Musings on Photography

Print/Online

Posted in book design, books, web issues by Paul Butzi on September 17, 2009

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Ooof.

I’ve spent quite a few days fiddling with online versions of things I’ve put together to make into printed books. I started out thinking that, if I just made a few tweaks, I could use the same ‘document’ for both print and online. Sadly, that doesn’t really work.

So I went to producing two versions, which were visually very similar but tweaked in a variety of ways, one for print, one for online. The differences were things like moving copyright information to the back for online version, changing print shape between the two, and so on. Sadly, that didn’t work, either. Close, but not working.

I got quite a bit of feedback on various versions from various people.

None of my fiddling addressed the real, fundamental problem I was having. That fundamental problem is that looking at a photograph printed on paper, and looking at a photograph displayed on a computer screen are just plain different. A photo printed on a sheet of white paper, with a nice white surround from a generous margin – looks great.

But when you take that same layout, and display it on a screen, it looks icky. I thought so. The folks I asked for feedback also thought so. It was universal.

So today, I pretty much abandoned the ‘I have the same thing for print and online’ approach.

The good news is that, freed from that constraint, I think I’ve been moving pretty rapidly toward a design I like for online. Online is complicated, though. Folks can look at your PDF with different viewers, either embedded in a browser or standalone. They can view it in a window, amongst all the clutter of their other open windows, or they can view it full screen.

Things I’ve noticed – dark backgrounds work well. Unlike print, where you want a generous margin of paper around the image, on the screen (and particularly full screen) you don’t need that margin, and it’s better to get the image larger. On the screen, the best page shape is not square, because the screen is not square. And on a screen, it feels to me like the viewer needs more help from the visual design in terms of typography and subtle design cues to help the page make sense. And lastly, just as setting a photo in the middle of a bright white page doesn’t work well on the screen, white text on a black background works ok for small amounts of text but not for a full page of text.

Progress of a sort.

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More on books, portfolios, and the web

Posted in Adobe InDesign, book design, books, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on August 20, 2009

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Today I got a little bit further along on my quest to have a template that will help me generate paper books and online PDF portfolios/books.

This afternoon, I used to template to crank out a 24 image portfolio. That’s about as big as I’d want to go without giving more thought to structure than it currently has – right now it’s just a test job, with 24 photos from this years SoFoBoMo effort thrown in to see how it worked.

The differences between print and online versions, and between portfolios and books are slowly starting to become more clear as I go through the process of making things and am forced to actually confront actual problems and make concrete choices.

For instance, it seems to me that a portfolio is a much simpler structure – you don’t need quite as much front matter to a portfolio as you do for a book. Some of that structure – bastard title page, frontispiece, and half title page – might make sense only for books, and not so much for a portfolio. I can see a preface or forward for both books and portfolios, I guess.

The paper version/online version differences are growing more clear, too. If you’re generating a PDF for online viewing, you have different resolution needs, and you probably optimize the PDF differently. Those are hidden technical PDFy things. Beyond those, the on the ground experience of viewing a PDF online means that you’ll probably treat things like blank pages and spreads differently in online and print versions. Beyond that there are a host of issues which are basically traditions in the print world which might make no sense in the online world – the practice of having bastard title pages at the front (which was used to make it easy to identify unbound books) is a good example. Another example would be the idea of combining the frontispiece and title page to fill both functions (display an image, provide title, subtitle, author, publisher info) with just one page that also serves as a sort of cover for the portfolio as well. So an online version might have the cover, frontispiece, and title page collapsed into the first page, the second page would be the copyright page (or maybe move that to the end), followed by a preface/foreward/dedication/acknowledgements and then the body and back matter

I’ve also been going through my books on book design again. When I first went through all that study for SoFoboM 2008, I got headaches trying to learn book design. This time around it seems to all be making sense. The challenge is in taking hundreds of years of tradition and figuring out which bits are useful in an online context, and which are not. It isn’t always clear up front what parts the baby and what parts are the bathwater. As a general thing, I’m finding that if I’m not sure, better to leave it in until I figure out why publishers have been putting it in books for hundreds of years. My working presumption is that the people making books in the past were smart clever folk and not clueless idiots.

