What’s New at Lulu.com? Video Interview with Sarah Gilbert

by Joel Friedlander on July 9, 2012 · 22 comments

Post image for What’s New at Lulu.com? Video Interview with Sarah Gilbert

The first major player in print on demand for self-publishers—and still one of the largest of all—is Lulu.com. Since their founding in 2002 by Bob Young,

Lulu has published over 1.1 million titles by creators in over 200 countries and territories and adds 20,000 new titles to their catalogue a month.—Wikipedia

Lulu.com has just celebrated their 10th anniversary and I took the opportunity to sit down and have a talk with Sarah Gilbert, Manager of Sales.

In the interview we discussed:

  • How Sarah’s journey brought her to Lulu
  • Lulu’s changes in the last 3 years
  • eBooks at Lulu and new distribution channels
  • David Thorne’s success in self-publishing through Lulu
  • Their 2 sales models and how the royalties differ
  • How Lulu differentiates itself from other print on demand vendors
  • Sarah’s perspective on ebook formats
  • Lulu’s Publishing Adviser software
  • Lulu’s move into 6 international markets

If you would rather listen than watch, here is a link to the audio file of the interview:

MP3 Audio only version:

Download MP3 file: (Right click this link and “Save as…”)
Sarah Gilbert Interview-Audio

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sarah GilbertSarah Gilbert is the Manager of Services Sales and Account Management at Lulu.com. Her specialty is unearthing the needs of independent authors and setting a plan of action to help them achieve success. In addition to working with authors, Sarah is directly involved in services product development and educating communities of writers.

Be Sociable, Share!

    { 21 comments… read them below or add one }

    Michael N. Marcus July 9, 2012 at 3:08 am

    I’ve used Lulu for some printed proofs, and for distribution of PDF e-books, but Lulu prices for printing basic paperbacks are extremely high.

    For example, the Lulu price for printing a 396-page 6 x 9 paperback is $12.65, compared to $6.05 for Lightning Source or $5.60 for CreateSpace. Lulu quality is OK — but certainly not twice as good as LS or CS.

    Lulu may make sense for specialized products like photo books, but its high price for regular books can severely limit sales and may eliminate any profit for the author.

    For e-books, why bother with Lulu — which has no distribution to Amazon — when other services provide much broader distribution?

    Lulu offers “free” EPUB conversion, but if an author needs help, the price can be high (and, again, not competitive). Last year, Lulu charged $99 for EPUB conversions of books with up to 250 pages. This year the price is $279. If you add just one page (or if you add 250 pages) the price goes up to $349. Other services such as eBookIt do not charge per page.

    The search facility on the Lulu online store was defective three years ago — and still is. Although Lulu sells at least six of my books, a search for my name as an author shows ZERO results.

    Lulu boss Bob Bob Young told Publishers Weekly that “We publish a huge number of really bad books.” If Bob knows they’re really bad books, he shouldn’t publish them. Bob also misspelled “misspell” and confused “less” and “fewer.” A publisher should know better.

    And finally, Lulu’s planned IPO failed and the company has lost money in recent years. If Lulu continues, I would not be surprised if it becomes just one more brand within the Author Solutions empire.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.bookmakingblog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.BookFur.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 9, 2012 at 11:31 am

    So I’m guessing you’re not a fan? Lulu does seem to appeal more to the hobby publisher, and their prices reflect that, but they also have a huge following so I assume they are making a lot of people happy.

    As far as retailing, unit cost is a critical consideration for any publisher who needs to offer wholesale discounts to get their book into distirbution, and that’s why I recommend authors take a good look at all the options open to them—inlcuding Lulu—before they decide which vendor best suits them.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 10, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    By the way, I did a search on your name in the Lulu store and got 11 hits, including 8 of your books: Michael N. Marcus at Lulu

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus July 11, 2012 at 7:37 am

    I’m not surprised. The Lulu search system is highly erratic. Results vary from day to day, and even from hour to hour.

    Three years ago I did a search for the very specific title of my “Telecom Reference eBook.”

    The wacky search suggestions include:
    Professional Helicopter Pilot Studies
    Gay Girls in Dresses
    How to Study and Interpret the Holy Bible
    Sacred Geometry Design Sourcebook
    Epic Role Playing Game Manual
    Dragon’s Den
    Resurrection of the Hellcat
    Thinking Skinny Ebook
    Passion X:
    Film Dollies, Cranes, & Camera Stands
    Disciplinary Dialogues

    More: http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com/2009/08/lulu-is-too-stupid-to-be-trusted-to.html

    Reply

    David Bergsland July 9, 2012 at 11:40 am

    It was interesting {though I must admit, sitting and watching a video does not fit within my time constraints. So, I listened while I worked {again, not optimal]. Regardless, some comments.

