Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lulu gets finicky about publishing ebooks - tsk, tsk.

Is the business plan for publishing public domain and PLR books dead?

No, but the rumors would make you think so.

Lulu won't distribute public domain or free online books anymore - but you can still make money this way.
(photo: seebrownflikr)

Got this from Lulu today:

Please note that we no longer accept public domain or other content freely available elsewhere into distribution.
Update: Further,  I found this on their "distribution requirements":

To be eligible for submission, your eBook must fulfill ALL of the following criteria:
  • Must be in EPUB format (Our new converter tool can help you with this later)
  • Must fulfill all formatting requirements
  • Must have all content in English
  • Must have an ISBN
  • Must be categorized appropriately, if it includes adult and/or sexually explicit content
  • Must not be public domain content

Books submitted without meeting all criteria will be rejected.
Which would assume you can't publish this stuff about anywhere. That's not true. The bottom line is that most won't pay you top commissions for for public domain content any longer - well, on some of the sites anyway.

Lulu is only saying they won't distribute them any longer. They still take the books you publish and give you a decent commission for them when they sell on Lulu.

Update: Found this on an Apple forum. Apparently iTunes is still accepting public domain books (and PLR) - so the biggest problem is Kobo's greediness, and Lulu deciding to no longer distribute such outside there little garden.

Here's the rundown on who accepts public domain:

Can you (still) publish PLR books?

  • Amazon - NO. Smashwords - NO. 
  • Kobo - YES. Nook - YES (testing this.) Lulu - YES. GooglePlay - YES. Leanpub - YES.
  • iTunes - DON'T KNOW. (But testing this through Lulu as I write this... and when I get their software running on my new MAC, I'll update this here as well.)

What was the problem Lulu is having to solve?

It seems when they expanded their distribution to Amazon and Kobo, the conflicting policies on public domain led them to simply nix the whole scene of trying to distribute to these.

Before that point, I had no problem publishing any PLR or derivative public domain book through Lulu and was willing to accept their cut of my royalties for their work in getting my books approved through iTunes and Nook.

Is a profitable business plan still possible with public domain? 

Yes, but you have to add value. Derivative works are fine everywhere except Kobo, who will require you to declare it as public domain if you quote the entire work (and takes the royalty cut.)

Don't figure you can take these machine-generated epubs and sell them anywhere, when people can get that quality for free. Don't be cheesy. Be upfront about it and be classy with your covers and descriptions. Really market this book instead of just sloughing it off and going the "get-rich-quick" route.

Interestingly, this really makes your publishing plan become Amazon-centric.

Lulu and Amazon don't care if you publish a hardcopy version of your book. Having a regular published book up there will enable your ebook to sell better, actually. It is also a class act, since you gain reputation and trust by publishing it as both. Lulu will publish your book Amazon and through Ingram to just about anywhere else. They just won't distribute your book anywhere if it's based on the public domain or a "freely available online" version. (Assume this means PLR.)

The other point is to utilize LeanPub or iAmplfy to package your book with A/V materials and so give a better experience. (Note: iAmplify only accepts PDF versions of your book.) Again, this is adding value. Note also that these both have integrated affiliate sales systems - so you can get your fans to earn extra income by pitching your book to their friends, and so on.

The steps would be to edit the public domain book into good shape, and add in either the annotation or original, relevant images Amazon wants. Then export a PDF version of that, suitable for hardcopy printing. Then order, review, and approve your proof - while meanwhile publishing your ebook directly to Lulu, Amazon, Nook, Kobo (sigh), GooglePlay, and Leanpub.

Note 1: Lulu still gives you a free ISBN for this, although none of these require it - it will help you with defending your derivative content, I would guess.

Note 2: Getting your epub approved through Lulu means it's going to get accepted by Nook (and iTunes) as far as the technical end. It still takes weeks to get reviewed, but few to no rejections. You're still submitting this separately, but overall saving time.

Go ahead and set up a binder on Leanpub if you are publishing a series of these-type books. (More added value.) If you have audio and/or  video files or additional material, create a package for the book - and also create a package on iAmplify.

Now come back to your website where you have a special landing page for that book and post all the links and icons from the publishers who will accept your book.

(If you have a MAC, go ahead and publish to iTunes as your own test. It's more than likely that iTunes is still accepting PLR and PD books.)

Again, this really only misses iTunes from the original line-up.

The lowest-common denominator (LCD) approach.

Lulu won't distribute to these as their LCD can't solve the problem of public domain, where each of these distributors have their own policy - so they just skip it.

Under this new business plan, Amazon is your LCD. If it passes them, then you can publish it anywhere. Interestingly, this means publishing directly to Nook (and iTunes), Amazon, and Kobo - so Lulu actually makes less money from you.

Update: Your LCD of quality hurdles remains done easiest at Lulu, so use them to make sure your file "passes muster" so you can publish it everywhere else. Just don't try to distribute any PD file anywhere else except directly.

You create an ebook which will pass their standards, then set up a print version as well. Then you tell GooglePlay that you have both versions available on Amazon - and they'll sell it for you. In-bound links from Google then makes your book get higher rankings on Amazon (as long as it sells, anyway.)

