Lulu 2.0 - Overview
Photo credit: Kertlis
Lulu makes it very easy for you to upload your documents, audio or video files in a range of popular formats, including .pdf and Microsoft Word .doc files, and then transform them into printed books, brochures, professional looking CDs and DVDs, and even digital downloads.
Furthermore, Lulu serves as an Amazon.com style marketplace for buyers to find your self-published content among over 5,000,000 other titles. The good news is that as Lulu operates on a print-on-demand business model, your books and CDs only need to be created as the demand arises. This can obviously save you a lot of money that you might otherwise waste by printing reams of books only to sell one or two.
With the recent release of an interface overhaul, a simplified wizard-based publishing process and the expansion of its social networking and marketing support features it now offers a considerable amount of useful, free tools to the would-be self-publisher.
With the new design the site has placed a much greater emphasis on specific functions and publishing needs, rather than simply the generic books, CDs and DVDs recently offered. Now for instance you will be led into both the publishing or purchasing process by means of the specific nature of your content, be that a cooking book, technical manual or comicbook.
This makes for a far more streamlined approach to getting up and running as a publisher, and gives Lulu the opportunity to much better target the third party software and services I suspect play a significant part in its business model. Go to publish a comic, for instance, and you are given a hint as to a great piece of software that might make your job easier. This is effective given that it both serves the need of the publisher and provides a revenue stream for Lulu, much in the same way as bloggers often rely on affiliate links or contextual advertising to monetize their work.
Lulu covers a vast range of products, from a variety of books to portfolios, new-look photo-books, DVDs, and an increasing number of digital downloads, effectively giving the would-be independent publisher a one-stop-shop for the creation, publication and even marketing of their content.
Books continue to be the mainstay of Lulu, which has a print-on-demand background, and continues to use this model as it expands further the self-publishing options on offer.
However, rather than simply taking on traditional publishing with its novels, comicbooks and CDs, Lulu has also included the kind of services traditionally associated with a small printing operation. While you won't find business cards in the mix, you can now create and publish calendars, brochures, sales proposals and presentations to sell or potentially use in your own marketing.
Thanks to the global reach of Lulu, you can effectively distribute your content to one hundred countries, which is great news for people like me living in far flung places outside of Europe and the States. This is certainly one advantage I can see to using Lulu over a traditional printing service, and has a similar appeal to Moo cards in that respect.
SOHO and book publishing applications aside, Lulu also makes it easy to create and distribute CDs, DVDs and digital download content, such as ebooks and mp3s. While I initially puzzled over why I might choose to distribute an ebook via Lulu, rather than as a pdf from my own website, I later realized that Lulu provides optimization for both the iPhone and Sony ebook readers, and that's before you consider the benefits of having your content available from the Lulu website as a destination.
Whichever of the numerous options you decide to publish via, the Lulu website has been nicely laid out to make this as simple as possible. Each of the publishing formats has its own well put-together page, with further information, optional third-party services, and nice, clean banners that invite you to begin the publishing process. Once you click through, you are taken to the appropriate wizard process for the authoring of your content.
Wizard Based Publishing
The wizard-based publishing process generally takes you through a short series of forms to customize the creation of your book, CD or digital product. You begin by giving your content a title and deciding if you'd like to keep it as a private draft, or if you want to make it immediately available via the Lulu store or your own promotional / retail avenues.
The wizard will prompt you to upload the file or files from which you wish to publish, whether a Word .doc, .pdf or video file, depending on the nature of your content and will also give you formatting suggestions and details to make sure that your content comes out looking its best.
In the case of books you are given a number of choices of format, paper-type, binding type and color so that you can calculate which will work best for your content. As you go along, you can also keep a tally on the production costs, which obviously go down the more books you wish to produce.
While the books and DVDs aren't incredibly cheap, obviously you stand to benefit if you choose to produce them in larger numbers.
A new addition to Lulu, which I can see being adopted across the website in future, is the Lulu Studio, a flash-based web application that makes it very easy to put together your own photo books.
