Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lulu in PW

I was interested to see a brief story in Publishers Weekly about the attitudes if Lulu founder, Bob Young. The very first line is attributed to him:

“We publish a huge number of bad books.”

The story very accurately presents his general goal of publishing a few copies of many books (rather than many copies of a few books). It seems that this approach is proving profitable with projected profits of $30 million this year. I was however surprised that they have a projected staff of 110 by the end of the year and presumably even less now. Sales are almost entirely through where60% of members are customers only; 40% are only or also authors.

I think this all adds up to something that authors should keep in mind. Although a company can make ample money with a low-effort process seeling few untis of many products, the benefits to the author are not on the same scale at all. Lulu benefits from an ‘economy of scale’ even though they only take a 20% cut of net (in prates I would suggest there net is a little inflated too). They spent little time on each book and profit from putting out a great many books. The author of course cannot do all that much limit how much time and effort they put into each book and are likely to have only one or a few books. So when they make less ‘per book’, they simply make less.

For this reason it only makes sense to go to Lulu (et al) with a book if more profitable alternatives are either unavailable for some reason, be it because the book is too specialised for mass appeal, some kind of ethical issue that precludes third party publishing, a need to avoid stress or expedite availability or… as must frequently be the case, the book is bad. The first of these reasons seems to be the best, as Mr. Young is reported to have said: “Subject areas that sell best are education and niche topics.”

The innate limitations of this business model for the author are apparent in Mr. Young’s closing statement: “We’re not trying to get books to a mass market … We’re trying to give aspiring writers a chance to be seen.” To be seen but by very few people, that is. The onus is on the writer to either understand and accept Lulu levels of exposure as appropriate for their work and their goals (100 copies or so on average) or have a cunning plan to become one of the few who grab a real share of Lulu’s small slice of the market (1.2 million sales Lulu has made in the entire lifespan of the company.)

SOURCE: Milliot J. Turning bad books into big bucks. Publishers Weekly, August 6 2007.


G R Grove said...

Lulu is not bad if you go in with your eyes open and you have the skills you need to reach your definition of success without any help from your publisher (something I was blogging about today). The thing to remember if you write fiction is that there are very few people looking for it on Lulu. 80% of my on-line sales have been through Amazon etc. - I am always surprised when someone actually buys a book on Lulu.

The Gline said...

I've never had any delusions about what Lulu could provide for me. Their main service is printing on demand -- not publishing, not promotion. They're an endpoint. It's up to me to get people interested in the book. Yes, a big-scale publisher has the clout to do that most effectively and economically, but it also means having to walk in lockstep with their conceits about marketing. I just wanted to take what I had and make it available to the few people I knew would be interested in it, with as little as possible between me and the audience.

Since "Summerworld" first appeared, I've sold about thirty copies. Not a NY Times Bestseller List amount of product, but for what I'm doing, more than respectable. (And I broke even to boot.)

Mrs Giggles said...

80% of my on-line sales have been through Amazon etc. - I am always surprised when someone actually buys a book on Lulu.

Heh, I guess I'm one of the rare people who actively search through the Lulu and iUniverse website bookstores every week then? That's because I live outside the USA and therefore I look for and buy the PDF versions rather than the hard copies.

It will be nice if Lulu has distinct subcategories in their fiction section so that I can look for my kind of fiction easier.

G R Grove said...

"That's because I live outside the USA and therefore I look for and buy the PDF versions rather than the hard copies."

Makes sense :-) That's the beauty of e-distribution.

kmfrontain said...

Yeah, there are probably a lot of bad books on Lulu. I knew that going in. I also knew I wasn't likely to get a publisher for my epic fantasy series because of subject matter and style choices. Since I flew in the face of current trends in writing and also social opinion, I chose Lulu. No overhead. No pressure. I can stay published there as long as I like, revise and re-issue my stories as often as I like, and basically learn from the experience, which I have done. I'm glad Lulu exists, but I do wish they had competition that offers the same "no payments necessary to publish" deal. You can be sure I'd diversify at once.

Cathy said..., an Amazon company actually offers the same service Lulu does. No charges!! I'm yet to hear about their actual book quality though.