20 Sep 2009
Lulu has made significant changes to its distribution offerings. It's unclear, though, who really benefits - and even how much the new options cost.
Until now, the two main options were 'Published by Lulu' and 'Published by You'. The latter has been dropped. Now you have the option of purchasing one of two so-called distribution packages - ExtendedReach or GlobalReach. (And quite why they felt the need to lose the spaces in those names isn't explained.)
The previous distribution packages were somewhat confusing. In addition to the two main options, Lulu offered a range of variations. But the changes it has made seem to benefit Lulu more than authors.
When you publish your book, you can opt to have Lulu assign an ISBN to it - for free. This is similar to the previous 'Published by Lulu' service in that the ISBN is owned by Lulu which effectively becomes the publisher.
The 'Published by You' option was ideal. It allowed you to set up as the official publisher and provided a block of 10 ISBNs. The cost of these numbers was cheaper than buying them direct from Nielsen - the company responsible for issuing ISBNs in the UK (in the US it's the ISBN Agency, part of RR Bowker). Even given that Lulu no doubt negotiated a bulk deal with Nielsen, it's possible it wasn't making much money on this. The price included listing of the first book in various industry databases. Subsequent books, using the remaining nine ISBNs incurred an additional fee for the same listing process.
Making money from orphans
Now, if you want to own your ISBNs, you need to go to the agencies yourself and buy them. While this isn't exactly difficult, a lot of people are simply going to do the easy thing and let Lulu get an ISBN for them.
This way, Lulu is going to end up as the publisher of a lot of books. Indeed, one can imagine a situation in which the authors of many books become uncontactable - as they move and forget to update their details, perhaps; or die. Lulu is likely to become the effective owner of thousands of 'orphaned' books.
There are some high-profile deals being struck to make money out of such titles through e-book distribution. Google Books has had a setback in its attempt to sew up digital distribution rights for scanned books, but it's likely to prevail eventually. And it has completed a tie-up with On Demand Books to make titles available through the Espresso in-store POD machines.
Being the owner of orphaned titles could be a lucrative revenue stream for Lulu.
However you get your ISBN, you now have two choices for 'distribution'. Why do I keep putting quote marks around that word? Well, neither option actually distributes your book. What they do is add your book to the databases used by book distributors and retailers.
ExtendedReach gets you into the databases and makes your title available through Amazon.com (although, if the latter is important to you, publishing via CreateSpace is a better option as it means your book is listed as 'in stock', while Lulu's approach may flag it as 'available in 3-5 weeks'.
GlobalReach gets you into other online stores, including international Amazon branches such as Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, and so on. According to Lulu, it also means your book is more easily ordered by bookstores, should someone ask for it. But if you work out how to get an ISBN from Nielsen or Bowker, and list your book on their datases yourself (all very easy to do online), that should happen anyway. GlobalReach also makes your book available for the Espresso Book Machine: it doesn't mean your book will automatically be available via any given machine, mind you. It just means that whoever decides which books are available through which machines can select yours if they want to. For that to happen, they'll need to be aware of it.
What I can't work out from Lulu's site is how much these services cost. As I already have a distribution package for Lady Caine I can't test the new services.
However, I get the feeling that Lulu will benefit most from the changes. More people will opt to use ISBNs owned by Lulu and buy distribution packages that simply make your book 'available' should you have done sufficient marketing to get people (distributors, stores or readers) interested. It might be better to save your money and do the work yourself, buying ISBNs from Nielsen and Bowker and listing your titles on their databases.