    Lulu got me started. Unlike Marcus, if I search for my name, 89 books pop up [including several I had forgotten about]. Their results have radically changed in recent years.

    Evidently, Amazon cut them out of distribution. At least , the Lulu versions are rarely listed. As a result, my print sales which used to be 50-75% of gross sales are now close to zero.

    PDF sales which started at 25% and grew to 60% or so have dropped to zero now that they have separated all the listings. print, PDF, and ePUB all have separate pages which are not internally linked to each other. That has really cut sales.

    Their print quality remains quite a bit higher than Createspace. They offer hard covers and spiral bound. I miss working with them.

    Lulu used to be my best resource, now they are a distant also-ran but still third after Createspace and KDP.

    It will be interesting to see where they go…

    —•••†•••—
    David Bergsland

    The Skilled Workman: http://bergsland.org
    Twitter: @davidbergsland
    FaceBook: radiqxpress
    Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/davidbergsland

    The Christian Authors of Radiqx Press: http://radiqx.com
    Publisher: Desktop publishing using InDesign: tips, tricks, and training for ministries and church secretaries
    • Easily Understanding Scripture & Advanced Discipleship Bible Studies
    • Christian Fiction • The Earth Is Young
    • InDesign On-Demand • Writing In InDesign

    Author: “Practical Font Design”
    Typographer and Font Designer
    Hackberry Font Foundry

    Reply

    chris July 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    As an author of a non-fiction book (soon to be published, currently download-only), I totally understand the high pricing for ebook conversion. Fiction conversion is a walk in the park compared to non-fiction with charts, photos, and odd-shaped images.

    Reply

    bowerbird July 9, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    lulu was a real pioneer.

    so i’d _love_ to love lulu.

    but she’s so high-maintenance
    that she just makes it too hard.

    -bowerbird

    Reply

    Tracy July 10, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Lulu has a fantastic website with a lot of great products, no doubt. However the only real advantage, and reason I can see using them, are the hard-cover options. For the average author, they are really the only source to get a hard-cover put together easily, that I can find. Create Space doesn’t do it and Lightning Source is positioning itself to be small-self-publisher unfriendly.
    Create Space just kills them on price for the soft-cover stuff. Further, Create Space offers wrap-around cover printing so you can have a full-color spine. Lulu, unless I’m missing something, only offers black spines with white writing.

    Past that, the feud with Amazon has made them even less attractive, as there is so little control over how Amazon handles their distribution.

    I really want to like Lulu, I think they have a great selection of products, but they just have too many issues and are too expensive on their unit prices to compete for anything but the hard-cover books.

    Reply

    David Bergsland July 10, 2012 at 11:47 am

    You are missing something. With Lulu you Click upload one-piece PDF [or whatever it is called]. It’s an inconspicuous link at the top of the page for your covers. It will give you exact measurement for cover with bleed and the spine. They let you add type that wraps around and will not bounce it if it encroaches on the ridiculous 3/16″ margins on the spine required by CS.
    They not only take your PDFs from InDEsign, they take it in Acrobat 5 which allows transparency so you do not need to flattened

    Reply

    Tracy July 10, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Thanks David. That knocks one issue off the list for certain. From comparisons i have seen, the Lulu print quality for covers are more color correct and finer in detail than Create Space. Now it becomes a matter of overcoming the other issues from price to distribution, which might be major hurdles for them. I don’t know. From the standpoint of a potential customer, it would be nice to see them make some headway.

    Reply

    David Bergsland July 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I certainly agree. I miss Lulu. When I started self-publishing in the late 90s there was nothing like this. In 2002, Lulu was exciting, a breath of fresh air, a wonderful opportunity. Now, all they are selling for me are ePUBs at iBooks—and not a lot of them. That’s very sad.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus July 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    >>Lightning Source is positioning itself to be small-self-publisher unfriendly.<<

    I've used LS for paperbacks and hardcovers since 2008 and have never found them to be unfriendly. However, their policies sometimes seem weird, such as charging $60 for sending two proofs to the same address at the same time, instead of putting them in the same box and charging $40.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.bookmakingblog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.BookFur.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Morgan Siem, Lulu July 10, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Joel, thanks so much for covering this story about Lulu. I know Sarah was thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss her experience here.

