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…
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.
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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
- The ‘value’ option is only for sale on Lulu’s site. You cannot use the ‘value’ print option and distribute anywhere else.
- The ‘value’ option uses different printing process and the quality will not be as good as the regular option.
“ALLi’s new Watchdog @JimGiammatteo assess Lulu and finds it wanting: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/publishing-allis-new-watchdog-checks-out-lulu/ via @IndieAuthorALLi”