home page. Text: Lulu. A Self-Publishing Alternative to KDP and IngramSpark.

The two big print-on-demand (POD) self-publishing platforms are Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark (IS), and I’ve written about them extensively. But there are other players in town. In this article I talk about Lulu, how it compares to KDP and IS, and why you might decide to use it. I will note that I have not worked with the Lulu platform much in recent years, so my knowledge of the finer points is limited.

For easy comparison, I’ll follow roughly the same format as my article “KDP vs. IngramSpark: Which Publishing Platform Is Right for You?” Lulu does offer the ability to publish ebooks as well as print books, but I’m going to focus on the print options here. (This is one of those in-depth articles I will update periodically as information changes.)

Print Product Options

One of the biggest reasons to consider Lulu is if you have a book that requires print options that KDP and IS don’t offer. (For more, read “KDP and IngramSpark Printing Options.”) KDP, IS, and Lulu all offer numerous options for standard paperbacks and hardbacks, but Lulu makes it easier to publish other types of books, including:

  • Photo books – While you can use KDP and IS for color printing of photos, Lulu offers more options as well as a photobook builder, the kind you might use to design a family photo album.
  • Notebooks – This category includes, for instance, lined pages or a diary with daily prompts. These are considered “low content” books and are not allowed on IS. On KDP, they must be flagged as such. Lulu’s options include a spiral binding, which is unavailable on KDP and IS.
  • Calendars – Lulu offers a calendar creation tool and “wire-o” binding for hanging calendars.
  • Comic books – Lulu offers print options specific to comic books and graphic novels, including standard trim sizes and saddle-stitch binding (i.e., stapled).
  • Magazines – Lulu has paper stock specific to magazines, as well as saddle-stitch binding.
  • Yearbooks – Lulu offers a yearbook/memory book creation tool.

While some of these products you could finagle on KDP and IS, on Lulu they’re easy to design and produce in industry-standard formats. Let’s look at the details that support these options…

Trim Size

Lulu offers numerous trim sizes, including standard ones such as 5.5×8.5 and 6×9. However, it does not appear you can choose a custom size. Overall, it seems KDP and IS offer more trim sizes, including custom sizes, but for most nonfiction books (our focus here at Clear Sight Books), Lulu provides plenty of options.

Interior (Ink Color and Paper)

Lulu offers standard black-and-white printing as well as a premium black-and-white option. KDP and IS offer only standard b/w. Lulu’s premium option may come in handy for a book with a lot of black-and-white photos, for instance.

Lulu also offers standard color and premium color, similar to what KDP and IS offer.

For standard paper options, Lulu offers both bright white and cream in 60# weight. Note that this is a heavier weight than KDP and IS use. IS uses 50# (a bit thinner than I would like); KDP used to use 55# as their standard but now lists a range of 50# to 61# (“varies based on printing location”). As with KDP and IS, Lulu makes both paper shades available for b/w interiors, with color interiors always on bright white.

Lulu also offers 80# (photobooks, magazines, comic books) and 100# (calendars) paper. For both KDP and IS, premium color comes on a heavier weight paper, and IS gives an option for a heavier weight paper on other books as well (though it is not usually needed for standard nonfiction books).

Binding Type

As noted, Lulu helps facilitate the production of some book types that KDP and IS do not. This is in good measure due to the additional binding options offered.


  • Case wrap  (case-bound) – Case binding is when the cover is on the “boards” of the hardback—think textbook. All three POD services offer this option in hardback (KDP with limited sizes).

  • Dust jacket with linen wrap – Lulu offers hardbacks with dust jackets, as does IS; KDP does not offer dust jackets. Lulu gives the option of several colors of linen for the case wrap, and three color options (gold/black/white) for stamping the title and author on the spine. IS offers a similar dust jacket option with two “cloth” wraps and gold text for the spine; IS also offers the ability to create a custom case wrap.


  • Perfect-bound – Perfect-bound books are those with the typical glued binding found on paperbacks; it is standard on all three POD services.

  • Saddle stitch – Saddle stitch is for thin books (up to 48 pages). The paper is folded and stapled rather than glued, which is useful for magazines, comic books, or children’s books. KDP and IS do not offer this option (IS used to but phased it out a few years ago).
  • Coil-bound – Lulu’s coil-bound books have a plastic spiral binding, good for workbooks, cookbooks, and other books that need to lie flat.
  • Wire-o – This is the binding used for hanging wall calendars.

Pro tip: If you teach classes and regularly head to the local copy center to get spiral-bound workbooks made, there’s a pretty good chance you could save money by setting them up on Lulu. Just allow enough time for printing and shipping.