    David, Tracy, Chris & Michael – I appreciate the comments you left here. We always work to incorporate author feedback into our future plans.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Morgan, thanks for your input. Sarah is obviously passionate about her job and mission, and it was a pleasure to spend some time with her.

    Reply

    Tracy July 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Michael,

    True, anyone can become a publisher with Lightning Source. I find their marketing and positioning to indicate that they discourage the individual self publisher. Perhaps it’s the way they approach their customer base and word their literature and website. They make no mention of being a service for self published single authors, and allude to small imprints or small publishers as their first tier of client base. The client sign-up form does belay some of that language by requesting individual book project information, which is positive.

    However, LS does not appear to have up-front pricing or offer the typical self-publisher-centric items, like templates for covers or content without signing up.

    Also, they shun additional services that many would consider valuable for self publishers. From their website; “Please note that Lightning Source does not provide design, file work, editorial, promotional or marketing services. These are solely the responsibility of the publisher.”

    So, yes, you can be a self publisher with LS, but they do not appear to pander to the single self publisher like CS or Lulu.

    Reply

    Katie McAleece July 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Great interview. And Happy Anniversary to Lulu.com! Thank you for making so many independent author’s dreams a reality for them. Incredibly cool concept brought to life.

    Reply

    Morgan Siem, Lulu July 11, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Thanks for the kind words, Katie! We are so honored to be able to help authors bring their dreams to life.

    Reply

    Tracy July 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    I hope it isn’t too late to make a suggestion to Lulu..

    One thing strikes me as absent from all of the major PoD players. None of them offer a way for Authors to set a firm “release date” and take “pre-orders” for their upcoming books.

    Most authors want some control, at least down to the week that their books will hit the market.

    Most also want the ability to offer pre-orders of their novels to build up launch-week sales.

    If Lulu could offer that capability, it would go a long way towards making their services more valuable.

    Reply

    David Bergsland July 11, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    That’s actually not too difficult. If you put up a Kindle book and sign up for KDP, it’s up in less than 24 hours.

    If I put up a print book to CS, it’s a day to approve and 20 minutes to put it up and it’s available onCreatespace. It takes another two days to be ready on Amazon.

    For Lulu, at present, for print their distribution is so minimal, that you can just do it without an ISBN and get it up the same afternoon you upload it.

    For PDFs, you can have it available for sale on Scribd in a couple of hours.

    For Lulu ePUBs, Apple gets in the way and it can take one to two months. But KDP solves that issue pretty well so you can take the time. Most of your sales will be Kindle and Createspace anyway.

    I just release KDP, announce with Amazon, and let the rest take their course.

    Reply

    Tracy July 12, 2012 at 5:52 am

    Perhaps I’m looking for more of a centralized way to “control” a launch. Looking at Create Space as an option, they allow you to create a title, proof it and then authorize it. Once that is done, it is basically up for sale, unless you disable all sales channels (Like Amazon, the CS Store, Expanded Distro, etc). That takes your book off the market until you re-enable those channels, which is fine. However, you must manage pre-orders yourself, typically through your own website or paypal.

    You CAN join the Amazon Advantage program and become your own distributor for the book and offer pre-orders that way. But its not a forthcoming process and there have been more than a few authors who have had all pre-orders canceled when an Amazon CS Rep got confused.

    I would like to see a streamlined approach, perhaps by Lulu, where an author can setup a title 3-4 months in advance. Then have a way to set a schedule with deliverables for things like launch date, firm dates for distribution availability, etc.

    I would also like to see a way to offer pre-orders, even if it’s through the Lulu site for the title, that can be managed for a specific launch date. The ability to have a landing page for the book and to have an pre-order taken, without billing the customer until it ships. With scheduling and pre-orders, have an IT back-end system that can make ready and fulfill those orders on launch day, be it 10 books or 10,000.

    Have a control panel with each book project, all of the distribution channels and some solid way to manage it all with accuracy. The current model for self publishers seems to be geared toward pushing the product out as soon as the proof is approved and then waiting for it to filter out. I would like to see it handled more like a big-six type release where there is enough control to accurately pre-market a title.

    Reply

    Kingsley July 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Great interview Joel.

    Lulu has the big advantage of offering a hardback book option, IMHO is much better than Createspace approach with the “premium” option for hardbacks that few know about and is expensive compared to Lulu.

    Reply

    Leave a Comment

    { 1 trackback }