Blurb, The Custom Book Printing Startup, Is Tossing Its Hat Into The E-Book Ring

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Blurb has had a good amount of success as a disruptive player in the “traditional” publishing space. The San Francisco-based company, which lets anyone write and publish a physical book at relatively affordable prices, has built a profitable business with more than 100 staff and more than a million paying customers since it launched to the public six years ago. But according to founder and CEO Eileen Gittins, Blurb wants more.

Blurb is expanding into the e-book space this summer, gradually rolling out a software platform developed in-house that will allow people to create and distribute multimedia-enabled digital books. So why is Blurb going into an industry in which even huge, established publishing players have notoriously had serious difficulties making money, when its own core business has already been doing so well? Gittins came by TechCrunch TV this past week to explain the strategy.

You can watch our full interview in the video embedded above, which I would recommend because Gittins is very engaging, but here are some topics we covered:

The e-Book ‘Beginner’s Mind’

Although Blurb has been making physical books since 2006, the company knew from day one that it could very well move into the digital form factor, Gittins said. “When we named the company Blurb, we didn’t name it ‘book’ anything, and we didn’t name it ‘publishing’ anything, because we knew that the form factor that books would take would be changing. We didn’t want the burden of what people thought of as a book to be what they thought of when they thought of Blurb.”

But while Blurb has always aimed to shake up publishing, it has also taken great care to not hire executives or employees that built careers in the publishing industry. Nearly all of its staff comes from the tech space, Gittins said. This is so that any dogma that may have held back publishing companies from benefiting from the increasing emergence of tech in recent years won’t weigh down Blurb, which aims to enter into the e-book industry “with a child’s mind.”

The Cost Of The ‘Star Author’

A big reason that traditional publishers have been squeezed in e-books is because they still create the books in a way that comes along with huge expenses, Gittins said. Blurb is a more direct from artist-to-consumer model, so those roadblocks aren’t in place.

“In the traditional publishing business, the author is at the end of the food chain… there are all these costs associated with editorial, and marketing, and distribution, and warehousing, and printing. And you get into a retail environment like a bookstore, and they want to take 50 percent,” Gittins said.

She went on to say that in the e-book model, traditional publishers “still do all the work of finding that next great project,” Gittins said. “It’s more of a Hollywood, blockbuster business. They have to bank on the next Pirates of the Caribbean 7, they have to bank on a Johnny Depp. They can’t bank on the smaller guys who are up-and-coming authors, who are mid-list authors. With Blurb, we don’t have that problem.”

Blurb’s IPO and M&A Options

With profitable operations and growing revenue, it’s no surprise that Blurb, which has taken on $19 million in venture capital, has seen some approaches from potential acquirers.

“We’ve been approached by several large public companies. They haven’t been the right ones, [but] we’re open to that. Listen: We’re a VC-backed company. We’re open to the exit, we just want a great one,” Gittins said. “But we’re also reaching the stage of a company where, in terms of revenues… we’re approaching that size where an IPO is absolutely a possibility. So it could go either way.”