UPDATE, JULY 15, 2014: It’s been almost 5 years since originally writing this article, and I no longer recommend Asukabook based on price/value. There are now many more compelling options, all much more competitively priced. Although Asukabook still does produce excellent quality books, their pricing is not in-line with today’s market. This is especially true for Canadian customers, who will be paying literally outrageous shipping and duty charges for Asukabook products. Asukabook used to provide the option of claiming your own value for shipping, which really helped to reduce additional duties when shipped. They no longer provide this option. As a result, my last order was a small book that cost $150 USD and I paid 0ver $70 shipping and brokerage by the time I had the book in my hands.
My current recommendation is to consider Graphistudio’s Primo Book for coffee table style books, which are quite a bit more substantial than Asukabook’s offerings, and come in at much lower prices. Anther option is Photobook Canada’s (or Photobook Worldwide) Pro Series, which has amazing value. The paper to choose from them is the photo lustre, which is comparable to Asukabook’s varnish paper option. Price-wise, Photobook’s Pro Series makes Asukabook look ridiculous. Shipping with Photobook? Free.
If you’re more into flush-mount style books, Graphistudio’s Young Book is my absolute favorite choice right now, and priced very well. Best of all, Graphistudio ships internationally from Italy for $15 flat.
Finally, there’s the small issue of packaging. I’m talking about the shipping box. Asukabook likes to use a big box for a little book, packed ridiculously in foam packing peanuts. The result? After two or three orders, expect a garbage bag full of packing peanuts at your curb on garbage day. No exaggeration.
When it comes to Albums and Photo Books, photographers have more options now than ever before. There are hundreds of book and album companies out there, each offering something just a bit different than the others. Some cater to everyone, while others only to professional photographers- the later generally offering a higher standard of quality. I’ve used quite a few album companies in past, both as a professional, and a consumer. For my packages, I knew exactly what I wanted to offer clients, but had to find the right company to provide this. After weeks of research, I finally decided to try Asukabook, one of the more popular professional photo book makers. Click “More” to read my Asukabook Review.
First, let me explain that Asukabook is a Photo Book company. This is not a big heavy flush-mount style album, but rather a smaller coffee-table style, or fine-art type book. Just like what you would find in a book store, as in the published sort. The biggest differences between this style of book and photo albums would be the printing and page styles. Many professional photo albums, such as Grafistudio, or Finao, use chemical process printing. This is just like the the prints that you would have developed from your local photo store. They generally offer flush-mount options, which make the pages extremely thick and robust. In my opinion, this is a bit of a dirty little trick that makes an album with very few pages appear for more substantial. Often, a 30 page album will have a thickness similar to a 300 page book. Photo books use a print process that is similar to that of a magazine, or press-published book. The paper used is generally thinner, and has a very different “feel” to it.
I had decided that I want to include the best photo book I can find in my packages, as opposed to a heavy, bulky leather album. Don’t get me wrong, I think flush-mount albums are incredible when they’re done right. I just feel that times are changing, and clients are looking for something a bit more modern, and not just “big”.
My first issue was finding a photo book that was more substantial and of a higher quality than offerings from consumer companies, such as iBook, or My Publisher. These books have a cheap, somewhat insignificant feel to them, and I needed something that had a higher-end fit & finish. After researching the subject to death, there were many conflicting opinions out there, but one constant; Asukabook was a higher quality product. So I decided to try Asukabook.
I decided on the 10×10″ Book Bound Hardcover. My demo book is 100 pages, but in reality this means 50 pages, and 100 sides. I chose Laminate Glossy for the page finish. Asukabook only serves professionals, meaning they don’t release pricing to the public. I won’t comment on the price, but will say it’s in-line with their quality.
Creation, Upload & Ordering: 8 out of 10
Every album and book company has their own system for creating and ordering their products to ensure their specs are met, and your book or album ends up the way you expect it to. Consumer companies are generally very different to professional companies in this regard. Consumer companies generally assume that their clients know nothing about the process, and offer idiot-proof software for the entire process. Professional companies are sometimes very different, assuming that the photographer knows what they’re doing to a certain degree, and offer “specs” for their products. They then have an upload system of some sort, and usually a disclaimer about how you should know what you’re doing, and if you upload something that’s not to their exact specs then you’re pretty much screwed. The bottom line is this: one needs to feel confident about the design matching the product when they upload their order. I’ve found some companies are pathetic at this, making the process so confusing and frustrating that I’ve given up instead of ordering. Some companies are better, offering simpler specs, templates, and uploading procedures. Asukabook is one of the very best companies in this regard. They’re approach is to provide blank, “to-spec” files before the design process, that clients save-over. This basically means that no matter what software you use to create the books, you’re working with the proper size, colour space, and margins. I personally use a combination of photoshop, and fotofusion for my books, and have had no issues at any point. When it comes time to finalize your design, you simply run their file checker program, and it will verify and convert your entire book to a single, ready-to-go file. At that point, you login through their web-site, and upload that file. It will automatically detect, and report the product that you’ve designed. It’s pretty much fool-proof. Colour accuracy is one of the more common challenges of most companies, as many don’t calibrate their monitors. Asukabook does recommend hardware calibration to ensure accurate colour. I used a Pantone Huey, one of the least expensive monitor calibrators. My Asukabook arrived with colours very accurate to my calibrated monitor.
Customer Service: 10 out of 10!
Asukabook really impressed me with their level of customer service. Several times throughout the process, I had sent emails to them with various questions. Every single email was responded to within two hours. Not only that, but these were not generic emails, with half the text copied from a general response guide. Every email was typed by a customer service rep, who actually took the time to read my emails, and actually provided answers and solutions. At one point, I had asked what the chances were of my book arriving by a certain date. They responded with a positive likely scenario, and the option to add rush service to guarantee delivery by this date. I couldn’t be more impressed with their customer service. Totally stand-out. 100%.
Print Quality: 9 out of 10.
When the book arrived, my first major concern (the print quality) was put very quickly to rest. I had an idea of what to expect, but nothing prepared me for the ultra-vivid, dripping-wet look of the glossy laminated printing. It totally blew me away, and in fact I now prefer this printing to even the highest-end professional chemical process prints. The pages are actually more sturdy, and durable than I had expected, and have an amazingly high-quality look and feel. There’s not a perceivable trace of printing pattern. Whites are bright, blacks are black, and colours are very vivid. It really is hard to illustrate with words, or even images. This is one thing you just have to see in person for yourself. It’s not even in the same league as a consumer-level photo book. If you’re a pro who’s planning on using Asukabook – believe me; choose the Glossy Laminated paper!
Overall Fit & Finish: 8.5 out of 10
I love my Asukabook. It just exudes quality and professionalism. There’s very little to complain about. The cover is substantial, and the pages are thick (as this style of book goes, anyway), and the print quality is insane. The book comes with a frosted plastic slip-case, which I actually thought was disposable before it arrived. I thought it was just a shipping sleeve or something, but was pleasantly surprised when I received it. It’s actually a nice, effective, and attractive way to protect the book. It kind of adds to the overall quality of the product, as the book looks great even while sitting in its case. Also, it’s kind of awesome seeing the book in the sleeve, then unveiling it’s amazing glossy cover as you slide it out. It’s a little thing, but a nice one.
So why 8.5 and not 10? Well, there are a few little things that could push this product even further. My biggest complaint, if you could even call it a complaint, is the mandatory plain-white of the inside covers, both front and back. If I could have them in black, or in the same glossy laminate that the rest of the book has, I think I would be at 9.5/10. This white inside cover is the only part of the book that seems “meh” to me. Also, the page counts. Asukabook makes you choose denominations of 10. I don’t think this is necessarily a “quality” issue, but If I have a client who’s at 30 pages and they want to add just one more, I’m now forced to go to 40 pages. I know this seems like a small issue to some, but it could pose a bigger problem for others. For now, I’ll play the “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” game.
Overall: 9 out of 10.
Asukabook has left me totally impressed. They’ve mostly exceeded all of my expectations. Would I recommend Asukabook to fellow professional photographers? Uh, yeah! As long as they understand that we’re talking about photo books, and not big, flush-mounted albums. For those, I’m a fan of Finao’s ONE line, using one of their print partners, but that’s a story for another day- as they say.
I believe many photographers are on the fence about the photo book idea, as I was. This is probably because – like me- they’ve seen some of the the consumer-grade photo books, and have a hard time visualizing professional photo books being much better. Well, I can’t comment on all photo book companies, but I can say this; if you’re worried about it being too “iBook” or “My Publisher“, you’ll be blown away by how much better Asukabook really is. If you’re thinking about trying Askukabook, I would have to say stop thinking, and just try it. Again, I would totally recommend the glossy laminate printing.