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Watchdog: Review of Lulu

ALLi is delighted to announce that Giacomo Giammatteo will now head up its Watchdog desk, which on behalf of our membership and for self-published authors everywhere keeps a close check on all services affecting indie authors. Below Jim introduces himself and defines the Watchdog function, as he sees it, before hitting the ground running with his first post evaluating Lulu and finding it wanting. Over to Jim…

Jim Giacommatteo photographed with his opet dog

The Watchdog and his dog

My name is Giacomo Giammatteo. Orna Ross and the wonderful folks at ALLi were kind enough to ask me to be a reviewer of services for the new ALLi guide book, Choosing A Self-Publishing Service, and that has led to me writing the Watchdog posts for ALLi. I’m honored to be a part of ALLi, and hope I can help all of you save money and make more informed decisions.

Before we get started, let me introduce you to a few of my best friends. The adorable pup in my lap was one of my favorite dogs. His name was Slick. And the handsome devil on the right is my buddy, Dennis. He’s a wild boar we rescued on our sanctuary.

Photo of Jim's wild boar Dennis

A wild boar named Dennis – no Watchdog should be without one

What is a Watchdog?

By definition, a watchdog is:

  • A dog that is trained to guard a place
  • A person who guards against loss, waste, theft, or undesirable practice.

I think the second definition fits this role better, so we’ll go with that. I don’t know how much guarding I can do, but maybe together we can help each other.

What Can We Do?

What I’d like to bring to this role is a way for all of us to work together and help spread information so that authors are aware of which companies offer good, high-quality services at reasonable prices – and which ones are out to take advantage of us. Far too many companies are geared toward getting the most they can from authors, instead of looking for a partnership with us.

I want to expose the companies who take advantage of authors, but I think we should also shine the light on those who work hard at trying to help us.

We Need to Look at Intent

Looking at the reason behind why a company does things—at least to me—is huge. Just because a company has a higher price than another doesn’t mean it is gouging. They might not be able to compete at a lower price range. On the other hand, some companies—at first glance—seem to be our friends. They have good prices and good quality, but when you dig deeper and look at their terms… Caveat emptor. (Let the buyer beware.)

So how do we find out which companies/services are good, and which aren’t?

I believe the best way is to do it together. If you have a question, a concern or a suggestion of a company to check out, write to us. And if you have information to share, an experience to tell us about, anything that you feel should be checked out—send it to us.

To give you an idea of what we’re trying to accomplish, take a look at this first post. For today, I thought I’d tackle Lulu. Please note, this is not meant to be a full comparison of services offered by these companies; it’s more to show why Lulu might not be the best choice for a partner, especially print options.

Re-examining Lulu For Book Distribution

Lulu was one of the pioneers in independent publishing. In those early days, many self-published authors flocked to Lulu for their distribution needs. Even as competition grew, Lulu prospered by offering a wide variety of services, including hardcover books, which CreateSpace didn’t—and still doesn’t—offer.

But how does Lulu hold up now? Deciding on a distribution partner involves a lot more than just looking at price, or even distribution reach. There are other questions:

  • Do they offer hardcover books?
  • How broad is the selection of print sizes?
  • How does the quality stack up to the competition?
  • Do they offer returns?

Aside from selection and print options, I believe the most important decisions are:

  • Price
  • Distribution
  • Quality

These are the factors I used in my comparison. For the price, I used a 300-page book, 6×9, perfect bound, B&W, with creme paper, and gloss cover. I used a print quantity of 1 for each:

CreateSpace           Lulu          Ingram

Price                                           4.55                    7.25*           4.86
Distribution                               8/10                    8/10          10/10
Quality                                         ✓                         ✓                ✓

If you opt for a hardcover book, Lulu’s price would be $18.65 and Ingram’s would be $10.85. That’s a huge difference.

Looking At the Chart

In terms of quality, I marked them all with a “satisfactory” grade. I think Ingram has better quality overall, but Lulu and CreateSpace are also good.

Regarding the distribution, Ingram gets the nod. They have the best distribution system in the world and the only additional charge is a $12 per year fee per book. Depending on which Ingram service you use—Lightning Source or Spark—you can also set the discount rate from as low as 20% up to 55%. They also allow returns.

CreateSpace does not offer returns, and if you want expanded distribution you must raise the discount to 60%. There are also concerns regarding the willingness of some bookstores to accept CreateSpace books.

