Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lulu's long tail

While writing the previous post on book statistics, I almost mentioned Lulu, but after a little poking around decided not to muddy the picture. Why?

Going by the numbers in that post, somewhere around a million new titles appeared in print in 2009. Lulu's press kit claims that Lulu carries 520,000 "recently published" titles with more than 15,000 creators from 80 countries joining each week. I'm pretty sure this doesn't include a recently-announced deal with traditional publishers to distribute another 200,000 titles in e-book form.

It seems a pretty good bet that within the next few years, if not in 2010, Lulu will be adding more titles per year than all traditional publishers world-wide, combined. But of course, Lulu can add titles so quickly precisely because it doesn't have to actually print books. If I wanted to upload a few dozen pages of hex dumps from random mp3 files and call it a book, that would be fine with Lulu, whether or not anyone ever actually prints it out.

Most likely, Lulu's usage statistics are much like YouTube's: Some titles sell quite a few copies, but almost all sell almost none. Given that everything is pay-as-you-go and no one's on the hook for a warehouse full of unsold books, this seems absolutely fine. My point is just that it's such a radically different model from the traditional publishing house that comparing numbers of titles between Lulu and the rest of the world is essentially meaningless.

Similarly, I'd be careful about predicting that Lulu will steal market share from mainstream commercial publishers. To a large extent, they appear to be in different markets.

[Lulu is still around, as are traditional book publishers.  Neither seems to have taken over the world or fallen into oblivion, at least not yet.  This is to say nothing of possible future trends -- I've been meaning to take a closer look at that for several years now ...

Historical note: Not too long after this was written (pretty sure it was after), I would interview with Lulu, but not end up working there.  We both seem to have come out of that OK so far --D.H. Dec 2015]

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