Friday, 25 April 2008

Amazon/Booksurge - Washington State Attorney General-Update

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As a follow up to the previous post on the initial statement issued by Washington Attorney General's office, it would seem some conclusions have been reached. Here is the link to the original posting from last week.

The Attorney General say they have looked at the current circumstances surrounding Amazon's moves to make POD publishers use their own in-house printers, Booksurge, and deem "it may be more appropiate to refer this matter to one of the federal anti-trust agencies for review" and "anyone feeling that they have been harmed and wish to pursue a remedy should consider consulting with private counsel."

Well, it would seem, at least for now, POD publishers are going to have to either row in with Amazon's plans and suck on their sweets, or find legal redress through a different agency.

It is notable that so far there have been few signs that POD publishers are willing to publicly form any kind of alliance. Though this issue has generated considerable debate, publishers continue to play their cards close to their chest.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Adventures with Lulu

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In my previous article posting below, I discussed the reasons why I chose Lulu to publish my book, Academy.

In this article, I would like to discuss and record what I discovered at Lulu. initially, Lulu’s homepage, with its bright orange graphics, strikes the visitor as casual and unassuming. ‘Publish’, ‘Buy’ and ‘Sell’ banners clearly define what Lulu is all about, ‘No set-up fees’. Lulu are not entirely exclusive to the ‘no set-up’ arena when it comes to the world of Printer/Publishing. Createspace and Cafepress also offer a similar service. However, it is the beast beyond the front door which sets Lulu far ahead of the competition.

It should be remembered from the outset that Lulu does not carry out printing in-house. This, until recently, regarding book publishing, was farmed out to Lightning Source in both the United Stated and also LSI’s plant in England. Lulu also use a printer in Spain, and from a look at their own Lulu forum posts from users of Lulu’s service, this does appear to have been a cause for some concern, regarding general quality. It should also be noted, with the recent moves by Amazon (see my other recent posts), the printing looks like it will now move across to Booksurge, though no formal declaration of this has come from Lulu. In itself, that is another story I won’t go into in this article. We will see how it all pans out; it’s back to the beast beyond the front door. Lulu’s strongest two features are its load-up/converter widget software and its online forums for Lulu’s registered users. I say two strongest features, but I could add a third, their ‘Live Help’ chat feature.

Before engaging with the Lulu beast, I would strongly recommend (very strongly) that perspective users fully read the ‘Help FAQ’ pages, in full detail, as there is a considerable amount of information there which will avoid many later problems and frustrations. I have trawled the forums and found many users posting there who have clearly not read these help pages, and have simply dived in at the deep end and wrestled the beast without the actual tools to tame it. Reading the ‘Help FAQ’ pages will greatly tame the beast. In my time on the site, I did not come across a downloadable PDF help file which many POD Publisher’s have on their websites. This would have allowed users to read at their leisure and absorb all the finer details to properly use Lulu’s site load-up software. Access to these widgets can be found on the ‘Publish’ link tag, or, far better to wait, read the ‘Help FAQ’, and then register with Lulu for your own ‘My Lulu’ webpage where you can load up your book files, load to the PDF converter, design a template cover, load up original cover art for your own book cover, manage your store front, and place orders for stock and publishing/marketing/distribution/editing services.

I should point out at this stage that Lulu also offers a host of other printing/production solutions, from artwork, brochures, calendars, cd’s etc. The beast has many teeth.

From my own experiences using the Lulu site, at least for now, I would strongly recommend downloading the ‘Mozilla Firefox’ web browser (available for free). This was one thing which initially did my head in. Pages freezing, cover graphics/text not appearing where it should dogged my early efforts at the book creation process. Lulu’s own help agents in their forums and ‘Live Help’ chat facility will suggest this ad-nausea. The reality is, they are right. This, though, does not excuse them from resolving the glitches which seem to occur when using the more widely used ‘Microsoft Internet Explorer’.

There seems to be a wide view on Lulu and on other web forums, not mind by their own staff and web site help pages, that users should preferably have a PDF file of their book interior to load up to Lulu’s converter. PDF is a digital standard for print files in the book publishing world, but Lulu’s converter will happily do this from a pre-prepared Microsoft Word file. That is, so long as you have been careful to correctly format your Word file, paying particular attention to customizing the page size, margins, headers & footers, using page breaks, page numbering, and section breaks. The Lulu converter will happily authenticate and replicate yours pages exactly as you have prescribed. Though I have no experience of them, I would suggest if you are preparing an art-book, an illustrated book, a book containing detailed diagrams and tables, unusual foreign scripts, non-standard fonts (Lulu list their standard fonts), then, yes, you really need to load up a finished PDF file with all images and fonts fully embedded.

