Web-based Self-Publishing Explodes

Posted by: Olga Kharif on May 17, 2005

Bob Young, co-founder of Red Hat, has had a nose for making money all his life. He started out running a typewriter-rental business, then rented out PCs, then ramped up Red Hat, which made a name for itself by selling free software.

So when I found out that Young is currently involved in a self-publishing venture, called Lulu.com, I became intrigued. Particularly since Amazon.com recently acquired BookSurge.com, another online print-on-demand service.

Turns out, the book printing business is becoming remarkably similar to printing money. Consider: The way Lulu.com works is, prospective authors pick a layout out of a bunch available on the site. They then place their text into the layout and hit publish. Voila! The book is available for purchase via Lulu.com or, as the case may be, through Amazon.com. Whenever a customer buys a book, Lulu.com's software automatically takes care of fulfillment (the printing, the mailing), so the book is never touched by a human hand. Then, Lulu.com -- which also publishes music and movies -- takes a 20% cut of the profit.

Not bad, huh? Particularly considering that Lulu.com already offers more than 30,000 books, and it publishes about 1,000 new titles each month. Young says he hopes the company's sales to reach $10 million by 2006.

Actually, I am not surprised that online self-publishers would do well. Nearly every person I know is planning to write a book some day or is already writing one. Traditional vanity publishers typically take a cut of 50% or more, as well as an upfront fee of several hundred dollars. Comparatively, Lulu.com is risk-free and dirt-cheap. If your books don't sell, you don't pay anything, period.

I wouldn't be surprised if online self-publishers grab a major chunk of the publishing market. There's money here, all right. Otherwise, Bob Young wouldn't be here.

By the by, Young tells me that it's his own experience with the publishing industry that made him realize that self-publishing was a golden opportunity. Several years ago, he published a book on the history of Red Hat that sold only 15,000 copies. Its publisher eventually went out of business -- because, Young says, it's increasingly difficult to make money off of books.

Unless they are printed on-demand, online, that is.

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Reader Comments

Michael Simmons (Young Entrepreneur Journey)

May 18, 2005 06:03 AM

Great article! I didn't know this stuff about LuLu.com.

Best,
Michael
http://www.successmanifesto.com

mike burgess

May 20, 2005 04:35 PM

Super article. And for those who don't know, Mr. Young is also the proud owner of the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League. He's been a very interesting a fun addition to our "football family" here in Hamilton and in Canada as a whole.
Check us out!

www.ticats.ca

cheers!

Adam C. Engst

May 23, 2005 09:40 PM

What the article doesn't talk about at all is the number of books LuLu is actually selling to readers. Making 1000 books available for sale per month isn't particularly interesting unless those 1000 books are actually being purchased in significant quantities. My suspicion is that like the rest of publishing, a very few titles generate the majority of the sales, and the rest sell in vanishingly small numbers.

Oh, and Bob Young's disappointment with the publishing industry? 15,000 copies is well above average for most technical books. What would be extremely interesting to know is how many copies Young has sold after making his book available on LuLu (which I would certainly hope he's done).

cheers... -Adam

Ian Ruxton

August 27, 2005 09:48 AM

I think POD is a brilliant concept and Bob Young is one smart operator - as you say. And as a Lulu author (creator) since September 2004 I have been very satisfied with sales and service from Lulu.com. They make mistakes sometimes, but they always work hard to rectify them. As a result the company is expanding rapidly and deserves its high reputation.

Morris Rosenthal

October 6, 2005 10:49 AM

Lulu uses Lightning Source to print many of their books and get them into Amazon and Ingram. Lightning Source provides the backbone for nearly the entire POD publishing industry, though BookSurge may become more of an option now that Amazon owns them.

However, I wouldn't call being published by Lulu "self publishing." If they publish you via Lightning Source using their ISBN prefix, you are published by Lulu, not your own company. While that's a tremendous option for many authors, it's not the same as going into the publishing business.

Another comment had an excellent point, 15,000 copies is very healthy sales for a trade book. As Tim O'Reilly recently pointed out in a NYT Op-Ed, only 2% of titles sold in the last year managed 5,000 sales. Another way to look at it would be to say that a highly limited number of authors are making a living purely by writing books. It is possible to do so by self publishing because instead of earning about $1 a book, you can earn from $5 to $10 a book (the publisher share) and selling a few thousand copies of a couple titles adds up to a decent salary.

