AutoBlooks: I guess I just don’t understand

Seems to be a fair amount of excitement among libloggers about Blog Slurper, a new Blurb template/program to, well, slurp up the contents of a blog and turn them into a book.

Dave Hook, The Industrial Librarian, thinks it might make sense to turn all of the Carnivals of the Infosciences into a book. Steven Cohen, Library Stuff, thinks ALA Editions should jump on that idea.

And I just don’t get it–particularly for something like the Carnivals.

I’m not saying blooks–books based on blogs–never make sense; there are clearly cases where they’re good ideas.

I’m also not dissing the Carnivals; I make a point of reading them, and am delighted that they’re all listed in a nice compact wiki page. Checking a few of them from that page confirmed my gut feeling. Some Carnivals consist of heavily-annotated/commented links; some consist of links with just enough annotation to guide you to the original post. Many Carnival inclusions are reasonably ephemeral, and they cover a huge range of subjects somehow related to the overall theme.

To turn this into a book, you’d need extensive indexing–and you’d be left with a book full of URLs, a book that made relatively little sense without, ahem, typing those URLs into a browser and hoping that the blogs were still around. It would still be an astonishingly random book.

Could such a book really attract enough readers to justify the cost of indexing and production within ALA Editions’ overhead structures? What would be the sales pitch for buying a print book that’s not quite as useful as the wiki page? I may be missing something here–but I’m probably as strong a “print books ROOL!” person as most any liblogger, and this is one where I don’t see print books as the right medium.

For that matter, I wonder whether you could use Blog Slurper to produce a formatted manuscript for any publisher other than Blurb? That’s a secondary question; the easiest part of turning the Carnivals into a book would be harvesting the text and transferring it to Word or QuarkXPress or whatever. I think that’s also true for most other blogs–if I wanted to produce a book based entirely on selections from this blog (unlikely, although it’s highly likely that text from this blog will turn up in books at some point), “slurping up” the posts–presumably by category, since pure chronology makes no sense at all for a multitopic blog–would be the easy part.

Among others who’ve posted enthusiastically about Blurb and Blog Slurper, Greg McClay (citing Rachel Singer Gordon’s post,, as I should also do), is apparently thinking about producing such a blook so he can be reminded of what he’s written.

Really? As with most any WordPress blog, McClay’s blog has a search box that works very well, and he uses categories to label posts. Between the two tools, I’ve never had any problem locating an old post–although I’m sometimes bemused by the other posts that come up, along the lines of “Oh, I said that too, didn’t I?” Here again, I wonder how a print book is going to make it easier to locate old posts.

Then there’s the other problem with Book Slurp: Blurb’s pricing. Right now, Blurb is designed to produce full-color vanity books, and priced accordingly. Let’s say that you slurp up 50,000 words of posts–which really isn’t all that much text for a year’s worth of a fairly frequent blogger, and is the length of many typical nonfiction library books these days. [This post all by itself is just over 1,000 words--admittedly, pretty darn long for a weblog.] Assuming plausible formatting on Blurb’s current full-page service (they don’t yet offer 6×9 text-only paperbacks), that would probably yield about 100-120 pages. (In a well-formatted 6×9 paperback, figure not much more than 300 words per page, but I’m assuming 400-500 words per page for the larger pages.)

Blurb wants $30 bucks a copy for such a book. Plus $9 shipping. Of which Blurb keeps 100%.

Blurb’s strength is pure ease of use (you don’t have to understand book design, you don’t need to layout the book and produce a PDF file, you just have to populate a template), and the service makes sense for very short run gift books: Where you want to produce photo albums for four family units, for example, Blurb may make sense.

Otherwise…well, check Lulu or Cafe Press, to give two examples of operations set up to support true self-publishing for short-run books dominated by text. Assuming that the 50,000-word blook requires 170 6×9 pages (with generous text size and margins), Lulu’s production and distribution price would be $7.94 a copy; I believe their default shipping charges are low. The price of a Lulu book is set by the author (at or above the production costs), and the author gets 80% of the difference between price and cost; thus, that blook that’s $30 plus shipping on Blurb might be $15 plus shipping on Lulu, with the author getting $5.60 per copy sold.

I’m not touting Lulu here, and it’s absolutely true that you can’t compare black-and-white 6×9 paperbacks to full-color 8×10 or 8.5×11 paperbacks. Lulu charges 15 cents a page for color pages, as opposed to two cents a page for b&w; a 100-page full-color book would start at right around $20 a copy–still, to be sure, considerably lower than Blurb. But the author has to design the book, at least in part. (There are quite a few services that compete in different ways. I’m just using one example.)

(Print-on-demand makes sense for very short run books, or where you can’t predict the sales level at all. When/if I do some C&I-related books, I’ll use Lulu or a competitor. But if you can project several hundred sales and have ways to distribute a book, traditional methods are still considerably cheaper.)

