Tuesday, April 27, 2010
No More Lulu
Bad customer service:
I had to speak to a half dozen "live chat" representatives and communicate with even more representatives via email before they agreed that they should de-list an old .pdf that shouldn't be on their system for a de-listed book. After that it took them 14 months to restrict access to it. Piracy sites were linking to it for the entire time.
After shipping a defective version of one of my books to a reader, that reader was told by one representative that there were no returns, which isn't actually true. After a few more emails, another rep gave them an address to ship the book to for credit. Three months after shipping the book back, the credit hasn't made an appearance even though a Lulu rep told them that they received the book and a credit would be issued. I sent them a copy from my shelf. [To be fair, Lulu now has a proper return policy in place, and I hear it works most of the time. That isn't enough to gain the trust of readers wronged previously, however.]
After speaking with many Live Chat customer service reps over the last two years I can tell you they have no power, and seem to copy and paste pre-written answers until you corner them into providing you with the email address for someone who can make decisions and answer more complicated questions. Those senior reps answering emails have little more power, but access to even longer copy and paste responses, some of which contain thrilling passages of legal-ese that really just say what everyone under them keeps repeating; "here are the various reasons why we can't accommodate your request or provide you with the information you need. Please read our FAQ if you face any further challenges with the system we provide." The questions they've had difficulty answering include; Distribution, shipping costs, tracking numbers, failure to meet contractual obligations with regards to distribution, privacy and shoddy workmanship.
The price they quote for shipping is prohibitive. When I ship a book somewhere it costs me a quarter to half as much as they charge, and it normally gets there sooner. It's not illegal to over charge for shipping and keep the difference, and I assume they're one of many companies that do exactly that.
Poorly Made Product
I've bound books by hand with more than one machine myself. Enough to say that properly binding a book isn't difficult with a little practice (2-5 tries usually gets you there with a fully manual machine), and recognizing that you've done a poor job is even easier.
A recent email from a reader telling me that they've received a book with a cover that "was slipped half way up the spine of the book so it only covered the top" was unwelcome to say the least. I'm glad the reader told me so I could ship her a signed copy from my shelf (my last copy of that book, actually). She won't be returning the book, since she already read it after tearing off the defective cover. Instead she'll be passing that copy around and keeping the signed copy I sent her as a keepsake.
Every time I see a copy of a book from Lulu beside one from Createspace/Amazon I can instantly tell the difference. The color on the Lulu version is always either faded or way over saturated, and the quality of the cover material is so very far below that of any other on demand service.
While flipping through a copy of Spinward Fringe: Triton, a page fell out. Their binding machine missed it. That's a first for any on demand producer for me.
Lulu is slow and incapable:
Only months ago did Lulu start offering real tools to convert books into eBooks. Their tools aren't very good, either, nor are they able to distribute a book to most of the online retailers in any meaningful way, though they may be changing their tune with the arrival of the iPad. They don't seem interested in partnering with retailers so the books that die slow deaths in obscurity can grow some legs and find a hope of gaining a readership. I'm glad I never trusted them to move copies, I was well aware that I was on my own for distribution.
In an article in the New York Times, Robert Young, the Chief Executive of Lulu.com, admitted, "We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind."
It's true, self publishing sites are host to plenty of bad work. What he managed to do with this comment is actually stop people from visiting his site looking for the cream that's risen to the top. As far as I can tell, neither Robert Young or Lulu have made any effort to improve their public image.
The real problem is how that image projects onto the authors who use their services. They haven't done the Indie scene any favors in that respect.
There's no reason why I should use their services with the negative points raised here. In fact, I highly recommend that anyone who may be looking to pick up my books in print go straight to Amazon.com. If Lulu decides to improve things, it'll take a very long time for them to improve enough for me to begin offering my books on their site again. Even then, their reputation is so stained that it doesn't make sense for anyone to associate themselves with the company.
If you'd like a copy of any of my books in print, please use Amazon.
PS: I'm all out of books. Might I suggest something for your eBook reader?