Thursday, October 20, 2011

Huge week at Blurb

I try not to be too much of a Blurb fanboy here on the print/ready blog, but there's a lot of pride about what our little company accomplished this week.  So please allow the shameless plug if you would as I wax about our latest releases.

Today we announced four new languages to add to our stable.  After this week's launch of Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, and Spanish, we are now localized in seven tongues including French, German, and English. You can see the new sites at,,, and

We've also made a huge plunge into eBooks with our new iOS offering.  Anyone that has previously created a book using BookSmart or Bookify can now purchase and sell eBook versions that can be viewed on any Apple mobile device (iTouch, iPad, iPhone). You can see more about this cool offering at

Not to be outdone, our tried-and-true backbone authoring tool, BookSmart, has an upgrade as well.  Now you can create weekly planners, import seamlessly from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, along with a slew of little updates like improved spell-check, font management, UI enhancements, and new spreads.  Plus, you can now make books of 240 pages using our Premium or ProLine paper options, up from the previous 160.

Our upstart mobile group has an update as well, Blurb Mobile 1.4.  With it you can now export to video, take advantage of a new layout editor, as well as improved sharing.  You can get it now at

So, yeah, we're pretty proud.  And we hope all of our customers will like what we've done and keep coming back for more.

Monday, October 17, 2011

iPhone 4S first thoughts

Right on time, my friendly FedEx delivery guy dropped off a little brown box at my front door last Friday.  I have to admit, I was a bit more excited to get my iPhone4 last year, but the day a new Apple product arrives is always a pretty good day.

As with the iPhone 4, the 4S migration was painless and fairly quick for me, unlike some others that I've heard from.  I upgraded my 4 to iOS 5 earlier in the week so I was already familiar with most of the new features and the fact that the sync process how happens somewhat in the background once you get the phone's initial set up complete.

So, yeah, I played with Seri a bit and it's as billed.  I used the Voice Command feature on my 4 quite a bit when I'm in my car so I had a good comparison.  Bottom line, there is no comparison.  For someone who works from their car quite a bit this should be a must have, both for efficiency and safety.

While the news was mainly about Seri, the speed of the 4S is the real story.  It's noticeably quicker,  smoother, more responsive...all of the things you would expect from a major Apple phone upgrade.  And, gee, all of my iPhone accessories still work so that's another bonus.

The camera was my main reason for upgrading and it does not disappoint.  While a lot of the cool new features are in iOS 5 and available for the 4, the speed of the 4S makes the camera work even more like a standalone device.  Add a very nice lens and sensor upgrade and the 4S looks to me like another nail in the coffin of point-and-shoot cameras.

Bottom line? Well worth the upgrade if you use your iPhone a lot and you can qualify.  If you don't qualify yet, I suggest you don't play around with a 4S because it will make you want to replace your 4 even more.  But the advances with iOS 5 on the 4 makes it almost like a new phone so if you haven't stepped up and updated your software yet I strongly encourage it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Humble Steve Jobs Blog Post

Like just about everyone I know, I have strong emotions about Steve Jobs. There will be plenty of epitaphs that will be much more interesting, or well written, or relevant than mine. But here goes nonetheless.

My first practical Apple experience was, as many of us in the 80's, via graphic arts. I was running production for a Pacific Color, Inc., a professional photo lab in Seattle. In the days before large screens and digital projectors if you needed to do a presentation you used view graphs or slides, all optically created on movable-stage cameras. That changed when the original Macintosh gave graphic power to to masses. At PCI we invested in a system that would allow folks to make their own slides. The Autographix and Dicomed imaging systems we installed were the first of their kind, but everything was still monotone, including the authoring tools in software like Aldus Persuasion. If you were around in those days, you'll remember that with Persuasion you received a sleeve of 20 slides with colors and ID's to choose your for your text. At PCI we created and imaged all of these inserts for Aldus (Seattle-based and early Apple supporter before being purchased by Adobe)and produced most all of the final customer output for the Pacific Northwest.

I soon moved on and joined Bill Gates' little start-up, Continuum Productions, later renamed Corbis. I quickly had a five million dollar global budget to expand the footprint of the scanning operations, much of it spent on totally tricked out Apple Quadra 950's, the ultimate state of the art at the time for graphic applications, partially due to ColorSync 1.0. Keep in mind, in the early and mid 90's Microsoft and Apple were not friendly and one of my favorite "Bill stories" is when, soon after the release of Windows 95, Bill was touring my Bellevue WA lab and said "I guess we'll be changing all of these Macs to PC's now that Windows is color managed." I got to inform him that W95 had faux color management at best and we had no plans to replace our Apple hardware. I would have hated to be the W95 product manager when Bill made it back to Redmond.