John J. Rigo

October 11, 2005 05:27 PM

After two months of sheer frustration in finding most of the publishing operations on the net are scams and mill operations I have elected to go with Lulu. Since it is my plan to give all the net profit proceeds to Christian based programs and projects in Collin County, Texas to the homeless, the poor and those too ill to care for themselves. Why give the margins of profit to companies who give you nothing back. Those that charge you up to $799 cannot even get their brochure mailed to you in almost eight weeks and those who claim to place up to $16,000 to $21,000 of their money into the book (after getting $4,000 of your money as a sign of your sincerity) are all poor liars. Thank God, there is some fresh air out there in companies like Lulu. I hope the owner becomes a billionaire and the rest of these so called "publishing companies" disappear from the business scene. By the way the name of the book is "Roses Amidst Thorns", a twenty year journey in poetry writing from a new Texas poet. It should be published and out for sale this coming Christmas on the lulu website. Since Amazon charges an armful to showcase these self-published books thru lulu in taking 25% off the top, I have elected to use the lulu site only for ordering.

Gene Robinson

December 8, 2005 10:28 AM

Does anyone know what has happened to Lulu.com? Their web site has been down for several days now? Are they no longer in business?

Jonterri Gadson

January 6, 2006 01:05 AM

Lulu.com is still in business. I just signed up and will have my own book for sale through Lulu next week!

Veredigno Atienza

April 4, 2006 03:57 AM

As an aging but still aspiring book author, I discovered POD thru a Victoria,B.C-based publishing company. They promptly charged me over a thousand dollars just to give me an ISBN and ten copies of my own book.

Had it been my destiny to learn of Lulu earlier, I could have saved myself money, time, and energy.

I now have three books published thru Lulu, two of which are distributed globally thru Amazon, with some sales to show. Nothing really in terms of money, but neither have I spent a cent on fees, reviews, marketing and promotions.

I am very happy with Lulu, considering that I just want to share a vision, not necessarily to target a market, or to bring home a sale. I hope to write a hundred books before I kick the bucket. Lulu is addictive I must warn everyone.

Veredigno Atienza

Kathrynne

August 1, 2006 02:10 PM

I'm having trouble uploading my floppy disks on to LULU, is there anyone out there that can help me with this? Please email if you can to
KathrynneBelmont@hotmail.com

manuela

August 31, 2006 06:52 PM

I had a very sour experience with Gloomwing magazine wich is published by LULU. Also LULU was supporting Glooming and never trying to hear my side of the story. Don't forget LULU is the lowest among the self-publishing companies. Don't choose them, the people in the forums will make your life miserable. don't ever try to submit your books to Gloomwing either, they are very rough on reviews.

Cathy

October 20, 2006 10:57 AM

Can you tell me anything about Outshirts Press?

Trevor Jefferson

November 12, 2006 10:33 PM

I actually would love to publish with Lulu, although I am almost completely computer illiterate and am not sure if I will be able to format my books properly.

I have decided to go with PageFree publishing if I cannot either get someone on this earth to help me format my books or do so myself by the end of this month.

If there is anyone out there who would be interested in formatting my (12) books for me so that they can be on lulu ASAP, I would be ever so grateful and would even be willing to pay them via PayPal, postal mail, etc.

THANKS!

Please do email me at: pastorTRjefferson@yahoo.com

Jerry Consiglio

January 19, 2007 01:13 PM

I want to recomend Lulu to any and all aspiring authors. I recently wrote my Memoirs and published on Lulu. It took me two trys to correct errors but they have fantastic tools on the site and were very helpful. When I completed my hardcover book it was a work of art and extremely professional looking in every way. I designed my full cover and did all the artwork myself. After uploading the art and the text I was pleasantly surprised by the way my finished product looked. I took it to a local Border's Book store and compared the finished product with some in the store and I must say it looked better in many cases. I recommend them to anyone looking to publish their work. If anyone would like to see my finished book just copy and paste this link
http://www.lulu.com/content/503189
Lulu was the umbilical cord that brought my writing full circle and allowed me to share my life with others.
Jerry Consiglio
Jamestown, N. Carolina

Una Nancy Owen

March 18, 2007 03:00 PM

The one problem I've got with Lulu is that self-publishing, I've been told, isn't a very good way to break into the industry. It implies that you can't get the book through a paid editor, and that your work isn't of the same quality as authors published by the larger companies.
I'm sure that there are many good authors publishing on Lulu... but how is one supposed to know? The thing that scares me off from that idea is that if I go and publish there, it's likely to make it more difficult to be published by another publishing house later on, as vanity publishing of works that aren't reeeally personal can be taken as a sign of inability or impatience, or just a lack of dedication to the process.
I'm not trying to say that that is what this is, but... I'm worried that it might be.