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Blurb PDF upload

Posted in book design, books, digital printing, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on August 16, 2009

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Today’s goal was to take one of my two SoFoBoMo 2009 books and do the work needed to generate a PDF I could upload to Blurb, to get an actual printed copy using Blurb’s recently announced/introduced PDF to Book service.

Blurb provides InDesign templates that you can download, and I did indeed download them. There’s not really much to the templates (in my current understanding) than the right page size, bleed settings, and margins, along with some simple instructions created on a separate non-printing layer in the template.

I took the path of setting the page size and bleed to match the Blurb template for the book content. I’ve discovered InDesign’s Layout Adjustment controls, which make it much simpler to adjust page size and still have all your photos, text frames, and so on stay aligned horizontally and vertically on the new pages. I was making just small tweaks to the page size, so I didn’t resize the content of the book, just let the page size change adjust the white border on each page.

The Blurb PDF->book service requires you to upload one PDF for the book content, and one PDF for the cover. So one of my first acts was to take the cover out of the ‘content’ pdf version, and create a new ‘cover’ InDesign file. I started the cover from the Blurb provided soft-cover cover template. It took me a bit of puzzling to figure out how to get stuff aligned properly on the cover – my InDesign skills could use some improvement.

But, after a couple of hours of fiddling, I had PDF’s for the cover and content that I was ready to upload to Blurb. I went to the website and used the ‘make a book from your PDF’ process they have there to upload the two files. It worked fine – nice and slick. You upload the files, they run some pre-flight checks, and you can either watch the pre-flight process run, or you can go away. Either way, you get an email telling you the files uploaded ok, and then another email with the results of the preflight check.

First time through, BOTH my files failed the preflight. The feedback they give on why your files failed seemed pretty detailed – mine both failed because the page size was wrong, and the feedback tells you what size your page is in the PDF you uploaded, and what size they expected.

I solved the content problem pretty quickly – somehow I’d managed to mangle the bleed settings when I did my last check before I generated the PDF to upload – I realized you needed the ‘inside’ bleed set to zero, but when I set it to zero, I didn’t ‘unlock’ the settings, so I set the bleed to zero for all edges. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense – if you get to this stage with your own file, and look at the dialog, it will all make sense. Anyway, once I’d found that, I generated a new PDF and figured I’d upload it and see if that fixed the problem.

Here’s the one hitch I found in the otherwise excellent website upload process Blurb has put together – I wanted to upload just the one PDF file and have it pre-flighted again, but to replace one of the two PDF files you need to go through the whole process again, typing in the title, author, specifying the size and paper and cover type, and uploading both files. That’s a bit of a hassle, and it doesn’t seem like it should be too hard for Blurb to fix, so I expect that to change in the future as they get feedback.

My new ‘content’ PDF passed the preflight, but of course I’d just uploaded the same old cover PDF again, so that failed.

The softcover PDF generation is a bit tricky, because the width of the page is dependent on how many pages you have in the book (because that tells you the width of the spine). I spent a disgusting amount of time banging around on the Blurb website before I stumbled upon the ‘book calculator’ that tells you what size the cover should be, but eventually, I found it, calculated the new size, and adjusted my cover in InDesign. Uploaded the new PDF and it still failed the preflight. I still had the width wrong.

This time around, I adjusted the size of the design in InDesign based on what the preflight said it wanted. Again, it turned out I’d somehow screwed up the bleed settings. After adjusting the page width, I had to go and adjust the columns on the cover layout, and then adjust the alignment of the stuff on the cover. Fortunately, I have a really simple cover design and was a bit more clever about centering things this time.

The PDF I got from that go ’round passed the preflight check with flying colors.