I used a template for the 6 x 9 Word file I prepared for publication by downloading one for nothing from the internet. Lulu do offer Word page-template-files for varying sizes on their site, but your can get files if you search the internet for fuller more complete templates, including the title pages, copyright page, index page, chapter pages etc. Many of these have the footers and headers, page numbering and section breaks set up already. It is simply a matter of copying the text from your original manuscript and doing a ‘paste special’ to preserve the pre-set formatting in the template. As an overview of your overall Lulu book project, I would concede that you do need to be pretty proficient using Word, and do not practice lazy habits like using the space bar to position text and not using proper paragraph space indentation etc. The best advice I can give is to pick your favourite book from your bookshelf at home and replicate it in your book template. When I say favourite book, I mean, the most visually appealing book. Study the layout, pay close attention to the copyright pages and title pages. Most mass produced books are quite consistent in their layout, they differ only in things like style, size and font type, amount of words per page etc. Remember, you want your book to look as professional as possible. The books that have gimmicky fonts, poorly aligned margins, exaggerated paragraph indents (no indents!), page numbers showing on copyright and title pages, copyright pages that have ‘©Sid Snott 2008’, and nothing more; they look amateurish from the moment the book is opened, let alone read.

My final impressions of working through the Lulu site with my own book, ‘Academy’; you will not get it right first time, if you really want a finished proof delivered to your doorstep that you can be happy with, then, prepare your file properly, when you see it visualised on Lulu’s previews, you will want to change things, revise your file and have another go. Only ‘Approve’ the final book when the first proof hits your doorstep and you have carefully checked it, inside and outside.

Do remember, the Lulu books are reasonably priced on their own storefront, but there are considerable mark-ups if you choose a ‘Distribution’ pack and it becomes available on Barnes & Noble, Powells and Am...Amm...Amma...Amma...zon, ICH! I said it! You can virtually add 50% to the retail price. Bear in mind, I actually paid the €89 (euro) for distribution, but I am publishing a hardback, ouch. Still I went for download sale as well. You can also opt for their ‘Publish by You’ (your ISBN/publisher name) or ‘Publish by Lulu’ (Lulu’s ISBN).

In my next article, ‘Adventures with Lulu-Part 2’, I will tell you about the stage when the proof hits your doorstep.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

HMS PODdy Mouth Sinks at Sea!

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So the shutters seem to be finally pulled down for good on Blogger PODdy Mouth. The POD bloggers 'Sex in the City' blogspot was deleted by the author following yesterdays posting by Angela Hoy in WritersWeekly.

It seems Angela feels she has been blacklisted by PODdy and her comment replies to blog articles have been deleted. Angela has even stuck up the 'reward-wanted' posters and is offering $500 for anyone who can reveal the true identity behind PODdy Mouth by providing proof.

It seems PODdy may have been an owner/employee of a known POD publishers and posting to eskew 'facts' and opinions in favour of one particular POD publisher.

The article by Angela certainly makes for interesting reading. Lets just hope that in light of the current moves by Amazon against POD publishers, the natives don't end up fighting amongst themselves!

Poll Now Open

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Forget Obama and Clinton, the POD publisher's poll is open for votes. You may select just one, but yes, if you feel there is someone who should be on it, reply with comment, stating why, and it will be logged and counted as a vote. Remember, it's your own positive experience.

Poll closes in June.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Adventures with POD Publishing

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As many of you know I've spent some time researching POD publishers prior to starting this blogsite. I said all along that I would allow the site to develop on its own merits, effectively letting it 'have its head'. In tandem, I've written articles here about many POD topics, relevant and I hope helpful to POD published authors. I also wanted to chronicle my own personal experiences in this area.

Last Christmas I placed my current novel 'Trees' with Raider International Publishing. In fact, I had long hoped and expected this work to have been finished and the final draft submitted to Raider in New York by now. However, I have really struggled with the ending; its become a deeply personal journey and I am intent on making it as good as I can get it. Over the past week, I think I've cracked it and I'm happy I have at the very least the creative flow and gist of the ending. With the creative juices drying up a little, and the whole Amazon business, my attentions turned to a novel I actually wrote over twelve years ago! It's actually been more of a distraction, but a great deal of fun re-reading it, re-editing it, and preparing it for publication. That gave me the idea to decide to put it out before 'Trees' came out later this year. I could of course submit it to Adam Salviani at Raider, but instead, as I'm writing for a blogsite about POD publishing, I wanted to keep the two books as seperate published entities. There is a considerable differences in time and style with the novels, and if I'm honest as well, I'm a considerably better author than I was back in 1996.