If you've used a service like Scrapblog (previously reviewed here on Master New Media), you will be familiar with the drag-and-drop interface by which you upload or select your images, position them on the page, and crop them to taste.
While Lulu Studio doesn't offer anywhere near the range of flexibility in resizing your images or adding from a library of designs as Scrapblog, it is certainly a very effective and easy way to put together great looking photo books in a relatively short space of time.
When you boot into the application you are given the choice of a number of themes, designs that change the overall look of your book and give it a distinctive style. The designs included are largely very good looking, although I would like to see a few more than the current relatively small selection on offer.
Licensed Stock Image Content
One nice benefit that is included with the Lulu Studio is the ability to buy stock photos right from within the interface - another great example of the way that Lulu takes advantage of third party vendors. Selecting from a good range of Getty images you seem, from what I can see, to pay around $1.00 for a picture placed on the front cover, or 30 ¢ for an image used inside your photo book.
I can see this being useful for the front covers of photo books more than their interiors, but this would make for a great additional service to those putting together brochures, presentations and so on, and hopefully this will be the case in future iterations of the service.
The Lulu dashboard, which you have access to once you have signed in, gives you a very well laid-out, at-a-glance set of features for publishing, promoting and monitoring the revenue of your books or digital content.
Beyond the ability to check in on your files and products, and edit them, you'll also find some social networking tools in line with what you might expect from Facebook or MySpace, along with access to support forums and help files.
The dashboard has been very nicely re-designed to give you the most essential information right on the front page, with no need to navigate into sub-menus to get a good idea of your current promotions, content, revenues, recent orders and payouts.
Then, if you want to go into more detail a well-designed sidebar takes you into the specifics of your self-publishing empire - from a complete order history to a contacts list, FAQs and your Lulu mailbox.
Lulu also supplies you with your own storefront within the Lulu website destination, and gives you some reasonable customization options as to how this looks. While this is unlikely to wow Wordpress users with their infinitude of exquisitely wrought themes, you do have the option to choose from a handful of themes in one-column, two-column and three-column layouts.
This is a nice addition to your list of promotional tools, although I wouldn't advise using it as your sole means of selling your content if you wish to see considerable revenues.
Thankfully Lulu seem to be aware of this and have provided both an excellent marketing section of the website to help you out in your promotional activities, along with the very savvy use of a customizable widget that you can embed into your own blog or website.
This Mini-Store widget comes in a range of colours and sizes and displays the content that you currently have available for sale via Lulu. This is an excellent addition to the Lulu promotional toolset, and will doubtless provide a popular way of bloggers selling on their related content thanks to its ease of implementation.
As I have touched on already Lulu has managed to integrate a number of social media elements into its redesigned interface and infrastructure. This does a very effective job of transforming Lulu from merely being a publishing and selling environment, in the same way that eBay is, and into a useful resource and meeting place for those sharing a common interest in self-publishing.
I had a look through the very active user forums, and people seemed to be sharing some genuinely useful thoughts and advice on the self-publishing process, whether in terms of formatting content, or effectively promoting it.
The choice of a forum is a smart one, given that users will be able to tap into this resource along with the existing Lulu support materials, gaining an unofficial take on self-publishing through Lulu, rather than just the official line.
Lulu also has a good selection of groups, which can be accessed from both the community tab of the main site navigation menu, and from the dashboard. Just as is the case on Facebook, these groups have a good range of interests, and it's likely that you will find an existing gathering of people with similar interests or concerns if you make use of the search features.
If not, you can very easily create your own group. This strikes me as not only a great way of finding support and advice, but also as an excellent in-built engagement marketing feature. Setting up a special interest group catering to a specific need is certainly one way you might go about promoting your Lulu (and indeed, off-site) content.
Lulu has also includied blogging software within the features available to members. This provides you with a basic WYSIWYG editor, and an RSS feed for people to keep track of your latest news.
