If you missed the first part, you can find it here—Understanding API: Part 1
Before we get into today’s main topic (spoiler; it’s Lulu’s Open API) I want to quickly recap Part 1.
Most importantly, Part 1 (attempted) to explain in simple terms what an API is and what it does. Here are the main points:
- API = Application Programming Interface
- APIs are code that enables a connection between two or more discrete pieces of software, allowing for more complex software design.
- API technology is vital to the modern web’s ‘plug and play’ software and development mentality.
I went into more detail and traced the history of API technology to help illuminate how we got to the data rich, interconnected world we live in today. I delved into the complexities of communication technology to better understand APIs, but the above three points hit on the important elements we’ll be examining today.
Lulu’s Open API
In late 2017, Lulu made our print-on-demand network available to anyone through our Developer Portal. For many years this wasn’t possible due to the design of our software and the way we communicated with our printers around the world. But our development staff are ambitious folks.
As of 2016, our software—both what you see on lulu.com and the behind the scenes stuff—was exceedingly outdated and in some case crumbling around us. As much as software can crumble. I don’t really understand the details, but I certainly heard the phrase spaghetti code more than once.
We’re starting on the behind the scenes work first. And central to all of that is our API connections.
The very nature of on-demand printing relies on communication. You (the author) has a file you have to pass to us (the publisher). Then we have to communicate our file and the instructions for printing to our printers. And finally, we have to pass off the finished product (your books) to a fulfillment service (Fedex, USPS, DHL, etc.) who gets the books to you.
Within this web of communications are even more connections. Our support team that connects with users who need help or experienced a printing/shipping issue. Our distribution services that pass your book over to online retailers.
It’s not a stretch to say that print-on-demand and self-publishing is a products and services business built around communications.
So the obvious way to improve print-on-demand is to improve how we communicate.
Why Open Source Web API?
When you make a book and sell it on the Lulu bookstore, you keep 80% of the revenue and we take that other 20%. But if you use our Open API and connect directly to our print network, the relationship changes.
You pay us directly for printing and shipping, but the price you set and charge to your reader is entirely yours.
Here’s a quick scenario to illustrate:
Total cost (printing and shipping) = $8.00
Retail price = $18.00
In the scenario above, a sale on the Lulu store would net you $8.00 (80% of the revenue) while a sale through the API would net you $10.00 (100% of the revenue). The difference here is that a reader is buying the book directly from you—from your website or from your Shopify store if you use our xPress App.
The trade off being that you, as the web developer, store owner, and book creator, are responsible for the ecommerce side of the coin. You handle the online shopping, the product page and selling the product to your readers.
Striking a Balance
Print-on-demand has long been a narrow service. And a simple one. A file is provided and a book is printed. That was it.
Over the years, questions about making the process more versatile kept coming up.
How can we make self-publishing more flexible for authors?
How can we open the doors for publishers to utilize print-on-demand?
And how do we ensure businesses can get the printing and retail tools they need?
After a lot of research and reflection, the obvious answer turned out the be the best. Occam’s razor I suppose.
The solution being to not change the basic model. Instead we’re just unshackling that service from a single website. Forming a great balance that accommodates (or at least provides the means to accommodate) every book maker’s needs.
- The Lulu Bookstore for authors who create books and want to sell them through established online retailers
- The Open API for businesses and publishers who just need the access to print-on-demand and fulfillment
- The Shopify® App for authors and small businesses who need an ecommerce platform but have the means to market and sell on their own
- Lulu xPress for everyone else—one-off printing, bulk ordering, printing of single orders without any retail needs.
APIs make it Possible
Offering four distinct ways to access print-on-demand and the related services is only possible thanks to our API. The level of communication our software can achieve is unprecedented. The goal is to leverage the versatility to provide more and better options for our users—from authors to publishers to businesses.
What’s most exciting about all of this is that our current platform and options are simply a beginning. With Lulu’s print-on-demand services available through an Open API, you can take that printing option and mold it to your needs! And so can we!
In fact that’s one of the major drivers for Lulu in the coming years. We’ll be taking our print-on-demand API and building out new ways to access and integrate.
But that’s a topic for down the road. Right now, I want to close out this series with a little more on our current offerings.
The Cool and The New
I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that we are working diligently on updating and improving the background pieces of Lulu. While that’s not something that shows to most of our users, anyone that has tried out xPress surely noticed the wider variety of product options (Executive 7”x10”!) and a bit lower pricing on some product combinations (a 200 page full color book is around $10 less). Noticing a few of these differences might prompt the question; what’s changed?
Well, we’ve created a new platform that all of our printing will use. Each of our offerings like Lulu xPress and the Shopify® App sends orders to this platform and that’s what our printers connect into. I like to think of it like one of those power stripe surge protects:
Each website or service we create plugs into this surge protector, which in turn plugs into our printers. What’s really cool is that you (the author, publisher, business owner, or book creator) can plug in your website or service too!
Understanding how APIs and other forms of software communications function isn’t a requirement to develop a strong and productive web presence in 2019. It hasn’t been for some time actually. Tools like WordPress, Wix, and Shopify provide options for building ecommerce based websites quickly through drag-and-drop interfaces.
You can build a website without ever touching a line of code.
And here at Lulu we want to enable that same level of ease and simplicity for your book selling. Making a webstore for your book(s) shouldn’t be a challenge. Neither should the fulfillment process.
We’re working daily to make it easier and more profitable for you to publishing and sell your book. Thanks to the powerful connectivity of API based web platforms, we can offer anyone the ability to publish, print, and prosper around the world.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter 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.