Wouldn't you like to be a PODder, too?

Yay! I just received fellow DrawMonaut Elizabeth Perry‘s selected days: 2005,

selected days

and not only am I looking forward to poring over the content, but also I’m very glad to have satisfied my curiosity about the printing. Because selected days is printed by online POD outfit Lulu.com, and I was very interested in seeing what the quality would be like.

A few months ago, my mom had a solo show at her gallery, and though the gallery made some photocopied price lists, it did not print a catalogue. Mom likes to have stashes of catalogues, postcards, pamphlets, and other treats to give to people she meets—and especially to prospective collectors—so she asked if I could help her produce a small full-color booklet in a run of 20 to 100 copies. At first I said, “No problem!” but when I started gathering details from her, I realized what she wanted was not so doable. The key requirements were:

  • 32 to 64 pages
  • 4-color throughout
  • must have a spine, so it doesn’t get lost on the bookshelf

The books didn’t need to be ready in time for the show’s opening—which was then about three weeks away—but they should be available before the exhibit ended.

Hmm. Okay . . . and what did she want to pay for this? Oh, not more than about $500.

Eep! Um, never mind.

Being a dutiful daughter, I priced it out at a bunch of printers I used to use for promotional materials when I worked at the Scrappy Downtown Independent Publisher About Which We Do Not Talk. None of them could do anything like this for less than a thousand bucks. Then I asked a designer friend, who had some clever ideas for less expensive promotional giveaways—e.g., a packet of 4/c postcards in a swanky envelope with a handsome label. Mom really wanted a book, though, and she really didn’t want to blow a grand on it. Result: nothing. Zilch. Zip. Nada. We gave up.

Sadly, only after the show was long over did I read about Lulu.com, which would have been ideal:

Lulu.com Book Cost Calculator

For $530.25, we could even have made a stack of twenty-five 8.25 x 10.75″ hardcovers! Or we could have made none of them, but just let people know they were available to anyone who wanted one. There being no minimum order changes everything.

But, of course, all this is useless if the quality’s no good. So how does Elizabeth’s book look?

I think it’s pretty nice. The stock and binding certainly look convincing, and the type that’s solid black is crisp (most of the text in selected days is screened to a dark gray; it’s perfectly legible but you can see dots if you look closely). The images are about the quality of a good color photocopier, which is essentially what Lulu.com uses—specifically, a Xerox IGen 3. The color range is a bit clipped, and solid areas are blotchy, but without seeing the files Elizabeth sent, I can’t say whether this is the fault of the printer or the camera. Lulu asks that you not change the color profiles of your images, so presumably the IGen 3’s “built-in intelligence to maintain color fidelity” is supposed to deal with it. Since pricing is purely per unit and there’s no set-up fee, conceivably you could tweak the colors despite their request and order individual books as proofs until the photos looked the way you wanted. My mom’s really picky about color—she’s made Modern Postcard re-run jobs for her more than once—so there might have been some grumbling over that, but I’m sure she would have been very happy with every other aspect of this book.

So now I’m thinking, What else can I make a book out of? Because how fun is that?

And I can’t wait until lunchtime, when I’ll get to read Elizabeth’s book from cover to perfect-bound cover.

8 Responses

  1. Matthew Skala
    Matthew Skala October 24, 2006 at 2:46 pm |

    For books that will be shipped outside of North America, Lulu sometimes subcontracts to foreign printing outfits nearer the destination, and I’ve heard a number of horror stories about the books produced through that route not being up to acceptable quality standards. However, I’ve been quite pleased with the books I’ve ordered from them that were printed and shipped within North America.

  2. India Amos
    India Amos October 24, 2006 at 2:53 pm |

    Oh, yeah—I meant to ask if anyone else had tried Lulu. Thanks, Matthew.

    Also, does anyone know of any similar POD companies or decent micro-run printers? (Really, I should have lazywebbed the catalogue problem in the first place; next time.)

  3. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth October 24, 2006 at 8:43 pm |

    Thanks, India.

    Here are a few notes on my process, for what they are worth… The book was laid out in InDesign and then flattened to pdf for the upload. Original images were photos – snapshots, really (not scans), and while I cleaned them up a bit in PhotoShop, they were jpegs to begin with and not RAW files or anything. And of course my monitor is uncalibrated. Someone who knew what she was doing, and had the patience to color correct and order individual copies as proofs, could probably eke out higher quality from the Lulu system.

