Print-on-demand book publisher Blurb's third annual international Photography Book Now competition is now in the final phase for submissions - the deadline being July 15, 2010. The competition has had 880 book submissions to date. As the company's founder and CEO Eileen Gittins was on visit to sunny London, we took the opportunity to talk to her about Blurb - how it works, who uses it and what they get out of it.

A photographer herself, Eileen Gittins found herself on a quest to publish her work in a professional looking book and didn't find the process an easy one. So, taking advantage of the advances made in digital print technology, in 2005, she launched the service for creative professionals who, like her, wanted to publish books of their work for personal and business use.

Eileen Gittins - Founder and CEO, Blurb

'The site is aimed at prosumers and upwards' she says - everyone from amateur photographers making books for friend, through students trying to make a portfolio, to professionals wanting to sell the books or promote their images to clients and galleries. ‘I understand that today there are many less-expensive mediums to showcase your work such as websites, blogs etc. But if your work is going to end up in print, you would like to see it and show it in print.'

With this broad audience in mind, the site aims to be cater for those who haven't necessarily designed or published a book before. Users can download the company’s free design software application called BookSmart or use one of the Quick Start Templates. More experienced users can submit PDFs directly from their favored software. Or, for people without the time or layout experience, it's possible to hire a designer through the site.

Professional photographers keen on perfection with regards to color management can download Blurb's own ICC profile to ensure the results match what they see on their calibrated screens. But, Gittins assures us, the back-end processing means enthusiasts who haven't used the profile still get results they are happy with: '9.8 times out of 10 people are thrilled.' She doesn't attempt to take all the credit however: 'today’s digital cameras are so good even rank amateurs can take a well-exposed photo.'

Rather than trying to ship from a single location, Blurb books are produced at the nearest of its print locations (there are currently seven, with one in the Netherlands supporting Europe). 'We intended to be a global company from day one. We knew it was important to be able to print near the customer - it would be too expensive and take too long to do it from a single site,' says Gittins.

As you'd expect from an Internet-based company, Blurb doesn't have its own printing facilities but works hard to ensure it gets the best results from the companies it uses. 'It takes nine months for us to establish a new print partner. They have to be able to handle binding, paper, print and fulfillment (delivery) in-house. We tried other systems but now all our printers use HP Indigo [Ink-based digital printing presses]. Each of our partners adheres very tightly to our ICC profile and we create a target test book in every trim size, on every paper stock every quarter and test them with spectrometers to ensure consistent output from all sites.'

Once published, users can choose to keep their book private or make it available for sale through the on-site shop. Authors are free to price-tag their books as they keep 100% of the mark-up - Blurb only charges users for the printing, whether it is for one copy or 30,000 (unlike traditional printing that generally charges a royalty on every sold copy).

Once in the shop, Blurb also provides authors with the means to promote their books. Using the BookShare widget, users can share online previews of their books on social networking website and blogs. 'We conducted a beta test on this widget and it resulted in a 600% increase in page views [to the book store page] and 88% increase in sales.', she says.

And these methods of selling and promoting books continue to be developed, Gittins explains: 'BookShow is being optimized to use HTML 5 which means devices such as Apple's iPad can also view this it.' She also disclosed plans about a service they plan to roll out soon in response to requests from photographers. This would allow the creating of 'Limited Edition' titles where the price of book titles would increase as the number of copies remaining diminished. 'Details to follow', she says.'

In the meantime, there are 14 days left in which to enter the company's Photography Book Now competition, with the opportunity to win $25,000. Even if you don't want to enter the competition, you can create, sell and promote your own book for as little as $12.95 plus shipping (the site also prices in Euro, Sterling and both Canadian and Australian Dollars) - 'all you have to do', says Gittins: 'is pay for one physical copy.'