|The original Lulu in To Sir, With Love (great movie, by the way)|
But of course I'm referring to Lulu, the print-on-demand publishing house.
For reasons I don't completely remember I first decided to put my new game, Seven Voyages of Zylarthen on Lulu as opposed to RPGNow. It was on Christmas day 2013. It's still there. The first mock-up I got looked amazing. Truth be told, I ordered ten sets to give to friends for the holiday. This was the "private" Zylarthen with many copyright violations. Actually, it was called "Seven Voyages of Xylarthen" (Gygax's original example character) and contained Balrogs, Beholders and all the rest. Actually, the "revised" public version that I released a few days later was, I think, superior. I like the "Z" better than the "X", and my "science-fiction" versions of the non-SRD monsters I think are actually superior (in a certain sense) to the originals. (Okay, that was a moment of serious non-humility.)
But, whether with an "X" or a "Z" the copies looked amazing. The creamy covers were exactly the shade I wanted. The saddle-stitched bindings were precisely right in terms of how they lay flat and were easily flipped through. Though the initial cost was high--$8.50 per volume (with only an average of $1.50 profit for me)--they were, in my view, perfect. I couldn't have imagined how any publisher or printing house (print-on-demand or otherwise) could have done a better job.
However, a few months later I ordered another mock-up set. It looked awful. In the interim, Lulu had changed printing factories and the saddle-stitch looked amateurish and ugly. In hindsight, this was fortuitous for me, as it prompted a switch to perfect binding, which, not only looked pretty good, but allowed me to offer it at a substantially lower price and make more profit per unit. But it taught me a useful lesson about Lulu: you never knew when they would make some change such that the physical product would come out differently. Thus mock-up or sample versions were of limited utility.
With that introduction, here are the pros and cons as I see them. Comments from other Lulu authors or customers would be welcome.
- Lulu is easy. They don't vet anything. All they need is a PDF (or two, counting the cover). If you're just a teeny-bit proficient at computers and uploading stuff, etc., you're set. Also, they're pretty expansive about formats and the minimum and maximum number of pages, and so on. If you want to, say, correct a typo or make a minor (or even a major) change in text, you simply delete the current PDF and upload the new one. This takes five or ten minutes. By contrast, I found RPGNow to be much more difficult to deal with on the front end. My initial attempt to upload stuff hung up for some reason, and I couldn't understand why. Also, they wouldn't allow me to do saddle-stitch with the size and page numbers that I desired. An RPGNow staff member contacted me to try to help me (though she made it clear that my requirements wouldn't fit in to their possible templates). She was perfectly helpful and polite. But the point is that on Lulu you didn't have to deal with anyone. You can just do it.
- At it's best, Lulu's physical product is great.
- Lulu doesn't seem to take too big a cut. I make a fair amount on my $5.95 booklets, for example (no, I won't tell you exactly how much).
- Lulu has periodic sales that make things much more attractive to your customers while not lowering your profits by 1 penny. This is a win-win situation for author and customer. I'm not sure what Lulu makes on these offers, but it's their call.
- Lulu doesn't censor their stuff and then lie about it, unlike RPGNow. (Oh, sorry. That was a political statement. Ignore if that annoys.)
- As implied above, you never know what the physical product is going to look like for your customers. It seems like Lulu is always changing printing factories, etc., or the printing operations are mercurial. The first perfect-bound booklets I ordered were biased towards the top. I considered compensating with the margins on my PDF but then figured that that might skew things in the opposite direction the next time. Sure enough, none of my customers complained about that. I ordered some additional copies for myself during the recent 35% sale. The margin bias was corrected, and the covers had more color. However the interior text looked more faint--almost as if they were trying to save ink. It was good enough, and I think worth the $5.95 price, but not ideal.
- Lulu doesn't allow you to bundle. Within a few weeks I will have a combined four-volume PDF of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen available, which I will sell for a price. But Lulu won't allow me to offer that along with, say, the physical booklets.
- The "preview" function makes your cover and pages look blurry and amateurish. Or maybe it has something to do with the format that I took advantage of. But still.
- RPGNow has a much larger audience, at least for game products. That may not be Lulu's fault, per se, but it still is a factor.
- The shipping costs seem too expensive (to me). Lulu seems to make some extra money there. And it varies. I swear that during the 35% off sale, the shipping costs seemed higher.
Again, I'd love to hear any similar/opposed opinions.