Lulu is the pioneer in using the infamous phrase "Free Self Publishing”. Our goal with this comparison is to really identify what "free" delivers, and how in many cases there really isn't any such thing as 'free self publishing'. The cost of setting up the full suite of services needed to really publish a book is where the Lulu service begins to fall apart.
Lulu: Yes (You design your files)
Dog Ear: YES
Dog Ear: $4.18
Dog Ear: $5.38
Dog Ear: $1,726
As always, we must offer this disclosure – Lulu is a competitor; please review our statistics and apply what we identify as issues to your specific situation and self publishing goals. Certain types of authors, and certain products, may be better suited to Lulu.com (though we hate to admit it). One large example is a book that can't sell more than 150 units or one which doesn't need a distribution component (e.g. selling through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.).
Lulu provides an amazing service. It is ideal for a graphic designer who only requires a few books. The cost of setting up the full suite of services needed to really publish a book is where the Lulu service begins to fall apart. It is costly. Most people pay far more at Lulu than is charged by other self-publishing companies in the marketplace. Even considering only book printing prices, you pay more in the long run with Lulu using their “free self-publishing’ services. Why is that? Read on…
Lulu is the largest community of content creators on the web – over 1 million according to Lulu's homepage. Both Lulu.com and other 'online printer companies' provide just about the exact same services at the same price. Lulu.com is primarily a book printer. To take advantage of the value Lulu offers, you'll need to have performed ALL the tasks needed to produce a real book. You will be the copyeditor, book designer, cover designer, production house, fulfillment and distribution resource, and you’ll need to set up all your retail and wholesale relationships – like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, etc. Once you completely understand the ultimate costs of publishing a book with Lulu (a salable book that has a competitive wholesale discount and strong profit for the author), we’re guessing that what you believed was a great deal actually was quite the opposite in the long run.
If you take full advantage of the Lulu.com system, you will be responsible for these steps:
Determine your book format and design particulars. This is not typically a big deal, but there are certain aspects to choosing a trim size, paper stock, and other aspects of publishing that are good to have personal feedback on—not a big deal, however. This is the easiest part.
"How easy is it to self-publish a paperback book? Just upload your files and you’ll be on your way." This is quoted from the Lulu site – and this is one of the hard parts. If you are an accomplished graphic designer – then I'm guessing you've got this covered. If you aren't, ask yourself this: How much do you know about book design and setting up a file that is prepped for production and printing? It normally isn't as easy as anyone may think – and after editing, this is one of the main areas where self-published products fall short from traditionally published books. Take a look at many offerings from Lulu.com, Lulu, and many other 'free self publishing' sites. All too often, they don't look like professionally, traditionally published books. Dog Ear Publishing produces books every day – and we produce many titles for the traditional publishing houses such as Harper Collins & Simon and Schuster. Our design team knows exactly what it takes to design a great book.
"Design the cover for your book." This follows all the same arguments as #2. If you are a graphic designer, then this works fine. Most authors are not. Again, take a look at many of the products offered on sites such as Lulu, then compare the book covers to those published in the traditional industry.
Check out this quote from the Lulu site – "90% of Lulu's bestsellers have a custom-designed cover." Doesn't bode well for author-designed covers, does it?
Now – there are certainly great looking covers at both Lulu and Lulu– just make sure you are comfortable doing this yourself. You won't get help from Lulu.com without paying quite a bit for it.
Calculate the selling price for your new book. Here, the differences between Dog Ear Publishing and Lulu become more pronounced. The costs of printing a book (and your ultimate profit) are so out of skew with how Dog Ear Publishing does business that it might turn you away without ever spending time to discover the advantages of Lulu. Even if you are a professional design guru, the costs of printing your book and the ultimate drop in profit, should make you consider your options carefully. We uploaded a 144 page book, set its retail price at $11.95, chose a 5x8 trim size, paperback – all very standard stuff. The cost to print a book was astronomical – $7.41 per unit at Lulu.com ($4.16 at Dog Ear Publishing) and the profit for a sale through Amazon was $0.34 – that's right, only 34 cents at Lulu (a Dog Ear author on the same project would see an average of $3.01 per sale in profit). All we can say is "Wow..."
Compose book marketing information. No big deal – tell Lulu.com what you want your book page to say, and they'll make it happen. Same thing at all self-publishers.
Approve and publish your book. This was the beautiful and easy part of the process – as soon as we hit the button we could order the book. That was very nice...
(We have more in-depth information about what we consider important when choosing a publisher – it's on our main comparison page If you've read it there, skip to the company detail section.)
Now we'll get more in-depth with Lulu. These are the real nuts-and-bolts of publishing a book.
The specs are pretty typical of the books produced in the trade category at any self publishing house. Information and self publishing costs are derived from the Luluweb site.
$260.50 MORE EXPENSIVE at Lulu.com than at Dog Ear Publishing
Dog Ear professionals create a unique and custom design for both the cover and interior for every book. Your design is totally unique – we never use ‘templates’. Dog Ear provides a design sample that uses your manuscript and allows you complete freedom to revise what our team builds. No other publishing services company provides this service FREE OF CHARGE – only Dog Ear. Every one of our books is designed and built by professionals who have a long history of successful experience in the traditional publishing industry. Your book is built by the same staff that has created books for Harper Collins, Prentice Hall, Simon & Schuster, Wiley, Penguin, and many others of the world’s most successful publishers.
Author profit (a result of book printing prices) is one of the greatest weaknesses of Lulu. When you sell your book through distribution (Amazon, etc.), you will pay over $3 more per unit to purchase your own books at Lulu, $7.41 per unit vs. $4.18 at Dog Ear Publishing. That profit comes straight out of your pocket.
Your author profit when selling to distribution partners (e.g. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, etc.), even using Lulu.com's low wholesale discount level and retail price, is nearly $3 greater at Dog Ear. On a Lulu.com sale to Amazon, at $11.95 retail (a good price for a 144 page paperback), you would make $0.34 – 34 cents. At Dog Ear, using the same retail, but a more aggressive wholesale discount (to get your books in more markets), you'd make $2.99 for each sale. Only interested in Amazon? Drop your wholesale discount to 20% and make $5.38 per sale. You can't do that at Lulu.
Imagine what these numbers do to your profit over the life of your book.
You've got to watch corrections. Remember that it costs money each time your publisher has to go back into your file and change something. That's standard for every self-publishing outfit around. But, you should be able to resubmit your manuscript to them just before it goes into "layout" or “pre-layout formatting”. Also make sure that you don't get charged for making corrections that were THE PUBLISHER'S FAULT in the first place (called Production Errors). This is unfortunately a common practice amongst less trustworthy self-publishing outfits.
If you compare the sales of self-published fiction to non-fiction books, you find that non-fiction typically outsells fiction on a per book basis. That may be because the vast majority of books produced by the big self publishers – AuthorHouse, Xlibris, and iUniverse – are fiction. Thus, their sales are spread over a broader range of books. You can do much of this research for yourself at Amazon.com. If you look at all the titles published by the three publishers mentioned above, you find the majority are fiction. Look at the publication date. If you do a “bestseller” sort, nearly 80 percent of the books actually producing sales are non-fiction. Why is that? Perhaps because book buyers can tell more about non-fiction books from the brief description of their content than a good mystery can provide in so few words.