Blurb.com and why it’s got me excited

Matt Thomas: "Probably the best start-up business I've met this year."

One for the many high points of this week’s brilliant Future of Web Apps conference was meeting Eileen Gittins of blurb.com – probably the best start-up I’ve met this year.

blurb lets you publish your own books. You upload your photos, insert your text, choose your layouts from a series of templates, pick your paper size and the colours you want to use. They make the book for you and you get it in five days.

At this point you’re probably interested but have the reservations I did. It sounds expensive; what’s the minimum order? Is it on-the-shelf quality?

Prepare to be impressed: it’s not expensive. In fact, it’s damn reasonable. Minimum number of pages is 20; the quality (I flicked through six wonderful glossy, colour print, paper and hardback examples) is superb; minimum order is ONE book and it starts at $12.95 – let’s call it £6.50.

Now to me that’s stunning value, so how can they pull it off and make a profit? Well Eileen tells me in the traditional publishing model all the costs go on the lengthy production cycle and, for the very few with bestsellers, authors and their agents. For blurb, the buyer is the publisher (NB legally they’re responsible for copyright as well) so the only overheads, software and marketing aside, are print and distribution.

For the frustrated author who can’t find a publisher, blurb will also display your masterpiece for sale in its bookstore and send you the difference from the cost of print and the retail price you set. Eileen insists she’s already had authors with deals go independent with blurb because they can make a greater margin.

You just know blurb’s going to be massive. It’s empowering and revolutionary for authors; a handy tool for students and the self-employed; and a fabulous service for capturing all those precious occasions and memories such as weddings; graduations; new born babies, remembering loved ones and pets etc that you’ve only previously had a photo album for – or in recent years, disastrously unsatisfactory items such as mousemats and mugs.

I’ve seen lots of good ideas this week and I sincerely hope they all go on to become great businesses; but blurb’s a real business. It’s innovative but works on a simple business model, it’s cash generative, it’s got a phenomenally strong USP; it’s protected, well funded and like all really great ideas, it solves a problem.

Above all else, it was the simplest idea at FOWA, which says a lot and has to be encouraging to anyone thinking Web2 is just for techies. Check it out and let me know what you think below.

Matt Thomas, editor, startups.co.uk

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