Lulu and Digital Content

From an article about the precise number of novels being published nowadays, Stephen Fraser laments the mainstream nature of an NPR reporting on self-publishing:

The best thing about the story, which was put together by self-published author Gloria Hillard and set at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, is a quote from someone in the conventional publishing industry who laments the loss of the essential filter provided by editors and publishers [who, like benevolent fathers, protected us from being exposed to bad books]. A better or more willing villain in the drama of the great publishing revolution would be hard to cast.

In another post, he refutes the myth that people are reading less or a smaller variety of books:

What’s really the case, of course, is that while the number of books is certainly growing, the number of readers is not really shrinking. Reading continues to be an integral part of daily life, as is, for many people, writing–albeit often writing in impoverished forms like email and instant messaging. I would argue that the Internet can be credited with having undone some of the havoc that two or three generations of television wrecked on the practice of reading.

Fraser runs a unofficial weblog for a POD site called lulu. I’d come across it before, but I didn’t realize how well-thought it seems to be. I was particularly impressed by its list of freelance/free agent editorial and publishing services. You can start browsing their catalog. Interestingly, it was founded by Bob Young of Red Hat fame and it’s been slogging along for three years now. The fact it’s still around in the mercurial publishing industry says a lot.

Their tongue-in-cheek press releases offer some good reading. Authorgedden (the date at which the number of books published will outnumber readings, using current trends), list of published books least likely to make the summer bestseller list and the optimal age for publishing is 50.

The royalty/payment schedule is straightforward, with digital downloads being no charge, and Lulu receiving 25% of your royalty (minimum royalty being $.019). That is really great for ebook publishers. You upload pdf’s or rtf’s, and lulu will make them available.

A review of lulu by Jason Levitt notes this about distribution and amazon:

But as far as getting listed online, this happens automatically when your book is listed with Ingram, the primary book distributor in the United States. As new books are listed in Ingram’s database, the listings are scooped up and made available online from, Barnes & Noble, and numerous smaller online booksellers. ()In nearly all cases (unless your book is of a prurient or hate-related nature), your book magically surfaces in all the online booksellers. For $34.95, assigns you an ISBN; for an additional $115, lists your book in Ingram and sets your book up with a higher-volume printer that can handle orders from Amazon. Your traditional publisher does the same for free.

The only limitation is that you can’t upload binary ebook formats, so you’re pretty much stuck with selling PDF’s. (It’s practically useless in the ebook world, although other formats are little better). Also, they don’t publish fan fiction or “derivative works” which is a problem for some (like me). Unfortunately, people who publish derivative works do so for noncommercial reasons, and lulu forces you to offer a price for it (whereas ebook writers might simply want to be listed in the catalog). Lulu should have a separate “noncommercial section” of works that are free for downloading, but which people pay to have listed. Then again, you can’t do everything at once.

I can’t speak about print quality or royalty/printing costs, but who cares? This company is positioned to deal in “microcontent.” And I think that’s super.