Don't Call It Vanity Press

How Web start-up Blurb's glossy art books finally got some respect for self-publishing

When Michelle Kaufmann discovered Blurb, she thought the Web-based publisher might help her make a book of photos from a recent vacation to Costa Rica, something to show her friends. "I downloaded the software on a whim," she says. "It just looked like something people did for personal use."

Kaufmann, an architect who specializes in sustainable design, soon realized that Blurb could help transform her business. Impressed with the quality of the finished product, she turned to a more important task: a book that would feature the work of Michelle Kaufmann Designs, the Bay Area firm she founded in 2003. She...