Kobo screws you from your full royalty, but something is better than nothing, even if they are paying less than everyone else.

Your ebook in all cases links back to your website (as does GooglePlay - more link love) so you can offer your binders and packages to them directly, as well as enlist them as an affiliate to sell your books.

Note that your YouTube video can link to this landing page, which then links to all the places you have it for sell - so that's another way to add value.

Kobo becomes an automatic loss-leader for you in this case. Until they change their un-stated public domain policy (or that person leaves.)

Is PLR the same?

Kinda. You can put your name on it, but theres a lot of other versions (some identical) already out there. 

[Update: Lulu apparently distributes PLR like always. Just Public Domain they have issues with. Doesn't matter to me, I'm distributing my ebooks direct, now.]

Except that you can't post it to Amazon. Period. Unless you completely re-write it. Slightly harder than simple editing, but easier than having to think it up out of whole cloth.

In that case, publish it to Lulu for the ISBN, Nook, GooglePlay, and Kobo (full royalty this time.) Make a binder/package on Leanpub - and craft a video for YouTube, then  set up another package on iAmplify. (And then work up the affiliate offers on Leanpub, Kobo, and other sites.)

Note that these PLR ebooks are usually not long enough to publish as a book, so you aren't going to get any advantage from that route.

You won't get the boost from Amazon sales, which is iffy anyway. (I've found that these books sell pretty well through GooglePlay, though.)

Why haven't I been doing this all along?

Amazon is iffy, as I said. Around 80-90% of the books on Amazon actually don't sell. I've had one book (so far) make it to "bestseller" status. Out of 17 published

The hype about publishing to Amazon is mostly that gold-rush phenomenon. The 80/20 rule applies - and as well the 99/1 derivative of it.

My earlier tests showed I made more money from the other routes (before Lulu and Kobo changed their PD policies, anyway.) It was something like 2 to 1 for all the other distributors. So I spent my time editing PLR and PD books as this was faster than writing my own from scratch.

That plan got me enough money that the paltry sales from Amazon didn't matter. And I didn't have to jump through hoops to get reviews, and so forth.

Once that one book started taking off (fit enough algorithm points) then Amazon started paying twice the combined total from all the others.

Now, it's obvious that I need to shift gears to Amazon. Sorry, Lulu. Though with the paperback (maybe even hardback) available, Lulu will get their fair share. 

Stacking some search engine marketing to my landing pages should then help my Amazon books find their way. Meanwhile, the "more is better" approach of publishing in several formats simultaneously will then boost the whole scene.

Google's strange copyright scene.

On one page, I found that they were grousing for a fascinating reason. Someone had republished a public domain book as a print-only edition, and Google promptly pulled their free ebook edition - leaving the print version as the only way to get that book from Google. I'd have to agree that nixing the ebook was inconvenient - forcing readers to get the PD version somewhere else.

Google's policy is to simply avoid conflict whenever possible, especially the DCMA scene. (Lulu tends to do this also. A "rights bully" can lodge a complaint and Lulu will promptly remove your book while you reply. But won't reinstate it until you sort it out with that mystery person.)  The solution to that is to make another derivative version and post it again. Maybe moot, now, since they won't distribute it anywhere...

Back to Google - obviously, that print-only publisher is missing some income from the ebook sales. So your plan should include both versions, linking them as you go. (Again, Lulu gives you free ISBN's for each version, so publish both there before you publish to GooglePlay.)

The trick is that if you take a public domain book, republish it under the same title and author (even though it's your derivative version), this logic says Google will now only point requests to your books (as long as you're first and only).

As long as you are able to produce a value-added product, then it shouldn't be a grouse-point. Google drops it's publid domain ebook version for yours. No, they shouldn't, but they do. Sorry - in advance. (Crocodile tears all the way to the bank.)

Why publish public domain if it's all this hassle?

Because you can make money off public domain - maybe even more than writing your own books. If you write your own, you and it are unknown. A small handful of talented writers make it "big" on Amazon, everyone else keeps their day job and dreams.

The secret to sales anywhere is having a huge backbench. PD and PLR books allow you to quickly develop that bench (in months, not years.)

A profitable backbench then allows you to perfect your writing skills without worrying about having to make a living meanwhile. That's called financial freedom.

No, you don't get insanely rich from public domain and PLR publishing. But you won't have to put up with a 9-5 J.O.B. any more. And that's a freedom I can live with.

Summary update: Essentially, Lulu just shot themselves in the foot - although to their credit, they'll make a lot more with their 10% of the revenues they are getting by helping all these newer self-published authors crank out their own works via their aggregation through 4 distribution lines.

However, I have news for them. My bestsellers are actually public domain books and PLR. If I had started self-publishing these today, they'd have nothing from me for revenue. My sales on Lulu itself are less than 1% of the total sales I create.

And since I'm pushing a couple-hundred in royalties through Lulu every month, this is helping keep them in the pink. Unless I move my earlier books directly (a huge pain) it looks like from here on out, I'll just have a metric now about how my marketing is going. There will be no more public domain books published by me there (and probably not even PLR, because "why pay Lulu when I'm doing it myself anyway?")

Meaning, my work is going to pay me better. "The wooden door closes and the iron door opens."
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