Sunday, November 20, 2005

making books part two

I’ve learned much since my last entry on making books. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and very disappointed. I’ve had to readjust my thinking on what’s possible and reconfigure my plans for how I would make any books I create available for sale.

First the good news: The iPhoto iBook medium paperback looks really good. I would have no problem with selling these books as a representation of my work if the printing consistently looks like the copy I received. But I’ve only seen the one copy and I don’t know if the quality is consistent. What makes me question the consistency is that there are many complaints on the iPhoto forums about quality. I don’t know if I’m less particular, if I got lucky with this one book, or if the quality of the data I sent to them was better than the quality of the data others had sent.

There are two problems with the iBook: First of all, it’s expensive. The $9.95 quoted at the Apple site is for twenty pages – but if you want to create a real book – with title page and copyright page, etc, then you use up twenty pages really quickly. The first book I put together came out at 48 pages. The cost of this, without the shipping was about $23. And it’s really a tiny little book – 8 by 6 inches landscape format. I like the size. I think it’s perfect for a monograph – for a small study on a particular subject - but pricey if I add shipping and any small profit I might like to receive. The second problem is that, although, you can have total control over the individual pages, you have very limited control over the front cover and none over the back. On the back is the classic apple logo and the small phrase: “made on a mac”. That’s fine if you want to show off to your friends that you have a Mac and great for Steve Jobs and company, but not so good if you want to create a professional looking product with your own logo and perhaps an isbn barcode printed somewhere on the back cover.

Now to the bad news: I took the same book but changed it to 9 by 7 inch because that is the size that Lulu books offers in the landscape format. I redid the images so that they would all be 300 dpi and of the same quality as the ones submitted to iPhoto. I submitted this to Lulu Press. The cost was much more reasonable for a slightly larger book. And at Lulu, you have total control over your covers and can add isbn info. You could also create a storefront, decide on a royalty you’d like to receive, and let them handle all of the processing of orders, billing, etc. I created my storefront and was all ready to go. But I guess you get what you pay for- because the quality was terrible. The images had a pinkish cast, there were blue streaks across many of the images and there were vertical lines etched across them as well. It reminded me of what happens when you get your inkjet heads gunked up and have to run the cleaning program. Actually, it was so bad that it had to be an error in printing. Realising that made me feel a little better - this couldn’t be the norm or they would do no business at all; but still, would I ever trust this company to send out product to any of my customers without being able to personally check every book myself?

I have to say that up to now, Lulu has handled the customer service part of the equation admirably. They responded instantly when I complained and reordered the book for me without question. I haven’t seen the remake so I don’t know what the ultimate quality will be - but it’s quite clear that the paper is not as good as that used by iPhoto – so this would always be a lesser book quality wise. And since I can’t trust their quality control, I doubt I will ever use their storefront or allow them to send anything directly to a customer – thus negating much of what they had to offer.

So I had to continue my search for a “print on demand” option that works for photo books - with photo book quality printing at a reasonable price – seemingly an impossible task. Then I found Viovio. Their website is confusing and poorly organized: it’s unclear what their mission really is – travel blogs or photo hosting or photo book making. But they offer a way to upload a book by pdf, and although they use the same printer as Lulu (Xerox iGen), they have just started to offer a better, glossier paper stock for the inner pages. You can create your own covers and use your own logo. Also, they are focused on making photography books and are therefore motivated to find the best combination of materials to make images work on the page. Lulu, I believe, does most of its business with printed word books and are not focused on imagery. Viovio has been responsive and proactive to requests on their forum for improvements, offer the icc profile for the printer, and seem to be endeavouring to improve their product constantly. I would be worried that they are using the same printer as Lulu but for the fact that the cover on the Lulu book, made on the same printer but on better paper stock, looks pretty good.

So, we’ll see. I haven’t seen the remade Lulu book or the Viovio book printed on better paper. I’ll keep you posted.

making books part one


infomaniac said...

For people in Europe, offers book printing too. Though the site is all in german, I think they have no limitations about shipping.
I've tried their software once, and it was quite okay - easy to use and a fair ammount of control over the layout.
But I have absolutely no clue how the quality is.. maybe anyone?

David Ramage said...

Thanks for the feedback. Maybe someone else will offer other suggestions.

Fred Seibert said...

David, For whatever it's worth: the Lulu books of nudes that i've gotten are pretty good. Pretty good, not excellent, not great, but pretty darn good. They're not what i would get from Aperture or at the ICP, but, you know, they work.

I'm sure your next version will be satisfying, if not fantastical.


knuddelbacke said...

Hi David, thanks for catching me with Luciana ;-)
I've tried a german service called (Pixum - also available in english language Pixum). They offer a so called 'Pixum EasyBook'. The software is free (they will make enough money with the prints I think) but you have just a few possibilities to change the layout and a lot of bugs I've reported to the programmers. Actually it's not usable yet :-(
But I've ordered some calendars there and the quality was quite well.
You see there's not all good together ;-)

Waiting for your part three :)

Hardy knuddelbacke

David Ramage said...

I think we're at the infancy stage of this printing on demand stuff. I imagine that in a couple of years we'll have many more options and much better quality. It's like getting digital prints. Now it's quite easy and the results can be quite good, but a few years ago, when I first got into it, you couldn't get a decent print to save your life.

Taku said...

Hi David,
I'm came across your site from Flickr and wanted to chime in on my opinion. I use Lulu myself for a photography related magazine that I have launched called U&I Magazine ( It is strictly a photography-based magazine with writings in it as well. So far I've had no complaints with their quality control and printing. Albeit they did downgrade on their stock from earlier this year, but I'd have to give them the thumbs up as their workflow seems the easiest for me (a straight PDF workflow). Your problem with streaks seems to be a rare problem and not the norm, and I know that the staff are always there to help you out in any way. They have made mistakes in the past, but nobody's perfect. Yes, PoD is still in its infancy but it is great to see companies like Lulu taking the lead and taking full advantage of digital printing. The Xerox iGen3 is capable of great colour quality for a digital press but not many people realize this and use it for colour printing.


Christopher said...

I'll toss my 2 cents in to say that other books I've seen from Lulu -- including Lightleaks magazine and the Toy Camera Handbook -- have looked great. I'm near positive that the book you received was simply an error.

David Ramage said...

Thanks for your comments. I've just posted a new chapter of my "making books" series.

Anonymous said...

The Pixum Easybook from Germany is great!!
I just received it as a gift from a friend in germany that came to visit us last summer.
She built the book around her pictures of her visit with us. It makes a beautiful, cherished gift.

David Ramage said...

thanks for the suggestion