November 18, 2004

A new venue for selling open source software

Author: Tina Gasperson

Lulu.com is the brainchild of Red Hat founder Bob Young. With Lulu, Young offers would-be publishers, whether book authors, musicians, photographers, or artists, the opportunity to expose and sell their work for little or no upfront investment. But Lulu.com is more than just an on-demand publishing house. True to the open spirit, it is also a community -- a haven where artistic people can gather to share experiences and seek advice from one another. They can network, looking for opportunities to collaborate and muster up creative synergy. It is open and it is free. And now, it is for software developers too.Lulu this month announced that software developers can now publish their works at Lulu.com and sell hard copies of instruction manuals and boxed sets of programs. This could be a boon to open source software developers and customers alike, since fans cannot usually walk into their local software store and pick up a copy of the latest open source applications.

The premise behind Lulu.com is an exciting one for people who are short on investment capital but long on ideas. It is a great testing ground for writers and musicians who want to see if their stuff really is good enough for the general public. Some have found great success, like Amy Biancolli, the author of "House of Holy Fools: A Family Portrait in Six Cracked Parts." The Friends of the Albany Public Library recently named her 2004 Author of the Year, and her book is available on Amazon.com.

In fact, there are 447 books for sale on Amazon that list Lulu Press, Inc., as the publisher. The best-selling tome is "Female Domination" by Elise Sutton. Yes, it is an instruction manual, couple with psychology-speak about why men supposedly desire to be dominated by women both in and out of the bedroom.

Some other top-selling titles published at Lulu.com include "Building Custom PHP Extensions" by Blake Schwendiman, "The End of the Oil Age" by Dale Allen Pfeiffer, and "Where In the World Am I?" by Rae E. K. Caplan.

Writers can produce books in paperback or e-book format (or both), get an International Standard Book Numbering (ISBN) assignment (for a fee), and choose between black and white or full color printing. Lulu.com handles all the transactions, including order tracking and shipping. Authors even set their own royalty structure. They just need to submit an edited, formatted manuscript in .PDF or word-processor format, and front and back cover images in .JPG format.

Lulu.com authors set their own prices as well, and Lulu takes a 20% commission plus a small production fee. If you publish a book and decide not to charge for it, Lulu also waives its commission take, and the only cost for the printed edition of the book to the consumer is the production fee. There are no production fees for e-books, which are downloadable at the site. Bob Young's own book about how to make money with open source software, called "Giving It Away," is available for free download at Lulu.

Musicians are included in the fun also. They get to distribute CDs or individual songs on demand at Lulu.com, and the pricing works the same way: If you want to earn 80 cents each time someone downloads one of your songs, set the price at $1.00 and Lulu keeps 20 cents. Music and other audio products are available by default as downloads only. Printing services are available on a case-by-case basis, with free quotes.

As if that weren't enough, Lulu also competes with sites like Photo.com that offer high-quality image downloads. Lulu's image database contains the work of hundreds of photographers. Images are available for download according to the fees set by each artist, and Lulu takes a commission in the same way as for downloadable music.

For those who like to keep track of trivia, Lulu posts a Top 100 list in three versions: All-time, Monthly, and Weekly. The top selling book of all-time could provide a hint about the demographic makeup of consumers at Lulu.com. It's called "How to Start a Wedding Planning Business."

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