JBecker

May 4, 2007 03:48 PM

While I understand your concerns, Una, there are several things you must keep in mind:

- Lulu.com does not charge upfront fees or force you to order a ridiculous number of your books, unlike most, if not all, vanity presses.

- Self-publishing is not necessarily the kiss of death for any writer. Mark Twain, Dan Millman, John Grisham, and a number of other writers met with great success following their decision to self-publish their works.
- Publishing your own works does not reflect on your skills as a writer. The large NY houses routinely reject great books simply because they do not fit their precise business profile. Remember, the big congolomerates are all about the bottom line.
- Larger publishers will pay you royalties of between 6-15% (more often the former), and this is AFTER you earn out your advance. Self-publishing earns you royalties from day one, especially if you make little or no monetary contribution, such as is possible with Lulu.
- Publishers take most, if not all of your rights. These days, this may even include dramatic, film, and foreign rights. As a new author, especially, you do not have the clout to negotiate these terms. Consequently, you may spend years stuck with a large publisher who will make 99% more off the sale of your book than you ever will. Should a better deal come along during that time, you will have to purchase your rights back, and you can imagine what that costs. By the by, they will not help you much in terms of marketing, either. Funds for marketing go to the big sellers with big names.
- When you self-publish, you retain control over not just your rights, but also the general look and feel of your book. NY houses often change book titles, cover art, and even content, according to their own ideas. You have no say-so in this whatsoever (though they SAY they will consider your input).
- Last I read, a mere 2% of all writers make enough to quit their day jobs. Write because you love to write. Whether you self-publish or go with a traditional house, chances are your book will have more impact on its readers than it ever will on your bank account.
- Big publisher or not, the number of books you sell depends pretty much entirely on your OWN marketing efforts. I cannot stress this enough! There are always people who want to read exactly what you've written...find them...find them.
- If you are concerned with being indistinguishable from everyone else on Lulu.com, be sure to let word of mouth work for you. If your work is good, word will get around as long as you spread that word. It's not a bad idea to add any and all positive comments and reviews to your website (wherever it is) to further compel buyers to invest in your book.
- About 200,000 out of 250,000 books never sell more than 99 copies over a two-to-five year period. Sobering, eh? I bet you can get at least 99 sold via your own efforts through a publishing venture like Lulu.com.
- As for dedication to process, consider this: Many writers spend five or more years on a single manuscript. They send out queries and synopses or proposals and wait months to hear back from the big houses. If they are lucky, they get a request for sample chapters. More months pass by. If their luck holds, they receive a request for the entire manuscript. More months pass by. Let's say Robert A. Author is extremely fortunate and gets a contract. Goodie! Except, the publisher is backlogged for at least 18 months, and that's after everything is edited and ready to hit the presses. You catch my drift? Even after you finish your work, you may have to wait another 2-4 years to see your work in print. Ouch! Self-publishing takes WEEKS.

I hope this helps you understand a bit more about the publishing process.

A.M.

Roy Gerbil

June 3, 2007 08:21 PM

I've been using Lulu for almost a year now and they've been great. I get royalty checks from them every couple months and I've never had any problems with them.

Dan Coleman

June 20, 2007 03:27 PM

I recently read at the Lulu site of an option to have it publish your book with your own imprint name--you as the publisher--for $129. Is this still correct? I can't seem to find this info now.

John Godfrey

July 8, 2007 10:39 PM

I feel both educated and encouraged after reading the comments about Lulu.com I have been working on three separate books, first a basic employment guide e-book that I have available for free on my website www.johnnygbooks.com (hope thats okay to mention), I am now in the final writing stages of my children/youth book "The Green Enamel Kid" and I almost signed a contract with Publish America. After reading reviews online I decided to run the other direction as fast as I could with this book even though they (PA) accepted it. From everything I have read all over the web Lulu.com looks like the best way to go. I'm tired of reading reviews, but the majority of the comments about Lulu are positive and I can't wait to get my book in print! When it is finished, I have a more serious book that I want to get into print and I expect to use Lulu for that as well. Money is good...but its not the main reason that I write. Thanks to everyone for the comments and help and thank you Lulu for the service you offer. (Sorry I almost wrote a novel here)

I would like to hear some ideas on what if any services need to be purchased at Lulu in order to have a professional looking book? Can it really be good with little money invested?

