Unethics in the Internet Age | Why I Hate Lulu (And You Should, Too)

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

If you want to see Internet piracy in action, publish a book.

I wrote a killer novel. It’s called Dead Spot (available on Amazon). It’s so good, everyone but me is making money with it.

Originally I published Dead Spot in 2011 on Lulu.com, the Chinese kitchen of publishing. (It’s ebooks! It’s POD! It’s social networking! It’s design and editing services!) Let’s just say Lulu’s real agenda is to shovel as much content as possible through as many outlets as possible, without a care about producers getting their royalties or buyers getting their purchases.

My first attempt at marketing Dead Spot was a read-only PDF version sold on Lulu. Submission was a breeze and the company very helpful — until my book went live. After that I was unable to reach anyone at Lulu by phone, and it took about a year to get an email response written in the Queen’s English.

A recap of the Lulu Experience:

• Someone buys your book on Lulu. If the transmission is interrupted for any reason, that buyer doesn’t get a second chance to download (nor a refund).

• If a buyer doesn’t download the Adobe reading software before downloading your Lulu book, their book download will abort and the buyer won’t get a second chance (nor a refund). No, there’s no explanation on Lulu.com of how this works; you find out the hard way.

• If you want to give your cheated buyer (or a reviewer) a free book, there’s no way to do that on Lulu.

• Once you upload anything to Lulu’s server, you will never, ever be able to remove it. (They claim it will damage their servers. I am not making this up.)

• Lulu will continue to duplicate, repurpose, and market your intellectual property without your knowledge or consent, no matter how many times you tell them to stop. (Lulu claims I’m bound by a contract I never received from them, via which I magically implied consent because I never declined it.)

• Lulu is an ocean of plagiarism where anyone can publish anything they want, including your stuff. If you suspect another “author” has stolen and published your work, the only way you can know for sure is to buy it.

• If you use a Lulu-supplied ISBN, your publication will forever be locked into distribution solely by Lulu. (The moral: Get your own ISBN from Bowker.)

• It took me a year to pry my royalties out of Lulu from my three sales. Good luck getting yours.

Award-free Customer Service

I exchanged many, many emails with Lulu’s customer service reps located in countries where pets are considered meat. (Hello! My name Peggy. What is problem?) Many MadLibbish responses later, none of my problems was ever directly addressed.

I shut down my book on Lulu and moved it to Amazon.

I’m not saying Amazon is heaven on earth. Uploading my manuscript to Kindle was a nightmare (their epub conversion software didn’t work on my computer, so I had to code the entire book by hand). But at least Amazon sends you a free proof before you go live (unlike Lulu, who forces you to buy your proof and then tells you you can never delete any of your files from their database, because there was a sale). Also, Kindle book buyers can download a title as many times as they need to.

But back to Lulu, and here’s the part where it gets really psycho. In April of 2012 I received a cheery boilerplate email from my ex-publisher about how they were vetting their catalog for suitable candidates for iBook and Nook. There was a disclaimer, natch, about how they intended to edit the winners at their discretion. (Ack ack! Don’t run away, we are your friends!)

I ignored their email since I’d long ago pulled Dead Spot from Lulu’s catalog.

Whaddya know! Shortly thereafter I found my copyrighted intellectual property for sale on both iBook and Nook — sans my consent, notification, or review of whatever it is that Lulu, Apple, and Barnes & Noble were suddenly selling without my knowledge and keeping 56% of the revenue.

My confidence was not buoyed by the iBook product page showing a long-abandoned cover and a hacked-up ESL version of my old synopsis.

Wait, there’s more! Lulu was selling Dead Spot onsite again as an ebook — the one I canceled the previous year — for the very special Lulu price of 99¢.

What part of “no” is so hard to understand? I yanked my book from their stupid catalog AGAIN and blasted off a threatening email. Eventually I got them to step off, but only after reporting them to various authorities and offering to sue.

What the hell?

Lulu’s business model — an entirely automated multi-market enterprise that steals people’s intellectual property and parlays it into gobs of cash (for Lulu), with steel-clad shielding from consumer or regulatory intervention — is the brainchild of Lulu CEO and founder Robert Young, who also founded Red Hat Software. In 2001 Young was sued via class action for federal securities violations in Red Hat’s 1999 IPO. Young bailed from Ass Hat — I mean Red Hat — in 2005 to start Lulu, in a departure strategically timed to avoid major patent infringement lawsuits against Red Hat.

Bob Young is a bad man. In 2008 he sued Hulu just because their name rhymes with Lulu. And in 2009 he snarkily told the New York Times: “We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind.” Then he dumped Lulu’s entire poetry division (formerly Poetry.com) without notifying the authors.

Remove one book? Server damage! Purge 14 million poems? No problemo.

How about you? Got a problem with Lulu? Tough. You can’t call Lulu. Lulu DOES NOT WANT YOU TO CALL THEM, OR WRITE. Ever. Don’t even look at them. You won’t find Lulu’s phone number, street address, or the names of its corporate officers anywhere on Lulu.com.

