Exploding books I: Everybody’s an author

I spoke yesterday with Eileen Gittins, founder of Blurb, a company that enables anyone to design and produce beautifully done books using software that makes your genius look good and that soon will be able to “slurp” blog posts and turn them into books.

Note that Blurb is not yet like Lulu, which is more about enabling authors to go around the publishing industry to create and sell books directly, a holy quest itself. Blurb is starting as more of a populist venture, bringing out the author in everyone. And that’s what makes it interesting. Blogger, to pick one, made everybody a writer; Flickr, everybody a photographer; GarageBand, everybody a radio star; iMovie, everybody a director. Becoming the author or publisher of a book, though, is harder because books are made of that damned, pesky paper. Atoms are hard.

So Blurb came along with software that lets you easily take your words or photos and put them in templates and then get them printed and shipped. It has been up and running since the spring and Gittins says they have produced about 1,000 titles so far.

What’s interesting about this is that people respect and revere the book — a good sign for the book business — and want their own. Now they can get them. None of these people is trying to get a bestseller; Blurb has yet to add its sales mechanism. They just want a book. And once enabled to publish them, it’s telling to see what they do create. A bigger part of the business than Gittins had guessed comes from businesses — photographers and architects producing slicker portfolios. A finance guy used Blurb to produce a business proposal, reasoning that we are so averse to throwing out books in this culture that it will stay on the shelf longer than a Kinko’s spiral thingie. Not surprisingly, there are recipe books. They’re doing a deal with a sport that lets you intersperse your own content with the pros (e.g., New York Yankees and Pleasantville Yankees: A World Series Year). I asked whether they had seen obituary books, tributes to lost loved ones (having worked in newspapers, I came to learn the power of the obit). No, she said, but they are seeing a fair number of printed tributes to dead pets. Oh, well.

Gittins also said — and I’ll pat her on the back for this — that the books also live online so they can be searched and found and even tagged. One of the complaints I have about the publishing industry’s Googlephobia is that they are cutting off their authors and their ideas and knowledge from the world by refusing to make books searchable. And because the books are printed on demand, by the way, they can be updated and corrected and need not be freeze-dried or die.

Next up is the blog slurper (with other slurpers after that). It will take your blog, grab the content, and let you edit it, publishing it as is (see Tony Pierce’s blook). I can also see using the blog as a writing and publishing tool for the express purpose of ending up with a book (something I’m thinking about doing with a book on books). And of course, see Tom Evslin’s Hackoff.com, written as both a blog and a book.

All this liquifies the book, changing the form and the access to it.