Why I published my new photo book on Amazon

I experimented on several fronts publishing my new photo book on Amazon.

I published my previous photo books (Exceptional Ordinary and Textures of Ireland) on Blurb, because that service is made to create, publish, and sell beautiful photo books. The print quality is very good. Their tools for creating books are so-so, as I learned when I produced Exceptional Ordinary. The layout controls were limited, and the tool was clunky to use. I made Textures of Ireland in Microsoft Word because I am highly skilled with it. Regardless of how I produced these books, they both turned out very well.

Available now – click the image to learn more and to get your copy

My big problem with Blurb is that their price for printing a single book is pretty high. To keep printing costs down, I use their least expensive option, the magazine format. Unfortunately, that limits me to the 8½x11 form factor. I’d prefer to use a form factor that fits the way I want to tell my story through photos. But other form factors have far higher printing costs at Blurb.

My first two photo books sold modestly. I think there are several reasons why, but I think their prices ($14.99 at launch) are one of those reasons. Pricing is a black art that I’m only starting to understand. But I have a theory, and it’s this: Books like these are a casual purchase, or a purchase that someone might make simply because they enjoy and want to support my work. Such a purchase needs to be priced to strike a balance: high enough to show that the book has value, but low enough not to feel expensive.

I wanted to experiment with a price of $9.99 to see if it would strike that balance, but still let me earn a couple bucks per copy. Amazon’s lower costs let me do it.

What I didn’t know was whether Amazon could print my photographs well. My Blurb books are beautiful. The photographs have good contrast and tonality. But Amazon optimized for printing books that are mostly text. Would Amazon be able to deliver good photo quality?

No, it turns out. The images are low in contrast, showing lots of middle grays but no deep blacks. Thankfully, it’s a passably good look, and it happens to suit this book’s subject matter. If you didn’t know I wasn’t fully pleased with it, you might think I meant the photos to look that way.

To be fair, I chose the least expensive paper option to keep costs down. It’s a mid-weight paper optimized for text printing. Amazon offers better papers, but they would have nudged printing costs up, threatening that $9.99 price.

As I did with my last book on Blurb, I created Vinyl Village in Microsoft Word. It’s not as flexible as a good desktop publishing tool, but for the simple layout I used it worked fine. If I had wanted a more complicated layout, I would have had to buy and learn a desktop publishing tool. Amazon doesn’t care what tool you use to make the book as long as it can output a print-ready PDF, and Word does that easily. That PDF is what you upload to Amazon.

The simple interior layout of Vinyl Village made Word a not unreasonable layout tool.

I used Adobe Photoshop to make the cover. Amazon gives you a cover template that fits your book’s form factor and thickness, and you lay out your cover on it. Again, Amazon requires a print-ready PDF of your cover file. Photoshop can output those natively.

There you have it: why I used Amazon to publish Vinyl Village. If you’d like a copy, click here for more information.

My photo essay book, Vinyl Village, is available!
Click here to learn more and get a copy!