use.  If something better comes up in the next 24 months I can justify any penalties I would have to pay by the importance of the device to my daily life.

I was one of those folks watching the Tweets from the WWDC when iPhone4 was announced.  Not many surprises but the changes that we're already known were confirmed and none is more exciting in my mind than the new Retina display.

This updated display--"print resolution" as Jobs called it--reminded me of a meeting I had with Gary Starkweather at Microsoft Research in the late 90's.  Gary literally invented the laser printer when he was at Xerox in 1969 and then invented the color management technology that became ColorSync in the early 90's. As one of the early Apple guys,  he was key in developing a piece of the company that you don't hear much about anymore but was game-changing nonetheless, the Apple LaserWriter.  It was one of the first laser printers available to the mass market and was a vital component at the advent of desktop publishing. Companies like mine--and me personally--owe a great deal to pioneers like Gary (along with the folks at Aldus) who made companies like Blurb possible.

Gary had called me to come over to Research in Redmond to see his new toy--a monitor he was working on with IBM that could display at 300dpi, or print resolution.  I was running Corbis' Global Imaging Operations at the time, and we were always looking for ways to improve the quality of our digital images at the retouching stage, and this display was certainly a game changer. I remember thinking it was just like reading a book, the quality was so good. As far as I know that device never materialized as a product but the writing was definitely on the wall. Displays were going to continue to improve and, as always, continue to reduce in price.

So as I wait for this Thursday when my new iPhone4 will be shipped, I'm thinking about Gary and the contributions he made to the enjoyment I know I'll have with my new device.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My a bit late review of the iPad and the future of book

It was the biggest event in the publishing world in months.  And it comes from a company that to this point was not even involved in book publishing.  Only Apple can turn an industry on its head almost overnight, just as it did with the music business and iTunes.

I had a chance to use an iPad for an extended time at Blurb's HQ this past week and I've come away with my own opinions.  But first I'd like to share some points from Antonio Rodriguez, a serial entrepreneur and general partner at Matrix Partners in Boston.  Antonio is a long-time Apple user so I knew he would be taking delivery of his new device last weekend.  I wanted to get his first impressions but also his opinions on if and how the iPad would be a game changer.  You can see his full review on his blog here.  Of interest to readers of Print/Ready will likely be his opinions toward the end of his post about photo sharing.  Antonio believes that the iPad has the opportunity to change the photo ecosystem forever.  I don't completely agree, but he makes some great points about how ink on paper may be on its way out when it comes to personal photography.

In my experience with the iPad over a few hours, I'm going to join the crowd in saying that it is heavy.  Too heavy for my liking.  I spent some time with in on a desk, which was not a very good experience, and quite a bit of time catching up on some of my favorite columnists on NYT, WSJ as well as looking at some "iPad optimized" sites like National Geographic.  Holding an iPad in my left hand and navigating with my right was a cool experience at first but got old as my wrist began feeling the strain of the 1.5 pound device. After a couple of hours I was ready to abandon it for my MacBook Pro.  At first when I started using the iPad I thought I would want one but now I'm not completely sold.

What the iPad did was really make me appreciate my iPhone.  I think the link between your primary computer and your phone in this day and age is the key connection.  While the iPad does a good job of replicating the iPhone experience, I don't feel the need for this device as an addition to my daily net fix.  But the fact that it's not critical for me to have the the connection to my business infrastructure for the device has actually left me excited to try the other new iPad-like devices on their way like the HP Slate and the rumored Microsoft Courrier.  I don't really see a need for an eReader to be linked into my work environment.  In fact, I don't think I want it to.

Those of you who spend a lot of time on the Net and on email for business will be able to relate to what I am going to say next.  We all know folks whose jobs are outside of eCommerce who use email for enjoyment and casual communication.  For me, doing email or surfing the Net reminds me of work.  And I really want no part of it when I'm trying to relax.  That's why a good old book is great.  No "ding" when an email arrives.  No hyperlink to "learn more".  It's reading for reading sake.  That said, I do like the idea of having some sort of iPad-like device on my coffee table at home to catch the latest issue of The Economist or to catch up with baseball scores on  Or the idea of having a "consumable" book that I can download and take along on an airplane has merit.  But with the iPad it gets back to the weight thing for me.  But reading a book with an eReader--with two hands if it is an iPad--is a travel experience I could enjoy.