I went and ordered a copy. We’ll see how it turns out when the book arrives. I was amazed that 2nd day deliver was some piddling amount (like 30 cents) more than regular delivery, so I paid extra for second day delivery. Now I remember that the last time I ordered from Blurb it was shipped from a spot less than 15 miles away from my home, so perhaps I’ve wasted 30 cents. Oh, well.

UPDATE:

One thing I forgot to mention is that in addition to the InDesign templates for both the content and cover, Blurb provides a really super useful thing – an EXPORT preset file. You fire up InDesign, go to the PDF preset stuff, import this file, and it adds a PDF preset which makes InDesign emit exactly the variety of PDF that Blurb expects. I downloaded this preset file along with the templates, read the instructions, realized I needed to use this preset thingie, and Voila! I had an easy way to generate the PDFs in exactly the right flavor, color, charm, spin, charge, format, PDF variant, sub-variant, options, and religious denomination that Blurb wants and expects.

This preset file is the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, the dog’s bark, and the full nine yards, all rolled into one. I did not spend more than 30 seconds messing about with the PDF export dialog and its many rooms, crevices, buttons, check boxes, drop-downs, etc. and apparently I got the right variety of PDF right out of the gate. Yowza.

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Beyond SoFoBoMo

Posted in art is a verb, books, process, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on August 8, 2009

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The idea for SoFoBoMo was shamelessly stolen from NaNoWriMo. As we work out plans for SoFoBoMo 2010 and beyond, we’re continuing to look to the clever and creative folks at the Office of Letters and Light (the non-profit that was formed for NaNoWriMo).

One interesting thing they’ve done is to have a laptop loaner program, which lends laptops to folks who can’t afford them. I guess the analog for SoFoBoMo would be a camera/laptop loaner program. That’s out of our reach for right now.

They’ve also got spin-off events, like Script Frenzy (“30 days. 100 pages. April. Are you in?”) in which participants write a script or screenplay in one month. That sounds so cool, I might give it a shot next April.

But all that’s got me thinking about what might lie beyond SoFoBoMo. I’m not talking about ending SoFoBoMo, I’m talking about what *else* we might do. We’re a long way from being ready to try to do more than SoFoBoMo. But it’s never to early to ponder, and so that’s what I’ve been doing.

Here are a couple of ideas:

The Brandenburg Challenge

This is inspired by Jim Brandenburg’s amazing book Chased by the Light. You’ve got three months. Create a PDF book containing one image made each day in that period. The catch: you must make EXACTLY one exposure per day. That means that you get up each morning, and during the day, you let the shutter go exactly one time. The image you get is the image that goes in the book. No retakes. No bracketing. No skipping days.

Like SoFoBoMo, this is a challenge that scales according to your expectation. It could be trivially easy. It could be monstrously difficult. It all depends on your expectations of what your book will be like.

The Long Look

One of the things people say when they dismiss SoFoBoMo is that it’s not possible to do a good book in a month.

I don’t agree with that view (just look at how many outstanding books there are), but they do have a point: the one month time limit constrains what you can do. SoFoBoMo is an exercise in focus – it takes focus to make the photos, lay out the book, and get it all done in a month.

So the Long Look is the opposite challenge. It’s not about compressed time frames, deadlines as motivation, or brief but laser intensity.

The challenge: you’ve got ten years. Do a book with photographs made, at least one per month, on a single subject. Examples: one photo per month of ten years of your child’s life. One photo per month, taken from your front door. One photo per month, taken at the same street corner and aiming the camera the same way. One photo per month of everyone in your family all together.

My first blush reaction was “Oh, that’s easy”. My second reaction to this idea was “oh, crikey, that’s hard.”

It’s all about discipline over a decade. It will probably span multiple cameras. If you do it with film, what are you going to do if film goes away during the decade? If you do it digitally, you’re propagating the project across changes in computers, software, cameras. And those are just the technical challenges.

If SoFoBoMo is a sprint, this is running a marathon.