Fast forward to September 1997 and the Seybold Conference in San Francisco, then the largest of its kind in the world and a must-go event for those associated with publishing and graphic arts. Steve was still interim CEO of Apple at this point, returning to try and save them after some disastrous months. When Bill Gates appeared on the big screen behind Steve at the keynote the crowd booed lustily, the beginning of the real fan boy mentality for Apple in my opinion. But Steve knew he needed Microsoft to survive and Bill could have snuffed Apple out if he would have decided to stop producing software for the Mac. Microsoft invested in Apple and the rest is history.

During this time I got my first dose of what it was like being close to Steve (or, at least, close to those close to him) as Corbis became the flavor of the month around Apple as we tried to find ways to work more closely together. The pull of his personality was palpable, even second hand.

My next experience with Apple was in 2002. I began working for the company that produced the photo books for iPhoto and I was constantly amazed that Steve himself was so involved in even the smallest details of the product, down to the paper weight and color profiles. I have to say having Apple as a customer was not much fun and intense is an understatement of what it was like. But being part of the Apple extended network is something I'm very proud of.

Being a Seattle guy, I was always a bit conflicted in the Apple vs Microsoft wars. Over the years I moved pretty freely between platforms, finally settling for good on the Apple ecosystem when I joined Blurb. As a mobile professional, iPhone, iPad and MacBookPro has changed the way I do business so completely that I can't imagine how I could succeed without these tools. So this becomes Steve's legacy for me. The freedom to live where I like, do a job I absolutely love with an extended family of graphic arts pros and operations folks, making strikingly beautiful artifacts.

Can you imagine how many disparate stories like mine that are being written today?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Best phone toys so far this year

I've worked remote or had remote direct reports since 1994 so communication devices are something that are not an option but critical to my job.  Plus I love new technology so the new stuff I tend to gravitate toward are things the meet both of these needs.  So far this year I've gotten a couple of new toys that I thought I would share.

A few months ago a bought the new Jabra Freeway in-car Bluetooth speakerphone system.  I have a car that didn't come with an integrated phone system and I've been using a Jawbone headset since they were first released years ago.  But that all has changed.  The Freeway is an excellent unit, with dual microphones allowing for ambient noise cancellation and a three-speaker listening device with plenty of pop.  Plus you can route the sound to your FM radio if you want to share the call via your audio system.  At around $115 it's not the cheapest, but it's a great investment if you spend a lot of time in your car taking calls.

The home office needed a new phone system so we did the normal churn of walking though all of the options.  We ended up with the Panasonic KX-TG4644. Granted, it's been quite a few years since I've bought an office or home phone, but I've been just blown away by the performance and features of this unit.  It seamlessly integrates with my CenturyLink voicemail system, has great sound clarity and range, and also allows for use of up to two cell phones via Bluetooth connection.  Plus, this little gem will work during a power outage, drawing power from the phone unit in the base while you can use any of the other three extensions. At around $120 it's on the higher end, but I've been extremely happy with it and expect it to meet my needs for years to come.

Very excited about the potential I'm hearing about the iPhone5.   While speed increases are always welcome, the potential of expanded voice recognition is something I'm really looking forward to.  With the increase in the use of text messaging for business, the ability to speak a text is a pretty cool feature and will keep your eyes on the road.  Don't know if that feature will be backward compatible with my iPhone4, but I see a 5 in my future.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Just when you thought print was dead....

Last week was a great one for me.  I started out in Chicago at Graph Expo and got a chance to catch up with a lot of vendor friends as well as representatives from all of the Blurb Global Print network, including our newest member from Australia (yep, OZ folks, you will soon be getting books printed in-country!). Walking the show floor and talking with folks from throughout the industry, there is still a real buzz about what is possible.  If you weren't in the industry you would likely think that a print show in 2011 would be like a death march.  And don't get me wrong, it's a tough world out there.  But to see the pace at which enlightened printers are looking to expand their horizons via social media, just-in-time manufacturing, and direct-to-consumer fulfillment is very encouraging.  A new generation of print service providers have learned that they can compete against the big guys by being agile, creative, and customer oriented.  Anyone who thinks there is not a major move in progress hasn't paid attention to the grassroots groundswell that is happening around industry groups like Dscoop, who threw a great party on Monday night by the way.

