(If you only want the news part of this post without the editorial, jump down to the row of asterisks.)
I’ve always had to walk a fine line on this blog when talking about Lulu. There is a lot to like about the company and I am still a customer of theirs. But, from 2002 through 2010, I was also on their payroll for a variety of reasons as a contractor. So I’ve never been able to talk as freely as I would have liked because I didn’t feel like it was right to blog about something when I was watching what I was saying. I like to be honest and transparent.
I left Lulu at the end of 2010 because of my hand issues and it was a difficult decision. Partly because I still believe in what they are trying to do and have personal effection for many of the people who work there and partly because I thought they had changed and not for the better in the last few years. I’m not going to elaborate on what I mean by that right now.
But, from the very start, even back when I was a lowly forum moderator working for them for free, their biggest problem has always been: Lulu would always rather beg forgiveness then ask permission.
Over and over again, they’d implement something (often very large things that greatly affected how your book was displayed or distributed) and force everyone to Opt-In. Of course, they always offered an Opt-Out feature but customers were often furious that they had to go through the steps to Opt-Out of something they never signed up for in the first place. The effects of each of these changes were far reaching, many less then computer savvy users often didn’t even realize they’d been opted into something without their permission until months or even years later. I had the misfortune to work in customer service during several of these forced opt-ins and customers hated it. I really think the main reason they didn’t lose more business over it was because so many of their users didn’t realize what had happened until well after the fact. (I’m not saying all Lulu users aren’t tech savvy, obviously many are. But a lot of Lulu customer base are the sort of people who need a bit more hand-holding through the publishing process then you’ll see at LSI or CreateSpace, though I’m sure that changes every day. This was the early 2000s.)
As customers who were also CS operators and forum moderators, there were dozens of us that begged over and over again in internal emails: Don’t force people to opt-into things and then make them opt-out of something they didn’t want in the first place. Let them opt in only if they want. But whoever it was that was making these decisions (and it didn’t seem to be anyone I ever interacted with) always felt it was better to ask forgiveness after the fact then ask for permission ahead of time.
You may remember this post from almost two years ago where they opted to put everyone’s book into Amazon Marketplace without asking permission. You’ll notice I was mostly nice in that blog post but understand that I was TICKED. They had put copies of the book on Amazon that were set to private. These were books that either weren’t ready for the public yet or which we didn’t want out there anymore for whatever reason and they just decided to start selling them on Amazon. Without asking. Oh, of course, they let us opt-out after the fact and they were quick about opting us out once we asked. But that little courtesy was undone by the fact that they started selling my books somewhere without my permission.
That was two years ago and I thought they’d learned their lesson from that little fiasco until I saw this yesterday:
Dear [My Username],
Lulu’s goal is a simple one: help you sell more books. This note is to tell you about an exciting new effort from Lulu to help achieve this goal by ensuring your work is able to reach readers across all devices, starting with the 130 million+ customers who own an iPhone®, iPad®, or iPod touch® and shop at the iBookstore℠. Over the coming weeks, at no charge to you, we’ll be making the title you have for sale on Lulu.com also available as an eBook edition on the iBookstore.
If for any reason you don’t want your book available in the iBookstore, you can opt-out easily. Just send an email to email@example.com with the subjectline Opt-Out of eBook conversion. If you wish to opt-out, please make sure to do so within 5 business days of receiving this message. Otherwise, you don’t have to do anything to have your book included in this program and we think it’s a great idea to join the ranks of Lulu authors who have already sold 60,000 eBooks through the iBookstore.
We cannot guarantee the new eBook formatted version of your book will appear on the iBookstore, but we’re taking measures to ensure a high success rate. Here’s how the process will work:
1. We’ll begin the process on your behalf by converting “[Book Name]” into an ePub formatted eBook – absolutely free.
2. Next, we’ll submit your newly formatted eBook to Apple and request a listing in the iBookstore. In some cases we may need to make tweaks to your book’s catalog data* in order to meet Apple’s requirements.
3. We will notify you once your eBook has been accepted by Apple and is available for sale in the iBookstore. At first, your book will be listed in the iBookstore with default pricing.
4. We’ll place a new eBook project in your My Projects list on Lulu. You’ll then have full control over the project, and can opt-out of iBookstore distribution, change the default price, etc. at any time. Additionally, this ePub file will be available for you to distribute to our expanding list of eBook retail partners.
To learn more about this exciting iBookstore program, visit our knowledge base. Thank you for your continued support of Lulu and our ongoing efforts to help you sell more books.
Lulu Enterprises, Inc.
*Note: “Tweaks to book catalog data (metadata)” will be minor edits such as correcting capitalization problems. We will, of course, contact you before making any significant changes.
For my convenience, they’d opted me into eBook publishing which I can only get out of if I opt-out. How kind of them! Except that I don’t want that book published as an eBook for very specific reasons. If I’d wanted it published as an eBook, Lulu, don’t you think I would have published it as one by now? Don’t you think that, maybe me, as the publisher thought about this already and had reasons for not publishing it electronically?
I think this comes back to what I said above: The average Lulu customer either is or is just perceived to be not very tech savvy, especially by Lulu’s powers that be. I genuinely think that Lulu feels that they are doing a service, “Poor tech-stupid fools, they’d want their books published as eBooks if they only knew how, let’s just opt them all into eBook publishing since they obviously can’t figure it out themselves.” And I’m sure there are users who read this email and say, “Cool! I wondered how to do that!” and move on. But for everyone else, this is a real jerk move. How many people missed this email or didn’t read it clearly and are going to be really ticked when all their books are suddenly eBooks in 5 days without their permission? (The biggest kicker is that opt-out isn’t as simple as just replying, you have to change the subject and the reply email. I’m a smart girl and it took me two reads to notice that. So, some people who think they may have opted out may find out a few days later that they really haven’t.)
My response was, “For the love of God, guys, please don’t automatically opt me into anything ever!” I hope someone I know gets it. 🙂
I’m not trying to bad mouth them here, but how can someone possibly think this is a good business strategy? Is free publishing to the iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc a great service? Yes! I’d love to take advantage of it in the future. But forcing me into it instead of letting me choose to join the program? Not cool.
Sorry this was so long, I have an emotional attachment to this issue as you may have noticed. Sometimes I feel like, mentally, I still work for them and hate to see them doing stuff like this.
How would you feel about this if it were your content? In general, would you rather a company automatically opted you in or let you do it manually?