Friday, October 14, 2005

Shadow Review: Lulu

Lulu gets mentioned a lot when the topic of self-publishing comes up. Here's the skinny:

What they say: "Lulu is a technology company, not a publisher."

What they really do: They will produce your book, CD, or DVD and make it available for purchase online. There is technically no charge for this, however there are a bunch of gotchas.

A "real" book needs an ISBN. Lulu will assign you an ISBN, but only in conjunction with the purchase of a "distribution package".

Their Basic Distribution package costs $34.95, which covers the ISBN, the barcode (a scannable image of the ISBN,) one year placement on Amazon's Marketplace (not much of a deal when you go through all their fine print), and a listing in Books in Print, which is essentially the list of real books.

For $149.95 you get the Global Distribution package, which includes all of the above (minus Amazon) plus a listing in Ingram, the largest US book wholesaler.


What kind of printing: digital

Whose ISBN: theirs. You do have the option to use your own if you have one, but then you can't use any of their distribution channels (ie, Ingram), which would be their only real advantage.

Costs: There's a very straightforward table with pricing information for making the books. Bottom line is generally $4.53 plus 2 cents per page. Decide how much you want to make per book (your royalty); Lulu adds 25% of that, and adds it to the production price to come up with the price of your book. If you don't want to make a profit (choose zero royalty), Lulu waives their commission. E-books are free.

There's also an extensive marketplace where you can purchase services like editing, proofreading, cover design, and marketing at prices that go up to four figures. The distribution packages (above) are additional.

Breaking out: Since it is POD, your book can qualify for a review on POD-dy Mouth. Theoretically it could generate enough buzz and word of mouth to create sales worthy of attention from the mainstream publishers, but I'm told the Lulu ISBN (like other POD ISBNs) is the "kiss of death" to them.

Redeeming features: Because set-up is free (and it should be, if you can generate a manuscript that looks like a book and not a word processor, and can create a PDF file of it, which can be done with admittedly expensive Adobe software) you can get away with little or no money up front to produce trade paperbacks that are relatively more expensive than bookstore books.

Bottom line: A viable option for producing (note: not "publishing") small quantities of books for non-commercial purposes. Once you get into their distribution packages, it's just a vanity press.

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