In other articles, I’ve noted that KDP is much more user-friendly than IngramSpark, and even with IS’s interface updates in the past year or two, that is still the case. From the Lulu interface I have played with (in a limited fashion), Lulu seems fairly straightforward, more like KDP than IS in terms of ease of use in setting up an account or a book project. And client feedback indicates the help desk is actually helpful! 😊

All three platforms offer cover templates and instructions for file creation as well as support sections on their websites.

Proof Copies

Lulu strongly recommends you order a proof copy (basically an author copy–see below) before approving your book for publication and distribution. These are available at manufacturing cost plus shipping (and tax if applicable).

IS has a similar process to get an author copy as a print proof. KDP has designated proof copies with “not for resale” on the cover; because they are known to be proofs, they typically get printed and shipped much faster than standard author copies.

Author Copies

As with KDP and IS, on Lulu you can purchase author copies of your book at manufacturing cost plus shipping (and tax if applicable). At 100 copies, bulk discounts become available on Lulu. However, those discounts—even at 15% for 1000+ copies—do not offset the higher cost of Lulu’s books.

Let’s take a standard 150-page, standard black-and-white interior, perfect-bound paperback with a glossy cover.

  • KDP costs $2.80 per book.
  • IS costs $3.38 per book.
  • Lulu costs $5.26 per book.

The same book in case-bound hardback:

  • KDP costs $7.45 per book.
  • IS costs $7.68 per book.
  • Lulu costs $13.22 per book.

And if you want a dust jacket:

  • IS costs $9.47 per book.
  • Lulu costs $17.17 per book.

That pricing discrepancy is one reason I am typically reluctant to recommend Lulu for the nonfiction book projects I work on.

According to the Lulu website, printing (whether for author copies or customer copies as far as I can tell) typically takes 3–5 business days, which is roughly comparable to KDP and IS, and fairly well expected for print-on-demand. In my experience, KDP is almost always the fastest (Amazon understands logistics better than anyone); IS is almost always slower and, in my experience, is the least predictable.

Note: Lulu and IS allow you to create books for your own printing and use with or without making them available for sale (see Distribution below). If you want to be able to order author copies from KDP, you must make your book available for sale on Amazon.


Distribution is another area where Lulu offers some options that KDP and IS do not.

Global Retail Distribution

Lulu’s global retail distribution is the typical print-on-demand sales channel option, comparable to selling via KDP and IS. All three platforms can distribute your book to a broad network of retailers, e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million.

As with KDP and IS, on Lulu you must use industry-standard formats for your book to be eligible; they are flagged so you know which qualify, but in a nutshell, it is just the standard paperback and hardback formats, not spiral bound or any of the options unavailable on KDP and IS.

We’ll discuss the retail revenue calculation in the Royalties section.

Lulu Bookstore

Lulu has its own bookstore. If you sell your book there, you earn 80% of the revenue after print costs; Lulu takes 20%. This will net you significantly more than going through global retail distribution. See Royalties below.

The question I have is whether Lulu’s bookstore gets decent “foot traffic.” That is, while customers might buy on the Lulu bookstore if you (the author) send them there, I suspect Lulu’s bookstore does not have anywhere near the organic traffic that Amazon or even Barnes & Noble gets.

Lulu Direct

Lulu Direct is another place Lulu shines. It allows you to sell your book from your website directly to customers via integrations with Shopify, Woo Commerce, and other tools. Customers order books on your site, and Lulu handles all the printing and shipping. Benefits:

  • You get access to the customer data, which you do not on global distribution or the Lulu bookstore (or KDP or IS). This allows you to keep in touch with customers and let them know about your other books, products, services, and so on.
  • You get to control the branding, for instance, the logo on the invoice.
  • You get all the profit. However, you do need to carefully calculate the printing and fulfillment cost that Lulu charges so that your price is appropriate. (It’s more complex than I want to get into here.)

IngramSpark has a new “sell my book” option that lets authors sell direct and potentially earn more than they would via its retail distribution. You can create links to your book for which you can set custom prices and other parameters (like a limited time). These links can be used in email or on social media, but it does not appear you get to control the branding or gain access to customer data.


While in common parlance payments for book sales are called royalties, Lulu calls them “creator revenues.” (They actually distinguish between “royalties” and “other revenue” based on who owns the ISBN. It’s worth a read to understand the distinction.)

Interestingly, for its global retail distribution, Lulu calculates royalties differently than KDP and IS do.

KDP Revenue Calculation

When you sell a book, three components determine how much money you make:

  • the price,
  • the cut the sales channel (wholesaler and retailer) takes,
  • and the printing cost.

Let’s consider our 150-page b/w book, priced at $10 for easy math.

When you publish on KDP and sell through Amazon, the sales channel (Amazon) gets 40% of the retail price (you’ll see this referred to as the “discount”), and the calculation is:

  • List price = $10
  • minus Sales channel (40%) = $4
  • minus Printing cost = $2.80
  • equals your revenue = $3.20

If you go through KDP’s expanded distribution, the sales channel gets 60%, so your revenue is $1.20; however, going forward, I’m going to ignore expanded distribution, because I almost never recommend it.

