Friday, January 08, 2016

Phase One

I uploaded a proof copy of my publication to Blurb yesterday.  The 30-page softcover in magazine format was put together with Blurb's BookWright application.  For free software, I thought BookWright was really pretty nice in that it lets you combine text and pictures easily and provides what looks to be a good approximation of what the published document will look like.  There were a few small glitches and bugs in the process, but it is clear from reading on line chatter about the program that it has undergone a very rapid period of development in which a large number of the complaints of users have been responded to.  My guess is that my own comments here are going to be dated very quickly.

The documentation for some features is a little sketchy, but most of that is taken care of by a bit of experience in using the program.  For instance, I had a little trouble discerning at first how to save my images in PhotoShop in a form that would be acceptable for printing.  Getting the images and text boxes lined up properly was a little challenging as there is no snap-to function and the grid display is not very helpful.  While there are a large number of fonts available, there is not a very good way of establishing a user-chosen default, and I found I had to keep checking to make sure the program was using the choice I preferred.  None of these issues was a deal breaker, however, and I think one is likely to face similar problems with about any software package of this type.

The question that remains unanswered for me is whether or not the Blurb final product is going to meet my expectations in regard to quality and cost.  I thought I might get some idea about those issues by looking at examples in the on line store where users' publications are shown.  It turns out however that somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% of the Blurb self-publishers don't seem to have a clue about making books.  Most of the photo book offerings lack any clear message and often seem to be rather randomly assembled collections of pictures, usually with no textual context.  Prices for hardcopy books very often exceed $100, which is way, way beyond what I would be willing to pay, even for something very well produced and by a known artist.

So, I am relying at this point mostly on my own experience and perceptions for evaluating the Blurb possibilities.  I decided to keep costs in check by selecting the better quality magazine format and limiting the page count.  I was pleased to see that I could produce a publication that presented some coherent ideas at a base cost of under ten bucks.  However, when I placed the order for my proof copy I was shocked to see that the shipping charge for that single issue was over six dollars.  That, for me, makes the total cost just barely acceptable.  As it turns out, you can get up to five issues of the publication shipped for the same amount, but I'm not sure that really offers me anything useful.

My impression at this point is that the most practical outcome of my Blurb efforts will be some kind of ebook, probably in pdf format.  That could be made available on line, and the production cost is neglibible.  I will probably put together a package of options including hardcover offerings, but my expectations at this point fall quite a bit short of the self-publishing hype that presently saturates the web.


Jim Grey said...

Your cover looks good. If this is representative of the capabilities of the software and your eyes, then I'm sure the book is going to look good inside, too.

One thing that has changed in software development over the last 10 years or so, enabled by Web delivery, is that software makers will deliberately deliver a product that isn't truly finished. What they deliver, they intend to function as designed (i.e., avoiding bugs) -- but it may be missing features, or features may not have all the details fleshed out. They let feedback from the marketplace determine what more to build in the software, and they iterate rapidly. I'm betting that's what the Blurb people are doing based on the experience you describe. There are schools of thought called "agile" and "lean" which have driven this change. When I started making software professionally 25 years ago, you always started with a detailed specification, then moved to a technical design, and then wrote the code, and you ended with a finished product. Problem was, that took a long time and you probably made some wrong assumptions about your market and your users. Agile/lean help deliver a minimum viable product to market much more quickly, and let you gain insight from the market that lets you rapidly deliver updates that flesh it out the rest of the way.

Mike said...

Thanks for providing some perspective on the software design issues. I think your comments make a lot of sense. It does seem like the Blurb strategy in this regard is paying off. They are focused on an app that does book design well without worrying about a lot of other possibilities. Microsoft, Apple and Adobe all have products that will produce books, but they also try to do a lot of other things as well. People who have some history with those big packages have invested time and money into them and may use them to good effect, but Blurb is able to offer a competitive option for free that accomplishes perhaps 90% of what the big boys are offering in the target domain of hardcopy self-publishing.