In a few weeks, online bookmaking site Blurb will launch a new community called BlurbNation, a section of the Blurb site where people can connect with a professional designer that will take their photos, stories, recipes or any other images and pull them together into a book. Such a move is aimed at expanding Blurb’s business beyond the 90,000 books it printed in 2007 — and to take it out of the red.
Blurb, which was founded in 2004, launched its site in April of 2006 and is on track to turn in breakeven results this year, is both a digital bookmaker and an example of yesteryear’s big Internet trend: The Long Tail (It seems so long ago, but it was only three-and-half years ago that Anderson wrote about the idea in Wired). Since we move at digital speed, we’ve already discarded that trend (and possibly refuted it) for social everything. But true business growth doesn’t take place at that harried clip, it typically requires the five to seven years allotted by VCs for their investment time frames.
Those time frames are there for a reason. Blurb CEO Eileen Gittins Blurb says the company exceeded its revenue expectations by 40 percent last year. (In 2007 she told Time she anticipated sales between $5 million and $10 million for the year.) And in the quarter following its launch late last year in Europe, sales from the continent have climbed to account for 17 percent of total overall revenues from a mere 2.5 percent.
To me this is a nice reminder to avoid focusing solely on the trend du jour, but also to keep in mind that much of the world runs at business speed, and that it’s the people out in the rest of the world that break a technology site into the mainstream.
Blurb makes books, nothing terribly technical about it, until you think about how impossible it would be, before the Internet existed, to source, edit, design and print 90,000 different titles in a single year. Its biggest customers are corporations trying to create memorable advertorials, though artists and average Americans also pull together their own works of art. Blurb competes with other online publishers LuLu and Xlibris, but has the lead in high-end photobooks.
The cool thing about marrying the digital medium with one that began in 1040 with the first Chinese printing presses (sorry Gutenberg), is that when it comes to user-generated content, Blurb may end up making UGC profitable before YouTube does. Profitability isn’t everything and I’m not sure how Blurb could ever reach more people than YouTube, but it’s nice to talk to an online service that can make money in the here and now.