Lulu does not offer returns, and they take a cut of each sale. The cut isn’t huge, but on a $15 book, they take $.40. Margins are slim on print books to begin with; authors can’t afford another $.40.

That brings us to price. If you haven’t looked closely at the chart, please do so now. Lulu is $2.39 more than Ingram and $2.70 more than CreateSpace. That is more than what you make from a print book that is competitively priced.

If you have a 300-page book and offer the industry-standard 55% discount, with Lulu you’d have to price the book at $18 to earn a $.45 profit. That same book with CreateSpace (in expanded distribution) would earn you $2.65. And with Ingram it would earn you $3.24. If you opt for the 40% discount with Ingram (ignoring the independent bookstores and sticking to online sales), your earnings would be $5.94.

If you have a book with more pages, the results with Lulu get worse. At 425 pages the costs are:

CreateSpace                   Lulu               Ingram

Price                                            5.96                           9.25*                   6.55

When I look at all of the reasons why I’d choose a distribution partner, I can’t find even one that would steer me to Lulu. In the past they were an option, but perhaps it was because they were the only option. Now there are much better choices.

Bottom Line

Now available on Amazon, Kobo & Smashwords

Now available on Amazon, Kobo & Smashwords

I wrote this post because I ran across so many authors who are using Lulu’s services for printing, and I wanted to make sure the authors knew that there were better options. We can compare those options in future posts, but for now it’s important to realize that by using CreateSpace or Ingram (or both) instead of Lulu, you can get better distribution; better quality; and you can save a lot of money.

There are other problems with Lulu also, especially when it comes to their intent. Lulu has partnered with Author Solutions (ASI), a company that has consistently taken advantage of authors by using deceptive practices and unfavorable terms. Lulu is now offering marketing services backed and supported by ASI. The more I dug into some of Lulu’s other services, the more convinced I was that their intent was clear—they are out to make as much money as possible from the authors who sign with them. I intend to cover that in a future post.

In the meantime, if anyone has information to report, or questions to ask, or topics you’d like to see covered, please let us know. You can email me at watchdog@giacomog.com.

Thanks for stopping by.

*Addendum (19th May 2014)

Lulu offers a “value” print option which reduces the cost of printing a book. For the same book with 300 pages, the ‘value’ price would be $5.25 instead of $7.25, and for the 425 page book, it would be $7 instead of $9.25.

There are two things you need to know about this option:

  1. The ‘value’ option is only for sale on Lulu’s site. You cannot use the ‘value’ print option and distribute anywhere else.
  2. The ‘value’ option uses different printing process and the quality will not be as good as the regular option.

Twitter bird outlineIf you enjoyed this post, please share – here’s our suggested tweet: 

“ALLi’s new Watchdog @JimGiammatteo assess Lulu and finds it wanting: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/publishing-allis-new-watchdog-checks-out-lulu/ via @IndieAuthorALLi”

 

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17 Responses to Watchdog: Review of Lulu

  1. Sarah October 8, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    I think some important points are overlooked here – the first being that the quality of the books produced by Lulu is much better than most places. I got proof copies from a few places and none compared. The second is that they offer MASSIVE discounts for bulk buying (from as little as 15 copies) and regular promotional discounts on top of that. Plus if you order a certain number of books you always get more than that. Usually between 10 and 15 % extra. My last order for example cost £107 including shipping and VAT. There were 60 books on the order and I received 68 making the cost per book far less than you would get by doing a sample quote for a single copy.

  2. William Ash May 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

    Both LuLu and Blurb are vanity presses. If you are making paper books, it is well worth the effort to learn to work with printers and have books made at a press. You should also learn to design books as these companies use a template system which will make your book forever look as it came from Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. I also know that Blurb charges you MORE if you want your own imprint on it.

  3. giacomo Giammatteo May 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

    Hi, Josa. If you’re following the blogs for ALLI, you’re in the right place to get help. It’s a wonderful community and everyone is generous with information. As to the quality, I would suggest looking into an independent, third-party to help with your cover, and to help with your pdf if you need it. After that, it’s fairly simple to get a quality book produced using Ingram and/or CreateSpace. There are other options that we discuss in the book ALLi produced, “Choosing a Self-Publishing Service.”