    But for near-instant gratification, it offers more control than the Apple iPhoto books, and is amazingly affordable.

    Lots of fun – I recommend it – and can’t wait to see what you make….

  4. India Amos
    India Amos October 24, 2006 at 9:43 pm |

    Well, I didn’t get to read the book until just now, on my way home from French class, but I can now report that it is delightful. The drawings are thoughtfully selected (it must have been very difficult to choose from an entire year’s worth!), and the writing is lovely. I’ll be keeping it close throughout DrawMo!, especially this spread.

    I’m so glad you started drawing, Elizabeth!

  5. d. f. tweney
    d. f. tweney October 25, 2006 at 1:29 pm |

    A company called Blurb (www.blurb.com) does some print-on-demand stuff that seems to be aimed at people creating photo books. I saw some samples of their stuff at DigitalLife earlier this month. I don’t have a professional designer’s eye, but to me it looked like gorgeous stuff: glossy paper, perfect bound, very nice color. Seemed expensive though — not something you would use for a run of 200-500 copies.

  6. India Amos
    India Amos October 26, 2006 at 11:56 pm |

    Thanks, Dylan. I think I saw something about this a while ago and then forgot about it.

    At a quick glance it looks like Blurb is a lot less flexible than Lulu. Everything’s template-based, and they’re only doing hardcovers, though they say they’re planning to offer paperbacks. It’s hard to tell what they offer specswise, since everything is described in terms of theme-based templates—Cookbook, Poetry Book, Blog Book, Baby Book, Dog Book, Cat Book. The latter templates even come with content. From the “Cat Book” page:

    How does your kitty do it all? With this Readymade book, your favorite fluffball can share the secrets of feline success – without losing essential beauty rest. A few photos and personal details will complete this indispensable desk reference, written by the world’s leading purveyor of warm fuzzies: your cat. People: An Owner’s Manual for Cats by Your Cat * 8×10 inch hardcover, with your cat on the cover * Custom illustrations destined to win the Nobel Prize for Kitty Litter-ature * Feline wit and wisdom already written for you – just customize, and publish * Your choice of book designs to match your cat’s personality * 40+ professionally designed pages ready to purr-sonalize, plus bonus pages

    In a word, [hurl].

    But, whatever, I’m sure it’s the perfect product for somebody out there.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Blurb sinks or swims.

  7. Cathi
    Cathi October 30, 2006 at 8:55 pm |

    I believe Lulu uses LightningSource as their printer, don’t they?

    I have a lot of clients go through them, but they do like to torture cover files. About two years ago their specs requested 3 separate files (front, back and spine) and when I balked, I was told to send the landscape, they’d chop it up…!!??!!! They also would only accept RGB at one time, and since they were printing CMYK, it was a problem. This last order though is a little different, they’ll accept a CMYK landscape, but suggested a PNG!!??!! file as one of the choices and there’s this huge warning about “unnecessarily complicated” PDFs created with software such as Illustrator that have layers and layers….oh, it pains me…it does.

    Such is the word of self-publishing.

    Surely some traditional press out there must need a cover designer with 25 years in publishing and printing, an obsessive need to meet deadlines and a decidely weird sense of humour…..(insert hopeful expression, here)!!

    Sorry to run an ad on your blog, India, delete me, I deserve it. :;

  8. India Amos
    India Amos October 31, 2006 at 1:00 am |

    It looks like Lulu uses a lot of different printers:

    Lulu has partnered with multiple print on demand (POD) vendors for printing books: several print books ordered through Lulu, while one prints books ordered from online retailers via our distribution channels. The printer used is determined by which channel fulfills the order.

    I think that’s pretty clever, though I can’t explain why.

    Sorry to hear your cover horror stories, but they don’t surprise me. A normal printer, such as RRD, that deals with professional book producers can be very specific about its file prep requirements, down to insisting that certain settings be turned on or off in Quark and that PDFs be prepared with a specific PPD. A consumer service like Lulu, however—basically a print broker—has to dumb everything down and be as accommodating as possible.

    It would be nice if they offered a “pro” set of specs, for people who are using real layout software and who do know how to prepare press-ready files, but a good percentage of their clients probably create their books in MS Word and barely know how to send e-mail attachments. So they focus their resources on the lowest common denominator.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: