I bought my first book from lulu.com a couple weeks ago.
Perhaps book isn’t quite accurate. It was more of a booklet. Okay, it was really a booklet. A 30-page, staple-bound booklet.
I bought it on a whim. I was surfing around one night, and found a link to a parody fanfic. The next thing I knew I had a lulu.com account and they were in possession of $12 of my hard-earned cash.
There has been much talk of the lulu.com “business model” over the past few years in the publishing industry. While I think lulu.com has a great business model (publish anyone, anytime, anywhere), I don’t really think traditional book publishers have a great deal to fear from lulu.com.
Why would I say such a thing? Is it because I am actively engaged in the traditional publishing industry? Am I just jealous/afraid/outdated? Respectively, no, no, and maybe.
The reason I’m not afraid of the lulu.com model is that while lulu.com allows anyone to publish whatever they write, there are still the matters of marketing and sales, editorial consistency, critical reviews, and the all-important word-of-mouth. You might have unlocked the secrets of the universe, but unless you can get the word out, and your writing is of a quality that encourages people to read what you’ve written, then what was the use of writing anything down?
I’m not bashing self-publishing. I think that anyone who believes enough in their own work to be willing to invest in it and try and be a part of its success is to be commended.
But I think that in the age of information and free-flowing information there is even more of a need for “traditional” publishers than ever before. Who better to cut through the clutter and noise of the deluge of information we are bombarded with every day than those industry experts who already know how to do it?
There are plenty of people out there who disagree with me on this point. Two big proponents of the death of traditional publishing are Cory Doctorow and Chris Brogan, and I believe they are right–at least as far as “traditional publishing is over.” With the advent of the digital printing industry (of which lulu.com is a big part), anybody can be published for a few bucks and a few minutes of their time. I think that’s actually pretty amazing. I occasionally use lulu.com as a tool for fast idea prototyping (which it’s not designed for, but it works pretty well for it). I like the idea of publishers as the gatekeepers to quality. What this means, though, is that publishers have to stop doing things like Ghosts of Onyx (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, be thankful).
Rather than being afraid of lulu.com (and the myriad of digital self-publishing services), publishers should be meeting the challenge head-on. Publishing is undergoing the most fundamental change since Gutenberg, and it’s exciting.
And the book I bought off lulu.com? It’s horribly written, is impossible to follow, and is bad even by fanfic standards.