I mention "consumable book" above because this gets to the crux of how my company fits into this mix. Eileen Gittins, our founder and CEO, has some great insight into how "book" moves into the future.  First off, she believes that books fall generally into two categories, consume and keep.  A book you consume is reference, or a novel, or informational.  I read Seth Godin's "Linchpin" last month and after I finished it I gave it away to a colleague to read.  As great of a book as it is, I had consumed it and it no longer had value.  I could have read Seth's book on an eReader and had a great experience.  A "keep" book, I believe, will stay ink-on-paper and that medium will actually increase in value as more things move to temporal and electronic.  A book about my recently deceased father.  A monograph of one of my favorite photographer's best images. A book of my favorite poetry.  These are things that I will return to over and over again.  And this is where I part ways with Antonio.  I don't believe that passing around a color eReader is the best way to experience these types of books.  And maybe it's because of my background in photography, but I prefer a reflective over a transmissive viewing experience in these cases.

So does that mean that Blurb is going to rest on our laurels as an "old fashioned" book company?  Absolutely not.  But it does mean that print is in our DNA and will remain the ultimate expression of what Blurb is all about.  Eileen said it best in a presentation last month: "We believe that the future of books will combine different media types with different entry and exit points--all contributing to the story line.  The 21st century book will enable you to lose yourself in the book without getting lost in the web."  Well said, E.  And how are we going to do that?  You'll just need to stay tuned to find out.

Friday, April 2, 2010

More on the e-book agency model

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and EDItEUR—the international body that maintains ONIX product information standards—working in collaboration with representatives from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the U.K. Publishers Association (PA), have made provisions to the "ONIX for Books" standards to allow for a standard means of communicating agency model sales terms for e-books. 

More here

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Photography Book Now announces call for entries for 2010

I'll admit it...I love the smell of ink on paper.  Especially when the paper is gloriously bound and contains some of the most beautiful and compelling photography you will ever see.  Such is life at Blurb for the next few months as the Photography Book Now 2010 competition gets underway.

Many of my readers attended one or more of our events last year, each a celebration of photography, creative people, and the art of permanence over temporal things.  This year we will be taking the show on the road, with events planned from Seattle to Rome.

Much thanks goes out to those whose entries the past two years have made our competition a real phenomenon in the industry.  And a big shout out to our 45 (!) sponsors, including our Platinum Sponsor HP, who once again is underwriting the grand prize of $25,000.

So please take a look at the site and think about what your book might be.  And also browse through the entries from last year to get your creative juices flowing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rich-content self-published books are still too expensive

At Blurb we've made a pretty good living printing primarily 4-color books over the past four years.  In fact we shipped more than 1.3 million books in 2009 to a tune of over $45M.  At one point we were taking a new title every 1.1 seconds.  Pretty cool stuff.  But our vision since the beginning was the "democratization" of publishing.  Have we succeeded or are we still just scratching the surface?

Blurb's success revolves around several building blocks.  First, we revolutionized how full-color, digital offset books are priced, moving away from the pay-per-page model that was embraced by the digital photo album folks that were attracting the early consumer adopters.  Then, as a software company, we listened closely to our customers during our beta period and created products and services that met their needs along with a full ecosystem to manage their Blurb experience.  Finally, we captured a cool factor that creatives understood and embraced.

But an ever growing group of our customers are authoring books to make money.  These are the true self-publishers that are avoiding the traditional means of publishing, a stale model that leaves the author with a minute percentage of the book's selling price as a profit.  Or they are creating titles so specifically targeted that they could never publish traditionally and in the past had to live in the world of newsletters, zines, and, more recently, electronic means.  Browse around the Blurb Bookstore and you'll see stunning examples of what these authors are creating.  We are obviously thrilled but we're still not happy.  Why?  Because the promise of self-publishing rich-content titles has still not been fulfilled.  Even though we are the price leader in the color book printing category, I think that getting a bookstore quality color book at a price allowing for re-sale is still a bit illusive.

