I've written before about my experiments with Blurb's trade books. One of my planned projects over the summer is to do some more runs of short books in that trade size. I can't say that I was completely happy with the Blurb trade book though. The quality is OK for the most part and the price is fairly low, depending on the paper I select. What really turned me off is that the trade books are portrait format only. I've tried to make the portrait aspect work for me but my brain just doesn't think like that. I'm a landscape orientation guy. Lately I even set my cameras to a 16x9 ratio. It's the way I see things and that is just too difficult to work with in a portrait format book.
I think I have found what I was looking for in MagCloud. Blurb actually bought MagCloud last year and I hadn't given them much thought until recently. I incorrectly assumed they were focused on magazine formats until I stumbled across their digest books. A while back I'd ordered a small monograph from Clay Lipsky after discovering his work and taking a liking to it. The small 5.5" x 8.5" landscape oriented book was exactly what I wanted for my own work. He told me he printed it through MagCloud and after seeing his results I was immediately ready to do one myself.
I did a single test order to start with so I'd have a feel for how my images translated to their printing process. My first order was a 52 page book of images I took at the HandBuilt Motorcycle Show earlier this year. I ordered a saddle stitched (stapled) digest book in the interest of keeping costs down and I thought that the pages would lay flatter that way. Unlike Blurb, MagCloud doesn't have a custom application or a Lightroom template to create their books. After some research, it sounded like Adobe InDesign was going to be the easiest method using a downloadable template so I went with that. Once I got the hang of it, it wasn't difficult to get my images placed and I created a PDF of my book to upload to MagCloud.
My book arrived in about a week and a half. The images looked great but there was a problem. Some of the pages were trimmed incorrectly and showed a thin white sliver across the top. After double checking my file, I contacted MagCloud through their website support form then waited for an answer. And waited. And waited. After nearly 2 days, I thought I would just call. Well I would, except for the fact that I couldn't find a support number. Then I remembered that Blurb owns MagCloud and I've always gotten prompt support from Blurb. So, I called Blurb and asked if they could help. They took care of things and after I sent a couple of snaps of the problem with my iPhone they said a replacement book would be sent out. They even overnighted it. I don't know what the deal is with MagCloud specific support. I never received an answer through their dedicated support channel. While that is concerning, at least now I know the way around it.
The replacement book came and it was perfect. Well, almost. When I placed my original order I missed the fact that there is no special cover paper used when you select saddle stitched binding. The cover is the same paper and I felt that the 80# paper is just too thin for that. Not MagCloud's fault, that's just the way it is. I learned that if a book is 16 pages or less, a heavier 100# paper is used. So, back to InDesign!
I worked up a new order and selected perfect (glued) binding for the same motorcycle book. While I was at it, I did another perfect bound book of some images from a WWII reenactment to see what black and white prints would look like. I also did a new saddle stitched book of images from a car show and kept it to 16 pages so I could see what the thicker paper looks like.
When the books arrived, I was a little worried at first. My initial order was shipped ground and arrived in a nice box and was well protected. To save money, I used postal service shipping this time and the little collection of books was just shipped in a clear plastic bag like you might get a magazine in! There was only a very thin piece of cardboard in the bag, which didn't really provide any protection. I was horrified by this since my mail all too often looks like it was run through the official USPS mail mangler machine. Luckily this time nothing was damaged. I think next time I'll ship ground though so I hopefully get my publications properly packed for shipping.
The new books look great. The contrast is nice and deep without getting muddy. The color looks good to my eyes and there is just enough gloss to the paper to make the images really pop. I have a variety of page lengths and samples of 2 binding styles. My thought after seeing these samples is that a book really needs to be at least 40 pages to use the glued perfect binding. Any less pages and it would look a bit awkward in my opinion. I think I'd use the stapled saddle stitched binding below that. I printed my 52 page book in both bindings and the perfect binding looks far better. That many pages ends up being too bulky looking when stapled and there is the issue of the cover being that thin paper. The book that really got me excited was the 16 page stapled book. I didn't mind that the cover is the same as the rest of the pages in this thicker stock.
For the quality of the prints in these little books, the pricing is not bad at all. The most expensive book at 52 pages was $9.32 in perfect binding (subtract a dollar for saddle stitched binding). My 44 page book came in just a few cents over $8 in perfect binding. The 16 page saddle stitched book was only $2.56! That's the one that has me pumped. Yeah, 16 pages isn't a lot to work with but for showing interested folks samples of what I'm working on these days, I think these books look great and beat the hell out of handing someone a smart phone or tablet. While I'm sure many will disagree, print trumps digital displays for me. I for one am sick of swiping through images on tiny screens.
I'll be printing more of these MagCloud digest books. Soon. It is something I hope to get in the habit of doing with virtually every project. I think books like these are a great way to produce something physical and tangible out of image collections that would otherwise be nothing more than brief blips on blogs or websites. There is a certain sense of accomplishment in holding a printed collection of work in my hands. It makes me look more critically at my work, forcing me to cull and curate my images into a limited number of pages. In the digital age I think we tend to share too much. Why pick and choose when web host services will happily gobble up whatever you care to upload - often for free? I am much more selective when I go to print because the space is limited and it costs me something. We should treat our web galleries with the same scrutiny. Without monetary consequence or forced space limitations, the art of editing tends to be overlooked.
I'm excited about my new print find. You'll probably get to read more of my gushing about books in future posts. In fact, I guarantee it. Sorry. I've got other ideas about these things to ponder and pursue. Stay tuned.