Gary

July 10, 2007 03:13 PM

POD is exciting. Internet commerce is going to change everything.

Thanks for the article and insights.

Jerry Consiglio

July 11, 2007 05:09 PM

Lulu is a user friendly site that allows an author to express his true self and demonstrate his thoughts and feelings in black and white. At 70 years of age I have found a new friend in Lulu. The finished product is professional as well as eye appealing and far surpasses many books I have compared at local book stores. I feel if you have eye appeal you can capture the browser and attract him or her to your product.Each and every time I look at my book I feel a sense of pride and can't help thanking Lulu for the splendid help they supplied in finishing my manuscript to book format. Let me close with one last observation. Just because one chooses to self publish by no means should be misconstrewed as a failure. Many authors have actually been picked up by agents after they have self published. Be proud of your work, be proud of your accomplishment and above all be proud of your association with Lulu.

Kevin

October 10, 2007 11:19 AM

Has anybody heard anything or used any of the other on-line or on-demand publishers? I am getting a lot of information from Trafford and Outskirts.

a.c. mccants

November 5, 2007 03:52 AM

Kevin,
I've been up all night trying to find the most
suitable route for self-publishing.

Here's an interesting site that compares 12
self-publishing companies:

www.podpublishing.org/firstbooks.htm

Doug Addison

December 12, 2007 08:59 AM

It is all part of the web 2.0 movement. Brick and mortar is losing out and those of us over 40 are resisting. I wrote and published a book that sold 10,000 copies over 2 years. I had to buy 2,000 copies upfront and get a bigger facility to carry inventory and ship. The process was so long and dragged out and then the publisher decided not to promote. I am going to try lulu.com on a few of my current writing projects. Thanks for the article

Doug Addison
www.dougaddison.com

Marilyn Pavlovsky

January 20, 2008 05:30 PM

I have a book that I have been writing on for 30 years. I never doubted my book would be a best seller. Then I retired my day job and put the finishing touches on this exciting book. THEN!!! I got on the computer and looked for a publisher. This frightened me to the point I thought of just throwing my special book into the trash. I have started two other books by now but guess what? I am so confused as to what to do. I spend forty to fifty hours per week researching publishers. LuLu looks good, but I cannot find anywhere the final cost of publishing the book, getting the ISBN, getting a web-page and knowing the total out of pocket expense I would have. Also, do I even get a hard printed copy of said book or is it all done just by e-sales? I would just like to see a total package with everything needed to market this book of approx. 390 pages. I do not have the problems with word or design; I need to know more about the e-services. I don't understand all the new ideas of the net. E-mail is about the limit of my knowledge of the net. Thank you to anyone who answers.

Scarlet Casey

March 2, 2008 10:26 PM

I am thinking of going with Lulu. I think someone asked questions concerning them, so heres what I've learned so far.
You have two options... publish by YOU or publish by LULU. By you, is no up front fees what so ever. To get an ISBU number, its 50 dollars or something like that.
BY LULU.. its 99. something but they help you with formatting, includes ISBU number, give you a storefront, etc. They also hook you up with Amazon, Borders, Books and Nobel and some other places. They say that they almost always accept the book (depending on if you follow Lulu's instructions concerning format, cover dimensions, description etc.
I think this is the link:
http://www.lulu.com/en/help/lulu_basics

A friend who publishes with them explained that if his book sells for 19.95 then Lulu takes 2.95 I think is what he says.

Pierluigi

March 25, 2008 11:41 AM

I don't think I could ever resort to self-publishing. I'd feel like such a freud.
I'm just beginning to get published in authentic University publications and literary journals like 'The Fiddlehead' where I'm paid per poem/or page printed.

Marsha

May 5, 2008 01:19 PM

We have written a Family Heritage Cookbook and are considering lulu for publishing. There is no plan to sell these books; rather, we are giving the book to each contributor of recipes. Does anyone recommend this, or should we just try to work with Kinko's (ugh)? Since this is not a retail venture, I didn't know if using lulu would be appropriate or not.

Phil

July 16, 2008 02:14 PM

I plan on using Lulu. I think the digital revolution is alive and well. I have been editing my book online at thenextbigwriter.com online workshop. It's been a great way to keep me motivated and meet other writers. I have also been publishing my book for free at a site called booksie.com. The next step is to get a hard copy at Lulu. Then, the edited book will be available in every format.

