Martin Hurley PhotoLife

Vagabond – Adventurer – Photographer – Adrenaline Junkie

How Do You Start A Photo Book Business?

How do you start a photo book business that funds your adventures, travel and lifestyle?

photo book business - example book cover

My current Long Lost Photos of South Thailand book cover

I know this is huge topic to cover but I will just start – adding to it as I go.

I went to this Blurb supported, inspiring photo book seminar in Melbourne with Dan Milnor — and at the end of the seminar all these groovy, self published photo books were displayed on the table.

I looked at them and thought, I could do this.

And if I can do it – then you can do it too.

The idea of publishing a photo book blows my brain. It’s like a natural, evolutionary step for photographers — even if you’ve shot the barest portfolio of images.

Hmmm. Photo Books?

Of course when you start delving into publishing books a whole lot of questions get in the way:

  • Can you make a photo book business out of it?
  • Can you make a recurring income from these books?
  • What do photo books cost?
  • What photo book printing service is the best?
  • What photos will you use?
  • How can you find out how to do it easily?
  • How do you start your photo book?

We’ll attempt to answer most of these!

I’d heard about Lulu, BookSmart, and Apple (using iPhoto), and heard of Print On Demand (POD) – although I’m sure there’s more. The thing is, POD sort of sounds like more what you would use for publishing a novel.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

But then again, I guess publishing a photo based book would be something you’d print on demand.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about self-publishing authors and Print On Demand:

POD fuels a new category of publishing (or printing) company that offers services directly to authors who wish to self-publish. These services include printing and shipping a book each time one is ordered, handling royalties and getting listings in online bookstores. The initial investment for POD services is usually less expensive for small quantities of books when compared with self-publishing.

There is a huge cool factor to publishing your own photo books and/or POD: You get your photo book to the market much quicker, update and revise your content, earn more royalties than with traditional publishing and be your own boss (editorial independence).

So let’s have a look at the options on hand.

Blurb Photo Book Seminar Notes

Here’s some notes I scribbled down at the Blurb seminar that might help:

photo book business ideas

Voilå, my messy, scribbled ideas. (You could take notes all day). Somewhere in there the points were:

  • Make a body of photos / work (specifically for a photo book)
  • A photo book is your story
  • What is the goal of your photo book?
  • You just need enough pictures to tell the story
  • Sequencing controls the flow of the book (and creates drama)

I think the best way to do this is to just jump in head first.

I’m going to do this by documenting, step by step, how I create my own photo book.

The 4 Parts To Your Photo Book Business

  1. DREAM IT — what is your photo book idea? What story do you want to tell?
  2. PREPARE IT — a body of work that fits that idea / dream concept
  3. DESIGN & PRINT IT — add pictures, use sequencing, transitions, drama and story (& find services to print)
  4. PROMOTE IT — promote the photo book to the best of your knowledge & abilities
The reason I went with Blurb is because they are specifically book makers. I like how their mission is to empower people to self-publish, how they have online tools that let you make instant books from Instagram, Facebook and Adobe InDesign. You’re in control, you get to keep 100% of the profits and you’re creating bookstore-quality print and ebooks.

I suggest you go have a look at Blurb and see how they nut out the whole book thing.

One particular reason why I chose Blurb is because they use a book-making tool called BookSmart which you upload to your ‘puter. It has all these professionally designed layouts that you can use, customize and/or create your own designs. You don’t need to be online to work on your book either. (You only need to be online when you download the software and when you upload your book).

starting your photo book using blurb

The simple start screen you get when opening BookSmart

Using BookSmart, you can make photo books, text-only books, notebooks, portfolios, planners—almost any kind of book you can imagine. And you can turn any print book into a beautiful fixed-layout ebook (BookSmart even tells you which fonts are ebook friendly).

So let’s get started:

vintage motorcycle poster

Vintage motorcycle poster – you can find ideas everywhere

1 – Dream It

What is your photo book idea? What story do you want to tell?

What I’m going to use for my ‘dream idea’ is the concept of ‘Long Lost Photos of Southern Thailand.’

Your idea could be anything – just sit down with your photos and look at what themes stand out. It could be people, travel, lifestyle, and so on. What’s your photo book going to be for? Do you want to sell it to the wider public? Will it just be to promote your work?

Because we want to start a business here, let’s go with selling to the general public, or at least, a certain ‘target’ group of people.

So, what type of photos do you like to shoot?

More ideas… History, love letters, design, architecture, jazz, animals, pets, people, art, eco housing, university life etc.

