Lulu, Bowker and the ISBN Game: An Interview with Bob Young of Lulu.com
Lulu has been making some interesting moves lately that demonstrate not only its leadership role in the new publishing industry,
By Noel Ward
Published: July 31, 2007
Lulu has been making some interesting moves lately that demonstrate not only its leadership role in the new publishing industry, what I think of as Publishing 2.0. To find out more, ODJ talked with Bob Young, the founder and CEO of Lulu.com, to see how these changes fit with Lulu's vision of the future and what it means for the "old" ways of publishing.
ODJ: First off, Lulu has a new arrangement with Bowker, the issuer of ISBNs which seems to indicate not only Bowker's acknowledgement of the rise of self-publishers but also the importance of companies like Lulu. How did this arrangement with Bowker come about?
BY: We've been working with Bowker since October 2006 on this one-of-a-kind partnership. Since Annie Callanan came aboard as Bowker's new president and CEO, she has really seized on the fact that the opportunities for new technology-driven information services in the publishing industry have never been greater. The management team at Bowker is clearly embracing the future and the importance of the self-publishing movement.
This is the first time that Bowker has partnered with a company to offer single assignment individual ISBNs in an automated fashion, streamlining the publishing process.
This is the first time that Bowker has partnered with a company to offer single assignment individual ISBNs in an automated fashion, streamlining the publishing process. The ISBN has worked well and served the industry for years – fueling everyone along the supply chain. Now, together with Bowker, we've made it relevant to new models of publishing.
ODJ: How do you think this changes the game for self-publishers?
BY: The key idea behind self-publishing is to empower the creator, but many authors who publish their own work simply aren't aware of all that goes into the process. Obtaining an ISBN is just one small step. By working with Bowker to simplify the process, we can assist authors in getting their publications to the public more quickly through avenues such as retailers, wholesalers and Google Book Search, benefiting both the reader and author.
ODJ: Lulu.com have any other plans with Bowker in the works?
BY: Absolutely. Lulu and Bowker are exploring how the Document Object Identifier (DOI) might facilitate the use and tracking of images. Bowker also has a suite of marketing tools that Lulu can make available to the self-publisher. Furthermore, Lulu hopes to leverage Bowker's PubEasy product to streamline ordering from bookstores.
ODJ: Lulu is offering a "Published By You" service to Lulu.com authors. How long has it been offered and how does it work?
BY: The "Published by You" service launched last October. With the new distribution service, users not only retain editorial and copyright control, but they can now register to be listed as the official publisher. Registration includes a single, unique ISBN, which is assigned to a single, available book title. A scannable Bookland-EAN bar code placed on the back cover and bibliographic data on the book will be fed by Lulu to major international bibliographic databases and available to booksellers. At the sellers' discretion, the book can be made available for sale online or in bookstores. Lulu will also convert the retail price into five currencies (US dollars, British pounds, Australian dollars, Euros, and Canadian dollars) to facilitate global availability and purchasing.
Lulu's "Published by You" service lets users retain editorial and copyright control and register to be listed as the official publisher.
ODJ: How does it differ from "Published by Lulu" and what benefits does this service provide?
BY: With this service, creators are granting publishing rights to Lulu and will receive a Lulu-owned ISBN for their work. This is an ISBN that Lulu has purchased in advance and, as such, "Lulu.com" is the registered publisher of this ISBN and the work to which it is applied. This does not affect the creator's rights as owner of the content, but the US ISBN Agency's database and services, as well as other national ISBN agencies, will see "Lulu.com" as the publisher. Lulu has the responsibility to maintain the correct data with the US ISBN Agency including retail price and availability.
This service also gives the book the benefit of Lulu's unique network into the global marketplace. Lulu data feeds cascade to international bibliographic databases as well as leading wholesalers and retailers including Amazon.
ODJ: How have authors reacted to the service? What type of growth are you seeing?
BY: After pouring sweat and tears into a book, it's hard for authors to let go and hand over the controls to someone else to get it out into the marketplace. What authors appreciate about 'Published by You' is that it puts them in the driver's seat by allowing them to establish their own printing company, widen the market for their book and have Lulu.com perform all of the distribution functions.
Since launching the service in October, we have seen hundreds of authors choosing this service each week. They love it and now "Published by You" sales exceed our sales of "Published by Lulu."
After pouring sweat and tears into a book, it's hard for authors to let go and hand over the controls to someone else to get it out into the marketplace.
ODJ: How do you feel this approach to publishing fits into the future of the book publishing industry?
BY: The acceptance and popularity of Web 2.0 technology and user-generated content today is having a profound impact on the publishing industry. The important concept behind these trends is the idea that the most valuable content is no longer developed by publishers (whether it be movie studios, record companies, or book publishers), but rather it's developed by the users of the Internet themselves. So if we're giving power to the people, shouldn't they have complete control of their literary destiny and be the people who not only profit but are also empowered to maximize that profit? Authors need to be able to not only create, but also sell and communicate directly to their customers--whether it's an audience of one or thousands.
ODJ: How do you see the "Published By You" service evolving?
BY: Our primary goal is to expand the service into more countries in order to empower more creators. We have launched the service in Germany and the Netherlands and have agreements with Neilsons-the UK ISBN agency. It is particularly exciting to have the informational ISBN umbrella group identifying Lulu and user-generated content as an agenda item. We are working closely with them.
ODJ: Tell us about the deal with Universal Press Syndicate. UPS clearly has strong roots in traditional publishing and distribution channels. How will they be working with Lulu?
BY: We're working with UPS to launch an online storefront as a new way to help the company produce and distribute its content to the vast audience of fans of their authors and creators.
Leveraging our digital content marketplace infrastructure, Universal Press Syndicate, is now able to provide a broader range of titles because of the flexibility of Lulu's print-on-demand technology. Our users will also have access to the many comic strip characters UPS manages, empowering them to create unique books and calendars for their own use and to sell globally through Lulu.
The acceptance and popularity of Web 2.0 technology and user-generated content today is having a profound impact on the publishing industry.
ODJ: What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the kinds of books Lulu is publishing now, compared to a couple of years ago?
BY: The beauty of Lulu is that it doesn't matter what types of books are being published. Our users are seeing there is a market for just about anything. In terms of books created by everyday consumers, we're not necessarily seeing a change in the type of content, but just tremendous growth in number of titles.
Lulu creators publish something every 2.5 minutes and there are more than 323,000 books, e-books, brochures, images, calendars, CDs, DVDs, and multimedia available on Lulu.com today. In addition, more than 2 million creations have been sold on Lulu to people in over 80 countries with millions of dollars having been paid out in creator royalties.
As you can see, self-publishing has clearly caught on.
ODJ: What do you see as the next important shifts in publishing?
BY: Technologies leveraged by the Internet have created vast new opportunities to connect creators and reader/consumers. Single color trade books are a mainstay, but new technologies will enable a whole new set of products in color, combining different electronic files and using content from multiple sources. Lulu is well positioned to embrace and enable the new methods that creators will employ.
ODJ: Thanks, Bob for taking the time to chat. We're all looking forward to seeing what Lulu does next.