Get it Together, Lulu

Lulu’s been exhibiting quite a few problems lately.  Here are two posts on Lulu’s mishandling of ebooks and their clients.  The first is reprinted from Mike Cane’s iPad Test blog, titled Lulu And The iBookstore: Say NO!

Get Your eBook in the Apple iBookstore

Don’t do it.

Here’s why.

Lulu says:

ISBNs. Apple requires ISBNs on eBooks. Lulu can assign one for free.

And who will own that ISBN? If you’re getting it for free, I doubt that’s going to be you. See why ISBN ownership matters.

Lulu says:

Validation. Apple has a strict file validation process. All files submitted must pass ePubCheck 1.0.5. If you create your own ePub file, you must verify that it will pass. Lulu can only guarantee validation for ePub files created through our conversion service.

Of course they’ll guarantee validation of ePub files only they create — because they want you to pay them to create the files! They also probably don’t want you to know it’s possible for you to validate your own ePub files either by downloading software or doing it online. Both of those options are free.

Lulu’s fees for creating an ePub file are for suckers only. If you want it done well and at a reasonable expense, contact someone like Moriah Jovan.

Lulu says:

The creator revenue that you receive per sale will be 80 percent of the profit after deducting Apple’s share.

If you can’t see the math trick there, even a math retard like me can. The Apple split is 30% to Apple, 70% to publisher. You should be your own publisher (or join a writers co-op — such as). Here, Lulu is the publisher. That 70% becomes a new 100% and Lulu is skimming a whopping twenty percent off of it! So you wind up with fifty percent of the book’s price. That’s for suckers.

Lulu says:

For a limited time, Lulu will provide free distribution to the iBookstore.

Then why skim twenty percent off the top?! Or do they intend to charge an additional “distribution fee” on top of everything else later?

Lulu says:

The simplest way to reach the iBookstore is to have us convert your file into an ePub. As mentioned earlier, we guarantee that it will pass Apple’s validation process

Making sure an ePub file is compliant with the ePub spec is not an “Apple validation process” by any stretch of the imagination!

Lulu says:

The other approach is a manual one. You’ll need to make your own ePub file and make any necessary improvements until is passes ePubCheck 1.0.5.

Ah, how nice that this alternative is mentioned, long after the hard sales pitch. But notice the link is only to the download software, not the website version!

Lulu also says:

1. Lulu will assign a free Lulu ISBN to your book.

Again, who will own that ISBN?

Lulu says:

2. Lulu will price the iBookstore version of your book to comply with Apple’s price guidelines and restrictions. Authors will not be able to change the price for now.

And that price will be what, exactly? With Lulu taking a whopping twenty percent skim, you can bet dear Lulu wants the highest possible price! And that highest possible price might not be in your best interests.

If you’re a current Lulu customer, this probably makes some sense — in the “Aw, let them handle this crap” apathetic sense. And you deserve getting taken to the cleaners for being so apathetic!

There is still no great rush for anyone to get into the iBookstore. The First Mover big-sale possibilities that app makers enjoy just aren’t possible with books. The app makers are generally like you — small. There are very few big publishers clogging the App Store with a ton of apps. They are, however, five big publishers clogging the iBookstore with their books!

Learn what it means to create an ePub file. Learn what the reasonable costs for doing that are, if you don’t believe you can do it yourself — or don’t want to DIY. Learn what an ISBN means and why metadata is crucial. And also learn what rights you’re possibly signing away! There is plenty of help and experience out there.

The days of writers expecting a traditional publisher to do everything are over. And these new “publishers” masquerading as DIY services are like the apocryphal story of Levi Strauss during the California Gold Rush — he, legend would have you believe, got rich selling the miners jeans. And the miners went broke not finding the gold they expected.

There is no gold rush at the iBookstore for self-published books, so calm down and don’t get taken to the cleaners.

Second, here’s an excerpt from Pod Peep’s Questions for Lulu.  Lulu’s purpose is getting away from them.    I don’t know all of their numbers, but two recent things stick out: Lulu abandoning their public offering.  Secondly, Ning going with a pay-only service due to a poor business model.  Granted, “free” self-publishing isn’t really free with Lulu because printing costs are so exorbitantly expensive, so Lulu makes a fair amount per book, but the Ning situation demonstrates the problem with a freemium service.  Lulu may be looking to gain money elsewhere.

Julie Anne Dawson asks on Pod Peep: Why is there a $1.49 surcharge added to ebooks?

This is potentially a “file storage fee.”  Julie Dawson answers in the comments:

The problem with the file storage fee theory is that it does not take into account several points. First, many books that are for sale digitally on Lulu use the same PDF as the print product. There is no additional storage. It is the same file. Lulu would be storing this file regardless of whether or not it was sold in print. Second, while they are adding this fee to products for sale, free products have no “fee” attached. A free file would, presumably, be just as expensive to “store” as one for sale.

Read more at Pod Peep, including more on Lulu’s preferential pricing for traditionally-published books, which is one of the more underhanded things they’ve done.

Careful, Lulu.  Your service offers an awesome amount of freedom for writers, but more press like this and writers are going to be looking elsewhere.

  • About 3 weeks ago, I saw their prices for conversion and laughed my ass off.

    Then I raised my prices.

  • Great post Henry. It boggles my mind that anyone goes with Lulu or its competitors. They’re just another middle man and an unnecessary one at that. But you provided a lot of detail that will be useful for people on the fence.

  • Matt

    I don’t work for Lulu, but I do work for one of their competitors. And while I find it amusing to see them get bashed by bloggers on a regular basis, there are a few points that I think you should consider when you create your posts.

    1. Self-publishing companies have to make money in order to exist. If they can’t make money, then they can’t help people publish their books. So, complaining that they have a profit component to their business model isn’t a valid criticism. There is plenty of information about low-cost ways to get ISBNs and other publishing products, but people choose not do it that way (see below for why).

    2. If I were to rank the self-publishing companies in categories of “good” and “bad” in terms of their treatment of their customers, I would have to put (my anonymous company), Lulu, and CreateSpace (Amazon) up in the “good” category, and companies like the Author Solutions group at the bottom in the “bad” category – I might even create a “Criminal Fraud” category for Author Solutions (that’s iUniverse, Trafford, etc).

    3. There is often criticism of self-publishing companies for selling (or giving away for free) the ISBN numbers. Here are the facts:
    * As publishing entities, we don’t make the rules about the antiquated ISBN system. We have to live with it just like you guys do. If it were up to me, we’d be able to buy a block of ISBN numbers and list the author as the publishing contact and give her full control over it; but that isn’t the way it works. Not our fault, not Lulu’s fault, it’s just the way it is.
    * Just because we (or Lulu) is listed as the publisher, doesn’t mean that we (or Lulu) own the copyright to the book. It just means that we are the contact for ordering it. So, you don’t give up your rights to your book simply because your SP slapped an ISBN number on it.
    * There is no other way to get a book listed in the distro databases. You MUST have an ISBN number. Amazon simply won’t list a book that doesn’t have one, and no bookstore will order it – even if a customer asks for it by name. Again, we don’t make up the rules – that’s just how it is.

    4. My last point is this: As I’ve been working in this industry, I’ve noticed that very few authors have any interest in getting into the granular details about how their books get published. They want to write and let someone else take care of the technicalities of how it gets to market. When I try to explain to them face-to-face how the process works, they glaze over and shake their heads and say, “can’t I just pay you to do it for me?”

    So, even though WE allow our customers to supply us with their own ISBN numbers, I would estimate that 9 out of 10 choose to buy it from us anyway. Those that don’t, typically already got their ISBN from CreateSpace or Lulu. As you know, those ISBNs are useless to us, but we let customers do it anyway. Probably less than 1% actually go out and create their own publishing company and buy their own block of ISBNs.

