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Blurb's Bruce Waterman on trends in e-books

Published on November 29, 2012

Blurb SVP of Print Operations Bruce Waterman talks to Cary Sherburne about the relationship between printed books and e-books and trends he's seeing in this area.

Cary Sherburne: I'm Cary Sherburne Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink, and I'm back with Bruce Waterman who is the Senior Vice President of Print Operations for Blurb, welcome again.

Bruce Waterman: Thank you. Good to be here.

Cary Sherburne: So let's talk a little bit about the trends in the book market. I'm a proud owner of an Amazon Kindle, as an example. Kindle Fire. I have a Kindle and a Kindle Fire. And I know that a lot of folks are walking around with their iPads and other devices reading books. So what are you seeing in terms of the relationship between printed books and e-books, and where is that going?

Bruce Waterman: Sure, it's a good question, because when we started the company in 2005, we purposely didn't call the company book anything. I mean, it's funny because in Europe people don't understand exactly what Blurb is. I said, "When North America people pretty much get the idea that it has to do with books and reading." But we purposely wanted to leave it open, because we knew things were going to start going more digital. So you're going to see, in the next few weeks actually, some new releases from us. And the last thing that Blurb wants to do, because we've always been an industry disrupter since we started in 2005, is we're not going to just be a "me too" type of thing. We want to do e-books in a way that meets our customer's needs. And we feel that print is really the ultimate expression of photography, and fine art. And ink on paper is always going to be around for people that want to have something that's going to last a long time. But if we can give people tools to help them promote their product that then goes to print, that's the sweet spot for us. I mean, you can already download an iPad version for your book if you make it on Blurb, and for like $1.99, right? So, I mean, people are doing that now. But as far as creating books, as far as authoring books on electronic devices, you're going to see more from us in that area as well as multimedia type options. We kind of entered the market with a product called Blurb Mobile which is for an iPad and iPhone. It's a pretty simple product, but it gives you an idea. It's a storytelling application, right? And that's what Blurb has always been about is your personal story. So then we're just going to take that to the next level. But the one thing that we want to do that's a little bit different is, a lot of times people are creating e-books, and if they want to go to print it's like, "Well sorry, you don't have enough resolution to go there." Right? Well we're printed book people. So we want to make sure, we have a concept that's called a liquid book. You should create it once and be able to go anywhere you want to go with it.

Cary Sherburne: Oh that's great.

Bruce Waterman: And it sounds easy, it's not easy.

Cary Sherburne: No, no it's not. If it was easy, it had been done way before, right?

Bruce Waterman: That's right. And the fact is, you know, storage, electronic storage is fairly cheap these days.

Cary Sherburne: Sure, exactly.

Bruce Waterman: So if we can store those high resolution files, even if you start your book as an electronic book, like we always say an author is going to sell two printed books. One for themselves and one for their mother, right?

Cary Sherburne: Yeah, right, right.

Bruce Waterman: So you want to see something that you can hold. And so if we can always be the guys that say, "If you want to go to print you can get there." That's a pretty cool place to be.

Cary Sherburne: Yeah, right. And they might not think they want to go to print in the beginning.

Bruce Waterman: They might not know.

Cary Sherburne: And so, do you see though that people will. Photo books, I mean, is different. Photo books, those are probably always going to be printed for the most part. But when you talk about other books like grandma's cookbook or something, do you think it's really going to move almost all the way to all electronic, or are we still going to see a big mix?

Bruce Waterman: You know, it's funny because if you track the things we've been talking about since we started our business, Eileen Gittins, my boss, has talked a lot about the idea of consume versus keep, and the idea that certain products should be consumed digitally, right? And then certain products basically are keep. And you want those in print. You want them on a bookshelf somewhere. So I think you look at those things. Things are migrating that direction. And we just want to be there where authors and artists want to be able to make cool stuff, and not limit their expression to either electronic or paper.

Cary Sherburne: So the marketplace that you have, the authors set their own prices, or how does that work?

Bruce Waterman: Mm-hmm, they set their own prices and they keep 100% of the profit.

Cary Sherburne: Oh that's great.

Bruce Waterman: That makes this a little bit different. So basically they just set the price above what the production cost is, and it's actually interesting. Because it opens up a lot of niche markets, because someone that may only sell 100 books, but they're in a really high air of expertise, they may charge $400 or $500 each for those books. You know, and they keep all that money.

Cary Sherburne: That's great.

Bruce Waterman: All we care about is putting ink on paper. That's why HP loves us, right? We only make money when there's like, ink goes on paper.

Cary Sherburne: Ink or toner, right.

Bruce Waterman: You got it.

Cary Sherburne: Well great, thanks a lot.

Bruce Waterman: Yep, you're welcome.

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