John

August 23, 2008 12:21 PM

If all orders are not handled by humans via Lulu.com i have become weary after reading this and questioning it.

A friend ordered some of my books which have never made it to them after 8 weeks and Lulu side steps the issue. Also there is no telephone number for contact or address except via email and now an order I placed still has not arrived here in Canada after almost 3 weeks.

I have been using Lulu for over 2 years now and sadly have to admit i am losing faith in that company and am looking at Amazon's POD.

Anthony S. Policastro

October 18, 2008 11:19 AM

Hi Olga,
You should take a look at Lulu now. 1.8 million users; 700,000 plus published items, authors in 80 countries, distribution worldwide with fulfillment centers in Europe and Australia.

Your post definitely predicted the future.

John Witt

October 23, 2008 12:56 PM

I just used LuLu.com to publish my first book. If you go onto LuLu do a search for "TAKING HOME A PIECE OF THE GAME". It is an informative book that gives people information on how to get baseballs and autographs at a Major League baseball game. I also share a few stories of getting some cool home run balls including Sammy Sosa's 61st Home Run in 1998 and Derek Jeter's Home Run in game 3 of the 2003 ALCS.

Marilyn Pavlovsky

November 9, 2008 09:23 PM

Hello again,
I have finished publishing my book. I too picked LuLu. Let me tell you, I have not been disappointed. I received the first book for my approval. The cover looked wonderful. I had done some things wrong. This was due to my formating on my computer. I had typed my book in book format. This caused me to have two pages on each page of my book that printed from the center to the outer edge of the book. The front and the back of pages, etc. If I had read everything, I would not have made this mistake. LuLu has templates for one to use to type their book. My problems have been corrected now. I have found everyone with LuLu to be most helpful. John, there is a place on the (my LuLu) page like a messaging system, where you can talk live with a representative. This is done by typing in what you want to say, and an representative will reply. There is also a way you can track your shipments. I am currently working on my storefront and learninig more everyday. If anyone knows about html's let me know. This whole thing has been a wonderful experience. If my next approval book is okay I will be pretty much trained on how to do this. That book is on it's way to me. I should have it the first of the week. Good luck to all of you.

Marilyn Pavlovsky

November 9, 2008 09:36 PM

I left this off of my last message. The name of my book is: BURNING SUNSHINE; A captivating story of a beautiful lady who grew up in the lap of luxury in the city of New Orleans. She lost both of her parents and was forced to move, by a riverboat, to an aunt's dirt farm home in the foot hills of Ohio. It is a story that is very full of love, faith and tragedies. Time frame 1883-1958. If any of you get a chance, please read it, I would love to know what you think. Thank you.

Cat

December 13, 2008 06:24 AM

Did anyone ever publish a children's picture book or poetry book at Lulu? Does the agency accept submissions for children's books and poetry?

Kaitlyn Mauro

January 7, 2009 02:28 AM

I am going to be a published LuLu.com author soon :) I have always wanted to write books (though I am only 17 years old) and my friend Brittney Lewis actually got me onto the idea of 'self publishing'. I wasn't into it at all before that because it has such a stigma around it.. Now I am very excited about it. She is actually using Blurb.com but I did a lot of research & decided to go with LuLu instead :) it just seems like a better choice for me.
Good luck everyone!
Look for my books!
P.S. Marilyn, Burning Sunshine looks great!

Marilyn Pavlovsky

January 22, 2009 11:57 AM

Thank you for your nice comment about my book, BURNING SUNSHINE, Kaitlyn Mauro. Let me know when your book is completed. Good luck!

David Sherrod

January 30, 2009 05:34 PM

After spending 2 painful hours uploading an 18 month calendar I was simply knocked off the web. at the final publish stage, with no recourse but to start all over. I did just that and again I was knocked off the web.

I wanted the two calendars for gifts, with the idea that if the material had enough commercial value that they could be marketed world wide. I am an artist with 30 years experience and believe the work to be top drawer, so I was very upset to be rejected out of hand twice. At one point I began thinking that it would be a good way to steal my images. There is no contact information on the publish site what so ever.

David Sherrod

Tom

February 6, 2009 01:48 PM

If I publish on LULU, is there any way to make my book not available to the general public. I don't want just anyone reading my memoirs.

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