Then I was off to New York City for the Photography Book Now awards party.  Held this year in the center of creative photo expression at the Aperture Foundation, this year's entrants were stunning. And making the hard decisions on winners is a task I'm glad is not mine.  The winner, Gomorrah Girl by Italian photographer Valerio Spada, was an offset printed book not published by Blurb, a proud reminder of the independence our judges bring to the competition. But Valerio's book was just the tip of the iceberg.  Seeing the attendees handling, inspecting, and, yes, smelling the volumes of ink-on-paper proves something that a digital display will never give--a physical, personal relationship with the author's vision. It was a great night not just for the winners, many of whom made the trek to New York from around the world, but for all the lovers of art objects that attended as well.

I finished the week feeling refreshed about the print business.  From seeing new, excited participants entering the print industry at Graph Expo, to rubbing shoulders with emerging artist/authors less than half my age at PBN, I know that print is alive and well.  Like any changing industry, print must adapt to the times and I'm happy to say that the great people engaged in just that bode for a very exciting future.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why I don't use an eReader--and hopefully never will

There are several technologies that have changed my life.  The move to CCDs and digital photography revolutionized the photo business and enabled companies like Corbis, where I spent 8 years scanning film and building the huge digital collection.  Electrophotographic print devices like HP Indigo, Xerox iGen, and Canon CLC proved that you didn't have to use silver halide materials to create one-off image-intensive prints and paved the way for the mass personalization that is so prevalent today. The Internet changed forever how we do business, and the smartphone changed the style in which that business is done.

If I had tried to imagine what my work life today would be like back when I was running a professional photo lab in the 80's I don't think I would have come close.  Keeping an eye on Blurb's global print network means that I'm at various parts of the country and the world at any given time, and the sun never sets on places where we do business.  Questions and issues don't wait for regular business hours and have to be managed in real time.  I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that the business I'm in could not exist in it's current form without the free-flowing communication that mobile devices bring.

But there is a downside of course.  Since I am remote from Blurb's headquarters I'm on the phone a lot.  Always.  Every day.  And because of this I've lost my ability to have a non-business phone conversation without trying to figure out how to end it quickly.  Talking on the phone has become synonymous with work.

It's very much the same with things I read.  During the week I take all of my news on-line, but on the weekends I crave my paper New York Times.  I even save some parts of the Sunday times to read during the week so I can savor it a bit.

Reading anything on a screen puts me into "work mode".  It's a sickness that I can't kick, the bit of OCD that serves me well when dealing with business but puts me in exactly the wrong space if I want to read for pleasure.  That's why I don't have a Kindle or a Nook.  I do have an iPad but I use it for "consumable" reading and to keep the weight of what I carry from town to town at a minimum.

I know that eBooks are what most folks talk about and I'm excited to see the possibilities that exist to new authors that did not in the past when publishers held all of the cards.  But to me a "transmissive" experience equals work or research and a "reflective" one equates to reading on my own terms.

Technology has indeed changed my life quite a bit.  But I'm determined to not allow it to completely run my life.  And reading books with ink on paper is my small rejection of a completely digital world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Uncoated paper options at Blurb

At Blurb we've been in the final stages of judging for the fourth annual Photography Book Now international juried book competition.  It's always an exciting time as we wait to find out who the winners are and have one more chance to review the thousands of fabulous entries.  The competition is great for the artists that have the opportunity to have their work reviewed by a top-notch group of judges. But it's really good for us as well as we get lots of valuable feedback on what our highly creative customers need.

This year the big deal is the addition of Blurb ProLine, offering those submitting work to stand out from the crowd with options on book papers, end sheets, and cover linens.  While all of these options have been widely used by PBN entrants, the judges were most struck by the addition of our ProLine Uncoated Paper.  Which leads to the question, "what exactly is the difference between coated and uncoated papers"?

In general, uncoated papers have a bit more of a "natural" feel to them. A bit toothy.  Like what you would expect stationary paper to feel like.  Coated papers basically fill in the gaps in the natural fibers with a coating that enhances it's ability to hold ink with less dot gain, or spreading of the ink beyond where it is laid down on the paper.