So we continue to push the envelope for our customers.  Our close relationship with HP, manufacturers of the Indigo presses that are used exclusively by our global print network, allows us to continue to drive efficiencies in the print process as well as create economies of scale that can be passed on to our customers. Growing from zero to $45M in just a few short years also helps us gain credibility in a publishing marketplace that often looks at newcomers with a suspicious eye, allowing us to parlay our success into valuable relationships with suppliers.  But those relationships, while vital, have still not moved the needle in a way to create the sea change needed to really democratize the industry.

I am excited about some prospects over the coming months.  The new high-speed ink jet presses, like the T-300 from HP and the Prosper from Kodak, hold the potential of very good quality color output at a price that could change the industry.  Various inventors and entrepreneurs are looking at ways to remove some of the labor out of book binding, which remains one of the biggest cost of goods. Plus, Blurb is looking to keep innovating on how our authors can promote their books easily and inexpensively.

We've just released a new beta of a product we call Blurb BookShow.  BookShow is a widget that authors can embed in their website, blog, or Facebook page allowing potential customers to automatically preview and buy their book.  It's the first of the ongoing innovations that we are releasing this year to support our author/customers. Rest assured that we are not resting on our laurels. We won't be happy until we revolutionize the publishing business.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Making the case for iPad book prices - From the NY Times

Another great read..a nice primer on the economics of printed vs e-books from Motoko Rich at the NYTimes.

"All of which raises the question: Just how much does it actually cost to produce a printed book versus a digital one?"

Spring reading from; “Libraries were never warehouses of books ... They have always been and always will be centres of learning"

This week's blog post is just a link to a nice essay from the Financial Times of London on the future of book.  If you love books it's a great read.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Image permanence for HP Indigo digital presses

As photo consumers move more and more toward alternatives to silver halide (photographic) output like digital photo albums from folks like Apple and Shutterfly and photo-intensive books like those provided by Blurb and A&I, many have questioned the longevity of these new printing options.  After all, most of us have had the box of photos or old stick-in photo books from our youth that we stumble across every few years.  Or maybe a Carousel or two (or 10 or 50) of slides, the old school prosumer and creative pro weapon of choice.  So it makes sense to ask the question that in addition to the naturally unstable nature of the new digital photo environment (so, how long since you have backed up your iPhoto library?), what will those books I'm making today look like in 20 or more years?

To that end, we received some very good news this week.  Henry Wilhelm  co-founder, president and director of research at Wilhelm Imaging Research, who I worked with in my Corbis days after we acquired the Bettmann Archive and the Sygma Collection when we needed to quickly resolve the issue of decaying historical photographic films, released a report last week that is sure to make HP happy but also let those of us who are photo enthusiasts sleep a bit easier.

According to Wilhelm, HP Indigo printing actually exceeds the image permanence of the best-rated silver halide product, Fuji's Crystal Archive.  Wilhelm rated Indigo output on Kromekote paper at 45 years, more than twice as long as the rating for Kodak photo paper.  In addition, the dark storage rating, which is more appropriate for photo book applications, is greater than 100 years.

“The permanence ratings from WIR provide an important validation for the use of HP Indigo in consumer and professional photographic markets as well as in the fine art world,” said Wilhelm. “Good display permanence combined with excellent long-term stability, as well as freedom from yellowing for images that are in albums or are stored in other dark locations, are essential to preserving the value of historical photographs, art works and photo books.”

So your photo books aren't a replacement for backing up your digital photo archive.  But it does mean that when you come across your "Burning Man 2009" book in 30 years, you'll still recognize yourself and your possibly questionable choices in wardrobe and friends.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sign of the times--digital vendors overtake offset at Ipex 2010

The folks at Ipex 2010 rolled out their Media Summit last week in London with presentations from Canon  Europe, CP Bourg, Domino Printing Services, Fujifilm Europe, Oce, Pitney Bowes, Red Tie,  Ricoh, and Xerox.  You can get the gist of what they are planning to show here, but the real news was in some of the comments about the show from Trevor Crawford, event director for Ipex.

If you've been to Ipex or Drupa in the past, you know that these shows are defined by the huge presence of folks like Heidelberg and MAN Roland.  This year's biggest exhibitor?  HP, with a stand over one-third bigger than they had at Ipex 2006 at 32,000 square feet.  Not an offset press to be found there.

