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 – Lulu.com and CreateSpace.com. Sure, there are others you can try, like wordclay.com or wwaow.com 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

CreateSpace

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

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

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

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.

Distribution

Lulu

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 Amazon.com.
  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

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

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.

CreateSpace

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

Lulu

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

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

Lulu

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

29 Comments

  1. This is great information, Bryce. Thanks for doing this. For folks interested in self-publishing, this offers a fine view into the two major competitors you’ve highlighted here.

    Nice analysis. Very informative!

    Reply

  2. very nicely done. may I do both? many thanks.

    Reply

  3. @ a. v. wittner

    Yes, you can set it up at both places at the same time. The terms of service are both non-exclusive.

    Reply

  4. Originally, I published two titles, each in paperback (reg & large print) and hardcover through Lulu. I used the published by Lulu distribution, which gave me an ISBN number for each, and distribution through Amazon.com and (I believe Bowker’s). Then, I received a notice that I could purchase “expanded distribution” for each title for $39.99, which would then expand my listing to Ingrams Books and Barnes and Noble. So, I did that. But, here is the proverbial “fly in the ointment.” in order to be “Published by Lulu,” I had to set the prices of my books so high, that it made them less than competitive in the retail marketplace. Sure, whenever I sold a book on my Lulu storefront, I made an enormous “creator revenue,” but if I were fortunate enough to sell on a retail site, my revenue was barely a buck a copy. And, since the price of my book was so high (relative to similar books that it was competing against)the chances of selling it were “slim and none.” So, I decided to remove my books from Lulu’s distribution plan, lower the prices to a more competitive level, and just leave them for sale on my Lulu storefront (mainly because only Lulu had the capability of reproducing them in hardcover – a nice format for gifting. Then, I re-published all versions except hardcover with CreateSpace, taking advantage of the free Pro upgrade, and availing myself of the Amazon.com distribution vehicle. This way, I can have my cake and eat it. I have more exposure, and my cost per book is so low that I can now offer it at a much more competitive price that will hopefully help spur sales. The jury is still out, since I just made the change, so I’ll let you know how it goes. I have several book signings coming up in a few months, and at least I will make a handsome profit on any books I sell there, because I will print with CreateSpace for those events. Wish me luck!

    Reply

  5. CreateSpace allows you to use your own ISBN’s / barcodes if you have pre purchased them. Lulu only allows ISBN’s issued by them.

    Reply

    1. @Josh – In playing with Lulu’s interface, I’m pretty certain you can put in your own ISBN. You just have to make sure you choose the right option on the first step of the publish a book wizard.

      Reply

  6. Thanks for the GREAT information! I was just verifying what I had already decided. Do you know anything about Lighting Source vs. CreateSpace?

    My book will SOON be published: Avoiding the 7 Fatal Mistakes Divorcing and Separated Parents Make: Strategies for Raising Healthy Children of Divorce

    Reply

  7. [...] vs. CreateSpace: Which Is More Economical For The DIY Author? – A while back I wrote an article comparing CreateSpace and Lulu. While surfing the net, I came across this great article also contrasting the two services. It’s [...]

    Reply

  8. Brian Astbury May 6, 2009 at 6:10 am

    Thanks for this. I am attempting to find out which way is best and the answer so far seems to be – both. At http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=372957 you will find the following interesting comment: “If your only concern is getting listed on Amazon, and you have all of the tools to create print ready materials yourself, then Createspace is the better choice. Keep in mind that the ISBNs are not “true” ISBNs. They are not listed in Books in Print. As it was explained to me by a sales rep for Createspace, the company simply bought huge bulk ISBN numbers and recycles them. So if someone deactivates a product, that ISBN will be reassigned to a different project. However, since ISBNs aren’t a big issue for RPGs anyway, it’s only a minor concern. Also, the books are ONLY available on Amazon.com, not the other sites.”, followed by further discussion on the subject of ISBN’s. There’s a really interesting Lulu/CreatSpace price calculator at http://www.lugaru.com/lulucalc.html which throws up some interesting contradictions in pricing/sizing/dollars vs pounds vs euros

    Reply

  9. Brian Astbury – Thanks for the link to that calculator. It’s pretty nifty.

    About the ISBN thing – Recently a spokeswoman for CreateSpace said something totally different regarding what the do with ISBNs http://www.publetariat.com/editor039s-desk/editor-correction

    Reply

  10. hello I’m an aspiring author who is contemplating between going with Createspace.com or Lulu.com…I really only want a few copies I can sell directly to family and friends so I was wondering which is better with that in mind

    Reply

  11. I have several publishers: one niche, two e-book (Wings and Zumaya), and self-publish some titles with lulu.com. My niche publisher is moribund, a year in arrears on royalty payments. the eobok publishers haven’t sent royalties in at least sixc months, and those have been like under $10. But with Lulu I have enjoyed much better sales and they pay promptly each quarter if sales exceeded $25 in royalties.

    As for ISBNs, we once bought a bundle from BOwker, but used them up and discovered that if a book isn’t distributed by one of the major distributors, few bookstores will touch a POD book as there are no returns. Bookstores do not buy books. They take them on consignment and if they sell them, they pay, but if they don’t they return the covers for full credit and trash the rest.

