Musings on Photography


Posted in books by Paul Butzi on June 10, 2007

Oplopanax horridus - “Devil’s Club”

One of the more interesting opportunities to come along recently in the photographic world is the advent of ‘do it yourself’ books.

There are a whole slew of print-on-demand book publishers on the WWW now, including ,, and a host of others.  The deal is this: you put together a book.  The print on demand publisher has a machine into which the data representing your book, along with paper, toner, etc. are fed; out the other end, out pops a book.  Unlike conventional book printing, books can be printed in onesies, and the general rule is that when your customer orders the book, the publisher prints it and ships it to them.  Every outfit has different pricing models, different capabilities, and offers different tools, so it’s wise to check around.

I’ve handled several photo books done on; the results range from quite good to not really very good.  Frustratingly, the results vary from order to order, because the way apparently works is that they sub-contract the printing out to a variety of print shops (and the orders fill the dead time the print shop would otherwise experience).  Since which exact print shop will print your next order varies., it’s very hard to know exactly what sort of color balance, etc. you’re going to get.  Process control is not very tight.  In general, this seems to be the issue doing photo books this way.  Because no process controls are given, there’s no way to know exactly what you (or your customer) are going to get.

Process control issues aside, though, it seems like a great deal.  Through, you can format your book to your heart’s content, upload it to their server as a PDF file, and not only will they help you get an ISBN, barcode, etc. but they’ll actually make an entry for the book on, and customers all over the world can order it directly through Amazon.  Sweet.

Right now, this technology is where inkjet printing was five years ago – wicked metamerism, no color management, no process control, and results all over the map.  In time, though, all that stuff will be brought under control, and photographers will be cranking out books ranging from little books of personal projects all the way through 50 year retrospectives.

4 Responses

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  1. […] Paul Butzi looks at and its brethren print-on-demand websites from the point-of-view of a photographer who wants to publish his own book: […]

  2. chuck kimmerle said, on June 11, 2007 at 6:27 am

    I’m not sure you were correct when you wrote that farms out their book printing to third-party printing companies. My understanding was that they use Xerox iGen digital printer. (I guess they could farm the work out to OTHER printers using that same printer…so maybe I am wrong)

    My recommendation though, for photo book printing, is to use a company that prints on a liquid-toner printer such as the HP Indigo, which gives more vibrant color reproduction that does the iGen’s dry-toner process. Those publishers included Apple iBooks, Snapfish, MyPublisher, and Blurb. The latter of which I am currently evaluating for use at work.

  3. Rosie Perera said, on June 11, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    I am looking forward to the day when I can easily self-publish a book of photos and writing. I downloaded and played with MyPublisher a bit, but found it didn’t give me enough control over the page layout. You basically have a couple of templates you can choose from for each page and the cover, and that’s it.

    A photographer friend of mine has done some awesome books with Apple iBooks. I’ve only seen the results — very impressive — but I can’t comment on how flexible or easy to use the software is. Some examples of work he’s done are here, under Albums. Those ones are photos only, but I’ve also seen one he did with text (not on his site), so I presume the software gives you quite a bit of control.

  4. […] Butzi write an interesting article about making books. Since one is able to self-publish, it’s a small matter to get book […]

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