Digital vendors will occupy 38% of the show floor this year compared with 26% for offset--exactly reversing the numbers from four years ago.  Heidelberg alone is downsizing by half its presence on the show floor.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Apple and the agency model for books

The big news of the last couple of weeks is not really the much ballyhooed iPad (my personal jury is still out on if I see it fitting in my bag of electronic tricks) but it's really the new model Apple is launching for selling eBooks.  It's an agency model, which is defined as projects funded as a fee-for-service by clients, who either use or re-sell the content, is the model currently used by Apple's iTunes App Store, where Apple takes a 30% cut on all sales made.  This, of course, allows the publisher--either of an app or a book--to set their price and Apple abides by this and just takes their pound of flesh.

I've always thought that Amazon's Kindle eBook model was just the old wholesale model in disguise.  But rather than having to share a significant portion of of book revenue with others in the supply chain, Amazon just took all that was left after the publisher and the author's cut, which left them a 50% share.  When Amazon was the only game it town they got to write the rules.  Amazing how having a new player in the market can change things.

While I hardly blame Amazon for getting maximum return for eBooks on the Kindle for as long as they could, I do think they were a bit short-sighted to think that embracing an old wholesale model could last.  Now they have publishers like Macmillan very ready to call the bluff and Amazon blinked last week, and appear to be ready to let Macmillan set their own price for eBooks.

When I first got into the publishing marketplace, I was quite surprised by a model that allowed retailers to buy and then return books that don't sell for full credit.  It's not only a hard model to sustain, it's also environmentally flawed, allowing for large percentage of books to be warehoused and, eventually, repulped instead of sold.  But buying lots of copies in large, single runs, is the way to keep costs low and that's why it's the right model for best selling authors.  But in a new world of publishing those are the only folks who will be getting the volume benefit, with the rest of industry going POD more and more often with companies like Blurb, Author Solutions, and Lulu.

When Blurb launched our Set Your Price program, we recognized this shift in thinking.  We allow authors to keep 100% of the markup on the production price of the book, allowing authors to set their price at whatever the market will bear.  But the model is not perfect in a world that rich content, color books still cost too much to create.  As Michael Norris, Senior Editor and Analyst for Simba Information's Trade Books group told Publishing Business, people still think ink-on-paper books cost too much in general.  And that's one of our big goals at Blurb--to continue to influence the supply chain to enable more and more fledgling authors to get their works in the hands of an eager public.

We take this idea of "democratizing publishing" very seriously.  We live it every day.  And moving the industry to more of an agency model is what will keep the industry healthy for years and years to come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Technology for technology's sake...why I dislike transpromo and personalization

I joined a little company in 1993 called Continuum Productions, which became Corbis Corporation.  We were scanning a lot of materials, primarily photos, assuming we would find a market for them as the world was going increasingly digital.  Our first real product was an award-winning CD called "A Passion for Art", which was a virtual tour of the Barnes Foundation collection.  For the mid 90's, believe me, this was a pretty cool little project.  Why haven't you likely heard about it?  Because while it was engaging as a new technology it wasn't really the best way to experience art and the museum experience. We had content looking for an audience, a medium looking for a reason to exist.

That's kind of how I feel about transpromo stuff I get in the mail.  Just because you can put my name into some selected fields does not mean it's a good marketing experience for me.  And I don't know exactly why I hate it so much, but I think it's because it feels lazy to me.  As if a software program can actually "know" me.  If you are a company that wants to get my attention, figure out a compelling reason for me to consider your product, don't just fill my name in the blanks.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On Demand Books' Espresso Book Machine..the next big thing?

Back in 1999, when POD was barely a three-letter acronym,  Jason Epstein was trying to figure out how to get the great backlist of books easily into the hands of the public via localized, automated printing and binding machines.  So like any good entrepreneur, he sought out like-minded folks to make his vision a reality.  He found inventor Jeff Marsh and a partner in Dane Neller and On Demand Books was born in 2003.

Move forward to the 2009 London Book Fair.  On Demand Books was heralding the new world of book printing via a partnership with Lightning Source and Wiley.  The only problem was every time I went by their booth on the show floor the machine was out of service with a service guy busily working to get it up and running.  I never did see it run during my day at the show, but I saw enough to understand that there still was some ways to go before this technology could run without significant service support.  I saw this as a potentially lethal problem since they were selling the idea of having these machines in third-world countries, where the idea of a bookstore with significant inventory was only a pipe dream.

