There’s an obvious answer: anyone who needs to print a book! Right? Because that’s what Lulu does. We print and ship custom made books. Simple.
Of course, I wouldn’t be dedicating an entire blog post to anything so obvious. Yes, Lulu’s focus is on providing high-quality, low-cost book printing. But books take on many different forms: novels, children’s books, textbooks, employee manuals, journals, coloring books, lookbooks, photo albums…I could go on and on.
The variety of people who use Lulu and the variety of books we create is staggering.
First and foremost, we work with authors. Lulu was founded as a platform for authors to create their work without the tedious process of traditional publishing. Encompassing fiction and non-fiction authors, our original purpose was to give anyone with a story to tell the means to get that story out there quickly and easily.
We’ve evolved a lot since 2002. We added ebooks. Then Author Spotlights. We brought on paid services so authors could have their books professionally edited and covers designed all in one place.
The original premise never changed.
And to this day it remains. Lulu is a tremendous tool for authors to publish and print their work. From the hobby writer who just wants their stories in print to the professional novelist or journalist printing works to sell, Lulu has the quality and tools authors need.
What might surprise you—it surprised me when I learned about it—is that authors make up a smaller and smaller portion of our users. That’s not to say that fewer authors use Lulu, because that’s not true. We see a steady increase in new authors both in fiction and non-fiction categories.
Traditional authors are being overtaken by the ever-increasing range of creators who use Lulu to create books.
Just who are these creators?
Creators can be difficult to categorize, but I made an attempt. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive or exhaustive list of “categories” that don’t neatly fit into the umbrella term “author.” Rather, this is a list of the biggest and fastest growing groups of book creators we see here at Lulu.
- Personal gifts
Make no mistake, a lot of creators who use Lulu do not cleanly fit into one group. There is always going to be a lot of overlap among these five categories, along with overlap with the broad “author” category that historically made up most self-publishers.
Small and medium businesses, as well as Entrepreneurs, are the newest and most exciting adopter of book printing.
Books are the new business cards.
An entrepreneur somewhere said this years ago. Search the phrase on Google and you’ll find no shortage of commentary espousing this point of view. I’d like to direct anyone interested in this idea to an excellent piece in Entrepreneur magazine by Ryan Holiday.
He argues against himself—in 2012 Holiday agreed that books could and were in the process of replacing business cards. Now, in the 2017 piece, he points to the multitude of low effort, poor quality books acting as business cards.
“Anything that genuinely and authentically establishes your expertise and gets you attention can be a business card.”
Let’s unpack this a little.
Over the last decade, business professionals and entrepreneurs have increasingly looked at ways to promote themselves and their knowledge/expertise. Books are a natural vehicle for sharing and monetizing this kind of information, leading to the idea of “books as business cards.”
Despite a market brimming over with books by marketers, entrepreneurs, and business professionals, there is still a lot of value in creating your own book. If you’re an entrepreneur, in particular, books are a great way to establish your credibility and expertise. You aren’t writing to make a fortune on book sales; you are writing to have a tangible representation of your knowledge.
Thanks to print-on-demand, using a book as a vehicle to disperse your knowledge and promote your brand has never been easier. Publish for free with an easy to use file upload system and print copies as needed—a dozen to keep on hand or a hundred for a trade show.
Professionals who use books well aren’t acting like authors. They’re not publishing to sell, they’re publishing to inform. Their book is an investment in their idea or product. And because this kind of publishing doesn’t require the editorial and marketing muscle of a traditional publisher, Lulu’s print-on-demand, free to use services are the perfect fit.
That is an important deviation from Holiday’s point. He laments the low-quality of many books on the market today, but his perspective is that these books are not making their authors sales, and are therefore failing.
In our experience, Lulu sees a different trend. Entrepreneurs publish not (only) to make book sales but to sell their brand. To spread awareness. To develop connections. If you’re publishing a book for these reasons, low sales numbers are not really a concern.
That said, aiming for the highest quality in your book is still advisable. Even if you’re giving the book away as a business card type tool, you have to write and create something others will read. And there’s nothing wrong with making some money from that book, right? Ideally, as an entrepreneur your book will serve double-duty, working as a tangible manifestation of your knowledge and pulling in supplementary revenue.
Distinct from the entrepreneur seeking to promote and build their brand or credibility are the businesses who need materials printed for their regular operations.
Training manuals, HR manuals, guides and pamphlets, and yes, even marketing books, all are certainly parts of many businesses. The ability to print these materials to order at reasonable costs is just smart business.
For many years though, businesses used local printers or services that printed high-cost, subpar books. For a manual or training guide, this might be fine. But anything customer facing naturally demands high-quality. Businesses have been slowly coming around to the many benefits of self-publishing.