I looked at all the other POD's available. It made me think about the reasons I wanted 'Academy', the name of the book, published. As you will know, I self published five books many, many years ago (you old bastard - you're only forty!), long before 'print-on-demand' digital technology. I used an old word processor and did the whole layout, the final raw, proof-print sheets, designed the colour covers, got the whole lot printed, and I even learned how to bookbind a hardcover book. I formed my own publishing imprint - 'Aquarius Communications', a company I had actually used for Music Manangement and Promotions with a business partner of mine during the 1990's. Although I still have the proofs from all five books, they are out of print and no longer available to buy. I do intend at some stage putting them out as a collection of work over the next year or so, but that's another project! With my previous experience of self publishing, I decided to look much closer at what I shall describe as the 'Printer POD Publishers'. The companies who don't make grand claims and promises about the publishing world to authors, or try to be something they are not.

Spire Publishing
Arima uk
Matadore uk

One alternative to the list above was of course going directly to Lightning Source and print with them using my publishing imprint 'Aquarius Communications'. I've long put the imprint out to pasture, and it wouldn't really serve a purpose in relation to blogging about POD Publishers, though, it does remind me that I still have 5 unassigned ISBN numbers lying around the house somewhere from the olden days!

And so, park LSI, they are a printers. Back to the list. From my research last year, there were plenty more I excluded, I simply don't grade them highly, from my own personal needs for this particular project. That is not to say the ones I excluded are not excellent POD Publishers in their own right, or would not suit another author's needs. Here was my criteria, not in priority:

Recognised Company Name
Facility to do Hardback edition
Print/Set-up costing
Speed of publication
Quality of Product
Ease of process

The areas that most concerned me were the Quality, hardback edition, cost and speed. If I'm honest, they all pass the Recognised company name test, otherwise they wouldn't even be still on my POD research list! I'm a tradition kind of person when I look at a book as a manufactored product. I like the look, the feel, the smell, the size, the weight of a hardback book. Reading that sentence back makes it sound like I've some form of fetish for the damn things! Wanting a hardback edition for 'Academy' was a deal breaker for me, and I was more than aware of the knock-on it would have on costing, not just to produce the book, but also on the retail selling price. With my novel 'Trees' placed with Raider, I will have softback and hardback editions available, with this project I wanted just the hardback. It became pretty clear that there was really only ever going to be one contender, and that was Lulu. The rest simply didn't offer hardback at the bottom end of the costing scale. In fact, with Lulu's costs at €89 (euro) for a full distribution package, there really was no comparison. On crunching the figures, Booklocker were a distant but fair second, though Booklocker would probably top my list of POD Publisher's reputations. You simply can't compare €89 with €410 with Booklocker. I actually still have the option of a softback for another €89 with Lulu, considering all the hardwork of file preparation for layout is already done. So, why Lulu and what did it entail?

I remember Lulu and IUniverse were the first two POD's that I looked at last year when I was considering a home for 'Trees'. At that time, Lulu simply didn't work for 'Trees', too nuts and bolts, and as I described on other posts, more printer than publisher. What most of the POD Publishers have in common on the above list, is that while they all 'indulge' in the dream of the author to be published and successful, they offer a firm sense of community and several offer very established and respected forums for writers, both published by their companies, and also writers in general. Some of the others are still at the 'infancy' stage of this type of publishing business model. While Lulu is more printer, IUniverse leans the other way, with more bells and whistles and a considerably large parent company backing them up in AuthorSolutions, who also own AuthorHouse, but that's a very different story. Lulu very much try to appeal to the writers who are entirely unpublished and have little or no experience of the publishing world. In other words, Aunt Daisy's retirement memoirs, sold to the twenty members of her extended family, or the writer who just wants to get that book out of them, once and once only, and they may never write another book again. But that does a great disservice to Lulu.

I'm sure many of Lulu's service users are new to the publishing experience and the eventual books published by them are of varying quality, from truely awful, to exceptionally good. Some of the books on Lulu would have easily found homes with traditional publishers had the authors pursued that path. What Lulu offers, in reality, is an exceptional piece of online publishing machinery for authors. The software widgets and tools are in my experience, not for the faint hearted or uninitiated. If the load-up file you use for the interior book is of good quality, PDF or Word file, then while you will have plenty of glitches and frustrations along the way, with a bit of time, effort and patience, you may stand a good chance of a finished book you can be proud of. But that is it, in a nutshell. Lulu is simply a powerful online publishing tool, and a terrific medium and voice for authors. The real key is perfecting your work from conception to the actual file you load to Lulu's server for conversion to an eventual published book. No printer or publisher, no matter how good they are, can make what is poor, come good.

