Lulu Through The Looking Glass

Lulu Lens was set up as an interactive forum for feedback from Lulu authors. While understandably, Lulu pitch this feedback forum as a means for them to improve their overall services—there is no doubt much of the impetus is to address a number of issues highlighted by authors in their own Lulu discussion forum as well as on other external writer’s forums and blogs. Here is an extract from the latest posting at Lulu Lens.

“This week we want to focus a little more on our distribution. We are looking at ways we can improve the process overall, and so any insight you can give us would be very valuable. Specifically, we want to know what aspects of our existing process have been confusing or frustrating for you? Hopefully, we can use your feedback to streamline the process and help you get your book into the distribution channels that are most beneficial to you.”

Nick Popio, Social Networking Team Leader

I was recently asked online about a month or so ago why POD, Self Publishing & Independent Publishing make particular focus of Lulu. In simple terms, regardless of quality and diversity of services, Lulu remain one of the flagship companies providing services to self-publishing authors and they remain a critical brand name in this area, despite their recent best efforts to shoot themselves in the foot. Even with staff layoffs, and rightly or wrongly, a perceived downturn in quality of customer service and administration—the Lulu publishing machine remains an attractive self-publishing monolith in the eyes of first time authors and authors still unwilling to take on the full rigours of all that entails self-publishing under their own imprint and personal steam without the aid of design widgets, editing services, promotional products and marketing services. If you like, Lulu are the Ikea of the self-publishing world—cut price self-publishing services under one roof and it is understandable why authors want to believe that their loyalty in ‘difficult’ times will ultimately pay off.
Let us not forget there have been notable recent author successes like Jeremy Robinson and Wil Wheaton at Lulu who have gone on to greater prosperity and still a number of significant small niche independent presses who use the services of Lulu like Etica Press. How long this lasts is very much in the court of Lulu.
Here is just a highlight of comments today from Lulu authors from the Lulu Lens comments:

Mario, Posted August 10, 2009 at 8:45 am

“… support is a dead zone for authors. I mean, my issue is REVENUE related and still dead in the water. I’m looking at competitors for a revision and another book because frankly, if sales on lulu.com are not showing up in my revenue, it’s like taking a part-time job and at the end being told you were a volunteer.”

Nick Popio, Posted August 10, 2009 at 8:55 am

“Mario,
I am sorry you haven’t received an answer. Can you email me at npopio@lulu.com with a summary of the issue and the reference id you were given by customer support? I will try to get you some answers as quickly as possible.”

Heath Pfaff, Posted August 10, 2009 at 9:08 am

“…one thing I’d like to see improved would be the communication between my Lulu listing and my Amazon listing. The retail markup can play havoc on book prices, if I understand it correctly. It is already difficult to get a Lulu book to a price that is acceptable to the general public.”

Michael Harris, Posted August 10, 2009 at 10:52 am

“… We have a following but the price you set for lulu and retail make them unappealing to public. i think me wanting $4.00 a books is fair. But selling for $16.90 is not worthwhile to the public for small books. You need to get them in the price of $6.95 or so. So if I have to take say $2.75 or $3.00 for each I would do it for a listing of $6.95.”


John Ross, Harvey, Posted August 10, 2009 at 12:01 pm

“… Everything else getting here is reasonable, but I’d prefer my $17 books to be $11, and my $11 books to be $6, it’s just not possible with the printing charges. Yes they are reduced with multiple orders, understandably, but they prevent our product from being a fair market value. We’re in essence selling apartments for the price of a wide lot 2 storey home, with a landscaped garden.”

Daniel Poeira, Posted August 10, 2009 at 12:24 pm

“Big strong cardboard boxes are great if you ordered a lot of books or magazines, but if a writer only needs a single proof copy for revision, it would be nice to have a simpler package that would cost less to go through the mail.”

Deborah, Posted August 10, 2009 at 12:55 pm

“I am an author who is based in Australia and I have several issues with your system. Your shipping costs are APPALLING and I sell very few books here in my own country of residence compared to my following in the USA. It is plainly ridiculous for a buyer here to order a $19 book and then pay an additional $19 in shipping!!!”

Tammy Suto, Posted August 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm

“If Lulu could manage to get a lower retail mark-up it would help with people choosing distribution and actually selling because no one is going to buy a paperback for $20 or more. Hardcovers I can see, depending on the page count but never a paperback. .. maybe offering the expanded package at a lower rate for a short time will draw people in who want more exposure and also to have the books in more than Amazon.“

Certainly the mark-up on Lulu books leaves authors trimming their own royalty to such a perilous amount—it leaves the act of publishing with any of Lulu’s packages nothing more than a ’hello, I have a published book. I’m here, hello…eh, hello’. Wheaton and Robinson have proved that the Lulu model of publishing can work, not to become a millionaire by any means, but through deft self-marketing combined with a prominent online presence—modest profits could be made, and at the very least, enough to support the continued process of future self-publication through Lulu.

Lulu have taken some flack recently and deservedly so at times—they do have an innate ability to score own goals, but then so do the other monoliths, notably Amazon. I do believe there is a genuine endeavour by Lulu to consolidate, recuperate and redeploy their publishing brand. After all, they maintain their forum which contains as mush positive as it does negative feedback, and they do not engage in the antics of another well-known American pseudo-traditional publishing chameleon.
Lulu is a company with their thoughts and directions in the right place; are faced with the same adversities of layoffs and financial duress all of the publishing industry is faced with now. Yet, they must also retain the ethos of openness and the philosophy that publishing is for all authors whatever the personal goals and aspirations.
Lulu’s key areas of improvement remain, shipping costs (something they have begun to tackle) mark-ups on books and general administration faux pas with listings on Amazon. Much like the publishing industry in general, Lulu need to seize back the control they once enjoyed in offering self-publishing services.
For any company tested in these times, this is about retaining quality of service and trust with the customer. Lulu still has some work to do but few doubt their wish to address the issues. The question is – do they have the desire and resolve to put Lulu back on the map? We should not forget easily, Lulu were the original cartographers of that self-publishing map. I will leave the last words to Ken Umbach of Umbach Publishing who has extensively used Lulu’s services over the past few years and remained dedicated to the basic principles of what Lulu offer small press publishers. He commented today on AbsoluteWrite’s POD Publishing Forum on Lulu’s current position…

“My sense of it, from the conversations I have had, is that Lulu.com’s management is attempting to address concerns and to improve services continuously. Sure, they want to make money, and they are pushing a lot of special deals to goose sales, but I think they want to do things right. They have made many improvements over the years I have been using Lulu, and that process is likely to continue, in my opinion. Until some issues are resolved, I would advise caution regarding using Lulu to print any confidential or highly sensitive materials.

I have had a recent telephone conversation with some Lulu consultants, and explained the issues that had triggered concern (the sending of a book into distribution without the final approval, no responses to urgent attempts for assistance, arbitrary placement of books for sale via Amazon.com), and also described the sorts of use I have made of Lulu, some of which I gather are not what they had foreseen. I am hoping to have a follow-up conversation.

I think the folks I talked with were paying attention. As I bought some ten grand worth of books from them last year, they might consider my views… worthwhile.

Whatever its imperfections might be, Lulu offers a unique set of services. I’d be hard pressed to find a replacement.“

Ken Umbach, Umbach Publishing, AbsoluteWrite.com

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