Bryce A Beattie's website blog thing

Choosing a “free” POD publisher: Lulu vs Createspace


A while ago I wrote about Choosing a Cheap Self Publishing Solution. Some things have changed, and now I’d like to do a more in-depth review of what I think are currently your best options.

If you’re just trying to publish your book without a lot of hassle or expense, you pretty much have two choices right now – and Sure, there are others you can try, like or or even cafepress book publishing. But for exposure, price, and features, you’re generally better off starting at lulu or createspace.

So which one is better? It depends.

It Depends?

Yes, it depends. Both services have good points that may or may not be useful to you (and your book.) So without further ado, let’s take a look at the differences.

Book Sizes


The standard sizes CreateSpace offers for books with black and white interiors are: 5.25×8″, 5.5×8″, 6×9″, 7×10″, 8×10″, 8.25×8.25″ and 8.25×6″. So there are plenty of choices as long as you want that middle size range. There is no “pocket novel” format though, and 8×10″ is as large as it gets, so it may not work for folks doing big print family history stuff or textbooks. But then again maybe it is.


Lulu has a ton of options depending on what type of book you want to print. They cover a slightly larger range of sizes, though. Specifically, they offer a “pocket” size (4.25×6.875) and they offer some option all the way up to 8.5×11″, which is, of course, way bigger (13.5 square inches, to be exact…) than the measly 8×10 of CreateSpace. They also have a variety of specialty sizes for photo books, cookbooks, and other stuff.

Book Bindings


Lulu has perfect bound (softcover) and hardcover. For hardcover books, you have a choice – with or without dust jacket.

Those are the best choices for novels, but Lulu has other options as well, such as saddlestitched (folded in half and stapled) and plasticoil (wire bound), which is great for scripts and workbooks.


CreateSpace’s choices are similar to what Henry Ford said about customers who wanted different colored cars. “You can have any color you’d like, as long as its black.”

CreateSpace says “You can have any binding you want, as long as it’s softcover.” So yes, Perfect binding (softcover) only.



Lulu currently offers 3 distribution “plans.”

  1. Basic – Free. This means your book only shows up in Lulu’s online bookstore.
  2. Published by Lulu – Also free. Besides the Lulu store, your book gets listed at
  3. Published by you – $99. Besides Lulu’s store and Amazon, your book is made available to pretty much all book stores and sellers. (Barnes and Noble, etc.)


CreateSpace offers two channels of distribution.

  1. CreateSpace E-Stores. Createspace has a page automatically generated for you to sell your book. You can turn it off and on. You do get a higher percentage of the revenue when your book sells here.
  2. Amazon. You can set whether or not you want your book available on Amazon. You get a lesser percentage of the revenue when your book sells on Amazon. Of course, you can reach a much larger crowd on there.

Cover Creation


Lulu has a pretty slick cover generator with tons of options. You can also design your own front and back covers (which is nice if you’re using a template, since they are standardized sizes.) Or if you don’t want any restrictions, you can design a full wraparound cover. Lulu gives you the dimensions you’ll need to work up your own template.


It used to be that Lulu was a clear winner in the “ease of cover creation” category. However, CreateSpace just released a cover creator of their own. They also offer you a downloadable template that you can use to create your own full wraparound cover. You do have to massage the cover into a pdf before uploading, though.

Printing Cost


Remember at Lulu you have a choice of bindings. As of right now (Dec. ’08) the base cost for each of these is:

  1. Hardcover with dust jacket – $18
  2. Hardcover without dust jacket – $17
  3. Plastic Coil – $6
  4. Softcover, Saddlestitched – $4.50
  5. Softcover (publisher grade {only certain sizes}) – $2.50

After you find your base “binding” price, you add the pages cost. Lulu gives you three choices:

  1. Color – ($1 extra for color paperback binding) and $0.20 per Page
  2. Standard Grade – $0.02 per Page
  3. Publisher Grade – $0.015 per Page. Again, this is only available on certain sizes.

Now, I couldn’t find a place on Lulu where it just has a price list anymore, so I had to back all those numbers out using my dusty algebra skills and their “Cost Calculator”. I may have erred, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.


Createspace has two plans that you can choose, standard and pro.

Standardis free. Pro costs you $39 to set up and then $5 a year to maintain. Right now (through the end of Dec, 2008) they are offering free upgrades to pro. When you upgrade to pro, you basically buy a cheaper rate for printing costs.

The printing costs are as follows (for black and white books with at least 110 pages):

  1. Standard
    $1.50 + $0.02 * Number of pages = Printing Cost
    A 400 page book costs $9.50 to print.
  2. Pro
    $0.85 + $0.012 * Number of pages = Printing Cost
    A 400 page book costs $5.65 to print.

So for a 400 page book, after you’ve printed about 10 copies, you’ve made up the $39 you paid to upgrade.

You can always order copies of your book for the printing cost.

You can also create full color books. Here are those costs (for books over 40 pages):

  1. Standard
    $1.75 + $0.12 * Number of pages = Printing Cost
  2. Pro
    $0.85 + $0.07 * Number of pages = Printing Cost

Author Revenue


When you publish using basic distribution, here’s how your revenue is calculated. You set the retail price. The difference between the publishing cost and the retail price is the profit. 20% of that profit is Lulu’s commission for selling your book.

When you do one of the other distribution programs, things get hairy. Lulu uses a different printer to fulfill the books for “Published by Lulu” and “Published by you”. This results in lower printing costs. However, now a middleman has to squeeze in a profit, too. So you choose how much you want to make per copy. Let’s say you choose $1. Lulu gets a $0.25 profit when you make a buck. Lulu then calculates the new printing cost + your profit + lulu’s profit and doubles it. That is the retail price of your book. That means lulu sells the book at 50% of the retail price to distributers who can now make a profit.

Or you can set the retail price and Lulu will calculate things out that way. If you choose a price that is too low for the manufacturing cost, Lulu will automatically bump it up.

Keep in mind that the “publisher quality” printed books are not eligible for the upgraded distribution plans.


Createspace uses a slightly different calulation to figure your revenue.

  • For books sold via amazon:
    Retail Price – (40% of Retail price + printing costs) = Your revenue
  • For books sold via createspace:
    Retail Price – (20% of Retail price + printing costs) = Your revenue

Quick Revenue Comparisons

I was going to put a table here, but it got to unwieldy. So I made a pdf instead.

Revenue Comparisons

Ease Of Use

If you had asked me a week ago, before I had seen CreateSpace’s new cover creator, I would have said Lulu hands down. But with the new cover creator CreateSpace has evened things up a little. I think I’d still give the edge to Lulu, though.


Each of these publishers has pros and cons. Hopefully I’ve laid it out so that you can make the choice that works best for you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *