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Eileen Gittins

Eileen Gittins

Posted: October 22, 2009 07:47 AM

What Will Your Book Be?

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We are storytelling animals. One might even argue that the ability to tell stories is what defines us as human. For much of our time on earth, the great stories were sung as verse. Traveling bards and jesters were heralded as they delivered that most important message of all -- the story of the human condition. With the invention of the alphabet by the Phoenicians, followed centuries later by Gutenberg's astonishing printing press, these stories could finally be encoded onto stones, papyrus and paper.

This print media enabled the general public to have access to stories and knowledge that had not been available to them previously. But whereas the Gutenberg press inspired the democratization of knowledge, it hardly inspired the democratization of authorship. Why? Because books became products and economics largely drove who got published.

So what's the next chapter? Much like the traveling bards, we can now unleash the power of storytelling for the pure joy of it. Books can be created as a means of self-expression, to share with friends and family, to advance an idea, to promote one's work or business or to sell for profit. Books capture meaning, story, passion. They are the legacy that each generation provides for the next.

Capturing one's best images, thinking, learning and experiences in a book need no longer be something most people aspire to but never accomplish. So far this year, Blurb has shipped more than three-quarters of a million books, created by people in over 60 countries on five continents. We will well surpass a million books by the end of 2009. A million books! That's astonishing.

Just last night I attended a Blurb party celebrating the work of over 2,500 photographers from all over the world who submitted their books to our Photography.Book.Now juried competition. Many hundreds of people came -- almost all with their books under their arm, all wanting to share their work and see each others' work. The vast majority of these folks would never have been "published" -- the economics in the traditional book publishing business would not have worked. And while many of them would love to sell a few copies of their books in our bookstore and all wished they won the $25,000 grand prize, everyone I met told me that they already felt a winner. The ability to make a book of great beauty, with complete creative control, where they could buy just one copy -- well, that was priceless.

At the same event, I talked to a schoolteacher from an inner city school here in San Francisco who showed me two books authored by her second graders. She told me that the students wrote the stories and took the pictures and that this was a school where the parents rarely showed up for Parent/Teacher night. So she decided to have a book launch party -- and huge numbers of parents showed up that had never been to the school. They were all so proud of their kids - the "published authors". It was a revelation.

Someone from my network sent me this YouTube video -- It's hard to not be moved by a mature woman being presented with a birthday present book of all her blog postings since 2004. Remarkable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1ha7bQvQJg

I can barely get it together to write this blog post in 2009 -- but I am pleased to say that I have created many books -- swim team books, cookbooks, poetry books (authored by my eleven year old niece), travel books, and just plain photography books. In fact the whole idea for Blurb was born of personal pain. I am a photographer by background and training, and after I sold my second company when the first web bubble burst, I found myself with more than five minutes to my name. I started photographing fellow entrepreneurs with whom I had built companies. Before I knew it, I had all this great content to share with about 40 people -- but soon realized, as a web person, that I could not "gift" a website.

A book, however -- that would be perfect. With the hubris of the entrepreneur I thought, "How hard can this be?" The answer back in 2003/2004 -- was about $10,000 worth of hard as I ran into the dreaded minimum print run. Of course, that just served to make me more than a little miffed, so I thought, " Somebody should do something about that."

That somebody became me. So, what will your book be?