Blurb launches crowd-sourced books

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Blurb, a self-publishing startup which specialises in illustrated books, is launching a new service to enable people to collaboratively create books. The new service is called Community Books and will initially launch in beta with photo sharing, which is Blurb’s most requested community-bookmaking feature. With a print and fulfilment operation now in the Netherlands, you’ll also be able to create and buy the books in the UK and Europe from now on.

Using Blurb’s free desktop BookSmart bookmaking software for Mac or PC, you invite contributors and the content is assembled into one of several suggested book layouts. The software allows you to announce the book to contributors as well. As with other Blurb books, they can be shared, marketed and sold at cost or for profit in Blurb’s online bookstore. Blurb authors get to keep 100% of the book’s mark-up. There could be various uses for Community Books. For example a corporate retreat book featuring photos and funny anecdotes from the team; a ‘wrap party’ book made by people on a play or film production; or a wedding book with pictures and stories from hundreds of attending guests (the most likely use I think).

Eileen Gittins, Blurb’s founder and CEO reckons Community Book will appeal to “the connected creative class”. And I have to say the books themselves – which are full colour – really do look professional.

I guess it might be possible to do something vaguely similar using Flickr and the various print services around it now, but I seriously doubt you would end up with as finished a product. Print is hard to get right.

Overall, Blurb’s business model is benefiting from the trend for content to become more and more structured online, making it easier to spit it out into a linear form like a book. There is even an emerging mark-up language standard for cookbooks, RecipeML. Founded in the US by Gittins in 2004, funded by Canaan Partners and Anthem Venture Partners, and live since May 2006, Blurb initially came out with a tool to turn your blog into a book. Competitors like Lulu and iUniverse tend to focus on creating books out of manuscripts, rather that photo-oriented books.

Community Book is yet another shot across the bow of traditional publishers, to whom ‘crowd-sourcing’ a book would no doubt be yet another sign that the barbarians are at the gates.