Should Academics Consider LULU? --- E-sourcing for Authors is a book producing firm that allows you to publish your book using their on-demand printing. The firm produces books with good printing, good pictures, and sound bindings.

Lulu will make available a 250 page paperback book to the customer for $12, and out of this the author can make $2.00. This is as much as an author is likely to make from a commercially published book that cost the purchaser $25.00, or more.

This kind of win-win economics should force academics to think through the Lulu option.

What's the Catch?

The main catch I see is the hit to one's ego --- or perhaps to one's CV. Publishing with Lulu is not like publishing with Cambridge University Press, or even World Scientific.

The deal is that Lulu publishes (essentially) everything that somebody wants to up-load.

Most of the work on Lulu is amateurish, much is silly, and some is raving mad.

You need a strong sense of self to jump into that pool. So far most of the jumpers simply had no traditional options. I believe that this is going to change.

Good News

Lulu has also published some high-quality, prize winning work, including first novels by authors who subsequently got top agents.

There are also many Lulu authors who have made considerably more money with Lulu than they could have ever made with a classical publisher.

Vanity Press?

People who know a little about publishing and who first hear about Lulu, think "Oh, this is just another vanity press out to scalp poor sods who will pay a lot of money to get 'their book' published.

Well, Lulu may be goofy from an academic's perspective, but the business model is completely unlike that of the vanity presses.

Lulu takes a commission of 20% of the royalty that the author specifies for himself.

If you decide to take a $5.00 royalty, Lulu will take $1.00. If no copies of your book are sold, Lulu receives no fee.


Classic publishers put your book into a catalog, mail some copies to reviewers, and use their relationships to put your book into major libraries. Lulu just makes your book available on their website.

Still, this can be enough. Consider a book like The Havanese by Diane Klumb. I know you are not thinking about such a book, but bear with me.

The Havanese won the Dog Writers' Association of America's Maxwell Award for Best Single Breed Book for 2005. The author will take a way a serious chunk of change even without being in a classic publisher's catalog.

Moreover, since the author holds all of the rights, at any time of her choosing she can reframe her book and offer it to a bricks-and-mortar publisher.

Reputation Risk? Go Egoless!

If you have years of work invested in an academic book, you would probably be nuts to run the reputation risk of publishing with Lulu.

On the other hand, if you have some lecture notes that you think deserve some distribution and you can let go of the ego issues, why not publish the notes under a pseudonym?

This would make the work available immediately in a handy binding. It would save you much of the extreme tedium of the "last mile" work of formal publication. It would also be bargain priced for the readers.

Finally, in lucky cases, you might even generate a little revenue --- say enough for a weekend trip someplace, or a semester's worth of "free lunches."

Business Variations ...

A friend of mine paints wonderful paintings, but she hasn't sold any.

How about photographing 50 of these for a coffee table book? Yes, Lulu does coffee table books --- as well as photography books, calendars, etc.

The book of paintings can then be used as a sales piece when talking to galleries about a show.

Also the book can be used whereever the paintings are offered for sale. Aren't you always at least a bit impressed when you see painting that is also featured in a lovely hardbound book?

I have a personal variation on this theme. My house, which is quite modest, happened to be designed by a famous architect, I. M. Pei. Wouldn't it be nice to have a book that covers the history neighborhood, history of the house, along with the story of Pei's remarkable career?

Moreover, when the time comes to sell the house, such a book might add an extra 2% to the sales price. It even a piece of this story holds up, it would put as much in my pocket as the royalties on the majority of academic books.

So, if you want to increase the value of your collection of brass pigs, old Philadelphia beer steins, or wooden clocks --- well, there's a pattern for you.

The publishing world has changed, and it is time to think outside of the box.

What Do You Think?

If you have experience with Lulu or if you are like me and just turning the possibilities over in your head, Let's chat.

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