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IF THE invention of the printing press liberated books from the monopoly of the monasteries in the 15th century, then self-publishing is freeing us today from the power of publishers. Only a tiny proportion of books written ever gets into the public domain because publishers are not prepared to take the risk.

By Victor Keegan

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Published: Fri 30 Nov 2007, 8:46 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:53 PM

This is understandable to the extent that few books make money. However, things are changing thanks to a new generation of online publishers, such as Lulu.com, which enable you to publish a 100 page book complete with colour cover for as little as $7.20 — as long as you get everything right the first time (which seldom happens in practice).

The revolution is now spreading fast to full colour books as new companies spring up offering high-quality colour reproduction in hardback or paperback for affordable prices. According to a report from Understanding & Solutions, the Western European market for photobooks has exploded from under 250,000 in 2005 to nearly 7m by the end of this year and an estimated 18m by 2010. At one end of the scale a professional photographer wanting to publish a 350-page hardcover coffee table book of their work in 'landscape' format measuring 13x11 inches can do so for around $160 a copy. But it is at the lower end of the market where the really interesting things are happening. A new genre of photobooks has sprung up which, apart from anything else, offers a fresh opportunity for unusual Christmas presents.

One of the most interesting recent arrivals is blurb.com, founded by Eileen Gittins — an entrepreneurial amateur photographer from San Francisco — barely a year ago. I have tried it in recent months and found it easy to use, except on one occasion when something happened and it kept crashing. If you use one of the standard formats and keep to the default layouts you can publish a book remarkably quickly. After downloading the software you can easily upload photos either from your desktop or from photo-hosting sites or blogs on the web. You write the title and author on the cover before dragging a photo you would like for the front. After choosing formats for the rest of the book (eg, colours and how many photos per page) you are ready to drag photos into the slots provided from your computer or let Blurb extract them automatically from iPhoto, Flickr or Picasa web albums.

Lulu also offers an improved service including a one-click option to alter the layout of the page from, say, one to four photos. Both have recently opened European printing presses that have reduced the previously prohibitively high cost of postage. An 80-page 7x7in full- colour book from Blurb works out at a basic $16.95 plus Euro 5.75 postage from Switzerland. If you want to sell it for more you keep all the profits. Lulu's prices were similar, but it keeps a quarter of any profits made above the base price. The book is processed by a 'print on demand' press and arrives a week or two later.

If you want to publish something smaller than a book then moo.com enables you to print personalised visiting or postcards from your own online photo collection. Spreadshirt.com will print your designs on to a T-shirt, while companies such as Great Little Trading Company will print them on calendars, canvasses or mouse mats. If nothing else, the web has given Father Christmas a whole range of new options.

Guardian News Service

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