The Evolution of Blurb: Adding Distribution and Experts

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

Over the past two years, Blurb has transitioned from small-scale custom publishing to a high-end, full service self-publishing operation.

Blurb Direct Sell

By Edward Nawotka

Over the past two years, Blurb has been rapidly expanding its platform, adding features that make it a seriously competitive self-publishing platform rather than, as previously, primarily an outlet for illustrated books. Why now? “The infrastructure wasn’t there in 2006,” says CEO Eileen Gittins (profiled here). “This isn’t a change in strategy, but the infrastructure wasn’t there.”

Last year the company added Bookwright, which is a propriety self-publishing production platform. But unlike many other competitors, the tool assumes that authors are going to want to put books into both digital and print formats. “You click a radio button, and then you choose your options and it will output both ebook and print-ready files” said Gittins. “We thought so many people would go digital first, but we found that invariably people would also want print copies — perhaps to put into indie bookstores on consignment sometimes. For lots of reasons, we have found even if you’re making a digital book as your principle medium, there was this demand. We needed a tool to make it completely brain dead so you didn’t have to choose.”

Warehousing and Distribution

Next came the issue of tackling warehousing and distribution services for its authors. “We see a lot of books that are crowdsourced and crowdfunded coming to us,” said Gittins, “but if you’re living in a Brooklyn walk-up and you need to promise 4,000 books to your supporters, you can’t store them, ship them, etc…so we launched our Agile Fulfillment Program (AFP). We are charging 35 cents per unit for six months for warehousing, pick-n-pack, fulfillment, provided you have 101 units to start. Part of the service is alerting you when your inventory is running low.”In addition, notes Gittins, “We are practical people and know that people want to make their books available on Amazon. So we then introduced our Blurb-to-Amazon Direct program, which is principally for illustrated books. These are the types of books we have seen for years from us: photo books, design books, children’s books, etc. […] We can do POD or else print them in volume, warehouse them and fulfill them.”

Personal storefronts are a popular feature on Amazon and elsewhere, and so Blurb is also hosting similar services for those authors who want to sell direct. “We believe that the future of books is to intercept people where they frequent based on their areas, interests or passions,” said Gittins. “We should bring the book to you where you already are as much as we can. That is still very much top of mind for Blurb. So we are enhancing our personal storefronts to enable affiliate programs before the end of this calendar year.”Now what about the rest of the world? “We knew people wanted their books to be available in bookstores. Often there are online bookstores and other bookstores in addition to Amazon, so we are no available as part of the Ingram worldwide catalog — which goes to 39,000 buyers around the globe. That allows the book to be stocked everywhere someone might want them to be.”

Building Your Own “Dream Team”

The latest service Blurb plans to offer — launching November 7 — is the Dream Team feature, which will connect would-be authors with publishing professionals who can provide services from developmental editing to cover design. “Over the years, we have had requests from many people for recommendations of people to work with,” said Gittins. “We know that the people who are successfully self-publishing are putting together their own Dream Teams of people to work with. You can go to Odesk, Elance, Guru and get 5,000 answers to requests for a copy editor, but that’s not a recommendation. So we wanted to curate a list based on criteria that we wanted to hit — they had to be professional, experienced and vetted.”

Blurb enlisted the help of industry stalwarts Richard Nash, most recently of Byliner and Small Demons, and Molly Barton, former international digital director for Penguin, to recruit service providers. What’s more: Blurb offers the matchmaking for free:

“We had research shared with us that demonstrated that people don’t get help with their book, their completion rate is 10% —  within a year’s time of starting the project. When you hired one person the completion rate went up to 30%, and when you hired two it went up to 90%,” said Gittins. “That motivational community will drive completion. That was an important insight for us. So unlike some of these companies that try to offer these services as a high priced package or else take 25% as a finders fee, we don’t. Why? Because we are motivated to drive through a completed and better quality title. Blurb wins when titles get completed and more units are sold. We realized we are in complete alignment here. So we are not taking any piece of the transaction fees.”

At launch, there will be 50 people in the program who have been vetted on certain criteria. There will be copyeditors, developmental editors, art directors, illustrators, cover designers, photography, as well as ebook conversion experts, and even ghost writers.

“One of the things we wanted was some geographic distribution, so people can meet face to face if they want,” said Gittens. The spread of service providers is international, with people available to work in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and in the EU. “You will see the person, photo a description of their specialty, and some links that are publicly available. We asked all these people for references. Blurb will introduce you after you make a request. After that is done, the connection is direct. We don’t see trying to make revenue on this, since we expect that if you worked with someone you will go directly back to them for the next one if you want — the revenue would be a leaky boat. We didn’t want to build a leaky boat.”

The article was amended to reflect the change of the launch date of the Dream Team service from October 31 to November 7. 

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.