Millions of people dream of becoming the next JK Rowling, but very few achieve it.
That could change, however, because self-publishing on an individual scale is now an affordable route for aspiring writers thanks to platforms such as Blurb.
It was set up in 2006 by US entrepreneur Eileen Gittins, who had been looking to publish just 40 copies of a book containing her photography but could not find a suitable outlet. Her experience sparked an idea to create a platform that offered downloadable software for people to lay out their content to their liking, upload it, place an order and have a printed product delivered to them within a week.
Unlike existing offerings from photography brands such as Kodak and Jessops, Blurb’s unique selling point is its seller community. Once someone has created a book via Blurb, they can add it to the online bookstore complete with price, barcode and checkout for anyone to buy. The user keeps the entire profit, which Blurb deposits straight into their bank account.
Blurb has published everything from accounts of personal events such as holidays and weddings, to cookbooks, poetry, photography, novels, memoirs and self-help titles. Gittins says Blurb is now a multimillion dollar company, reaching $1m in revenues in its first six months of business.
Brand awareness for Blurb has been driven largely by search marketing, online advertising, deals on sites like Groupon and word of mouth. The Blurb brand is soon to make its marketing debut in print and on TV, advertising within specialist cookery and travel programmes.
“Our timing was key,” Gittins explains. “The rise of social media coincided with our launch, and it was the first year that sales of digital cameras eclipsed those of film cameras.
“People were also starting to blog and their behaviour was changing from being consumers of content to producers and participants of it. This has only increased since then. The story of Blurb is really about the rise of consumer participation online.”
Motivations for using Blurb vary from individuals looking for alternatives to traditional photo printing and those who wish to self-publish content, to people creating portfolios for professional reasons and companies creating documents for internal or even marketing purposes.
Those self-publishing books vary from those looking to market themselves as a writer, photographer or expert in a niche area and generate profit, to those using their product as a charity fundraising project.
“Most individuals [on Blurb] would previously not have been attractive to the publishing industry because their title would not be likely to sell the requisite amount of copies. Our growth has come from enabling the access for everyday people to make a professional quality book affordably enough where they could still put a mark-up on it and make a profit,” Gittins claims.
Many of the books published through Blurb are around niche topics. “A woman in the UK made a book about the art of Sámi band weaving. How many people who walk into Waterstone’s are going to know what Sámi band weaving is, or care?” says Gittins.
But being online allows those who are interested in niche areas to find each other. She says Blurb’s selling platform is growing fast. “People buying other people’s books makes up 7% of our worldwide revenues,” Gittins reveals.
Blurb has even caught the attention of already published authors looking to go down the ’indie’ route after becoming disillusioned with long-winded process of traditional publishing houses.
Gittins likens it to the film industry: “Back in the day, you wanted Warner Brothers to produce your film. Now you want to do an indie film and you want to premiere it at Sundance because that’s where the really creative juicy stuff is coming from. It can be quite lucrative if you already have an audience that you can direct to Blurb.”
She gives the example of US fitness guru David Kirsch, whose brand spans across books, DVDs, diets and vitamin supplements. “He has been picked up by every major publisher. Each time he did a book he said it would take over two years to get it to market from the beginning of the idea, with a million meetings involving everyone who needs to weigh in on it and all kinds of objections.
“And with traditional publishing there are a lot of mouths to feed in the process – the publishers, the designers, the distributor, the retailer – so the author is lucky to see 10-15% of the retail price of the book. Kirsch came to us because he preferred to spend two months working on a book rather than two years.”
Gittins says Kirsch’s “Butt Book”, focusing on buttock exercises, has already sold 30,000 copies, with the author earning an estimated $6 per book at a retail price of $15.
People who aren’t already in the public eye may not sell in these volumes. But Gittins insists that it’s possible for an unknown first-time author, who self-publishes a quality book on Blurb, to turn a reasonable profit, provided they become self-marketers, using the social media networks they have established on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and their own blog.