In my next article, 'Adventures with Lulu', I will discuss the actual nuts and bolts of what I discovered when I published with Lulu.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Amazon/Booksurge - Washington State Attorney General's Response

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Kristin Alexander, Seattle Media Relations Manager, has responded to Angela Hoy of Writersweekly regarding the current issue with Amazon/Booksurge. This appears to be the first formal response regarding the questions raised by authors and POD publishers in relation to the legalities/anti-trust laws in the United States. From the enclosed communication to Angela Hoy, the Attorney General's office seem keen to hear directly from POD publishers and authors affected by the situation.

Here is the communication in full to Angela and Richard.

The Washington Attorney General's Antitrust Division has received
several inquiries and concerns regarding the new "print on demand" or
"POD" policy recently implemented by Individuals who have
contacted our office claim that Amazon is engaging in "monopolistic
practices." I wanted to take this opportunity to update you and your
readers of our office's work regarding this issue.

As with all complaints regarding a business, we have advised
of these concerns and have asked the company to respond to us. In the
meantime, the Antitrust Division is conducting an initial review of the
marketplace and will respond more fully once that review is complete.

In order for the Attorney General's Office or another enforcement agency
to take action on an antitrust law violation, a court must be convinced
that a company has attempted to monopolize a relevant market or is
attempting to exclude others from a market it has already monopolized.
The relevant market is judged not only in terms of what products are in
question, but the geographic service area in which competitors compete.

If it is determined that the markets involved are national in scope, it
may be more appropriate to refer this matter to one of the federal
antitrust agencies for review.

Additional Resources:
* Consumer tips can help enforcement agencies identify unethical
and suspicious corporate behavior when it occurs. Individuals who have
unique information about the market that they would like to share are
invited to complete a complaint form and submit it to the Antitrust
Division. The complaint form can be found online at
* issued a letter to the publishing industry concerning
its new policy on March 31, 2008. The letter is posted here
> > .

You may wish to direct your readers to our Web site at where this information is currently

Kindest regards,

Kristin Alexander
Seattle Media Relations Manager
Washington State Attorney General's Office

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Amazon/Booksurge - Xlibris Update

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POD publisher Xlibris look to be one of the 'big hitters' who are communicating to their authors that they are not willing to sign up to the current Amazon/Booksurge agreement. In light of Xlibris being one of the bigger POD publishers - it may now encourage those publishers undecided to hold station and stand up to Amazon.

Over the past week, there has been a general 'wait and see what the rest do' approach to the situation. So far, IUniverse and AuthorHouse are the only two who have announced an official agreement with Amazon, with Lulu seemingly also in agreement.

AuthorHouse & IUniverse Jump Ship to Booksurge

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There are no details on the deal both AuthorHouse and IUniverse have done with Amazon/Booksurge, but they are the first of the big hitters to jump from the good ship Ingram/Lightning Source. It remains to be seen exactly how these publishers will deal with the issue of Ingrams and distribution. The issue here is that Booksurge do not deal with Ingrams as a competitor of the Amazon group, and yet, Ingrams is the largest supplier of books in the United States.

Lulu have made no official statement, but staffer 'Adam' on their forum had assured 'users', (I thought they were customers - silly me) that there will be no 'adverse' affect on their authors book availability through Amazon's site. The word 'adverse' already bothers me - it suggests something like, err, a not disagreeable amont of disruption and reduction in overall 'user' satisfaction. Jez,what does that sound like, one of those flat pact manuals you get written by a guy from Taiwan who couldn't explain how to boil a friggin' egg! So we definitely have three in. What about the rest?

Infinity do there stuff in-house and send the physical books on for Amazon to warehouse (clever boys and girls, them Infinities). So it will be interesting to see how Xlibris, Mill City Press, Virtual Bookworm et all react. Brent Sampson, CEO of Outskirts Press had made pretty adamant soundings on the web that his company won't crumble to Amazon.

As an aside June Austin on her blog says she has been in contact with Jerry Simmons of and he is proposing that POD and Self publishers pull together and use his site as a online retail host for them.

Here is Angela Hoy's second article on the issue this week on Writersweekly.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Ingram Book Group Respond to Amazon POD strategy

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Following Amazon Corporate's statement to 'Interested Parties', John Ingram of the Ingram Group and parent company of Booksurge's rival Lightning Source, issued a statement from John Ingram about the concerns their publisher costumers are expressing to them.