PDF to Blurb

Posted in book design, books, digital printing, Print On Demand, software, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on June 24, 2009

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Sure, in the past you could load your PDF into Photoshop, crank out jpgs for each page, and then load those jpgs full bleed onto pages in Booksmart, and get a book printed on Blurb that way. I’ve done it – I did it with my SoFoBoMo book last year. It works. I had trouble with loading the jpgs, and had to drag the individual page images into Booksmart one by one, and my hands hurt for two days.

But this looks more interesting. I haven’t even read everything, but it claims to be a way to generate your PDF, and then pass it directly off to Blurb for printing.

I’ll be trying it. If you try it, let me know how it works.

PDF Books

Posted in book design, books, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on March 25, 2009

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Gordon McGregor has been thinking up a storm about PDF’s and books, and the advantages of PDF’s over physical books.

Go to his blog and read this post and then scroll back through the posts for a bit. Pretty interesting stuff, huh?

I have some thoughts, too – rather less well organized than Gordon’s are. I will, with a small apology, just sort of leap in.

I like our Kindle 2. I’ve read full length novels on it, and although I’d like the display contrast to be a bit higher, and I think there are improvements possible, I’m pretty impressed with the actual user experience of reading a book on the thing.

Part of what impresses me is the Kindle’s “bookness”. The Kindle does not pretend to be an all purpose computing device (well, maybe just an eensy bit). But because it behaves in a very book-ish way, my interactions with it play heavily on my expectations of how a book behaves. With the Kindle, I can turn pages, back and forth. I can write on the pages. I can place bookmarks. These are all things I do with books (yes, I’ve been known to write in my books. Sue me.)

So my Kindle gets to play on a whole host of behaviors that I’ve acquired in some 45 years of reading books. I’m sure there are things I do that I don’t even realize I do – books are just a part of my world, and I really can’t remember a time when they weren’t. I know books in the same way Thoreau was determined to know beans. I (and most other people) know books so well it’s hard for me to even articulate the understanding. I can, for instance, often remember about how far through a book a certain passage occurs, and I can often remember whether it falls on the left hand page or the right, at the top of the page, in the middle, or the bottom. That’s an adaptive behavior that I rely on heavily when I search a book for that passage. (and it doesn’t work on the Kindle, damn it).

I know there are things which are technically possible which the Kindle doesn’t do well. That’s ok. It’s not necessary to re-invent the book from whole cloth. We have a nice model of how books should behave, and although it’s highly dependent on a particular technology (paper, bound on one edge, printed on both sides, etc.) both the modern book and the modern literate human have sort of co-evolved over time to a point where things are pretty optimized.

One of the things I notice is that when a new technology comes around (for example, computer typesetting) the newcomers to the business (in this example, the smart folks writing typesetting software) are prone to assume that the way things are currently done is just a byproduct of the technology used. And they’re smart folks, they reason, so why not take the chance to “improve” things a bit. So they don’t bother learning about the 500+ years of accumulated wisdom about setting type. They just wing it. How hard can it be to plop the characters on the page, after all? You just stuff the words onto the line until it’s full, and then you start a new line.

And so we got typesetting software that did a dreadful job. Rivers. Widows, Orphans. All sorts of horrid stuff. And slowly, the world of computer typesetting came to realize that maybe, just maybe, those old guys who set that lead type might have figured a thing or two out in the 500 odd years moveable type had been in use. Amazing, I know. If those old guys were so smart, how come they didn’t have computers?

Same thing with houses. Architects are always coming up with the house of the future, and it has little to do with a right rectangular structure with a peaked roof on it. And somehow, despite all this innovation in the architectural world, people go right on building rectangular houses with peaked roofs, and the secret is this: a rectangular house with a peaked roof is a *really good solution* to the “how shall we build a house” question.

Same thing, I suspect, with the design of book-like things. We’ve had books for a long time. We’ve tried scrolls, and we’ve tried various sorts of bindings, and we’ve tried a lot of different things. And we’ve come to a point where books (at least in the left to right world) are usually bound on the left edge, and the pages turn from right to left, and the text starts at the top and runs down each page. Such a book is the rectangular house of the book world. It is ubiquitous for the simple reason that it almost always works as nearly as well as the perfect solution, and in most cases it’s superior to any other solution. Not always, but often enough that before we go to make a book that does something different, we should probably think really hard about why we’re doing that.