    Lulu is experimenting with putting some titles up at Amazon with no fee to the authors. I have two titles up and await results.

    Reply

  12. [...] I reviewed two of the larger POD companies a while ago on my blog. Choosing a “free” POD publisher: Lulu vs Createspace [...]

    Reply

  13. Hi. I enjoyed your article, and most of the pros and cons you mentioned were right on the money. I’m thinking of going back to CREATESPACE, but I have had two problems with them. One, the covers always flip up. Two, the quality of the pages aren’t that great. I was wondering if either of these two drawbacks has been addressed and rectified since I last used them.

    Reply

  14. [...] This whole blog is a terrific how-to manual. In Bryce’s article “Choosing a ‘Free” POD Publisher: Lulu Vs. CreateSpace” he concludes that Lulu and CreateSpace are both great (but he picked Lulu by a hair at the time [...]

    Reply

  15. Great info – thanks for sharing! I used CreateSpace for my 1st book (ebook and print) and now trying Lulu for my 2nd book (ebook only right now.)

    Would have to agree so far, I am impressed with Lulu. CreateSpace was very detailed and a lengthy process. Their cover creator is good but limited with formatting text size or having different sizes/colors for font.

    Lulu has many options and especially with binding options. They also appear to give you more profit, so time will tell and then I’ll know who to publish my 3rd book with!

    I appreciate you doing a comparison and outlining the differences, thank you!

    Reply

  16. I looked at both Lulu and CreateSpace. I cannot find the Cover Creator on CreateSpace. Could somebody tell me where the heck it is????

    Reply

  17. Lulu used to be fairly easy in terms of uploading a novel, but I’ve now spent about 6 hours trying to load one and I can’t get it to work, no matter how many different ways I try. So I am going to try CreateSpace.

    Reply

  18. You did a great job laying out everything but you should have added Lightning Source as well as they are huge and their prices are better than lulu.com.

    All these printing and distribution services are so complected and extremely expensive which is why I chose to use this website called http://www.writersout.com They are brilliant as they allows writers to share and sell their work while converting your books to different file formats making it accessible to read on a Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers and let you keep most of the profit!!! I gave up on print a while ago as much as I like holding a real book in my hands, I much prefer the simple,cheaper, cleaner as well as hassle free route.

    Reply

  19. I’ve heard very good things about CreateSpace. I’m not yet at the point of publish, however, when the time comes, I would like to be ready.

    Reply

  20. George Demosthenous November 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I want to publish a book, 300 pages with a lot of color illustrations.
    Which self publishing house is better?
    Thank you

    Reply

    1. I personally like CreateSpace, but it’s impossible to say which is “Better”. What features are most important to you – printing price, ease of setup, distribution reach…?

      Reply

  21. Perhaps you can offer some help here: I’ve completed a book of Haiku and Senryu: 272 pages, 10 in color , color covers, ready to print, in PDF, prepared to be cut 5.50″ square. Any suggestions will be appreciaated. Sincerely, Nicolai.

    Reply

  22. Greetings,

    Great article. I enjoyed and appreciate the comparison. I have several short stories I would like to self publish and your post on the subject helped me greatly.

    Thank you kindly,

    Ana Luisa Cruz

    Reply

  23. Temple Beautiful by Jean Ocain Foster pub by Amazon Kindle, Lulu ppbk What should I sell them for in my “store”//

    Reply

  24. I’m looking at CreateSpace and Lightning Source. Inclined to go with CreateSpace, except that Lightning Source now makes available matte covers, whereas I think all the covers are glossy at CreateSpace and at most POD vendors. The quality of the cover is very important to me. If anyone has input on cover quality (not design), I’d love to hear about it.

    Reply

  25. Bryce Beattie’s comparison is certainly the most helpful piece I have found on this subject. I thought, however, that I had best update the data on cost. At Lulu, the cost calculator is on the home page. At Create
    Space is is well hidden and is called the Royalty Calculator, because you fill in your book’s parameters, set the price and the calculator tells you your royalties through various distribution channels. I have taken the price minus the eStore royalty as an indicator of the production cost. I guess that actually includes CreateSpace’s royalty, so it is biased upward a bit relative to the Lulu cost. At CreateSpace, the cost does not depend on the trim size so long as it is one of the industry standards. At Lulu, there is a slight dependence, so I computed two sizes. Here are the results:

    Cost per Book
    Pages CreateSpace Lulu
    A5 8.5 x 11 inch
    100 5.15 5.25 6.40
    200 6.28 7.75 9.40
    300 7.45 10.25 12.40
    400 8.65 12.75 15.40

    This looks quite favorable to CreateSpace. They should make their calculator easier to find!

    Reply

  26. I have published only a few copies of my book on Lulu — as a test, not for sale and distribution.
    Can I take the same book and load it onto Create Space? (so that I can compare product in the hand) Or does this dual test approach create legal and/or distribution obstacles down the line when I decide to go into full-scale printing and distribution of the book?

    Reply

    1. Lulu and createspace are both nonexclusive so you should be fine.

      Reply

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