    A final analogy: Sure, you can do your own taxes. But, many people hire a tax accountant to do it for them. They just want to “get it done”. Would you expect an accountant to work for free? Would you expect him to post the forms to a free online tax service on his website? Go to the expense of writing tax software that does it, and then never charge a dime for any of it? Of course not! He’s in the business of doing people’s taxes for a fee.

    Same with self publishing. Lulu and CreateSpace (and our system) allow users to get their books to market for free – or almost free. BUT we have to make money, so we charge on the back-end; when we sell the book to the consumer. The only other alternative is for me to charge you an upfront fee of about $500 (because that’s the approximate value of an average SP customer) to list your book in our system.

    So, this model is the lowest risk (and least time-consuming) way for an author to get his or her book to market. But, please feel free to continue bashing Lulu! I’m LOVING it!!!!

    • Sure everyone was right, peoples have to make money in order to survive, nobody should blame anyone for making money ! But the point is, don’t tell peoples that you are giving anything “Free” when it is not ! This is the whole point, be honest so that others can trust you, the more that peoples trust you, the better it is for yourself, not better for anyone else, not better for me, but for yourself as businesses operators ! ! !

      Love to all,
      ToneyS Wong.

  • bob


    Thank you for the clarification and support. Let me know which competitor you work for and I’ll return the favor. 😉
    I’m not sure why bashing Lulu is the flavor of the month, but it sure seems to be, meantime our rapidly growing list of happy customers are making ever more money using Lulu to publish for free and to get their books into ever more markets.
    Just two errors on this on this site in recent weeks:
    1. Authors -only- pay the $1.49 ebook cost Ms Dawson complains about when they sell their ebook. Publishing your books remains no cost on Lulu.
    2. Publishing is free on Lulu and will remain so.

    Finally quit bashing Lulu. It does not do you any good, we are just going to keep innovating on behalf of our customers.
    If you don’t like what we offer, fine. We recognize there are a bunch of other talented and good-value-for-the-money alternative suppliers such as Matt’s, please use them.

    Cheers, Bob.

    Ps. If you are experiencing any -specific- issue with an order or service you’ve bought from Lulu please let me know, we stand behind all our products and services: bob@lulu.com

    • I submitted my ebook project to Lulu.com on 9/17, thinking that would be plenty of time for me to get it out there for the holidays as it is a holiday cookbook. It is simple text with only one picture (on the cover) a total of 30 pages. I have been asking for the status of my ebook for about two weeks. I have been told several times that I would be emailed by the representative handling it. The last communication I had said they had turned it over to the Specialists and someone would email me in 2-3 days. It is ID# 9360356, Case #00491313. I am NOT happy with Lulu. I have four other ebooks I’d like to have published but I won’t be using Lulu. And I will tell my friends not to use Lulu. I feel that I have been given the run around and they have outsourced the work to India. Thank goodness I didn’t submit all my books trusting Lulu to do it right. Now I see how they work.

  • Bob: If you are not sure why bashing Lulu is flavor of the month you might want to consider, um, looking into it a bit? It’s not like we all got up on morning and put our mean girl britches on.

  • DED

    Well Bob, don’t forget that you’re also experiencing a rapidly growing list of unhappy customers as well. Your overconfidence could be your undoing.

  • Brian

    Could there be a new type of scam also occurring with Lulu? I’ve been reading others’ complaints about their epub file not being “valid”, even though it passes the online and offline validation programs. Could Lulu be hoping that you’ll give in and just pay their conversion fee? I’ve submitted my own epub file twice, only to be rejected twice, even though it passes validation! I think I’ll just quit Lulu and wait for PubIt to get started.

    • Tammie King

      Thanks for the great post and the info about Pubit.

      I 2 have an ePub book with LuLu that passes all the validators…except that LuLu says it doesn’t validate for the iBookstore. They won’t give a reason nor the information that Apple gives when a book is rejected. They do keep telling me I can purchase their service. Ya Right. I know how to make an ePub file. I don’t need them to charge for what I already know how do do from scratch. I’ve been working with HTML for years and with WC3. I’m happily reading my book on my iPad now…but they can’t get it into the ibookstore without trying to take me for for a ride. I’m not at all happy with my LuLu.com experience. What a waste of time.