PDF’s (and Kindles) are like books in a lot of important ways. They have a heritage of bookness. We can turn to physical books with paper pages for a lot of clues about what is going to work well, and what isn’t.

So I read Gordon’s enthusiasm for the potential of PDF book-like things, and I am excited. And at the same time, I cringe when I realize that the photographic world is soon going to be inundated with things which are like the letters and flyers and documents we got when everyone first got their hands on a computer with word-processing software. We had 180 fonts in 17 different sizes, and by God, we were going to use all of them on every single page or die trying. And the result was, um, sub-optimal.

So I wonder how you tread the safe path between stodgy avoiding of innovation, and using all the fonts and all the sizes.

Blurb B3

Posted in book design, books by Paul Butzi on December 11, 2008

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Yesterday I had lunch and a print review with my friend Alex. Good stuff, as always.

Of particular interest was Alex’s copy of a book he’d done using Blurb’s new/upcoming B3 service. The book was really impressive – monochrome images that were VERY neutral, unlike every other monochrome POD book I’ve seen.

The key is that for books done using the B3 service, Blurb is using a color managed workflow. You can download an ICC profile to soft proof the images, and that’s what you’ll get. The only defect Alex mentioned is that although all the pages are done using a color managed printer, the cover is not (at least, not yet).

Anyway, I was impressed mightily, not only by Alex’s great photos but also by the really high quality of the Blurb book – printing, binding, and so on.

It turns out the B3 service is currently a ‘by invitation only’ thing. I’ve gone to blurb.com and applied. If they accept my gracious petition, I’ll be making a larger format (13″ x 11″) copy of my SoFoBoMo book.

Books

Posted in books by Paul Butzi on July 1, 2008

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I’ve spent time with two photo books recently, and as it happens, those two books have reinforced my notion of photography as a way of figuring things out.

The first book is Fred Herzog’s excellent book of Fred Herzog Vancouver Photography. Mmm, nice. I got the tip at Mike Johnstons TOP, and on the strength of Mike’s recommendation and what I could see of Herzog’s stuff at Amazon.ca, I ordered up a copy for myself. It was worth it. It’s not street photography. It’s not urban landscape. It’s an ongoing portrait of the city of Vancouver, done over a long period of time and with great understanding. It’s photographs made as the photographer went on long, meandering walks after work and on weekends.

The photography, done in color, was done when color wasn’t fine art. So this art wasn’t done, I think, as part of some deliberate scheme to get recognized in the art world. Instead it has a very personal feel. I could write more, but it’s all my subjective impressions and probably not worth the time to write it, let alone your time to read it.

But if you’ve often looked at street photography or urban landscape photography and felt like the photographer was getting at things but something was missing, then this might well be the book for you. To me it very much seems like photographs done by Herzog primarily to come to grips with the place he was living.

The second book, quite different in both form and content from that one, is Kyle Cassidy’s Armed America – Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes. What got me to take the time to order this book from the library and give it several thorough viewings was getting somehow to Cassidy’s website for the book. And in turn, what caught my eye once I was there was going through some of the interviews with Cassidy about his experiences making the photographs. (this one, for instance)

And in turn, what caught my attention was that I got a very strong impression that Cassidy had, by and large, been very successful at tackling a very fraught subject without pursuing an agenda. His focus was, by and large, on making photographs of people who owned guns, and not on making statements about those people. He just lined up the times with these people, and photographed them in their homes, and let the photographs speak for themselves.

As Cassidy puts it in the book

Whether it’s 39% or 50% of Americans, it’s still an awful lot of people. I stared wondering just who they were, what they looked like, and how they lived. And there, somewhere between the main course and desert[sic], was the genesis of this project. When I first started, I was photographing people in my studio with very careful attention to lighting and detail. After a few months of intermittent work, I had a series of really nicely lit shots that all looked the same and, ultimately, left us none the wiser about why so many people had so many guns. I knew I was no closer to my goal and that if I really wanted anything substantial I’d have to start over.