When we were looking for a more natural look for artsy books, we knew we wanted an uncoated option.  But we wanted to limit the downside from a quality standpoint.  The obvious choice for us was the Mohawk Superfine Eggshell Ultrawhite with i-Tone surface treatment. Developed for digital presses, this paper has the feel we wanted but with excellent ink adhesion and durability.

ProLine Uncoated is a substantial 100# text/148 gsm sheet, perfect for high-end, photo intensive books.  But there are times that you want to add a bit of color to a more text-heavy option as well.  To that end we have recently released our new Color Trade and Pocket choices.  These are the same sizes and bindings as our one-color product line, but with the addition of 4-color printing.  The paper is complementary to our off-white, one-color paper, and is white with a vellum finish.  It's a lighter-weight sheet at 60# text/89 gsm, and you will see a bit more dot gain in this product.  But it's great for lower-fi applications like notebooks, memoirs, travel books, mini portfolios, and novels.  And we've kept the price low so you can buy a lot or sell for some bucks.

Whatever paper you choose, we want you to be able to find one that will enhance your vision.  ProLine and Color Trade and Pocket are just a couple of new ways to make your book your own.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What's on your wish list for Drupa 2012?

It's less than a year until the mother of all trade shows, Drupa, reappears to once again shape the future of all things print.  While the rhythm of print shows swings to Chicago and Graph Expo this year, most eyes are on May of 2012 when we'll get a chance to see the mavens of print manufacturing unveil what has been in process for much of the past years since Drupa 2008.

I see the printing industry at yet another tipping point.  It was big news when HP had the largest footprint at Ipex last year, overtaking the traditional offset manufacturers. And in a year where the biggest photo trade show in the US, PMA, is co-locating with CES in January, it will be interesting to see how the move to more electronic publishing is going to influence the folks whose main business is ink on paper.

When Blurb launched, we repurposed presses, DFEs, and binding equipement that was really made for other uses.  At Ipex there was a growth in new machinery that was more dedicated toward the POD book marketplace.  I'd like to see more of this, allowing larger digital printers like those in our global print network to continue to improve productivity, quality and price which will allow the self-publishing marketplace to continue to thrive.  I'd like to see the advances made in PUR binding continue beyond the few options currently available.  I hope to see high-speed ink jet keep improving print quality to the point that it rivals that of the best offset printing.  And I'd like to see lower priced entry-level presses to help to expand the global reach of companies like ours. Oh, yeah, and larger sheet sizes.  And faster.

What advances would you like to see at Drupa next year?

Monday, July 11, 2011

PUR-fect book binding?

When Blurb looks to add printers to the Blurb Global Print Network we look for companies that excel in four areas: printing, binding, IT, and fulfillment.  These core competencies bring together the art, craft, technology, and logistics that it takes to deliver one single copy of one unique book to one thrilled customer.  But it's not always easy.  When we delivered the first Blurb book to a paying customer in 2006, the state of the art for preparing files for printing, color management for digital presses, and one-off binding were all processes taken from other sectors, like direct mail, library binding, and traditional offset printing.

Book binding is where craft meets technology in a way that is not seen anywhere else in our process.  Our early books were all side sewn. We then moved some of our larger books to double-fan adhesive cold glue and wire stitching.  These were all alternatives to the way that longer run hardcover books are usually bound, Smyth sewing.  The issue is that POD is by nature run on small sheets, usually around 12x18 inches. To Smyth sew, you need to print in signatures, which are multiple pages printed on a single, large sheet and then folded.  Not really possible with cut sheets, so the POD marketplace required alternative methods.

Enter PUR, or polyurethane reactive glues.  This process, which has been around for a while but it was not really usable for short run book binding, is similar to hot glue binding which has traditionally been used for soft cover paperback books.  The issue with hot glue is that it does not "give" when there is pressure but on the spine, which is required for hardcover books due to the lever effect of the case on the book block.  PUR is much more elastic than hot glue allowing for a more "stay flat" binding that is closer to what you can get with Smyth sewing.

Working with the manufacturers of binding equipment and our network printers, Blurb pushed new products and processes to the market in our quest to keep improving on our promise of "bookstore quality" products. And we have been very pleased with the process.  A large portion of our books are now bound using PUR technology and we are continuing to expand the usage throughout our network.

There are other benefits of this move, some more obvious than others.  PUR bindings will hold even in extreme temperatures, has better adherence to coated papers, and can withstand a page pull of nearly double that of hot glue. It also allows for some aesthetic changes that we are working on for futre product releases.