The take-away: I did not spend ten years writing a book to put up with this crap. Neither should you.

So what can you do? Complain to the North Carolina Attorney General or Raleigh Better Business Bureau. Contact Lulu.com’s Designated Agent for Copyright Infringement. She’s Veronique McMillan, vmcmillan@lulu.com, fax 919 459-5867.

FWIW, here’s Lulu’s super top secret contact info:

Lulu Enterprises, Inc.
3101 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC 27607-5436
919 459-5858 (fax 919 459-5867)
Robert Young, CEO
Bryce Boothby, President and COO
Tim Albury, CFO
Doug Rye, Treasurer
Elizabeth Broadwater, Secretary
Steven Fraser, Director
Jeff Kramer, Engineering Staff/Senior VP
Debbie McGrath, Controller

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

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18 thoughts on “Unethics in the Internet Age | Why I Hate Lulu (And You Should, Too)

  1. That’s terrible, I would take them to court for losses or something. So sorry that happened, kind of scary to someone who has never published a book before…

    • Thanks for the vote of solidarity, Neeks. I think I managed to turn off all my Lulu-related product pages. What angers me most is that Lulu didn’t even ask my permission. (Apple and B&N assume Lulu has the legal right to offer them ebooks, not that I’m defending them. *Someone* should’ve let me review what all of them are selling before any of them posted it, because all my work was edited and repurposed for their various electronic formats.) I had assurances from Lulu that they’d notify me if/when they took any action re: third party publishing. Clearly Lulu lied. I discovered what they’d done via Google. This sets a really bad precedent for electronic publishing.

  2. This is terrible news. We’re just finishing a project that is supposed to go up on lulu (and because it includes graphics CAN’t go up on Kindle without endless re-formatting)… ugh. Is there no other good alternative?

    • Valerie, if you have an ISBN (the real kind, from Bowker), you can sell your project independently on iBook or Nook. Lulu will offer to distribute to Apple and B&N for you, but the free ISBNs Lulu provides are good only as long as Lulu is your “publisher”. In other words, Lulu remains the owner of their “free” ISBNs (along with your projects), not you. If you publish your project as an ebook or PDF download, there are many other publishers besides Lulu. If you need more info, just ask me here, or contact me by email.

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  5. Dear. Misses Schuster,

    I have just published at LULU myself and it remains to be seen how honest they will be on issues likes royalties. However, on a few aspects I have to correct you already now.
    First of all, it is possible to remove files from LULU. I have already done it myself.
    You are also not bound to remain with LULU forever. You can cancel the contract immediately but loses your LULU ISBN.

    • Thank you for your comment. It’s good to hear that Lulu.com is less squidlike since my rant of four years ago. The lawsuits must’ve been dillies! Lulu.com violated many federal laws by keeping authors’ work on Lulu servers and publishing it after the authors severed relations. As for Lulu ISBNs, they are (like all ISBNs provided by self-publishing distributors) worthless outside the distributor’s own venue. That’s why you need to get your own ISBN from Bowker. It’s unique to your product, it works on every platform, and no one can take it away from you. Good luck with your book!

  6. I got sucked into this too, although I never even got to publish. They screwed over the cover, the format, now the outlet…because I want a novel the size of a textbook…or only sold on their website.

    The big issue is that I’m broke and this was my last shot to earn some money the old fashioned way.

      • I was supposed to have access to Kindle as well as dozens of other distributors. I just want to be able to OWN my own work, and not have these companies re-edit a word and then publish it elsewhere. I really didnt want to have to deal with lawyers but it may come to that, even before the damn book hits the market. I am simply tired. This was the only thing keeping me from just ending up in a home for homeless veterans.

        • Wow. That truly sucks. It burns me up how cavalierly ebook publishers treat their customers. You have my genuine sympathy. Why are they changing one word to publish your book elsewhere? Is that a copyright workaround? You own your book, not them, so there shouldn’t even be copyright issues. If that’s what they’re doing, it’s illegal. If they want to make your book available through other outlets (Kindle, B&N, Nook, etc), that’s nice and more exposure is better, but they gotta explain to you why they’re making changes and submit them for your approval before going live (or allow you to do any editing they think is required). Some companies’ shtick includes selling editing services. If you feel you don’t need that, don’t let them force it on you. Lulu didn’t explain nothin’ to me, they just did wtf they wanted with my book, so I dumped them.

          If you get your own ISBN, you can publish wherever you want and handle your own distribution (ie, submit your book yourself to all the outlets you want to sell it). It’s possible publishers might be unlikely (or legally not allowed) to edit your work without your consent if you own your own ISBN. For what it’s worth, Kindle didn’t edit my ebook, and they let me publish it anywhere else I want (I own my ISBN). They don’t help with distribution, and they don’t do squat to promote it, but at least they don’t mess with my content. Let me know how things work out for you.

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