Few things tell our stories as quickly and succinctly as our homes – our living spaces, our books, our movies, our pets, and our teapot collections. The things that we surround ourselves with and the way we place them are reflections of our inner selves and a window into our truth. It dawned on my that what I really needed was to photograph people in their homes.

I made two decisions early on: First I would photograph anyone who was willing, owned a gun, and whom I could physically get to: I didn’t want the temptation of starting to cherry pick people for their opinions or because they had some huge gun collection. Secondly, I decided I wouldn’t threat these subjects any differently than I would if I were photographing portraits of lottery winners – I didn’t want to rely on the crutch of controversy to prop my images up. I wanted a good portrait first.

The photos are, perhaps, not high art, although they’re all more than competent and all interesting. But the result is a book that, although it’s treating a topic that is extremely charged politically, has drawn reviews which say things like

” … highly political, even polemical. The question is, in which direction? Each picture in Armed America could be a pro-gun advertisement — or an anti-gun poster. That’s what makes the book so riveting.”

— Alan Cooperman
The Washington Post
7/29/2007

That review, in fact, was one of the things that drove my interest in the book. Here’s an approach, I thought, to making progress in understanding a subject that’s hard to tackle otherwise because it’s so hard to discuss without triggering people’s agenda driven reactions. It’s a way to do an end run around the hurdles that our preconceptions throw up in our way.

Books

Posted in books, Print On Demand, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on May 28, 2008

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This morning, being reminded by both Colin Jago at photostream and Mike Johnston at TOP, I headed off to Amazon to order up a copy of the Steidl version of Robert Frank’s The Americans. While there, I noticed that ALL of the recommendations that Mike had made in his post were listed in the “people who bought this also bought these” doogus that Amazon gives you.

And, because I was operating at 6am with very little sleep, this struck me as somewhat funny, so I fired off an email to Mike, telling him of his great influence. Almost right away I got a thoughtful reply from Mike, who expressed concern that there were no equivalent books to the ones he’d recommended being done today. Now, I will be the first to admit that I’m not a big photo book collector and that I’m not up to date on who’s currently producing work that is as iconoclastic as Mikes recommendations (‘iconoclastic’ is the word Mike used). The ubiquitous ‘they’ could be cranking out such books by the super-tanker load and I could believe I was simply unaware of that fact.

In any case, I think that what’s happening is that the world of photo books is on the cusp of a big upheaval. The easy availability of POD publishing, the rapidity of improvement in the quality of reproduction in POD, and the easier availability of the software and the skills to do book layout are going to be the game changers in the photo book world.

Let me draw an analogy to the music world. Before, there were the record label companies. They controlled physical distribution and had the connections to do promotion, and if you were a musician, they pretty much had a lock on whether you could get your music recorded and distributed. And then along came the internet, and personal computers, and iPods, and all of a sudden the record labels have been left standing there wondering what hit them. They thought they were in the business of selling round pieces of plastic with holes in the middle, and someone came along and pulled the rug out from under them.

And now we have musicians like Jonathon Coulton (see http://www.jonathancoulton.com/), who looks like he’s built his own musical career, doing the distribution over the internet, and cutting the record label out of the deal. And he’s not the only one. In a world where anyone with a personal computer and some relatively inexpensive equipment can record their own album, and anyone who can put up a web site can distribute said music, the game is quite a bit different. There are a lot more musicians out there doing a lot more music. I think in the end that’s a good thing.

In the same way, SoFoBoMo demonstrates that it’s perfectly possible for people to put together their own books. Lots of SoFoBoMo participants are taking their finished PDF books to the next level and getting them printed through POD. I’m hoping to add some of those books to my book collection.