The advances made in PUR binding for print-on-demand books is an example of how Blurb is constantly looking to improve our products.  We are excited about the new and improved offerings on track for release in the coming months so keep an eye out for what is next.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

iPhone home screen land grab

I don't know why I so jealously select what apps will be on my iPhone4 home screen, but I do.  Some of the apps are legacy from when I got my original iPhone but most have evolved to the ones I either use most often or want to have quick access to.

Out of my 16 flexible home screen apps, three are photo related, three are social, one news, one sports, one retail, with the remaining basic reference apps.

I definitely use my iPhone as my primary camera and image capture device.  I seldom remove my old Canon Digital ELPH from my backpack unless I really want to have more flexibility, which is rare.  The Blurb Mobile app has been great for capturing short stories, including video and audio.

On the social side, Facebook's place of status is legacy--I seldom use Facebook.  Twitter is my primary method of communication to my business contacts and my feed is connected to my LinkedIn status, so I don't use the LI app either.  When I'm on the road I use the AIM app to keep the folks in the office close at hand.

When I have a few minutes to browse, I usually start with the NYTimes app, then on to ESPN, and finally to Google News via Safari.

I've gotten quite used to the all-Apple ecosystem, and our corporate Zimbra server is always synced with my apple Contacts, Calendar, Maps, and Mail.  Switching settings is something I do quite a bit, I use the world clock to make sure I'm aligned with my partners worldwide, and in Seattle or San Francisco keeping an eye on weather is always important.

I have tons of other apps that I use often that are relegated to back pages.  Moving something to my home page is a big deal, so when Blurb Mobile was released I had to move Alaska Airlines to a new "airlines" folder.  I'm still thinking what to move up once I dispatch Facebook to the nether regions.

I'm interested in what apps you have on your iPhone home screen. Send a screen grab and I'll do a follow up post later with some of the responses.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A commitment, not a license

I spent an hour or so at the Washington State Department of Licensing last week getting my driver's license renewed.  It's a task we all sort of dread, but I have to give my State credit--even while cutting back the number of staffed licensing offices due to budget they have increased the things we can do on-line, even renewing some licenses.  Mine was not one that could be done from the comfort of my computer however.

After taking a required vision test and getting a new mug shot, the agent gave me my temporary license and told me if should receive my permanent license in about two weeks.  That was fine--I don't have any travel scheduled until later in June, which was why I wanted to get my renewal done.  But in Saturday's mail my shiny new license was delivered.

Now I should be happy about that, and I am.  But it really made me think about where we've gone with customer service.  "Under-promise and over-deliver" has been a tactic that has served me well over the years, but I'm afraid it has been abused to become a license for inefficiency.

Good customer experience is a commitment by the giver to the receiver.  "Did I solve your problem today?"  "Is there anything else I can help you with while you are on the line?"  It's a promise to value your time and your business.  But the laziness that has been created by companies and agencies purposely padding times to assure meeting a service goal has taken my old mantra to a place it was never meant to be.

I'm sure you hear about it all of the time.  In Washington State it often shows up in government.  A new bridge construction project is awarded to a contractor, who pads the time it will take to complete and then negotiates a bonus for finishing early.  A weekend road closure turns into a one-day project and the State announces "we've finished early!".

If you work in an e-commerce company you may see it in bloated engineering man hours for the project you are sponsoring.  Or in inflated heads needed for Customer Support to meet the response commitment SLA.  This concept not only costs you money, but it limits how much can get on your product roadmap and allows your competitors who work efficiently to out-perform you.

The fear of failure often drives the padding of delivery times, whether it be for software or services.  And the permission to fail that can offset this downward spiral has to come from the top.  I'm not blaming the folks on the front lines as the main culprits here.  As is often in what separates good companies from mediocre, it's the culture that is created by senior management.

"Under-promise and over-deliver" is a commitment to excellence.  It's saying that I will work hard to exceed your expectations.  But it's not a license to become a society where everyone gets a trophy and there are no real winners.  And it's not an excuse for inefficiency.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Loyalty matters

"Loyalty is what we call it when someone refuses a momentarily better option."  Seth Godin

Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte LLP, was asked in last Sunday's NY Times if he could ask interviewees only a few questions what would they be?  Barry said he would ask "what are the values that are most important to you?" and "How have you demonstrated those values in the past two years?".  Both great questions I think.  Reading this, I thought not only how I would hope those that I interviewed to join the Blurb team would answer but how would I answer this myself.