The issue as I saw it was that this clever machine looked to be mostly standalone parts (laser printer, cover inkjet printer) tied together with a rather complicated perfect binding system.  I had a lot of questions.  Who is going service this thing?  Epson, who made the cover printer? Hardly.  Kyocera, whose printer was used in the model I saw at LBF?  Doubtful. What's the expected up time?  What sort of data line will be needed to stream content to the  system or will there be a server version available?  Lots of questions.

Well, I haven't gotten all of my answers but I can say that On Demand Books has gone a long way toward making this a viable, global product by announcing their partnership with Xerox earlier this month.  This is exactly the sort of move they needed, in my opinion, to begin to reach the promise of those early days of the company.

According to the press release,"Xerox and On Demand Books will jointly market and sell, on a worldwide basis, the Xerox 4112 Copier / Printer together with the Espresso Book Machine - a fully integrated solution that prints, binds and trims books with full colour covers on demand in retail locations and libraries."  So that gives ODB an already baked sales and service organization, which I think is key to its success.  Also, rather than pushing the Espresso as an opportunity to move into new global markets, they are targeting bookstores and libraries, which I think is a very smart move.

This is another in a series of recent good moves by the company, including the hiring of Lightning Source and Lulu veteran Andrew Pate as SVP of Biz Dev.  He knows the publishing and POD marketplaces well and was a savvy hire.

Neller says that there will be around 30 systems installed by the end of Q1/10, including one in my vicinity at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA.  One-third of the installations will be in university book stores, which looks like a sweet spot to me. The new partnership with Xerox can only help to make the installed base grow even more.

As Xerox's VP of Publishing John Conley said in an interview with Print CEO, "[The Espresso Book Machine] reinforces the theme of producing books at point of sale and gives you the largest bookstore in the world sitting in a 9′ by 12′ space.” Game changer?  May be.  But no doubt that the ODB folks have doubled down and are ready to see just how far they can take their invention into the print marketplace.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A print industry co-op that works--Dscoop

I blogged last fall about my opinions of Print 09 and on the future of trade shows in general.  My point then was that in the Internet age the real value of these kinds of events has really become the opportunity to interact with your colleagues and suppliers rather than doing research and purchase, as was the experience of the past.  With that in mind—and with the trade show season at hand—I’ve been asked of late which events in 2010 do I think are of value and worth the time and money to attend.

This year I’m planning to head to Birmingham for IPEX, Köln for Photokina, and NYC for PhotoPlus.  But the event I’m really looking forward to, and the one I think gives the most bang for the buck, is Dscoop5 next month in Dallas.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dscoop (Digital Solutions Cooperative), it is a co-op between HP and the users of its Indigo presses.  It evolved out of the old Indigo Customer Exchange (ICE) group and I feel it is one of the best investments of time an Indigo printer can make, whether you are a large installation like the facilities that print Blurb books worldwide or a smaller, one or two press shop.  It boasts membership by over 50% of Indigo installations.

First off, this is a co-op in the best sense of the word.  HP has made a strong commitment to the group and each year sends its most senior managers to the annual event.  David Leshem, an Indigo veteran from the earliest days of the company in the 90’s, has been a board member since it’s outset (he’s retiring from the position this year) and this year attendees can expect to hear presentations and rub shoulders with folks like Alon Bar-Shany, GM of Indigo Worldwide, Chris Morgan, new VP Graphics Solutions Global Business, and Jan Riecher, VP and GM Graphics Solutions Business – Americas.  For me, the trip to Dallas will be worthwhile just to renew these acquaintances. But there is much more to the Dscoop program.

With a goal of promoting more business and efficiencies for Indigo users large and small, Dscoop provides several tracks of conference sessions that are created to inspire, educate, and help attendees better understand the current POD marketplace and how to benefit from the current economy and continued evolution of the Indigo printing platform.

I attended my first Dscoop last year and the most impressive part of the trip was talking to the multitude of PSP’s (print service providers in HP lingo) and seeing how open and cooperative they really were as everyone, while at times competitive, were looking for ways to grow the opportunities for all.  Part of the three-day event is a very targeted trade show where you can meet the major players in the paper, supplies, and finishing market along with hands-on experience with the newest technology from HP Indigo.

