Some Thoughts on Lulu

Ok, I’ve been using Lulu for book distribution for a few weeks. First reactions follow.

Where Lulu Works

  • Domestic Distribution (US): – I’m frequently sending 40 book shipments throughout the US and Europe. Domestic distribution is a big win for Lulu. Although the site itself states that it should take between 3 and 5 days to print a book, I find that it is consistently taking about 3 days to print an order. With 2 day delivery, I’m finding that my packages get to where I’m sending them on time without an issue.
  • Ease of Publishing – They’ve made it easy to publish books. That’s it. If you are looking to publish a book, there’s likely no easier interface. They provide the right feedback at the right time, and they give you the resources to get your PDF ready for pre-print.

Where Lulu Fails

  • Lulu’s Site is Slow – From what I can tell, the management hasn’t put an big emphasis on site performance. Lulu’s site is constantly taking seconds (sometimes minutes) to load pages.
  • Lulu’s Order Process has Gaps – Did you make a mistake on the shipping address? Think you can just go back and modify the address immediately after your order has been placed? Think again. If you catch Customer Service at the right moment, you might be able to save yourself right away, but more often than not you are going to have to go through an email-only support channel. When you’ve just placed a $500 order for books only to have put it on the wrong credit card or shipped it to the wrong address, you’ll be looing for a quick way to either cancel or change an order. They don’t have it. There are serious gaps in the user interface, there should be ways to fix immediate ordering errors.
  • European Distribution Unreliable – I’ve had European orders sitting in fufillment for more than two weeks. No follow up, no one letting me know where the order is, nothing. Some of the orders I’ve placed have arrived on time, but most take forever. While I’m happy with the Domestic distribution, I’m never using Lulu for european distribution again. I’m not paying a premium above printing costs for bad service and missed deadlines.

It works, I’m not going to stop using Lulu for smaller orders of around 20-30 books, but I’m likely going to start going direct to a printer and handling my own distribution. Since I’m taking about short-run lot sizes of 100-250, I can get the per unit cost of the book down to a price point that makes sense.