The Power of the Printed-on-Demand Word

Digital evangelists: if you have any doubt about the convincing power of print, then order yourself a book of your own making over at Lulu.com — remember to put your name prominently on the cover — and show it around to your friends. That’s what I did for a project I’m working on with Steven Heller; I wrote and designed a ten-page spread (illustrated by my good friend, the incomparably hilarious Olso Davis) and created a PDF in which the pages are repeated over and over again about fifteen times, then sent it off to Lulu.com for a single hardcopy.

The effect I was going for was a kind of bookish trompe l’oeil in which I create the impression of a real, full-length book. But more on that when the project actually comes to fruition.

In the meantime, I’m very pleasantly surprised and delighted by my first experiment with Lulu.com. I just got the end product in the mail last week, and when I opened it up I saw it was really just a bunch of laser prints hardbound together — nevertheless, it’s convincing as heck. When I show it to friends and colleagues, their eyes light up with amazement at my name on the cover. I mean, it stops people in their tracks. Sadly, Web sites don’t do that.

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  1. Awesome! Are you planning to add this to the Subtraction store? :) I viewed the LuLu.com site and the image they use on their site was a poor example to what they produced, but after seeing your book, perhaps I’ll give em a try. Thanks!

  2. and when I opened it up I saw it was really just a bunch of laser prints hardbound together

    Is it so? I mean, probably the printing technology used by Lulu amounts to laser printing, but isn’t it any better that a desktop laser printer?

    I guess I’ll have to order something myself to find out. But seeing JPG Magazine and Candykiller, they don’t seem like “a bunch of laser prints”. It’s only black and white book printing that’s so bad? Or does it have to do with the paper stocks they offer?

  3. I’m curious about the print quality too. They don’t seem to mention much about it on their site.

    Is it just a pretty standard laser stock?

    I guess I’ll have to get something printed to find out! Their prices aren’t too bad at all.

  4. As a web designer, I’ve worked on plenty of big, big brand sites or projects.

    Nothing however gave me the thrill of seeing my work in the shops, having done a promotional sleeve for Gillette Venus razors, along with a POS stand.

    The web is very much throwaway in comparison to print (even though print eventual does get thrown away as opposed to a web site ending up in a recycling bin). Existence as such on the web isn’t so much as a virtual reality, as much as an unreality. A web page is a simulacrum of the real world. Print brings our work into an actuality that we can genuinely relate to, whereas we are distanced from web.

    Perhaps the next generation will have less of a mental barrier to overcome when distinguishing between the two.

  5. Your own desktop publishing seems very fun. I think it would be superb if one could make a hardcopy notebook as a journal or a sketchbook.

    I must say I’m an avid fan of illustration therefore Davis’ imagery is quite entertaining. Can we have a few more flicks of your print?

    Remarking on “Web sites don’t do that”, I disagree: many sites take my breath away, including the overcomplex simplicity of Subtraction!

  6. Very cool, though it’s a bit troubling you would repeat the content 15 times just to make the book look bigger…that’s not a self-publishing trend I would want to encourage.

  7. A number of years ago I published a book of my photography through Lulu. The first print (what I refer to as my proof) arrived looking quite nice, but not spectacular (a few of the pages had banding issues). I, then, did a larger run. When those ten copies arrived I was blown away by the quality. And, to Lulu’s further credit, my photos tend to be very strong from a colour perspective. I had little hope that the prints would be even half as saturated as the originals – but they are close to dead-on, despite the lower paper quality.

  8. Your process of creating it…What size is the book? Number of pages – cost? As a photographer I am always looking for new ways of showing my work and lulu is something I have been interested in for a while.

  9. A few people have asked about the quality. It’s a very nice laser print, but it does just feel like a laser print, to me. Maybe it’s the stock of the paper, which isn’t very heavy. I think it’s the binding that really makes it all seem like a real book, though.

    Some folks have also asked if the book will be on sale? No, sorry. It’s only 10 pages, so there’s not much to sell. Anyway, it will be part of the larger project that Steven Heller is doing. I’ll share more on that as it matures.

    Matt: the book is 6×9″. The specs are available on Lulu.com. I set up a template with InDesign and exported a PDF, which I then uploaded to the service.

  10. this project of yours sounds like a lot of fun. I strongly agree with you about the unfortunate inability of the web’s intangible user interface to really amaze people. I’m presently working on a project to help bridge that gap with great ease and I am incredibly excited about it.

    about your print quality, you might like try blurb.com in my experience they have pretty good print quality which, from the sounds of it, might easily be better than lulu’s although I can’t say I’ve seen both. I do think they’re better than a few laser printed pages bound together. qoop.com is another competitor but I know very little about their offering.

    just my two cents

  11. Several of the customers that we design books for have used lightningsource.com, which provides better pricing than lulu (if you can deal with lightning source’s ridiculously ugly web site). I’m absolutely amazed at the quality of printing for black-and-white texts and glossy paperback covers. POD can be great for certain types of books.

  12. I agree with your comment about a printed book stopping people in their tracks; I experienced the same . Speaks volumes about the persistence of attitudes regarding printed media vs. electronic/etherware. (I have to admit, even I was seduced by this little-something-to-hold.)

    BTW, here’s another POD site that’s very cool: Blurb.com. Softcover price starts at about $13 and hardcover around $25. I’ve seen two firsthand — one for a new baby and the other for a golden wedding anniversay — and the print quality and construction was fabulous. Best of all, we were able to order additional copies online. I believe they even offer price breaks for quantity orders.

  13. I was disappointed with the quality of the printed Lulu.com photo book that I made. There wasn’t much definition in areas of bright color. The paper also wasn’t anything special. I have been thinking of trying Blurb, but you have to pay some serious $$$ just to get their logo off of the back page. Looks like I’ll stick to websites (and one-off printouts) for now.

  14. Khoi, I’m very glad to hear that your first experience with Lulu was a pleasant one! The photos look great, better even (as Gene pointed out) than the product photos we use on the site. Best of luck with the project. Please get in touch if you have any questions!

    Jackson Fox, UX Designer at Lulu.com

  15. This looks great! I was looking into printing through Lulu, and now I feel a bit more confident. I had one question – did you use the black and white printing option, or color (and I’m wondering if it will make a difference in paper/pint quality, even if I am just printing black and white content)?