For a guy that travels a lot I’m careful to only book events that I feel will give great return for Blurb and for me personally.  Dscoop is one of those events.  Find out more at

Monday, January 11, 2010

Motivation 3.0 – a review of "Drive" by Daniel Pink

With the start of the new year, if you are like us at Blurb, you are working off the holiday lethargy and beginning to nail down your company goals for 2010 in earnest.  Out of those corporate goals flow the personal objectives to see how each member of the team will participate toward making the year a success.  This dance has been going on for years and how a company tries motivate the rank and file to meet and exceed is something we are all familiar with.  But what if the basic tenets of what business has been doing for years are in fact incorrect?  What if the ways we have sought to excel actually do the exact opposite?

That’s the premise behind the new book by Daniel Pink, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates usPink believes that business is lagging behind what science has had a handle on for the past 30 years— that our current business operating system, which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators, not only does not work but also actually causes harm to what we are trying to achieve.

Pink calls the new approach “Motivation 3.0” and has three basic elements of what motivates people: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Motivation 1.0 was about survival, as seen in the earliest human operating system.  It’s successor Motivation 2.0 reared its head in the early twentieth century and was built around external rewards, which worked fine for the routine tasks of the time.  But the twenty-first century is bringing new challenges that are not compatible with the 2.0 motivation techniques for the most part.

The basic problem with Motivation 2.0 is that “if-then” rewards often give less of what we are hoping to achieve and generally crush the stuff we want, like high performance, creativity, and good behavior.  Pink sites the work of several psychologists and groundbreaking work that started in the mid-1900’s that recognized a strong third drive beyond biological (hunger, thirst, sex) and response to rewards and punishment.  This third drive—intrinsic motivation—concerns itself less with the external rewards and puts more importance on the inherent satisfaction the activity brings.

Pink gives great real-world examples of Motivation 3.0 in action at places like Zappos, Atlassian, and Best Buy and details how its “three elements” fit into our desire to direct our own lives, get better and better at something that matters, and to do something that has a result bigger than ourselves.  It’s a wonderful read and even includes some discussion points that can be used as a personal review or to share with your colleagues.  I recommend it highly.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Apple Tablet -- what it means for print-on-demand

The big buzz of the new year is the supposed imminent launch of the oft-threatened Apple Tablet PC, or iSlate, or whatever. Bottom line is that if it's not ready this time it will be coming soon. So how does this new device change the game for POD?

First off, we have to realize the Apple Tablet is different than other e-Readers for one reason. It's Apple. And we all know they think differently. My friend Antonio suggested a recent post from John Siracusa at ARS Technica to make that point. Apple does not need to release some sort of "entirely new or totally amazing" tablet for it to be successful, but it will distinguish itself by the three factors that separates them from the pack. Those are 1) over 100 million credit-card bearing customers, 2) over 125,000 developers that have created over 100,000 iPhone apps, and 3) Apple's relationships with content owners that is unrivaled in the industry.

So what will the device likely be? It will certainly be color. It will be a touch-screen. And it will likely come in around the size of a Kindle, so somewhat smaller than a laptop but bigger than a phone. If this is correct, then it would not be surprising that Apple is looking to create a new paradigm for reading rich content digitally, which means bad news for an already floundering print magazine marketplace.

But what about POD? I believe the Tablet can be another shift toward it. Regardless of how great the color screen is on the device, the best books will always be ink on paper. But with rich color available on a digital reader, the marketing of these "books to keep" becomes easier and much more effective if you are a significant publisher or if you are hoping to sell a few books that you publish yourself. Add to that the ability to create hybrid media that includes audio and video of the back story about the book and you can see how this device can be a game changer.

My expectation is that the Tablet will be a bit expensive for the average consumer and that it's real impact on book publishing will not be felt in 2010 but in the coming years as the device evolves and the price comes down. But if you are in the print business now, don't forget about those 125,000 iPhone developers who already have the skill set to create new applications for a Tablet (assuming it will be built on the same core as OS and GUI as iPhone, which I think is a given). I'm sure they are thinking about your business.