Lulu Has it Together

This was a comment on the Get it Together, Lulu post.  Warrants its own post:

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!!!!

  • The ISBN thing seems to be a mess in the US, but if you are Canadian, ISBN’s (a block of them) are free. The government even has an online system to manage them, it’s quite handy and easy. As a Canadian, I know our national pastime is complaining about taxes, so consider this a nice perk.

    Canadians can find more info here:

    Apologies for posting a Canadian-centric comment. (Apologizing is another one of our pastimes)

    • Was just searching for reviews on Lulu and CafePress and stumbled on your post re: Canadian ISBNs. I’m Canadian and had no idea this is part of what my tax dollar was going towards. As I’m in the process of getting my first book published, your post came in a very timely fashion. Thank you muchly! (Profuse thankfulness being yet another Canadian past time).

  • sleepyjohn

    Nice to read calm, reasoned comments about self-publishing for a change. Of course not all authors want to get into the nuts and bolts of publishing, so there is a quite clear and valid opening for organisations such as Lulu, now that the Digital Revolution has enabled any writer to produce a book without having to go through a self-appointed gatekeeper.

    And like used car salesmen there are the good, the bad and the ugly in this emerging business. With the huge amount of publicity and information available to prospective writers on the internet, it should not be too much effort to sift out the baddies. There were some riveting figures quoted on this site a while back concerning established publishers branching out into this, some with enormous numbers of zeros! It will not benefit any of us if we hysterically tar all these companies with the baddy brush. And neither should we ignore the huge percentage of sales income taken by traditional publishers – anything up to 90% for new authors.

    I tried Lulu some months back and it did not strike me as a rip-off. However, postage costs to NZ were very high, so I explored local options (having, in all fairness to Lulu, learnt a lot from their process) and ended up having my books printed ten minutes down the road for half the price. No Amazon distribution of course, but I decided that a “bizarre” fairy tale, however “brilliant” that “walks that fine line between profound and insane” might be sufficiently difficult to categorise that no-one browsing Amazon would find it anyway. (Is that shameless plug OK?) So, plenty of courses for all manner of literary horses, now.

    And think of all the new jobs being created. I believe this digital revolution will be a wonderful development for the whole publishing industry, from the writers all the way down the food chain, because of the endless potential opportunities that keep bubbling out of it. I see only good things ahead, despite the claim by some demented author, that I read a while ago, that self-publishing will cause the deaths of starving African children!

    But so many awful books are now being published, some say. Well, so what? A book takes a few kilobytes of storage space; I could store hundreds of thousands just on my own webserver. I think there is plenty of room for them. I read folk saying the dross will sink and the good stuff float to the top. Interestingly, in real life the dross floats and the nuggets of gold sink, so I think readers will have to learn to delve a bit to find the good stuff, and that effort may not be a bad thing. And there is another opening for someone – digging through the dross to find the nuggets.

  • Wow! That’s quite some allegation. Do you have any specific issues with our services that you would like to address? I understand you work for an anonymous competitor, but potentially libelous statements like these surely aren’t very professional.
    Please feel free to address any firsthand difficulties you’ve had with our services directly to me at kgray at authorsolutions dot com.

    Kevin Gray
    Author Solutions, Inc.

  • Valera Ainsworth

    thank you so much for the article. It relieves my mind to read the positive. Thanks again. Valera