Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cherchez le Lulu?


I find myself very curious about how Lulu will respond to Amazon's demands that all POD users employ Booksurge, if they want to keep direct buy buttons. In a way I wonder where I get off. What makes me so up in arms about whatever Lulu ultimately decides to do? Would they care about my opinion? Well of course they wouldn't. But the marketplace is like a democracy. On an individual level one vote really doesn't matter, but on an aggregate level it does.

Just this afternoon a box arrived at my place holding the books shown in the picture. That's about $100 worth of merchandise, in case you are wondering. So I am, emotionally and financially speaking, invested in the Lulu brand. Some of the earliest self-published books I read were from Lulu. They are the only self-publishing provider I shop from directly, and the great majority of books reviewed on this blog are from Lulu.

So I read the only semi-official statement from "Adam" at Lulu: "We would like to assure our users that Lulu continues to have a strong relationship with Amazon.com. As a result, the recent changes Amazon.com has announced should not adversely affect Lulu content listed within Amazon.com in any way." I was less then thrilled.

As a customer of Lulu I associate their brand with quirky, independent books. I feel good about Lulu and the books I buy there. I am willing to overlook their terse, limited customer support and pitiful search bookstore engine. I agree with their authors that Lulu only really does the bare minimum to sell books to customers like me--while focusing mainly on selling their services to more authors. But I am hanging in their optimistically with Lulu as a substantial, honest, low cost provider of self-published books that now has the basis to develop as a kick-ass retailer in their own right. But this optimism is not unconditional or indestructible.

I understand that in order to sell their authors' books via Amazon, Lulu may need to make some concessions. But I think Lulu should understand that there is more to their brand than staying in what looks increasingly like an abusive "relationship" because they have not made an effort to develop other retailing options. Understand who you are talking to here Lulu. Our concerns are not just that Amazon might break up with Lulu, but what Lulu might sacrifice to keep Amazon.

15 comments:

Mark said...

We're working on it, I promise. Although, for better or worse, it takes time to develop solutions and get them out to customers.

I happen to work on the team most directly responsible for a lot of the seller's tools. We know our search engine could use work and we're working on it. We also recognized that storefronts needed work, and while the interface could use some love, the bugs should be largely gone at this time. I hope you've also noticed some of the other tools we've provided, such as better previews and widgets. We also redesigned the content pages not too long ago, so they would be easier to use.

There's always a lot going on, but we're trying to improve the experience for everyone.

Thanks for the feedback. It's always appreciated.

Mark, a Lulu Engineer

Mick Rooney said...

Hmmm...Frustrating Emily.

It seems every statement/comment on this whole issue tells us ultimately nothing.

While I appreciate Mark commenting, and the staffer 'Adam' from Lulu, we really are none the wiser about where Lulu actually are in all of this. Lulu has yet to say officially that they have signed up to Amazon's terms, whereas we know from Angela Hoy of Writersweekly that IUniverse and AuthorHouse have. Are Lulu going to use Booksurge? Have Amazon revealed to any of the publishers who have signed up what development plans are in the offing for Booksurge? How is Booksurge going to cope with the volume of files being transferred to them from AuthorHouse, IUniverse and Lulu, let alone the other publishers who might sign up.

I suspect the publishers who have signed up so far may feel they were already in an unbreakable bind with Amazon were.

I just wonder if these guys have jumped too quickly. My own thoughts are with Ingrams/Lightning Source. Would Ingrams as a wholesaler seriously consider setting up as an outright online retailler. I know that Jerry Simmons of NothingBinding is proposing that his site host the online sales of POD publishers and Self-Publishers for no charge what-so-ever. The idea being that each book is linked back to the POD's site and then the sale feed on to LSI for printing and drop shipping.

You can of course simply go instead to Barnes & Noble or Powells or whoever. The Ingram idea would at least have the strength of offering sale beyond POD publishers to traditional publishers and small presses who use digital print-on-demand technology.

Mick Rooney
http://mickrooney.blogspot.com

Dusk Peterson said...

"But I think Lulu should understand that there is more to their brand than staying in what looks increasingly like an abusive 'relationship' because they have not made an effort to develop other retailing options."

Don't forget that they've already developed a partnernship with Barnes & Noble. They strike me as being a company that is continually exploring different avenues.

I agree that Lulu authors put out some interesting books (*points to Jesse Hajicek's "The God Eaters" in your picture*).

pod said...

Hi Mark,

I still think you are not really seeing this from a customer's point of view (note: I do not publish with Lulu). I do not care about widgets, and I find the current preview system worse than the old one. I have had trouble with its scaling (not autofitting to the indow, and loading time.) In fact there are a couple of photo books I might have bought but the preview would not load in under 30s so I didn't get any further (yes, MTV generation attention span there...).

