Overall, I am very dissatisfied with Lulu.com's service. Read the remainder of my blog entry for things that you might like to know, before you start publishing.
What I have to say is more like a warning, and also an attempt at reducing your risk of wasting time. I do not think that Lulu.com's service is a scam, but I do think that it is a poorly run business, that is characterized by automated responses, and confusing policies that benefit Lulu.com, and that hurt the very authors that Lulu.com should be supporting.
I have been trying to publish a collection of my blog entries from MySpace, that related to a social cause. Even though I do not expect to get anymore online sales, or any significant results, it means a lot to me that we try to reduce costs, as much as possible.
Lulu.com offers the opportunity to add a free ISBN to your books, which is a good thing, because free usually is good, and an ISBN opens a lot of doors for authors. Unfortunately, they only offer an ISBN with certain types of book formats, as far as books go [they might or they might not offer some kind of distribution number with other media; I never checked]. That means that I had to convert my book to a different book size, just to fit the rules, and that is quite a bit of trouble. It also means that the new book size costs more, which means raising my prices. My complaint to Lulu.com is that this was not made obvious at the beginning. It worked out okay, because I discovered that we can still publish the same book in a different size. This means that I can go ahead and publish the original cheap version.
From now on, I will publish the cheapest version that I can, to maximize profits, while still keeping the price low for my customers, and then if I still want an ISBN version, I will convert the economical version into an ISBN version.
Another problem with Lulu.com is the fact that they required me to buy a copy of my own ISBN book, to confirm that it is okay. I think that, overall, buying my own book for confirmation is great, but that should not be forced on the author. It should be my choice, and I alone should suffer for it, if I did not confirm it. That being said, forcing me to buy 1 copy is bearable. However, they went ahead and made me buy another copy of the book, when I did something as simple as edit a word here and there, or even edit the project description without editing the book. There is absolutely no flexibility in this. I tried asking customer service for help, and got nothing but canned responses. Also, there was no warning, whatsoever. Well, sort of. I am sure that the documentation gives a warning. It is just that I looked it over quite a while in advance, and had forgotten what was in the documentation, and did not even realize what I had forgotten. By the time I figured out the problem, it was too late. The web site should warn us when we are about to make a change that will require a new purchase. The thing is, that with non-ISBN books, we are not required to buy a confirmation copy, and we are allowed to change it as many times as we want. Therefore, we end up getting lulled into this false sense of confidence.
From now on, I will stick with just publishing it on Lulu.com's web site, without the ISBN, unless I am looking for a specific market that requires an ISBN. Trying to deal with their ISBN requirements is a pain, and it is not worth it, unless you can be sure that that is the direction that you want to take.
Another problem with Lulu.com is the customer service. If you read the various discussions online, then you will see that they have a notorious reputation for giving canned responses to your difficulties. When I asked them to approve my book, and not require me to purchase another copy, they just quoted the rules, and refused to do anything. Apparently the company built this system that is inflexible and very user unfriendly, and the customer service people are powerless to help. They do help out here and there. They do explain things, as well. Just be prepared to be left out in the cold, if you do not get what you want.
From now on, I will try be really careful about what I do. The basic offerings of Lulu.com are very much predictable, and you should not worry too much, but just do not expect much from them. From their perspective, they do not need to help you, and it is considered your fault.
Another problem with Lulu.com and Amazon is the fact that they do not take down your book off of Amazon.com, when you are no longer interested in selling your book through them. It never even occurred to me that this would happen. I just read about it.
From now on, I will just be absolutely sure that selling on Amazon is what I want.
That being said, the books that I ordered to confirm my book, were in fairly good condition. I did not examine them closely, but I was happy with the condition. They put some effort into packaging it, the cover layout looked better than I expected, and the pages looked okay, too, when I quickly glanced at them.
In summary, Lulu.com will probably send you a great product, if you are just making a simple purchase, and they will probably work well with you, if you are publishing a simple book. Once you start getting more complex in how you market the book, you will need to be extra careful about the risks involved.