While this blogging setup is best described as threadbare, and certainly won't be replacing your current blog platform, it does provide you with another avenue to both entice potential clients, and keep existing friends, buyers and contacts in the loop about your latest endeavors, and possibly your release schedule, so shouldn't be overlooked entirely.
I'd like to see a little CSS styling in future iterations, and I think that this would have a positive effect on uptake. Given that the new interface looks great, the blogging features baked into Lulu feel like legacy content in need of a makeover.
Finally, and very wisely Lulu includes support for three of the most popular social news and bookmarking destinations right alongside every product description. Users taking a look at your book, CD or download will now find the capability to bookmark it to del.icio.us, Digg or Stumbleupon.
It's great to see a big company and publishing outlet taking the lead from bloggers here, and I think that this is an astute move on the part of Lulu. At least some of the market making use of a web-based self-publishing destination will be savvy to the uses of these tools, and their possible benefits as a promotional device.
Social media optimization aside, Lulu has supplied an excellent marketing resource for its publishers.
You can find a number of useful guides and tools for making sure that you maximize your sales gathered in one place, including:
Added to this sound advice there are some useful tools, including the aforementioned mini-store widget, self-promotion kits, and buttons and banners you can place on your website to better promote your Lulu content.
Supplying this kind of resource is a great example of a company investing in teaching aids as effective marketing - if you can bring users to your sites out of their needs and interests, they are going to be considerably more receptive to making use of your service. Lulu has done an excellent job of sharing effective means for publishers to get the best out of their self-publishing enterprise.
It is worth mentioning, briefly, the sister site to Lulu.com, Lulu.tv. While this isn't part of the main Lulu enterprise, it is a destination for the independent video producers out there, who are less well catered to on the main Lulu domain.
Lulu.tv works in a similar way to YouTube or any other video sharing service, with the vital difference that Lulu.tv shares 80% of its advertising revenues with its most popular users. I covered the service in my previous guide on how to monetize your independent video content, and if you are one of the many people looking to make a profit from your video, this is another publishing outlet worth your consideration.
The updated Lulu website, provides a very simple way to upload your documents and media files in a variety of popular formats and see them transformed into books, CDs, DVDs and even digital downloads. Whether you want to put together and sell a book, porfolio, comic or DVD, or prefer to take the digital distribution approach, Lulu has a great series of tools and a large community in which to promote and seek support for your publishing endeavors.
Thanks to the print-on-demand nature of the Lulu service you don't need to lay down huge sums of money to produce a pile of books or DVDs that may or may not sell in the marketplace. With the added ability to sell your content as digital downloads - ebooks, mp3 music files and more - you can effectively make use of the ability to create professional looking products without the risks associated with traditional publishing.
The Lulu website features some excellent navigation and design, often giving the user multiple access points to the destination they might be seeking, with colorful, well designed calls to action throughout.
Add to this a wizard-based publishing system with helpful baked-in advice, and the new Lulu Studio, a flash-based web application that makes putting photo books together actually quite fun, and you have a go-to resource for independent publishers.
The social dimension of Lulu has also been further developed, with social networking style profiles, groups, forums and even the ability to blog from your Lulu dashboard. Lulu has also made it easy for you to promote your content with the inclusion of smart social media tools like embeddable store widgets, buttons and badges for your blog, and the chance for browsers to Digg, Stumbleupon or add your content to their del.icio.us bookmarks.
While Lulu won't make you rich without your own efforts at self-promotion, it does supply a useful marketing center to help you to maximize your sales, which is obviously in both your own interests and that of Lulu.
In short Lulu has made some impressive changes to their overall interface design, and is well on the way to further simplifying the publishing process with its drag-and-drop flash-based Studio. If you are planning on extending the range of your content publishing strategy, Lulu could make for a very useful partner, and will certainly take the headache out of getting your content produced and promoted online.
If you'd like to read more about Lulu 2.0, you might want to check out the following links:
Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and titled "Self-Publishing Your Books And Media Meets Web 2.0 With Lulu 2.0"