Interview with Blurb’s CEO – Eileen Gittins

Eileen Gittins recently visted The London Book Fair and POD, Self Publishing and Independent Publishing caught up with her to discuss

Company Profile

Blurb was founded by their CEO, Eileen Gittins, in 2005 and is funded by Canaan Partners and Anthem Venture Partners. Blurb is a global publishing service that enables anyone from creative design professionals, photographers, artists and authors to design, publish, share and sell bookstore-quality books using their Blurb BookSmart™ software for PC or Mac. Although Blurb focussed on purely photographic books initially, they have since expanded the capabilities of their software to include black and white text-based books for their customers. Blurb pride themselves on their high print quality, design and the versatility of their software, as well as the growing strength of their on line community.

The Blurb Global Print Partner Network with HP Indigo now supports over 60 countries with access to over 80 HP Indigo presses, all with priority service support from the HP Indigo technical team. Blurb’s printing network is widely viewed as the most comprehensive in the industry; supporting Blurb’s rapid growth. It is this growth that has seen them achieve a turnover of $10 million and 90,000 customer titles last year.

Earlier this year Blurb introduced its membership-only B3 program (Blurb Business to Business). A key feature of the program is a premium Custom Workflow option that delivers superior quality; Custom Workflow books are printed exclusively on the HP Indigo family as well.

Eileen, have you tried your hand at publishing with Blurb yourself?

“Yes, I absolutely have. I’ve made several books now and I’m afraid I’ve developed a bit of an addiction. Seriously though, once you begin making books the danger is that you become a perfectionist – so naturally I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Blurb’s free bookmaking application, BookSmart.”

Eileen you founded Blurb after twenty years of business development, sales and marketing management positions within Kodak’s Business Imaging Systems, as well as your extensive experience with several companies (Personify, Verb, Qbiquity) dealing with software applications, online marketing, search engine databases and data integration, consumer desktop databases and digital photography. With a work history like that, it’s not surprising Blurb seems to have great appeal to creative professionals who see Blurb as a way of designing business portfolios and photographic albums to showcase their business and artistic skills. While this appeal is still a core strategy for Blurb, the growth of services has now embellished the prosumer as well as the ordinary consumer. How do you think Blurb has managed this and do you see Blurb concentrating their marketing efforts much more on the ordinary consumer in the UK and Europe?

“I think the universal appeal of Blurb lies in the company’s superior product quality, and the creative control they empower you to have as a bookmaker. Throw in the highly competitive price point relative to the product quality, and there’s never really been a self-publishing company quite like it. Creative professionals can design something that meets their expectations for client deliverables or personal / agency portfolios, and they’re able to customize down to the last detail. And turn it around in a week! In terms of marketing, those things are all pretty important to consumers too, and I think Blurb will continue to see a healthy balance of professionally-designed books for business purposes, as well as family books, travel books, blog books, books as gifts, etc.”

The development of digital print technology forged with the internet and on line networking has spawned a whole new generation of author solution companies for self-publishing authors. Where there was vanity and garages full of books, there is now opportunity and fulfilment (personal and logistical) without physical inventory. Where does Blurb see themselves in this new age of technological publishing—publisher, printer or book solution provider? It could be argued that in spite of Blurb’s success—they have yet to find their true identity after four years.

“Blurb definitely has an identity. The company enables groups of people to share intention, content, passion, and their work, through books. Blurb has redefined traditional publishing’s definition of success – while many books are created to be sold for a profit, many others are created never to be sold at all. While personal books (wedding books, baby books, and the like) make up a portion of what Blurb publishes, many of Blurb’s customers are creative professionals and businesses with an engaged audience who are opting to self-publish for a variety of reasons: creative ownership, the ability to turnaround a book project in a matter of weeks, the no-waste benefit of print-on-demand, and the profits that come with this non-traditional (but increasingly popular) path. Blurb’s unique model in the POD space lets authors keep 100% of the mark-up they set on their books.”
“So now everyone can make beautiful books, affordably. Gone are the days when thousands of copies needed to be ordered and publishing time was measured in months or years; with Blurb, the minimum order is one book and turnaround time is about a week.”

And what does Blurb offer above and beyond other such companies like Lulu, Createspace and book display sites like YouWriteOn, Smashwords and Authonomy?

“Blurb differentiates on quality, community and on its end to end fulfillment and distribution – Blurb is disruptive because our platform offers the whole solution. No other company has been able to match quality with price like Blurb has, and nobody else provides all the tools to create, market and sell your book, along with all the back-end fulfillment and distribution services.
And if you have the content but need help on the design side, we’ve solved that too with a program called BlurbNation. BlurbNation is a community of expert book designers around the world who can design your book for you. We have a directory on our website that will connect you directly with the book designer of your choosing.”

One thing that does separate Blurb from many other self-publishing companies is their Booksmart software—which is the engine room of their product—and also Blurb’s decision to make that software available for free downloads and use on the customer’s home PC/Mac rather than host it securely on line. How did the Booksmart software come about and what was Blurb’s thinking behind this strategy in offering it openly to customers?

“If the tools to create and market professional quality books were truly available to everyone, how big could the book business be? And that’s a very important point – we wanted to make the tools available to everyone. We were able to build our profit into the print side of the business, and this enabled us to make the software available at no charge – people pay only when they order a book. This was one of the things that really helped Blurb to grow and take off, in addition to word of mouth driven by this amazing and viral product, and turbo charged with absolutely kick-ass PR.”

Many on line author solution companies use the Ingram Group’s digital printer, Lightning Source. Blurb instead pursued a different path and chose a business print partnership with HP Indigo. What benefits does this give Blurb above using LSI?

“HP has been a strategic partner of ours since day one. We are increasingly seeing more and more creative professionals like photographers, designers, architects, museum curators, and art galleries create books to promote and market their work. For these professionals, high print quality and consistency directly impact their business. Printing our books exclusively on HP Indigo digital presses enables us to create professional, commercial-quality books with the exact same print consistency through the whole process.
The Blurb Global Print Partner Network supports over 60 countries with access to over 80 HP Indigo presses, all with priority service support from the HP Indigo technical team. Blurb’s printing network is widely viewed as the most comprehensive in the industry, supporting our rapid growth over the past few years.”

For the author, Blurb provides, at no cost, everything but the things that are critical to an author when publishing a book. So come on Eileen: your authors need ISBN’s, library registration, on line book data registration (retailers and wholesalers), and then Blurb can really start to be taken seriously. At the moment, there is not a single book listed on Amazon.
When it comes to book production, Blurb have it all, strong software (apart from a few small glitches), a good on line network profile, a quality print product, a fun attitude, a growing catalogue, tremendous on line tutorials and support backup, but now it is time they stepped properly up to the plate with their service and grasp the opportunities which are there for both publisher and author.

Recent POD, Self Publishing and Independent Publishing review of Blurb

Eileen, thanks for dropping by POD, Self Publishing and Independent Publishing. Keep us all posted on developments with Blurb in the coming months.

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