  4. Josa Young May 19, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Hi, thanks for this. I republished my sister in law Louisa Young’s biography of her grandmother using Lulu (published back in the 90s by MacMillan) and republished for 100th anniversary of Scott’s death in the Antarctic. I have concerns about the cover quality – shiny and the coating lifts off in the most annoying way. But I did find their PDF templates easy to use and helpful, although no British book formats. I am indie publishing my second novel Sail Upon the Land in October, and am investigating the best ways to produce a book shop quality B format paperback, and also distribution methods. Having mostly marketed my first traditionally published novel myself, I hope I will have the time (which is the main thing you need) to do that.

  5. Warren Shuman May 18, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Bravo Giacomo: You are indeed offering a service that is important for Indie Authors. I broke into the business when I formed my small press Frugal Marketer Publishing, for my small business book:”How to Market Your Business in the 90’s”. Hardcover. I learned and did it all myself. I used Amazon, Ingram for libraries and universities. Baker & Taylor, and a distributor for foreign sales. In today’s DIY E-book world, Indie Authors must wear a basic 4 hats: Author, Editor, Publisher and Marketer. Selecting the right services is critical. Investigating is mandatory. Fortunately there are many fine services that can supplyacurate data. Thanks for your fine efforts.
    I wish you Success.

    Warren.

  6. Giacomo Giammatteo May 17, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    Linda, I only took a quick look at Avantine, but on page one I had concerns. The second paragraph at the top of the page talks about their “Copyright registration” service will be increasing prices, from $150-200. This is something that is not truly needed, but even if you wanted it, you can do it yourself for $35. It makes me wonder about their motivation and where they want to make their money. I’ll mark them down to check out in the future, but you might want to look hard at your comparisons.

  7. Linda Kovic-Skow May 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks so much for this great information. It was very helpful and it couldn’t have come at a better time now I’m looking for a new publisher for my sequel. Do you have any thoughts about Aventine Press? I’m comparing them now to Lightning Source (Ingram).

  8. Dana May 17, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Thanks so much for this information.

    Alli is such a useful and amazing resource, one to trust and one which creates a strong rope for nervous would be self-publishers, like me, to hang on to, as well as providing vital guide-lines to follow across what is, for me at least, a very misty landscape.

    I’m being slow to gear up to self-publishing, and am trying to take in as much as I’m able. This print information is one of many things I’ve been wondering about, so it was incredibly helpful. Thanks Glacomo

    • Giacomo Giammatteo May 17, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

      Dana, glad it helped. And yes, The folks at ALLi have a lot in place to help people.

  9. Lucy McCarraher May 17, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    Excellent post – thank you so much for digging into these details. I’m giving a talk today on the Self-Publishing Landscape and this will be extremely useful! I didn’t know Author Solutions has sucked in Lulu too – which means there has to be a flashing light warning sign over them, along with all the Big Five publishers’ “self-publishing” imprints. A watchdog post on them would be valuable!

    • Giacomo Giammatteo May 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks, Lucy. Glad you got something out of this. Just to clarify, Author Solutions does not own Lulu, but they have a marketing affiliation.

  10. Giacomo Giammatteo May 17, 2014 at 12:25 am #

    Gloria, I’m working on a post right now comparing the two. They both have pros and cons.

  11. Gloria Antypowich May 17, 2014 at 12:15 am #

    Thanks for this post–I’ve been planning to use Create Space–I watched the video re Ingram Spark last week, and now after considering your post I may give it serious consideration. Amazzon has contacts in many areas of the world. How would yhou ssay Ingram Spark compares?

  12. Anthony May 16, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Looking forward to your future post on using both CS and Ingram.

  13. giacomo Giammatteo May 16, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Glynis: I’m glad you found it useful. Yes, CS is excellent for printing and certainly for getting you into Amazon. I also strongly recommend Ingram (either Spark or LS) as they are especially strong in the international arena. I actually use both–CS for Amazon, and Ingram for all others. I’ll be doing a post soon on that.

  14. Glynis Smy May 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    Thanks for an informative post, Giacomo. I first used Lulu years ago for poetry books. They were expensive and I just didn’t promote them if I’m truthful. I couldn’t afford the shipping (to Cyprus at the time), and I was embarrassed at the price to sell.

    This week I pulled them off the site, and closed my account (it’s only taken me five years to ‘get round to it’. I intend to redo the books and publish elsewhere. Your post has helped. I use Createspace for my novels, and have had good support when needed. Having another outlet is always useful.

    Love the dog and hog 🙂

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