So what am I missing? How would a print book serve the Carnivals? Why would it be easier to search than a blog with a search box and categories?

10 Responses to “AutoBlooks: I guess I just don’t understand”

  1. Dorothea Salo Says:

    What? What’s this? Can it be? Walt Crawford his own self, proclaiming that a certain information genre makes MORE sense in bytes than in print?

    Fan me. I may faint.

    Just kidding. :)

  2. Steve Lawson Says:

    *fans Dorothea* (I’m her biggest fan :) )

    I’m in the Crawford camp, in that:

    (a) blogs ain’t books and

    (b) if you just want something printed, it would be easy enough to make a blog template that lists all your posts in normal chronological order (like I did for See Also here: http://library.coloradocollege.edu/steve/all.html ), or even organized by category/date, then write a nice clean print stylesheet, then print & bind it.

    Prolix bloggers such as myself will want to check the price, too: Year One of See Also comes in at over 120 pages

  3. walt Says:

    An advantage of being off the air yesterday–Steve used a line that I’d never admit to using (and got an appropriate groan).

    Funny thing about being an independent when it comes to ebooks vs. books: There seem to be some folk (never including either of you!) who really do seem to think that I believe everything works better in book form. Which doesn’t even make a good caricature of my actual position.

    A full year of a blog taking up >120 pages? (I’m assuming full pages…) That’s not prolix. That sounds “about right.” And I know that See Also… isn’t too prolix for my taste; it’s one of those (quite a few) where I almost always find my reading time has been amply rewarded. (Yeah, you too, Dorothea.)

  4. Dave Tyckoson Says:

    I just revewied a prospective product for a publisher that includes diaries and letters written during the Civil War. When you take those diaries, digitize, them, and display them in chronological order on the screen, they look a lot like: blogs!

    What does this say about turning blogs into books? Those diaries were written for personal rememberances, and in the historical context, those personal rememberances have become valuable primary research sources. Today’s blogs may have the same impact at some point in the future. In 100 years or so, researchers wanting to know about the development of an area could review blogs on that topic and watch as thoughts and ideas developed. The reason that we have those old diaries is that someone saved them. Reasons for saving vary, but usually it was the sentimentality of a family member. Blogs are archived automatically, but someone will need to save them if they are to be later used as diaries of contemporary thought.

    Could some blogs be turned into books today? As Walt indicates, some of the text of some blogs could be used to create a book. But very few blogs lend themselves towards a transformation into print. Blogs are a communication medium, where ideas are thrown out with abandon, and readers can comment and add their thoughts (as I am doing now on this one). Blogs live in the moment and when that moment is past, most have moved on to something else. Books are carefully edited, logically consistent packages of information that (hopefully) stand the test of time.

    I am sure that there are a few writers who create their blogs in such a way that they could be directly transformed into a book (maybe one in one million). For most, the thoughts and ideas could form the kernel of a book, but not a book itself.

  5. Steve Lawson Says:

    I’m waiting for books of podcasts, myself. A YouTube book would also be grand.

  6. walt Says:

    Steve, you’re on a roll. Actually, there should be software that would scoop up podcasts and turn them into vinyl LPs, since true believers know that you get much better sound that way…I suppose you could print out YouTube videos as flipbooks, albeit without sound (which would improve some YouTube videos).

    Anyone else remember flipbooks?

  7. Dave Hook Says:

    Perhaps I should clarify. What I was thinking of was preserving the actual referenced articles themselves, not just the web links.

  8. walt Says:

    Dave H.–That’s different; sorry I misunderstood.

    I’d still wonder whether such a collection would make a good book, but it’s at least a possibility. Blog Slurper wouldn’t be the tool (but it wouldn’t be difficult to assemble such a text–the tough part, in addition to building an index, would be getting copyright clearance from all of the bloggers, each of which would have to be contacted).

    [Answering the first question would take someone half a day or so for the 60-odd carnivals so far: Basically, running a word processing program and copying-and-pasting each post with citation information...then looking at the results and coming to some conclusions as to book-form publishability.]

    Dave T.: In a way it’s sad to have an essay that substantial and well thought out hidden in comments on my blog…it deserves its own post!

  9. Greg M. Says:

    Having downloaded BlogSlurper I’m a little less enthusiastic about the software but not about the concept. Since 90% of my blog has been handcoded it would be just as easy to cut and paste into a Word document. As for the concept, I see it as a tool of personal development and in bookform there are several advantages such as portability, browsing and note taking.

  10. walt Says:

    Greg: Well, sure, for your own use…

    In which case I’d create a Word document, do a decent stylesheet, print it out duplexed, take it to Kinko’s (etc.), and get it velobound or spiralbound. I just paid a bit less than $4 to make my bound copy of Cites & Insights v.6 last weekend (velobound)…


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