Blurb.com is a company which offers the ability to publish high-quality hard cover and paperback books which one can then sell online via one's own e-commerce website. (Pikto.com also offers the option of selling one's own photo books online, but their onetime setup fee of $200 might deter some people from exploring that option.)
Blog books, business books, cookbooks, photo books, poetry books, portfolios and wedding books are just a few of the possibilities which are listed at Blurb.com. They can also print text-only books, but their real strength seems to be in their ability to publish full-color books (including hard cover coffee table books) and then sell them online on behalf of their authors.
Other similar on-demand book publishers which offer the option of printing full-color photo books include Pikto.com, Apple (via their iPhoto service), MPix.com, MyPublisher.com, Lulu.com and XLibris.com.
Lulu.com and Blurb.com seem to be the best choices if you not only want to publish your color photos in books but you also want to sell them online via your own e-commerce web pages.
Lulu.com is a nice option, but Blurb.com seems to offer more sizes: 7x7 (square); 8x10 or 10x8 (portrait or landscape orientation); and 13 wide x 11 high (landscape orientation; hard cover only). And each book can have as many as 440 pages!!!
Consider this: The very nice photo book "America 24/7" has 304 pages, and measures 13.1" x 10.6" x 1.2". It's a massive book, but no larger than what's possible with the parameters offered by Blurb.com.
I also like the fact that the Blurb.com site includes its own online bookstore where people can browse through all of the books they've published at any given date and time, so you don't have to know about a specific book in advance in order to easily learn about it. What's particularly impressive is the huge number of books they've published so far! Specifically:
Arts & Photography (5220!)
Biographies & Memoirs (335)
Comics & Graphic Novels (18)
Computers & Internet (2)
Crafts & Hobbies (40)
Fine Art (217)
Fine Art Photography (989)
Gay and Lesbian (10, unfortunately)
Home & Garden (87)
Literature & Fiction (55)
Medicine & Science (15)
Mystery & Crime (3)
Nonprofits & Fundraising (56)
Parenting & Families (208)
Religion & Spirituality (157)
Science Fiction & Fantasy (15)
Sex & Relationships (13)
Sports & Adventure (413)
In short, they've already published a lot of books!
I also like the fact that each e-commerce page can have an author profile, a text description of the book, tags which make it easy to find the book, a PDF preview of the book (so people can make intelligent buying decisions rather than buying solely on the basis of the cover and the description), and the ability to bookmark or e-mail interesting books. Here's a sample of what I mean. Author's can also have their own Blurb.com home pages and their own Blurb.com "bookstores". That's is particularly useful for promoting their own websites, and for gathering all of their Blurb.com books together on a single page.
Blurb.com authors also get to set their own prices, so they can make as much or as little money as they wish (provided that they charge enough to pay for printing and other costs).
Another interesting note: Blurb.com seems to have integrated its services with iStockPhoto.com, resulting in an alliance which would seem to enable writers to use photos from the latter web-based "microstock" company (in case they aren't able to produce the photos they need themselves). See this page for details. That might be very useful for poets and other types of writers. It's likely that one would need to pay for the Extended License versions of each image, though, in order to keep things legal.
I can't speak from personal experience, with regard to the quality of Blurb.com's books, because I haven't yet created or bought my first book from them. But I think that what I've seen looks very promising.
PHOTO BOOK IDEAS
Here are some ideas I have regarding books I'd like to publish via Blurb.com and/or Lulu.com:
The Creator's Creators: A visual overview of artistically talented Christians and their work. This would include samples of their work (and/or photos of them at work, in the case of musicians, actors, etc.), plus pen & ink portraits of all featured artists (created by myself using my stippled pen & ink technique), plus written profiles and interviews featuring each artist, plus complete contact information so that creative directors, concert promoters, art collectors and other interested parties could contact the people featured in the book. In that sense, the book would be a creative directory comparable to the ones which have been used by photographers and illustrators to obtain work in the past. Examples of such directories have included American Showcase, The Black Book, the Graphic Art Guild's Directory of Illustration, Stock Illustration Source, and Workbook. Publication in such directories (as well as regional publications of a similar nature) is useful both for the artists featured in the books (and related websites) and also for those who need a quick way to view numerous portfolios without waiting for the individual artists to contact them. A secondary purpose of the directory would be to draw attention to those artists who've specifically made a point of publicly expressing their Christian convictions, or who are making a special effort to target the religious marketplace (such as Christian record companies, book publishers, art galleries, etc.). A third function would be to spur collaborations and fruitful exchanges of dialog between diverse artistic Christians.