John Ingram said, while “the questions that are being raised about and its Booksurge division don't directly relate to Ingram - either Lightning Source Inc. or Ingram Book Group - it clearly is alarming many of our publisher partners.”

John Ingram goes on to say, “publishers are telling us they feel’s actions are not appropriate.”

Amazon have yet to directly respond to Ingram and it remains to be seen if they will.

John Ingram continued, “We all live in a world where decisions are made about insourcing and outsourcing, and free choice is important. At Ingram Book and Lightning Source, we are going to work really hard to continue to be the compelling choice as publishers make their outsourcing decisions. Our breadth of distribution channels including the online retailers remains the same, and Ingram still provides one day turnaround in the fulfillment of orders for books including print on demand titles.”

Breaking News: Amazon Press Release to 'Open Parties'

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Finally Amazon have responded today to the rumpus over their move to force POD publishers to use Amazon's in-house pod printers, Booksurge.

I will post in more detail about this in response to the Amazon statement over the coming days. Here is the statement in full as released today by Amazon Corporate.

March 31, 2008

Open letter to interested parties:

We wanted to make sure those who are interested have an opportunity to understand what we're changing with print on demand and why we're doing so.

One question that we've seen is a simple one. Is Amazon requiring that print-on-demand books be printed inside Amazon's own fulfillment centers, and if so why?

Yes. Modern POD printing machines can print and bind a book in less than two hours. If the POD printing machines reside inside our own fulfillment centers, we can more quickly ship the POD book to customers -- including in those cases where the POD book needs to be married together with another item. If a customer orders a POD item together with an item that we're holding in inventory -- a common case -- we can quickly print and bind the POD item, pick the inventoried item, and ship the two together in one box, and we can do so quickly. If the POD item were to be printed at a third party, we'd have to wait for it to be transhipped to our fulfillment center before it could be married together with the inventoried item.

Speed of shipping is a key customer experience focus for us and it has been for many years. Amazon Prime is an example of a successful and growing program that is driving up our speed of shipment with customers. POD items printed inside our own fulfillment centers can make our Amazon Prime cutoff times. POD items printed outside cannot.

Simply put, we can provide a better, more timely customer experience if the POD titles are printed inside our own fulfillment centers. In addition, printing these titles in our own fulfillment centers saves transportation costs and transportation fuel.

Another question we've seen: Do I need to switch completely to having my POD titles printed at Amazon?

No, there is no request for exclusivity. Any publisher can use Amazon's POD service just for those units that ship from Amazon and continue to use a different POD service provider for distribution through other channels.

Alternatively, you can use a different POD service provider for all your units. In that case, we ask that you pre-produce a small number of copies of each title (typically five copies), and send those to us in advance (Amazon Advantage Program-successfully used by thousands of big and small publishers). We will inventory those copies. That small cache of inventory allows us to provide the same rapid fulfillment capability to our customers that we would have if we were printing the titles ourselves on POD printing machines located inside our fulfillment centers. Unlike POD, this alternative is not completely "inventoryless." However, as a practical matter, five copies is a small enough quantity that it is economically close to an inventoryless model.

Might Amazon reconsider this new policy?

Only if we can find an even better way to serve our customers faster. Over the years we've made many improvements to our service level for consumers. Some of these changes have caused consternation at times, but we have always stuck with the change when we believe it's good for customers. An early example: many years ago we started offering customer reviews on our website. This was a pioneering thing to do at the time. The fact that we allowed *negative* customer reviews confounded many publishers -- some were downright angry. One publisher wrote to us asking if we understood our business: "You make money when you sell things! Take down these negative reviews!" Our point of view was that our job was to help customers make purchase decisions. It made sense to us to stick with the customer-centric position of embracing customer reviews, even negative ones.

Another example: a few years ago, we made the decision to offer used books, and to make those used copies available directly alongside the new editions. This caused significant consternation, but we stood by the decision because we were convinced it was right for customers. Sometimes a used book will do and it can sometimes be had at a significant cost savings relative to a new book. We stuck with the customer-friendly decision.

Our decision with POD is the same. Once a book is in digital format, it can be quickly printed on modern POD printing equipment. It isn't logical or efficient to print a POD book in a third place, and then physically ship the book to our fulfillment centers. It makes more sense to produce the books on site, saving transportation costs and transportation fuel, and significantly speeding the shipment to our customers and Amazon Prime members.

We hope this helps those who are interested understand what we're working to do and why. We believe our customer-focused approach helps the entire industry in the long term by selling more books.


The Books Team

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