One reason is cost. Our books are high-quality at reasonable prices. Businesses always have to be conscious of how much they spend on materials. Manuals and guides—the kinds of printed material a business will need on a regular and on-going basis—as well as customer-facing materials, can be printed and delivered at competitive prices. Controlling costs is of the utmost importance.
Another reasons businesses have been using print-on-demand is content control. Because all Lulu books are created on-demand through file upload, a business can easily update their materials. And using on-demand printing means little to no storage for books—you simply order exactly what you need!
Finally, we’ve seen that businesses really like the versatility of print-on-demand. Not just the controlling the contents of their books, but also the quantity, the cost, the book type and format, and the extra opportunity for monetization.
Textbooks, particularly History texts, have been heavily under fire for some time. If you have the opportunity to open up a textbook you were assigned as a youth, do so. You might be surprised by just how vague and at times inaccurate these huge, heavy, expensive books are.
In 2017, textbooks accounted for more than $1200 in the average undergraduate’s college budget. That’s an outrageous cost for books!
And before print-on-demand, educators had few options. They had to teach using the textbooks provided by a monopolized industry.
Not so much any longer. From middle-school teachers using Lulu to create in class projects to post-graduate certification programs printing their course material, the education world has discovered and embraced print-on-demand. The reasons are almost identical to the reasons businesses are beginning to discover print-on-demand: cost, control, and versatility.
Teachers aren’t just assigning lower cost, on-demand textbooks. Because self-publishing is so easy, teachers can create highly targeted or completely new curricula around a book they write themselves! This trend isn’t exactly new, but year after year we encounter more educators discovering print-on-demand.
Even with a push for digitalization in schools, printed materials are not leaving the scene any time soon. Textbooks, works books, curriculum specific materials, student projects, portfolios, yearbooks, and many more projects for educators and students have the potential to use print-on-demand services.
Artists as a label can, and in most circumstances does encompass authors. But what I’m talking about it specifically the kind of artist and creator who makes visual art—painters, graphic designers, jewelry makers, sculptors, make-up artists, and on and on.
Anyone who sells their art can and should be utilizing books. Our data shows artists all around the world are learning this too.
We’ve seen a tremendous uptick in LookBooks, artist’s picture books, portfolios, and catalogs. There are two great reasons artists are turning to print-on-demand for their books.
First, there’s advertising. Let’s say you’re a tattoo artist. You absolutely want a photo book highlighting the tattoos you’ve created—something you can hand to a potential customer so they can get a sense of your work. This kind of book needs to be of the highest quality to represent your work accurately while being low cost.
A book is a perfect way to give potential customers a look at your work. This applies to all kinds of visual artists, not just tattoos. Painters, sculptors, weavers, graphic designers, architects, anything.
Second is the opportunity to monetize through a different revenue stream. Let’s say you’re a painter. You might have works hanging in a gallery and you sell a few here and there. But hundreds of dollars for a painting can be prohibitive for many.
With a lower-cost book, you can pull in a customer who likes your work but lacks the funds to buy a full painting. They get a sampling of your art in a small, affordable form. You get a little extra money with no upfront cost to you and you get a little of that advertising I just mentioned.
I don’t think I’m overstepping when I say that any artist who sells any of their creations online or in person should have a book. Be it a means to show off their work, monetize, or capture new clients, a book is a workhorse for the modern DIY artist.
Historically, we’ve always known a fair portion of our users made books specifically to give as gifts. A family history or remembrance, a photo book of last summer’s vacation, or a calendar with pictures of your family—these all make amazing, heartfelt, and lasting gifts.
Print-on-demand makes these kinds of unique gifts possible, allowing anyone to print a one-off book in short order for a special occasion. I’ve done it myself a handful of times and I can attest that people get a special kind of glow when you give them a personalized book as a gift.
The real uptick in gift-giving users we’ve seen is directly tied to the photo book and calendar tools we added some years ago. Making it easy to create these highly gift-worthy items gave new and existing users a new avenue into books as gifts.
The point does not need to be over-stressed. It is simply notable that a portion of users creates books that will never be used for retail, business, or promotional purposes.
The short answer is anyone with a book to print. The long answer is really long. And it keeps changing.
On day one, Lulu was a platform designed to empower authors. Today we still do that, but we also enable a range of different creative types and business people. Tomorrow, who knows what kinds of book printing needs the world will have?
Well, actually, we’ve got a decent idea for the near future. And we’re using that knowledge to stay a step ahead, to keep our tools adaptable and easy to use, and to keep our eyes on our customers so we can provide the best book printing and fulfillment services in the world.
Paul is the Technical Writer at Lulu, responsible for all the words you see on our site (misspellings included). He also manages the community site – http://connect.lulu.com/en/ – and in his free time, he’s an avid reader and short story writer.