Fri May 16th, 2008 at 07:23:11 PM EST
As some of you may know I have a web site where I post many of my essays. This way I can refer back to them when I want to quote myself and also give others an opportunity to read them regardless of how long ago they were created.
Recently I decided it would be nice if I gathered up the collection and made a hard copy of them. I explored several ideas. First I thought of printing out the web pages using a browser's print page capability. This seemed somewhat slow and would consume a great deal of expensive ink and paper.
Next I considered reformatting them into a single document using a word processor so that at least I would have control over the formatting. Printing still presented the same drawbacks. Then I thought of taking the file to a local office services store (in the US Kinko or Staples). This would be simple, but the binding would be some type of spiral plastic or metal device.
Finally I explored several of the demand publishing sites which have popped up over the past few years. I had been given a (paperback) book produced on one such site and was impressed with how professional it looked, so I decided to use the same service.
I copied all my essays into a single word processor document and allowed the software to do the conversion from HTML. I needed to adjust margins and page breaks, but that was essentially all the work I did. I did have a few fights (which I mostly lost at least several times) with the software, especially over things like page numbers and generating a table of contents. I used Open Office, but prior experience with MS Word has shown that user hostile software is the norm. Anyway after several passes at layout I got everything the way I wanted. I exported the file as a PDF as required by the vendor and uploaded it. I also uploaded an image for the cover and then used their "wizard" to create the book.
I decided on a letter size page and a hard cover book. The cost for a 275 page book was about $22. Paperback would be about half. This site allows the creator to market the book as well and you can add whatever markup to the manufacturing price you wish and they will send you the difference as your profit. Since I offer my essays online to anyone, charging a markup seems to make no sense, so my book is priced at cost.
My motivation was to print out a few copies to give away, and I don't really expect others to buy the book. This is exactly what makes this business model so interesting, there is no startup or minimum cost. If you print one book you pay for one book.
Exploring the site I've seen the wide variety of materials that people have created - everything from technical manuals to personal memoirs. The creativity of people is really amazing when they are given a way to express it. Another popular use for such a service is to create photo albums for special events like weddings. People in various graphic arts fields are also using this technique to make sample books to send to prospective clients. A hard cover book of designs from an architect or graphic artist is more likely to be put a shelf for later reference than something less substantive.
I used the lulu.com service, but there seem to be many others. If you have a need to create something like this either for personal or professional use you might want to consider self publishing.
If you want to see (approximately) how my book turned out here's a link:
This is not an attempt to get anyone to buy the book, as I said I don't make any money from a sale and everything is already available free online. I should warn people that other sites use different business models. Some require you to grant the copyright of your materials to the firm so that they can resell uploaded content for their own benefit. A site like lulu seems to be run strictly as a publishing service, so be careful to read the fine print if you use another vendor.