      Yes I’m a real customer. With a real LuLu account and book. I’ve spent too much time with their systems and emails. Be weary. Our time is valuable and I just wasted a bunch of my time setting up an account with them…plus all the time with emails on not validating…creating my ePub and much more.

  • I’m not here to defend/attack Lulu, but I can say that I *just* went through this process w/Lulu and maybe I can shed some light on things.

    I was frustrated at first too. However, 1/3rd of my frustration was because I was working from a Micro$soft document. The moment I went to iWork/Pages, I was able to upload an ePub document to Lulu without issue.

    Then, the other 1/3rd of my frustration was that the Lulu converter cannot accept spaces in the ePub filename (weird, I know). A quick search of the Lulu support forums solved that problem for me.

    The last 1/3rd was my own lack of experience with the ePub format – I had never worked with it before 3 days ago. It took me ~7 hours to overcome my lack of knowledge. At the end, I was able to get my ePub manuscript uploaded just fine to Lulu using iWork/Pages.

    Yeah, it might ruffle some feathers to be forced to use a certain toolset to create the ePubs, but given the limited time I have to dedicate to my writing – I’ll sacrifice some flexibility to gain the time to actually produce the content. That kind of statement may be blasphemy to some, but the gift of time has made all the difference for me. Your mileage may vary.

  • The reason why the epubs do not pass the epub checker for Apple is that the epubs have to have been generated on Mac or similar Apple proprietary software. So the only epubs which will pass are those which were. This is Apple’s fault, not Lulu’s. The PC generated epubs will still work on Lulu; you just can’t sell them through Apple.

    But on the other hand, Lulu still has a lot to answer for. The whole reason it is not garnering any brownie points with Lulu authors is that the company does not share its plans with them. It also acts on decisions which are on the whole contradictory and also ineffective. Case in point: the terrible way the whole buying catalog is laid out. Lulu authors have found themselves suddenly in competition with outside publishers and their listing ids do not jive with their project ids; anyone searching for a Lulu produced book has to find it by title or author, because the listing links return a “not found” or “there are no interesting books here” tag if you use anything but those. In fact, weRead, a site which had “partnered” with Lulu to present books for possible buys hosts Amazon links instead, which renders the whole “buy from Lulu” idea moot. And I have found out that I and a whole lot of other Lulu veterans had been blocked from participation in the “community” forum altogether for criticizing Lulu’s refusal to address the issues we brought up or tried to help other authors with. This form of censorship does not rest well with people whose job it is to inform and educate, and certainly smacks of the kind of behavior scam artists use.

    But from what I have read about Lulu lately, on other blog sites, I can have nothing but concern for the way Lulu has slid so far downhill I don’t even know why I am trying at all. If Lulu staffers would just pay attention to what the posters are saying they would see that they have a fiduciary duty to the people who pay them to publish their books.

  • “The reason why the epubs do not pass the epub checker for Apple is that the epubs have to have been generated on Mac or similar Apple proprietary software. So the only epubs which will pass are those which were. This is Apple’s fault, not Lulu’s. The PC generated epubs will still work on Lulu; you just can’t sell them through Apple.”

    not true, we do our conversions on Indesign and MS and are perfectly able to pass our product through the iBookstore. having a good validation requires a very thought out approach to the whole conversion process. as long as you play by the formatting rules, you shouldn’t have a problem passing your content through all the sales channels by yourself.

  • Caldonia

    Once you publish w/Lulu, there are no avenues of access; only useless forums. Someone wants to purchase some of my literature, but I can no longer access it. I guess I’ll have to submit it elsewhere.

  • Caldonia

    Look! U’e rejected my address 3 times. enough already!

    • Henry Baum

      Can you reset the password?

      • Caldonia

        No, I can’t reset my password, it continues to take me back to the set password option. But it won’t let me reset it. So, I cannot get to my work, your chat box is close, so I’m left with a dilemma.