So I’m hoping for a renaissance in the photo book world, and it won’t come from the usual photo book publishers. Oh, I think that the super high quality publishing houses that currently do photo books will come out just fine, because they occupy a niche in the book market that will be hard to penetrate through POD for a while yet. But the edgy, iconoclastic stuff that Mike Johnston misses, as well as the quieter stuff that can’t get the attention of the publishers – that stuff is going to get done, but not by mainstream presses. It’ll get done by the photographers themselves. I think that in the end, thats a good thing, too.

Herewith the obligatory Shakespeare, relevant to the discussion:

Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Blurb results

Posted in book design, books, Print On Demand by Paul Butzi on May 14, 2008

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I got my Blurb proof book back yesterday afternoon. For those who haven’t been following along, that means that I ordered the book on Friday, May 9. The book shipped on Monday, May 12. I received the book on Tuesday, May 13. It’s difficult to imagine how turnaround could be much improved. I will point out, however, that the book only had to travel about 15 miles to get to my home.

On the whole the book looks pretty good. It looks good enough, in fact, that it took about an hour for the ‘Wow. This is a book. It has my words in it! It has my photos in it! I made this! And it’s a BOOK!” to wear off and for me to start to notice problems.

The first problem is that Blurb adds a barcode block to the back cover of the book. Actually, they say that they do that sometimes, and don’t do it sometimes. So you can’t really know. This barcode area is a white patch, about .5″ x 2.25″, with the little barcode in it. Annoyingly, this barcode patch is positioned so that it runs into the text “A SoFoBoMo 2008 Book” on the back cover of my book.

Now, if I had known about about the barcode in advance, I’d not be so damn annoyed. But in fact Blurb’s famous BookSmart software doesn’t warn you. I don’t recall being warned about this barcode at all. I had to go searching for barcode stuff on Blurb’s help system to find out about it. Even more annoying, the help page on the bar code stuff indicates a position on the back cover, and if the bar code patch were actually located in that spot, I’d have no damn overlap. Fooey. Bad Blurb. No biscuit.

That’s the really bad news.

Next issue: because I really didn’t understand about trimming, the page numbers are set a bit closer to the actual edge of the physical page than I expected. That’s my bad. I realized my error after submitting the order.

Next issue: book size. I picked the size that the BookSmart software listed as “8×10 inches, 20x25cm”. The actual measured size of the book is 8 inches (20.3cm) by 9.5″ (24.1cm). Maybe this is a matter of expectation. I had rather imagined that when they said 8×10 inches/20×25 cm, the book would be trimmed to that size. Or at least closer than this. It’s not a big issue, although if you’re critical about margin widths, it would be nice to know what size they were actually going to make.

Finally, print quality. I don’t have anything, really, to compare against. It seems pretty good, although there are some photos where the print quality, especially in larger areas that are smooth tone, seems a bit grainy. But not too bad, really. The rendering of detail meets my (admittedly modest) expectations.. The color looks pretty good – I prepped all my images in sRGB space. I didn’t soft-proof against the available Blurb profile, but all of the images in my book fit into a modest gamut so a) this book looks about as I expected, and b) it’s probably not a rigorous test. Highlights and shadow detail came out matching my calibrated screen closely enough that to see how big the difference is, I’ll have to go through the images one by one on screen with the book in my hand. I don’t see an obvious color cast or anything like that.

Overall, I’m pleased. The reward of getting that “Wow. It’s a book!” moment far outweighs the defects in the physical book (largely a matter of expectation management) and is plenty rich enough to make it worth going thru the headbanging to get a book printed. I really can’t overstate the head rush I got from opening up that package and taking out the book that read “A Good Walk/Paul Butzi” on the front cover.

I know that POD is, in the parlance of A Princess Bride, a Fire Swamp with Lightning Sand infested with Rodents of Unusual Size. But if you have managed to crank out a SoFoBoMo book, you should at least take a look at using some POD publisher to produce a physical book. It’s more rewarding that I expected, and I had pretty high expectations.

And besides – the Fire Swamp bits make a popping noise, so you can avoid those. And after reading my blog posts, you’ll know what the Lightning Sand looks like, so you can avoid that, too. As for the Rodents of Unusual Size – I don’t think they exist.