What Blurb is For

oldpostI love Blurb. I use them all the time. I think the books they create are so, so beautiful, and they make for amazing keepsakes and gifts.

But I don’t understand how their name keeps coming up in the self-publishing world, because I don’t see how you could possibly self-publish with them in any kind of commercial sense.

What Blurb is Great For

The first time I used Blurb was back in 2008. I’d spent three months backpacking with my best friend Sheelagh (you can read all about it in Backpacked) and, at least every other day, trekking to the nearest internet cafe to update our travel blog so our family and friends—and especially my mother, who had Interpol on speed-dial lest a day went by when I didn’t check in—would know where we were and how we were getting in. So when I discovered that I could take the text from our blog and our hundreds of photos and turn them into a beautiful, hardcover photo book, I thought it’d make the perfect memento for me and the best ever Christmas present for her.

Another time I used it for something I’d probably use CreateSpace or Lulu for now. I was organizing my inbox when I discovered a whole load of e-mails between me and a very good friend of mine from a few years back, and they were hilarious. (We’re both quite funny in e-mails, thank you very much. Plus we were always doing silly things, so there was always plenty to be funny about.) Because we didn’t live in the same place—we weren’t even living on the same continent for a lot of it—the e-mails were complete stories, and I thought it’d be fun to read back over in years to come. So I used Blurb to make a book of the e-mails, in chronological order, and gave it to him as a present.

This past weekend was my mother’s 60th birthday, and I gave her a large, square ‘coffee-table’ style Blurb book filled with old pictures that I’d scanned while she was away on holidays, and new ones I’d stolen off her computer. Perfect. (And slightly evil…!)


My mum and I in one photo spread over two pages in Blurb’s ‘large square’ coffee table style photo book with image wrap and premium paper.

This is what Blurb is great for, because the books just look fabulous. They’re beautifully put together, and their premium paper feels fantastic. They’re great for presents, weddings, graduations, yearbooks, a book of your mother’s recipes, blogs to books, or just a place to put all those digital photos you took but never developed. They also ship lightning fast, and you can order just one copy of the book if you like. Best of all is it’s so easy to make a Blurb book—you just download their software, Book Smart, to your computer, and then it can be as simple as dragging and dropping.

So: yay for Blurb.

What Blurb is Bad At

But it costs a bloody fortune.

Now don’t get me wrong: in terms of the pure joy the Blurb books I’ve made have brought to people, they’re utterly priceless. The books I’ve made as gifts have all been absolutely worth what they cost. But if we think of this in terms of self-publishing, where we intend to sell our books and collect a profit, it’s just not doable.

For example:

  • My backpacker book was Blurb’s ‘standard landscape’ size and 102 premium pages with a dustcover. One copy is €47.43 before shipping.
  • My e-mail collection book was Blurb’s 240 pages of Blurb’s ‘pocket’ size (think your average paperback) in hardcover with image wrap. One copy is €18.26 before shipping. Were I to go with a softcover edition, it’d be €9.84.
  • My mum’s 60th birthday book was Blurb’s ‘large square’ with 106 premium pages and image wrap. One copy is €84.24 before shipping.

(€10 = $13 = £8.50, approximately).

For any of you that have just experienced a coronary event, may I say again: these prices are worth it when I’m giving these books as special gifts. And the product is so beautifully put together, I don’t mind that the price is that high, because you’re getting what you pay for. And Blurb frequently send out e-mails with 10% or even 20% off or other promotions, so hang around long enough and you’ll get a discount code.

But for self-publishing/selling, who’d pay nearly €100 for a book?

I think this comes down to the fact that for photographic books, Print On Demand self-publishing just isn’t there yet in terms of an affordable product.

But take the e-mail book, for instance, which is very similar in size and spec to my 5.5. x 8.5. CreateSpace paperbacks. CreateSpace are definitely creating an inferior product, but it does the job, and it does it for just $3.50, or about a quarter of what Blurb would charge for the same thing. And of course, CreateSpace are throwing in distribution, Cover Creator (ahem), monthly royalty payments, Amazon.com, etc. for that.

So, please, go use Blurb to create stunning books that will make you and your friends and family very, very happy.

But self-publishing with them? I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

Have you used Blurb? For presents or for publishing? Share your experiences or thoughts on it below!  

11 thoughts on “What Blurb is For

  1. mjspringett says:

    I agree with you on the reasons to use the Blurb. I use it mainly for one (or two) of a kind like the blog books. I like a record of my blogs and this allows me to keep a hard copy. thanks for your blog.

  2. Jon (Jerry) Laiche says:

    Hello Catherine,

    I’ve been following you now for some time have always found your posts very informative. You are truly a resource for writers. My wife always says there’s no such thing as coincidences. As I read your post about Blurb I couldn’t help but think that in the next few weeks I will be meeting with a regional letterpress owner see about having some “presentation” books printed up for my upcoming culinary history. And now, thanks to your Blurb posting, I have some ballpark figures to work with. I will definitely give Blurb a look see, but regardless of cost, since both are so expensive, I would prefer to throw the work to a local press and build up their portfolio and reputation. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to a long reading relationship with you.

  3. thekittchen says:

    This is very helpful. I am currently working on a cookbook which I am self publishing. I had been thinking of using Blurb, because I like their software that you use to design your layout. Do you think that other services will allow me to design a cookbook? I want to publish will full color photos. Any thoughts would be hugely helpful. Thanks!

  4. Linda Williams Stirling says:

    I’ve never heard of them before, but what a great idea! Like you, I’m thinking in terms of gifts. What a wonderful piece of lasting memorabilia you can create for your loved ones with this. Thanks so much for the heads up!

  5. Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) says:

    I recommend Blurb for very specific self-publishing authors
    – hardback photography books, cookbooks, even kids books that need that quality – anything photo heavy
    – and only for authors who will sell from THEIR OWN website, they have to have a platform – because you can link to the Blurb store – and people won’t find your book otherwise
    So for example, my brother is a photographer and his book is there – not a regular purchase for sure … but that’s when it is good.

    They also have a straight to iPad product which may be easier than iBooksAuthor for some … and I use it personally too 🙂

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I think the most important point there is that they already have a platform and are planning on mostly selling the books through their own website. And I forgot to mention their fixed format e-books, which of course is great for things like photography and recipe books, and as you mentioned, even children’s books.

      I just don’t see how the unit prices could work unless it’s something very special that people would be willing to pay above average prices for. But then I don’t want them to compromise on the quality of their product because I love them so much (and people never believe that you can just make a book of that quality online by yourself!)…!

  6. Topaz says:

    Nice post. I’ve never used Blurb before but now that I’ve discovered it I may be using it in the future for family gifts 😉

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