I do not care what helps an author sell a specific book to their readership, I just want to be able to browse the books you have like I do at a bookstore, or did at Amazon.

What I would like is a good search function, one for example that can search for keywords within genres. Like search for 'gay' within comicbooks only. If that is possible I couldn;t find a way to do it. A recommedations allgorhythm would be nice to, but that's a luxury item.

It is almost always advantagious for a customer to buy from the publisher direct, but only if they can find a desirable book when they get there....

As a blogger I would also say that an affiliates program would be nice. I send you guys some traffic, y'know ;)

pod said...

Hi Dusk,

Yes they are may favorite self-PODder. But I still think they could spend more time on the basic functionality of their store and having more of the site targetted to customers rather than clients :)

Mark said...

You're right about the current search functionality. It's terrible. We know it's terrible. That's why we're working on upgrading it right now. Literally, actually. I've got the code open in front of me.

Give us a few more weeks and we should have some improved functionality out the door. While it likely won't have all the bells and whistles you might like, it should be much better than what is available now.

Now watch something happen and it not ship on time. I'll end up looking like a lier.

- Mark

Emily Veinglory said...

I look forward to it :) -- and the search functionality, although I moan about it, has been improving. I keep discovering new hidden treasures in the inventory.

Will Entrekin said...

I don't actually get the issue. Why does Lulu need Amazon? I don't understand why Lulu authors even go through Amazon. It's silly; you lose a pretty good percentage of royalty to Amazon. It's not like it gets to a wider audience, or anything; I've sold hundreds of copies of my collection, and it's available exclusively through Lulu.

Just like readers don't really care who published what book, I don't think they really care where they buy them from. The biggest issue I can think of is that people have to create an account at Lulu, but they have to create on at Amazon, too; I could see the argument that they don't want the hassle of another account, but how many accounts does everyone have, anyway? Probably enough that one more wouldn't be awful.

Really, if people want to support self-published authors who use POD, they should avoid Amazon anyway, because they, like record companies and iTunes, take a huge percentage of revenue from their authors. I think the general split, in fact, is that authors who might make $4 per sale at Lulu only make a buck and a half at Amazon.

My book doesn't have an ISBN and isn't available either in bookstores or on Amazon, and I've still managed quite a positive experience, overall.

I think the best thing Lulu could possibly do, at this point, is to say, we don't need Amazon, because they don't.

Emily Veinglory said...

I can't say I agree, for the simple reason that until recently I bought at least half my books from Amazon, including non-Lulu self-published books. And although it is not the majority of my sales, I do sell books there too.

Shannon Yarbrough said...

Hi Emily-

I've done the same as you. A few years ago I unloaded a ton of books and CDs through Amazon despite their shipping stipend being a joke. But what did we all do before Amazon started offering the 3rd party marketplace anyway? B&N also allows you to sell items there, although I'm not sure of their specifics. I know it's pretty easy to register with Abebooks to unload copies there too but again, I haven't looked into their rules.

Amazon just made it a little easier and convenient for us to sell. That's what makes a boycott so difficult for some, I'm sure. Alas, it's reasons like these (already stated in your post and these comments) that I started The Lulu Book Review site anyway.

Will Entrekin said...

I buy all my books on Amazon.

Doesn't mean I have to sell my books there.

Shannon's point is good: if Amazon stopped selling books, would I stop buying them? Of course not. I'd find them somewhere else. Just like all the books I want that I can't buy on Amazon (because, as doesn't seem to be at all either noticed or addressed, there are books Amazon doesn't sell. For whatever reason [out of print, etc.]).

Emily Veinglory said...

Of course you don't *have* to sell there. But I think the easiest customer to observe is myself. So the first thing I think about in trying to sell my book, is how I would try to sell it to me.

Ergo being on Amazon sure ain't going to hurt. The only thing to work out is whether the effort to get there is too high for they benefit.

Will Entrekin said...

The effort has always been too high for the benefit. I'm sorry, but no truly business-savvy author would actually accept a 75% reduction in royalty profit.

shannon yarbrough said...

Amazon ruined the third party market share by allowing sellers to post the infamous 1 cent book. I still don't understand how anyone makes money by selling the book for a penny. Amazon gives you a $3.99 dollar credit for standard shipping, but then they turn around and take a cut for commission. So, you end up making about $1.50 after that. And we all know shipping a book exceeds that! I always thought they should at least have a pricing structure.

chris-gerrib said...

Will - basic retail theory would suggest that one may one's product available in as many places as possible.

Amazon in particular has trained its users to buy books in at least $25 increments (free shipping). Having your book on Amazon means that some sclub who's heard of your book may take a flyer on it to get to the $25 mark.

Also, a number of online review sites won't accept your book unless it's on Amazon, because the only income they get is the cut from Amazon Associates.

In short, being on Amazon has advantages. Not being on Amazon is not the end of the world.