Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lulu: Absolute and Complete Dogshit

A few years back, I wrote an issue of my music zine that was composed of just one long essay, with none of the usual interviews and reviews. Although ranty (surprise surprise!) I think it was one of the better things I'd ever written, and it got me in contact with quite a few people and in general it was an awesome time.

I set myself up with Lulu because I wanted a hardcover copy of it (the actual issue was printed through the Small Publisher's Co-Op, which would have been an enormous resource for us if it didn't close down in 2006). I left it up for public sale because, well, why not? But between it being available from my site for free (read it here, and while you're at it read this and this which were not written by me but were directly influenced by my writing) and the regular print issue being available for $20 cheaper... my hardcover sold exactly zero copies.

Today I get notified by Lulu that a book I have available (as if I have more than one) through their service is now available on Amazon! oh gee. They didn't ask, and they jacked the fucking price up by $8... 30%.

... and apparently this is happening across-the-board with books available on Lulu.

Now people are publicizing that their stuff is available on Amazon like it's a good thing. One example: Basic Fantasy's storefront on Lulu says DON'T BUY THIS BOOK, making it so very clear that it's available for free download. The books on Amazon aren't presented that way, and while someone might look at the publisher and type that link in, basically Amazon and Lulu are hoping nobody notices and that some sucker will pay about $3 more than they otherwise would have (although it must be noted that Gonnerman is happy to be listed on Amazon). Yes, costs are increased when going through a distributor but it should be the publisher, not their fucking go-between storefront provider that has been given no rights to the content, to decide whether to put something into greater distribution, how much should be charged, and what the product details will look like. Some of these things don't even list who the actual publisher is, or give page counts, etc. It's disgraceful.

Yes, Lulu gives an opt-out, in fine print at the end of their notice, but I would think that people who have no rights to the work they are making business deals with could ask before they raise prices and present people's material in new (and rather large) sales channels any damn way they wish.

And lots of publishers in our scene make their books available for free, or at-cost. That "at-cost" amount now has even more people making money off their work (and profit-seeking publishers do not see any increase in their share of the sale at the increased price either) and the existence of free downloads is nowhere to be found, for any of them. In at least one major case (Labyrinth Lord), the Lulu-on-Amazon deal is now in side-by-side with a version being legitimately sold (as in, intentionally in distribution) through Amazon. That'll impress someone looking for the book on the trusted giant of the bookselling industry, I imagine.

I'm pissed just for what they did to me and my book that nobody bought and nobody was going to buy. I can't imagine how I'd be feeling if I was one of these guys administering something that mattered through Lulu.

I just canceled my Lulu account altogether. Fuckers can eat my shit and I hope they choke on the peanuts.


  1. It may be /legally/ on the level, but my reflexive reaction to this is: "Shady, rent-seeking SOBs!"

  2. I wonder if it would be worthwhile for all the small game publishers of today to form a co-op to achieve those economy of scale savings.

  3. I'm not pissed at them about it (all my stuff went up, too), but the way they did it was a disaster. Only an opt-out after the book's already posted? Some peoples' private unpublished files were listed as available? No warning that it was going to be done? There are a lot of publishers for whom an Amazon listing is a bad thing, depending on their market, pricing, topic, whatever.

    For me, it provides one benefit that international purchasers can, I think, get a much better shipping rate despite the 30% markup. Other than that, though, it's irrelevant to me. If you know all the search terms you'd have to input to find Swords & Wizardry ... you already know it's up on lulu. I suppose some people might have a psychological willingness to order from amazon instead of lulu, too.

    In general, though, lulu is pissing me off more and more, too. In my case, it's got to do with how they're handling a couple of error messages where some files aren't reading on their outside-the-USA printing presses. I think it's because those presses won't read a pdf not produced using Adobe Acrobat.

    And if that's not lame and weak enough, they are claiming that they've shut down sales of that book across the board instead of shutting it off only overseas. And it doesn't appear like they actually did that. And the saddle-stitch version of the same file seems to be printing just fine, thank-you-very-much.

    I'm making plans to shift lulu to the rump end of my distribution, instead of being the main gateway. They still offer a back-office and printing option that doesn't have a good competitor, but I'm not placing my whole project in their hands any more if I can avoid it.

  4. Rather than involve Lulu, I'm wondering if Amazon's CreateSpace service would be an easier affair? PDF production is still new to me...

  5. Magcloud ( may work if your product is viable in a color magazine format

  6. Isn't the DON'T BUY THIS BOOK from Chris Gonnerman himself? I have seen this notice for some time and I think that he wants people to download it first.

    That said, I disagree with them shilling people's work on Amazon without the knowledge of the publisher. What does one do with extra income they aren't sure of its provinence? I made this comment on the S&W forum when Matt mentioned that this was happening to S&W. I would be concerned about a business that makes moves like this without telling you. What else are they doing that publishers don't know about?

  7. >>Isn't the DON'T BUY THIS BOOK from Chris Gonnerman himself? I have seen this notice for some time and I think that he wants people to download it first.

    Yeah, and the point is his Lulu storefront was set up that way by him, as he wished, including the information that the book is available to be downloaded for free.

    None of that information made it over to Amazon.

    I would have expected him to be rather displeased with this sort of thing, but apparently not.