There are a multitude of values that are positive, but in my mind the one that encapsulates them all is loyalty.  A loyal person is honest.  They are compassionate to those they are loyal to.  They are faithful and fair.  They speak with candor and truth.

We hear a lot about loyal customers, and that is the loyalty that Seth Godin discusses in his blog post quoted above.  But there is also loyalty to each other in business, with your co-workers, bosses, or vendor/partners.

Especially in a rough economy, folks will almost always take a loss to get new business away from others. They know that the hard work has already been done and the cost of goods and services likely includes some re-coup of sunk discovery and development costs.  But taking those "momentarily better options" may very well be the worst thing you can do for your company.

Good business is about a mutual benefit.  And unless you are a huge company with vast resources you need trusted and loyal connections throughout your supply chain to keep you successful.

Staying loyal may not always make you the most popular person with the Finance folks, but in the long run  I've found it pays dividends.  Make loyalty part of your personal brand and you'll be amazed with how it will continue to pay you back.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Update on Indigo ink permanence

I have a guest post at the Blurberati Blog that is an update of my post last year on the permanence of pages printed on HP Indigo presses.  Might want to take a look!

Monday, May 16, 2011

How I learned to love ink on paper (and the people who print)

From my earliest memories I really loved photography. My mother worked in the local photo lab after WWII so we always had lots of photos and I clearly remember those first color snaps that revolutionized consumer photography at the time.  After high school I first majored in Fine Art with a photography emphasis, but I quickly realized that my mentor, the late Wayne Brannock, had already taught me more about photography then I would ever learn from the artsy folks at Missouri State.  So I changed my major and packed my camera bags for the University of Missouri.  My relationship and love for silver halide lasted through the 80's and 90's, through the advent of digital photography and the fall of Kodak.

My photography always had a commercial bent, be it my time shooting for Columbia Records or working my way though school shooting weddings and portraits on weekends.  But during my time at Corbis, I realized the real action was not in the commercial or professional realm at all, but on the consumer side.

It's still amazing to me the transformation that happened in the late 90's.  Digital color printing had already made it's mark, primarily with "good enough" color on devices like the Canon CLC500.  But digital photography was getting ready to further blur the lines between photographs and offset-style printing.

In 2000 it became clear to me that this transition was the future of how consumers will purchase physical media.  I joined a company that was using wide format ink jet to print maps and historical documents from the Library of Congress but soon became a consultant to the originator of the consumer hard-bound photo book.

Now, thinking about what I really love about what Blurb is doing, I'm really happy that I've been able to maintain relationships with the folks that actually get things done in our business--the print service providers, or PSPs.  Much like my days working in professional photo laboratories, most of these are closely held, often family-owned businesses.  And like photography in the 90's, they are dealing with changes at often lightning speeds, not knowing where the next threat to their existence might come from.  These are the people that write the checks to buy the heavy iron that makes the product you see everyday in an economy that is often  less than friendly.

Blurb has indeed helped to democratize publishing.  But without the people on the front lines what we built would have been but another business presentation for a start-up that couldn't get going.  I'm personally grateful for all of the friends I've made along the way as I transitioned from photo to print, and I see a very bright future for all of us.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Of space and film...memories of a trip to NASA

I was watching a NASA documentary this week and it reminded me of a very fun time 15 years ago when Corbis had the opportunity to access to the original film from the space program up to that time.  The collection, which included film that was taken on the moon, had ever been digitized.  Much of it is very fragile, and to that point any publication was done via color dupes. In fact, due to weight restrictions on the Apollo flights, film was manufactured without any base coating.  This can give you an idea of how conscious NASA was about every single ounce of payload and it left them with film rolls that are more like cellophane than cellulose.

NASA photos are by definition public domain--we as a people own them.  So the deal we made with NASA was that we would use our expertise in scanning, color correction, and archiving as a service and Corbis would be allowed to include the images in our digital collection.  In return we would provide NASA with full-resolution imagery of everything we captured.  Those images are available today at the NASA GRIN site, including the high-res versions.

One of the first steps taken on the Moon, this is an image of Buzz Aldrin's bootprint from the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon on July 20, 1969.  AS11-40-5877

At that time, most all film scanning was done on a drum or flatbed scanner.  In this case neither would work as the 70mm film from the Hasselblad backs was in long rolls and couldn't be cut, and maintaining the integrity of the archive was of utmost importance. 

