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DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative

November 20, 2008

If you use Lulu...

I posted this in the Lulu forums. These charges have gone up since the last book I put out, but cannot be entirely explained by the increase in USPS rates.

Shorter: Poetry books are skinny and light + Lulu's packaging is heavy and mostly empty = Customer pays 37-60% over price of order for cardboard.
I was just testing a newly released book by logging in with a different nonseller ID to see what a customer would be charged.

The shipping + handling on a very lightweight (5 oz.) 80-page poetry book is $5.52 for Media Mail and $7.06-$9.16 for Priority, depending on where I told it to send the book. (Priority is priced by zones.) The price of the book is $15, which means Lulu's shipping + handling adds an additional 37-60% to the total! That's a whopping amount! I couldn't believe it.

There are 2 reasons for this (in my example):

1) In my opinion, Lulu's packaging is excessive. I recently received a single copy of this 80 page book--which weighs 5 oz. on its own--in a large box weighing 14 oz. That means the packaging weighs nearly twice as much as the book! This packaging is the same used for customer orders of 1-2 books. (I know this because I also shop Lulu as a customer).

2) Lulu adds additional handling costs over and above the cost of shipping. Lulu charges $7.06 for Priority shipping + handling of this package. But the postage is only $4.80 as calculated by USPS (using the same addresses/zones).The other $2.26 is for Lulu's handling. For Media Mail, USPS is $2.41, so Lulu is charging $3.11 for handling. Presumably, some of this charge goes to cover shipping materials like boxes and plastic wrap, which brings us back to point #1.

RECOMMENDATION: Lulu should consider reduced packaging for very small/lightweight orders like these! I can't imagine they'd send a single CD in a box this big. The box measures 11.5 x 14 x 1.5 and the book is only 6 x 9 x .185.

The same book could be sent with minimal packaging--a flat cardboard envelope with cardboard sheet and shrink wrap to protect the book, for instance--for even less than that. I mail 5 oz books ordered direct from our website for $1.68 using a sturdy envelope, a DO NOT BEND stamp, and USPS First-Class postage. For Priority orders, I use the FREE flat-rate envelopes provided by the post office and the cost is $4.80 (using the zones in my example).

I understand the need for protective packaging, especially when shipping Media Mail--the carriers don't treat it very nicely. But making Media Mail so expensive defeats the point of it. It's supposed to be discount postage!

Because I buy distribution packages for each of my titles, they are also available via Amazon, B&N, and other online retailers. I checked--and none of these other retailers charge as much as Lulu for shipping and handling. (They *all* use excessive packaging, alas.) For example, Amazon charges customers $3.99 for standard shipping/handling on this book.

A customer's total at Amazon would be $18.99 for standard shipping. At Lulu Marketplace it would be $22.06 for the same item. Where do you think they are going to shop?

I don't know the average size of books published via Lulu, but for thinner/lighter items like this, there badly needs to be an alternative. Most of the books in the Poetry section, and by definition all of the saddle-stapled books and chapbooks, must result in the same inflated charges. Why would a customer want to pay to ship a huge, mostly empty box--particularly in these times of high gas prices and tight wallets? They will go elsewhere, and Lulu sellers (and Lulu itself) will earn less in commissions as a result, even if total sales remain unaffected.

Make some noise if you agree. Lulu been pretty responsive to requests in the past, and maybe they'll consider it. In the meantime, I can't blame my customers for shopping with another retailer and I actually feel *guilty* directing them here just so I can make more.