The Life of The Body: This book would be somewhat similar to America 24/7, which was a collaborative photo book based on digital images submitted online by numerous Americans throughout the United States. (That book stimulated regional versions for every state in the union, as well as similar books focusing on other countries and other subjects such as dogs and cats. The Life of The Body would be a collaborative photo book focusing specifically on the lives (both in and out of church) of diverse members of the Body of Christ throughout the United States. Brief text profiles would be included, but the primary contents would be visual. The objective would be to make people more aware of the extent to which the influence of the Christian Church permeates the cultural life of the United States. (Additional editions might later be created for other nations and/or continents.)
The Taste of Mercy: This would be a book which would combine my Christ-centered poetry, my photography, my pen & ink portraits (and other art, such as digital abstract art) and more. In addition, the book would contain order forms and related information, for people who wished to commission pen & ink portraits or purchase related products such as fine art prints. There would also be text which would describe my comprehensive vision for Artistic Christian Endeavors, and information for people who wished to book me as a speaker in relation to that project. Later, my hope is that I could produce and publish similar books which would feature the work of numerous other artistic Christians, such as poets, painters, photographers and so forth.
Other book ideas I might pursue, all of which would benefit from the services at Blurb.com:
- A portfolio book featuring numerous samples of my pen & ink portraits, along with detailed descriptions of how to go about commissioning me to produce such portraits.
- An art instruction book which I would use for the purpose of teaching others to create stippled pen & ink portraits. (Other ideas for art instruction books I could write are also running through my mind.)
- A catalog featuring numerous fine art prints and related products produced by myself and other members of the North American Alliance of Artistic Christians. The catalog would include detailed pricing and ordering information, along with an order form (for people who wish to photocopy that form), along with the web address where a downloadable PDF order form could be obtained.
- A portfolio book featuring commercial graphic designs I've created in Photoshop (such as full-color business cards, postcards, etc.). This book would supplement a related website as a means of presenting my capabilities to potential graphic design clients.
- An illustrated cookbook featuring numerous recipes contributed by members of the North American Alliance of Artistic Christians. Proceeds would be used to raise funds for the ministry. (Additional recipes could be sold in a book published via CafePress.com. The CafePress.com book wouldn't have full color photos.)
- An anthology of Christ-centered short stories and poems by various writers. Ideally, there would be illustrations which related to the subjects of the stories and poems.
- Church directories published for the purpose of helping members of various churches to get to know one another better, thereby enabling them to more effectively serve Christ together.
The preceding book projects would be sold online in order to raise funds for Artistic Christian Endeavors. The books would be published under the name Priceless Pearl Press.
There would be a related literary journal known as The P3 Review. (The literary journal would be published as an e-book, for ease of distribution and low cost. There might also be a related blog and a related podcast. The podcast would enable me to include audio interviews, music excerpts, audio excerpts from movies, readings from short stories and poetry, and so forth.)
While all of the above projects would be created partially for the purpose of raising badly needed funds, making money would not be the only objective. I sincerely believe that every one of the projects listed above would be valuable contributions to the world of reading. Some of the aforementioned projects will be very time consuming and difficult to create. Others should be fairly easy. But all of them are doable, and I believe that I have what it will take to complete these projects, with the help of numerous others who see the potential in my ideas.
UPDATE: Be sure to read my related, more recent blog post which discusses ways in which Blurb.com photo books could be used in order to raise funds and achieve other goals in relation to various nonprofit groups and charitable organizations.