IngramSpark Revenue Calculation

On IngramSpark, the calculation works the same way as KDP, but you get a choice of 40% to 55% for the sales channel discount and there is an additional 1% distribution access fee (1% of the retail price). With a print cost of $3.38, using the lowest discount, we make $2.52. Using the highest, we make $1.02.

Lulu Revenue Calculation

Lulu uses the same three pricing components—price, distribution (sales channel) cut, print cost—but in a different formula. From their website:

  • Print Cost: This is a set cost. Your list price must be at least twice the print cost in order to cover production and Distribution Fees.
  • Distribution Fees: 50% of gross revenue goes to distribution channels. There are no Distribution Fees for books sold on the Lulu Bookstore.
  • Gross Profit: Revenue remaining after Print Cost and Distribution Fees.
  • Lulu Share: 20% of Gross Profit [Note that this is essentially another piece of the sales channel cut even though Lulu breaks it out.]
  • Your Revenue: 80% of Gross Profit.

So our $10 paperback using the regular global retail distribution would be calculated as impossible on Lulu, because the print cost is $5.26, leading to a minimum price of $10.52.

And with the minimum price, we make nothing.

  • List price = $10.52
  • minus Sales channel (50%) = $5.26
  • minus print cost = $5.26
  • minus Lulu (20%) = $0
  • equals your revenue = $0

(If we change our KDP price to $10.52 as well, we would net $3.51. On IS, we would net $2.83 on the high end or $1.25 on the low end.)

However, if you sell the $10.52 book on the Lulu Bookstore, the calculation is:

  • List price = $10.52
  • minus Sales channel (0% instead of the usual 50%) = $0
  • minus print cost = $5.26
  • minus Lulu (20%) = $1.05
  • equals your revenue = $4.21

What happens if we change the price to $15, which might be more accurate for a typical nonfiction paperback?

  • KDP earns us $6.20.
  • IS earns us $5.47 on the high end or $3.22 on the low end.
  • Lulu global retail distribution earns us $1.79.
  • Lulu Bookstore earns us $7.79.

So you can see there is an opportunity to make more money on Lulu if you can get buyers to the right site. And, selling direct might earn you even more if you price appropriately.

To play with pricing and revenue options on Lulu, visit their calculator. And here are the calculators for KDP and IS.


On Lulu, revenues are paid via check or into a PayPal account; note that both KDP and IS have electronic deposit direct to your bank. Using PayPal may incur fees, depending on the type of account you have.

Lulu pays into PayPal accounts monthly, with a month delay. So you get paid at the end of June for your sales in May (you must have earned $5 or more—if not, it just carries over). If you choose payment by check, Lulu pays quarterly (for earnings of $20 or more). KDP takes 60 days and IS, 90 days.

Client Feedback on Lulu

I recently worked with Sally K. Norton and her team to publish a data guide that required color interior and spiral binding, Data Companion to Toxic Superfoods: A Guide to Oxalate in Foods. Lulu’s end product was excellent quality—consistent color, sturdy binding—and the team found the system easy to use.

From Sally’s technical guru, Jeremy Raw:

As for Lulu, literally my only complaint (other than it’s sort of slow) is that their Shopify app does not let you download custom reports on the orders and payments—you have to write to their help desk and they make a custom report. For other platforms (Wix and WordPress), they have a website that allows you to make your own reports, and they tell me that they are planning to migrate the Shopify app to that same structure. [Editor’s note: It appears the rollover to the new Shopify app will be coming online in June 2024.] That said, their help desk is spectacularly responsive, their products are good, the production is slow, but they’re honest about telling you that, and they make good on their promises for shipment and delivery. Plus, they have printing presses all over the world so they can ship stuff everywhere in a reasonable time.

Sally also added that if you are making international sales, shipments can occasionally get caught up in customs. (I’m not sure that is any different with other platforms though.)

Is Lulu for You?

To sum up, here’s when I would suggest looking at Lulu:

  • When you need an option KDP and IS don’t offer, e.g., spiral bound, saddle stitching.
  • When you want to sell direct from your website.
  • If you are a fan of supporting smaller companies and/or want to avoid supporting Amazon/KDP and/or IS.

Keep in mind:

  • Lulu’s printing costs are higher.
  • Lulu’s global retail pricing is not competitive, but the Lulu Store is (if you can get people there).
  • To take advantage of direct sales, you might need to be more technically savvy—or hire someone who is—to set things up correctly.

All-in-all, I’d stick with KDP and IS for most standard nonfiction books, but Lulu is worth a look in the right situations. If you’ve used Lulu, I’d be curious to hear about your experience!

Phew. So many things to know about self-publishing! It’s all learnable if you have time, but if you want some help, get in touch at

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