A reel of 70mm original flight film from the first five Apollo missions, Apollo 8 through 13, is prepared for scanning at the Corbis scanning laboratory at the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas. © Roger Resssmeyer/Corbis

Working with world-renowned space and science photographer, Corbis colleague Roger Ressmeyer, Charlie Sliwoski, Corbis Imaging Lab manager at our Seattle headquarters, and the NASA photo team,  a roll-to-roll process using the  Leica DSW200 was developed to handle the job.  Astronaut Jay Apt worked with Roger and Charlie to tweak the color from these frames that had already begun to shift in some cases.  The result was public access to images that had not seen the light of day for nearly 30 years, first viewed in the book Orbit.

Non-NASA employees were not authorized to handle the film directly, and given the sensitive nature of these priceless assets, we built a close bond with the Johnson Space Center team.  The project was considered secret, and in one of the funniest stories from the trip there was a rumor that "Bill Gates' company was funding a project to look for extraterrestrials in the NASA film archives".  And this was from NASA employees.

During the time I was in Houston, The Columbia Space Shuttle mission STS-75 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  It was really a privilege to be at Mission Control during the launch and for a few days during the mission.  Surely the days of capturing imagery on film is past and worrying about the weight of anything photographic besides the capture device is a memory but we all do owe a debt of gratitude to the folks that manned the photo lab in Houston and protected a great piece of our history for generations to come.

Want to see more NASA shots?  Take a look at this book in the Blurb Bookstore.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Steidl and POD in the same post? Outrageous!?!

If you work at a company like Blurb you really need to love books.  Not just reading them but knowing about them, about the authors, and, if you are like many of us, understanding how they are built. Because of that last point I really enjoyed the NY Times piece in this Sunday's Style Magazine on Gerhard Steidl.  The world of fine art bookmaking is fabulous and Steidl is at the pinnacle of his art.

But is there any real comparison to the painstaking hand work that represents what comes out of Göttingen and what can be expected from a print on demand publisher like Blurb?  A lot more than you think.

First off, when we started Blurb our goal was to find a sweet spot with high-end, "bookstore quality" books and a price point that allowed our customers to sell their books for a profit.  Early on that meant getting our first printing partners to buy into a whole new model of how 4-color books should be priced.  Since then the technology has advanced a bit, allowing us to build more and more process automation into our workflow which allows us to continually improve quality while keeping our prices among the most economical in the marketplace.

Some of the improvements since we first went to market in 2007 are an ever-expanding line of products that include hardcover with dust jacket or custom-printed "ImageWrap" as well as soft cover books; an all-HP Indigo global network tuned to GRACol standards, assuring consistant quality worldwide wherever books are printed; a broadening line of standard and premium papers; and, very soon, new pro-directed options.  Add to that our new standard end sheet that will be moving from white to a thicker medium-grey paper and, in our world, POD does not mean low-grade.

We are constantly looking for ways to improve our products.  Over the past month we have held sessions with design movers and shakers in Berlin, hobnobbed with some of the best photographers in the world at the Palm Springs Photo Festival, and ran various focus groups as we plan our next options.  Our new BookSmart software just released has many upgrades that come directly from the requests of our customers. And we've got some new, native digital products on their way that will reinvent the genre.  We're pretty excited.

As I get ready to head off to New York for the Publishing Business Conference, I'm reminded of how the book business has changed.  But reading the story about how Steidl goes about his craft, it's nice to see some things--like quality--are constant in the minds of those who love books.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

High-speed ink jet and why it matters

This post was done for the Blurberati Blog....

I’ve spent the past few days reviewing the newly updated digital press portfolio from Hewlett-Packard (HP). Blurb has a long-standing relationship with the technology giant and all of our digital color book pages have been printed exclusively on HP Indigo presses since 2008. But we – and HP – are never ready to rest on our laurels and together we’re always pushing the envelope to help our customers get the best quality books. So we were interested when HP announced that they are expanding their high-speed ink jet line with faster and wider presses.
So why is this important to Blurb? Because I’ve seen the future and it is ink jet. We’re always looking for new, more efficient ways to print our customer’s work and bringing the efficiencies of offset printing to the flexibility of small-run digital printing is where we live.