Try to define exactly who will be most interested in your book. Ask yourself: Who is most excited about your subject? Who would come hear you speak on your book? Who would be willing to buy it? The answers to these questions help you describe your audience. If you photograph children, for example, your book might appeal most to females, ages 25 to 45, with families. A common mistake is to believe that your book will appeal to everyone. — Choosing your audience.

Do This

Go spend some browsing time at your local bookstore, or look at:

What type of subjects sell? (Look at the best sellers lists at those sites) Could you do something similar with your photos?

photoeye bestselling photo books

2 – Prepare It

A body of work that fits that idea / dream concept

Let me prepare some work. Be right back. :o)

Got some (important) questions about preparing your images?

Let me answer them using the Q&A @ Blurb and Lulu:

— Use JPG or PNG files (No TIFF, PDF, GIF files, etc)
— Images should be in RGB or Grayscale (sRGB recommended; no CMYK)
— 150DPI minimum; 300DPI maximum resolution
— Use optimized image/s if your original image file size is too large
— Lulu adjusts image dimensions (and resolution) depending on the size of your photo book

OK so we’ve got our idea, and we’ve selected 20-50 photos we think will suit our book. These are JPG images at around 200DPI which I’ve fine-tuned using PhotoShop Elements.

The next step is to work on the book design…

3 – Design & Print It

Add pictures, use sequencing, transitions, drama and story. Find a service to print your photo book

Firstly, lets find out what our photo book will cost us.

Here’s our choices so far:

Apple photo books

What price do I pay for my book?

Lulu photo books pricing

The base price for your photo book @ Lulu

blurb photo book pricing

The base price for your photo book @ Blurb

If you purchase your own book, you only have to pay the base price (see the book pricing pics above). You can also get volume discounts for 20 or more printed books (@ Blurb). Lulu most likely will offer a similar option. You keep 100% of the markup over the cost of printing the book.

Got to factor in shipping costs too.

Basically there’s a base price for printing your book. You then set a selling price, which will determine the profit you make.

When pricing your book, you’ll want to keep two things in mind: The extra coin you want to make, and how accessible you want your book to be for your audience. It’s a balancing act. Price it too high and you could make a serious profit, but sell fewer copies. Price it too low, and you’ll sell more copies, but with lower overall return. — Blurb

For example, let’s say you printed the softcover 7×7 (18x18cm), so the base price is $14.99.

If you sold this on the Blurb marketplace @ $29.99 you’d make $15.00 every time you sell a book. (And if you sell locally, you could haggle a good volume discount deal. See Blurb’s Volume Orders page to get deals like 15% off when ordering 20-49 books).

Let’s price that out, and use an example of ordering 20 books. (15% of $14.99 is approx $2.24).

That’s $12.75 for each book ordered.

$29.99 – $12.75 = $17.24 profit (minus shipping).

Sounds good. But will it work? (Lets test it and find out).

Got a good idea of the costs?

Ready to move on?

Here’s what the BookSmart book creator looks like. I’d guess the other book creation tools would be much similar.

photo book using booksmart tool

5 – Promote It

Promote the photo book

If I was going to promote my photo book with the intention of selling x number of books every month this is what I would do:

— put the photo book on blog/site and personal storefront (inside Blurb)
— on the virtual bookshelves in the Blurb Bookstore (can show 15 pages or the whole book)
— create a press release to promote it and let people know about it
— use social media to develop buzz
use this for distributing a press release
— offer your book as a contest prize
— send the finished book to publishers with a personal note inside
— and whatever other creative ideas you can come up with…

Other things to consider:

— People are more likely to buy a photo book with pictures of them or their friends inside it (example)
— Are there services that will do a lot of all this ‘prep’ work for you?
— Use your portfolio or photos that have been used in exhibitions or shows
Use this service to bookmark your blog post, submit to social sites and increase your visibility
— Do one photo book first as a ‘test run’ to establish demand and pricing
Blurb Success Stories
— More to come…

Because this page has already had a few revisions…


I’m going to prepare images & design for my Long Lost Photos From South Thailand book idea. I just want to get started.

a) I will use Blurb
b) I’ll get it printed and sent to me
c) I’ll document most of the process and put it here

And then we’ll talk more about creating a business around photo books.



start a photo book business


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4 Responses to “How Do You Start A Photo Book Business?”

  1. […] photo gallery / portfolio on Smugsmug (etc) and sell prints, get found, create limited edition photo books of your work, and so on. When you have spare time utilize your blog, let your customers, clients, fans & […]

  2. […] the other hand, as this is an experiment for our photo book business then maybe I will just bite the bullet and go with […]

  3. […] this year I created my first Blurb photo book. It turned out pretty good (for a quick first […]

  4. […] Blurb is a site that helps you turn your ideas (whatever you can think, dream, draw, write or photograph) into a beautiful print book. […]

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