On-Demand Publishing: A Comparision for the Family Historian | The Armchair Genealogist
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On-Demand Publishing: A Comparision for the Family Historian

Once upon a time, publishing your family history book was a monstrous task. There was a time when we were regulated to a local print shop, where costs were high and having to stock and sell a book was a major investment. For many, the idea of printing a family history book was out of the question. Times have changed and technology has revolutionized the printing industry. There are numerous options available to the family historian today. No longer do authors require a large layout of cash or are forced into managing and selling a large inventory of books. Now we can print only what we need or not at all, allowing individual family members the ability to buy a book right from your on-demand publisher.

 I get asked all the time what company I would suggest for publishing a family history book. I have my favourites, but I thought I would take a look at what I consider the top three; Lulu.com, Blurb.com and Shutterfly.com.

In order to provide a good comparison, I created a family history book and walked through the process with each company to compare their costs and policies. Remember, this book is a private family history book. Most of you asking me for my opinion are not looking to sell the books to the general public, but instead, you are looking for an on-demand publishing company that will do a professional job, in a reasonable cost effective manner for your private book. 

 This chart is not for those of you who wish to sell the book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple etc. for commercial distribution.  If you’re looking for commercial publishing that would require a completely different chart with different parameters for such a project. 

The book we chose to create was a 12 x 12 square photo book with image wrap cover, 100 pages, standard paper and placing an order for 60 books to distribute to family and looking at the cost of each family member purchasing their own directly. I would normally not choose a 12 x 12 square, I prefer landscape but this was the only size consistent across all three companies. Each company offers a variety of sizes but for this comparison we will choose a consistent size. Don't be miss lead by photo book, you are capable to adding as much text as you like. Here’s how the companies compare, and below my chart you’ll see some notes and thoughts on this comparison.

Base price (20 pages)
12 x 12 landscape
Additional Pages
.60 each 
.45 each
.83 each
Total cost per book
Bulk Discounts for 60 books
$79.55 (U.S. only) **
Shipping Cost for 60 books
Unavailable U.S. Only ***
1 Book Shipped standard
Shipping Time
(Includes production time)
9 to 14 business days
7 to 11 business days
7 to 11 business days
Bulk Savings
3% discount starts at 15 books
15% discount starts at  20 books
20% discount starts with 10 books  
Privacy and Permissions
Private access
Private access
Private access

 *Shutterfly does not provide imagewrap cover design.
**Shutterfly does not provide bulk discounts to orders shipped outside of the United States and therefore a cost was not available to me. 
***This is for standard shipping; some companies provide faster delivery options for an added                     cost

Notes and Thoughts

1.    Quotes First, let me start my saying in the case of Lulu and Shutterfly, I had to create a book and in some cases take the order right to the checkout stage to get all the costs involved. With Blurb I was able to get quotes for the book and shipping without actually having to create a book.
2.     Cover- I was disappointed to find out that Shutterfly did not provide Imagewrap covers. Imagewrap covers, allow you to fill the cover with an image from edge to edge and lay your book title over top. 
3.     Pricing - The difference in pricing really enters into how many pages you require and the number of books you will be ordering. Don’t base your decision on the base price alone. Once you start adding pages, various covers and premium paper the pricing starts to change. Take the time to figure out the pricing right down to the shipping before you begin. Give yourself a budget and work within that budget to avoid adding pages and creating a book way outside of your price range. Keep in mind there will be shipping and taxes in some instances.
4.     Privacy and Permissions – after investigating each of these companies, they all provide privacy and permission settings so that you can restrict who can see your book and who can order it. With living members in some family history books, some readers are concerned with material being widely accessible online. This doesn’t seem to be a problem. They all have the ability to restrict access to the book and remove the book from your account once you are done ordering.
5.     Offline vs. Online Software– With Shutterfly and Lulu, you create your book online at their respective websites, while Blurb allows you to download the software and create the book on your own computer without requiring internet access. I found this to be an advantage, however, with the online software you can work from any computer, which may be preferable to those who work from multiple computers. Blurb also has software that works with Adobe InDesign and Lightroom.
6.     Shipping Costs – Shutterfly was the only company that could not provide a bulk discount to Canada, if you’re within U.S. you are fine. Both Blurb and Lulu recognized that I was a Canadian customer and directed me to their Canadian site. Shutterfly considers Canada to be a International customer and charges shipping rates accordingly.

Hope this helps you next time you’re ready to print your family history book.

Do you have a company you would like to see in this comparison. Let me know in comments. 

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Blurb.com and use Blurb.com as my choice for family history books. However, all the information in this chart is accurate and unbiased; like you,  I was just as interested to see how the top on-demand publishing companies compared.