But these technologies are also changing the printing business from the inside out. During my two days at O’Neil Data Systems in Los Angeles, a hybrid shop that merges traditional offset with the newest digital printing technologies, the biggest thing you notice are the folks who are running the ink jet web presses at ODS. They look like they would be more comfortable in a server room rather than a press room. With these new technologies, information technology (IT) is king and this represents a sea change in the commercial printing business.
Blurb believes that when you, our customer, choose to print, you’ve raised the value put on your content. So, we consider it our primary role to make sure you receive the highest level of craft and quality in the product level you choose. And when I meet with equipment manufacturers my role is to act as your surrogate to make sure you’re always getting the best product for your money. I’ll continue to do that and to update you with the latest in all things print and technology. As always, your feedback and suggestions are great so feel free to chime in with your comments.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Beware the first dropper

At the recent Dscoop6 conference there was a ton of buzz over social media. You've got to be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, know the drill.  I've been there and almost certainly you have too.  But I'm gradually pulling away from a lot of the social interaction I've done in the past.  This is due to security and privacy issues surely, but it's also that I'm one of those dreaded "first droppers".

There was a great article on last fall on this phenomena that you might want to consider reading.  But the bottom line to me is that once I feel that my identity has been compromised in any way, or if I just reach that tipping point that participation just isn't fun anymore and feels more like work, I bail.  And I don't think I'm alone.

To me the biggest culprit in the social media sphere is Facebook.  I really don't have a spot for these guys in my day or personal brand any longer.  Sure, I have a FB page but it's really a bit of a placeholder and I use it to repost stuff that my company is putting out there.  I have a very small circle of friends that I allow full access to my account and the rest just see the generic front page.

I like Twitter and use it daily, but it's really just about business.  And if I don't keep up with it on a very regular basis the tweets from the folks I follow get so backed up that I miss a lot.  So if you really want to share something with me that you'll know I'll see it's dangerous to just post it--you've got to DM me.

I've really rediscovered LinkedIn as my primary social media conduit.  It was the first place I started to network on line and I've discovered that for me it is the best.  If you connect your Twitter feed to your LinkedIn page and we are connected then I'll very likely see your tweets there. Plus I get a feeling of security there and it's a good place to try and contact me if we don't know each other.

Also, I'm no spring chicken and this may not sit well with a lot of my contemporaries, but I don't really take advice on social media from anyone over 35.  I'm sure the amount of first droppers increases quickly as age increases so if you are putting a lot of effort into updates and links then you need to concentrate on younger folks and be sure you understand what it is that motivates them to buy your product.  And it changes all of the time.  By the time you realize it you are likely already too late and your audience has abandoned you.

Big disclaimer here...I'm no social media expert.  I'm not even a marketing person.  But I am often an early adopter of technology and as a first dropper I know what works for me.  And being in a company whose average age is around 30, I think I have some pretty good insights on what's going on in that world too.  Bottom line is that you do need to consider what social media can do for your business but it's got to be vital, it's got to be valuable, it's got to be cool.  If not it can be a very consuming waste of time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dscoop 6 preview: On-demand production for publishing and photo products in multi-press environments

I've blogged here in the past about the value of Dscoop (Digital Solutions Cooperative, a community of HP Graphic Arts press owners and those associated with them) and I'm pleased to say that for 2011 I have the opportunity to be part of the program.  I'll be moderating what is sure to be a fascinating panel on the subject of "On-demand production for publishing and photo products in multi-press environments". We'll be diving into how some of the biggest Indigo users in the world are using lean manufacturing, process automation and other scalable technologies to create press farms--sometimes with multiple locations--to efficiently produce POD products for the book publishing and the photo marketplace. 

I've recruited a stellar planel to share their expertise on the subject.  Rick Bellamy, CEO of RPI, whose partners represent more than 40% of the total photo products market.  Bob Friend, EVP and GM of District Photo, the largest direct-to-consumer photo fulfillment operation in the world.  Steve Brown, EVP International Operations at Consolidated Graphics, who with five digital supercenters in the US and Europe are the world's largest owners of Indigo presses. And Jan-Paul Vandenhurk, CEO of Paro in The Netherlands, a digital printing powerhouse supporting all of Europe, with forward-thinking process automation engineering a core competence.

This is just one session that is part of an impressive two days of presentations that will touch on issues vital to anyone that makes a buck on putting ink on paper with Indigo presses.  Take a look at the full agenda here and I hope to see you in Orlando!