Blurbarians at the Gate

Today, untold thousands are set to march on the Moscone Center in San Francisco for the annual Macworld trade show. Amid the flurry of iGadgets sure to be announced, Blurb.com will be demonstrating a new technology that, like the Mac before it, has the capacity to disrupt an entire industry. Blurb's BookSmart service allows anyone to write and publish a book via computer.

Book publishing has classically been a volume business run by a complex chain of editors, finance pros, agents, and, finally, writers. Making a living writing books under that model has been a speculative enterprise at best. Blurb aims to change that by handing more power to authors.

BookSmart is the key. According to News.com, the technology, which runs equally well on Macs and PCs, may be downloaded free. It incorporates features that allow any Fool to design and lay out a book. If that seems like trouble for publishers such as McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP  ) and John Wiley & Sons (NYSE: JWa  ) , it could be.

"Could" is the operative word, though. For professional writers, it can get expensive to publish through Blurb. Consider the per-book fees. A 40-page color paperback runs $18.95, while a 440-page textbook would cost $79.95. How much money do you think Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) would make selling a $20 paperback? If your answer is "not much," I agree.

For its part, Blurb offers authors (whom it calls "Blurbarians") a tailored online store and volume discounts on works, which could make the process an attractive alternative to begging an agent to read a manuscript. It's more likely, though, that writers will flock to Blurb because it reduces the risk associated with self-publishing.

For years, it has cost authors thousands of dollars to produce a few boxes that they'd all but hawk on street corners in the hope of getting noticed. Now, Blurb gives up-and-comers the ability to write a manuscript, publish a dozen samples for $100 or so, and get to the business of finding an agent. Less risk, more upside.

That's why I consider Blurb a Baby Breaker. That's probably also why Anthem Ventures and Canaan Partners provided the firm $12 million in funding over the summer.

Well, that, and because Blurb could also profitably cater to curious individuals who would never hope to be writers, but who would want to collect letters, photos, or drawings into a permanently bound record. They're the ones who'll fund the revolution that Blurb hopes to organize.

Look out, Manhattan: The Blurbarians are headed for your gate.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, ranked 908 out of more than 19,500 in Motley Fool CAPS, is a sucker for growth stocks and a regular contributor to David's Rule Breakers service. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. Get the skinny on all the stocks Tim owns by checking his Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a rebel on Wall Street.


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