Monday, April 30, 2012

Blurb: A Crazy Business Idea That Became a Hit

Based in San Francisco, California, Blurb is a book printing company that first came to life in founder Eileen Gittins's head just when the publishing industry was opening up to digital platforms in 2004. As an English and journalism student at UC Berkeley during the 1970s, she discovered photography and was hooked. Several years later, after serving at Eastman Kodak and Wall Data and building two other companies herself, Gittins started a personal project wherein she took portraits of 40 previous colleagues.

Having decided that she wanted to present the portraits in a professional quality bound book, Gittins approached printers, but there was one problem. An order of less than a thousand copies would result in a loss for the printers – and Gittins wanted only 40. Realizing that she would have to design and publish her book herself, she turned to the Internet for resources, but came up with nothing.

Gittins recalls being shocked at the results (or lack thereof), as desktop publishing and Adobe had already existed for some time. So she went to the printers again, and this time received an explanation that printers were designed to produce 5,000 copies of a single book, not a total of 5,000 copies for many books. For the next two years, Gittins worked hard to come up with a solution that would let ordinary folks design their own books and printers produce a single book profitably.

Though venture capitalists thought she was crazy, Gittins persevered, believing millions of people in the world had something to say in tangible book form. Eventually, she found a VC to support her business and arrived at the answer that had evaded her for so long: a book-designing software that was easy and fun to use, while creating a standard file that was professional enough for the printers.

In May 2006, the Blurb website was launched, and revenues have almost doubled every year since then. Gittins says that during the busy holiday seasons, the company processes a book every 1.5 seconds.

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