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Open Culture

Lulu offers a publishing service for “digital do-it-yourselfers” to publish all manner of media including books, music, comics, photographs, and movies.

Lulu lets creators set the license terms, including Creative Commons licenses, for their works as part of the publishing process. Authors can also set the price at which they wish to sell their content. There is no set-up fee and no minimum orders.

Anyone can search for works published on Lulu by license type.

Lulu was founded by Bob Young, who was also the co-founder of Red Hat, a leading open source company. Mia Garlick from Creative Commons caught up with Stephen Fraser from Lulu to learn more about Lulu’s service and their use of Creative Commons licensing.

Creative Commons (“CC”): Lulu was started 4 years ago. Can you explain a little about the reasons that lead to Lulu being established?

Stephen Fraser (“SF”): After stepping down as chairman of his previous company, Red Hat, Bob Young created His intention was to create a business model that fostered a more open marketplace for intellectual property, a marketplace that didn’t require creators to give up control of their content or the rights associated with that content. provides on-demand publishing tools for digital content including books, ebooks, music, images, custom calendars, software and video. We are not a publisher, but a technology company giving individuals the power to publish independently. Most of our business comes from books, which can be printed on demand or downloaded. We are, I think, the largest print-on-demand service for books in the world at this point.

Self-publishing, of course, is not new. But new technology has changed the idea of self-publishing a great deal. Greater connectivity and access to tools for creating content have given individuals an unprecedented ability to produce and share their own media. Books–along with videos, music, software and other media–are now often created, distributed and owned by individuals rather than big companies.

One way to look at the changes brought about by in the publishing world is to compare Lulu to Blogger, LiveJournal or Before blogging tools were available, individuals could still publish their own web sites; it just required a lot of effort. Blog technology (and more recently sites like made it possible for anyone—of any age or technical ability—to publish and update a web site. The result was an explosion of content, much of it uninteresting, but taken together representing a media revolution. Similarly, before came along it was certainly possible to publish your own book. But by making book publishing technology free and accessible to anyone, has become part of a revolution (a revo-lulu-tion) in print publishing.

CC: Can you provide an overview of how an author, musician, filmmaker or photographer can use Lulu’s site to publish their work(s)?

SF: In the simplest terms, to publish something on a creator must register, choose to start a new publishing project, enter a project description that includes the copyright license information, upload a file, specify format and accessibility options, and then set the amount of money he or she plans to earn for each copy sold. For those interested in distribution but not profit, giving content away is also an option.

Publishing electronic content is quite straightforward, as is creating a photo calendar using your own digital images. Publishing a book is a bit more complicated, which—with over 1,200 new titles per week—doesn’t seem to slow people down much

From a technical standpoint, if you are a book publisher you will want to come to the process with your book already designed and typeset to one of’s available trim sizes. If you have access to layout software, creating your own PDF with the fonts embedded is ideal, but our system can also convert .rtf, .xml, .html,..doc files and the like into press-ready PDFs.

Once you have uploaded the body of your book, you can upload one .JPG for your front cover and another for your back cover, choose from a gallery of existing images, or create a wrap-around .JPG file with both covers and the spine of your book. As complicated as it is, we designed the Lulu publishing process to accommodate experts who design books professionally as well as complete novices, so it really offers quite a few options as you go along.

After you have made the content available, you (or, if you have made it publicly available, anyone else) can buy a printed copy. The order process is straightforward, and once ordered a book is manufactured and shipped within about three business days. Any book on can be ordered from anywhere in the world. As of this month, books ordered from Europe will actually be printed and shipped in Europe as well. The site is now available in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Dutch as well as in English.

While publishing a book is free, at any point a book publisher can also choose to pay a fee to add an ISBN and global distribution to his or her title. Adding ISBN distribution allows the book to be sold through the worldwide web sites of retailers like and, and to be ordered by bookstores.

CC: Lulu’s Advanced Search lets members of the public search for works by copyright license including for works that they can: copy and distribute; use even for commercial purposes; and, modify, adapt, or build upon. A search by these license terms reveals some 300 works that are licensed on flexible terms including the Free Documentation License, the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license and Creative Commons’ Public Domain Dedication. Why did Lulu decide to include these specific license options in its publishing process?

SF: Hmmm. I just ran the same search and got about 370 or so items using one of the three standard CC licenses. But while we chose to offer those three licenses in the standard options, in fact anyone publishing content on can enter their own license description if they choose to do so; and many have. The standard options consist of what we perceived to be the most commonly requested licensing alternatives. We chose to leave the other licenses out of the standard choices just to make the process as simple as possible.

CC: How can an author who uses Lulu’s service choose to apply one of these licenses to their work?

SF: Choosing the license that will appear in your published item’s description page is one of the options appearing on the second page of the publishing wizard. As I mentioned, in addition to the standard options, creators are free to enter any text license they wish. Our system does not embed the license in the work, however, so a book publisher would want to insert the license terms on the copyright page of his or her book so that it appears in the printed versions.

CC: In Lulu’s experience, are some types of works are more likely to be flexible licensed than others?

SF: The greatest number of flexible licenses on are appear on content in the music category, where creators are most likely to be motivated by the desire to get exposure for their work. It’s also true that, apart from inhabiting a culture of sharing and creative reuse, many musicians use primarily as a means to host their files rather than as a marketplace for selling their music. That cannot be said of the community of Lulu authors, who by and large sell their work through

CC: What kind of feedback, if any, has Lulu had from either authors or members of the public about the availability of this flexible licensing as part of Lulu’s publishing service?

SF: Demand from the creator community is the reason Lulu offers those licenses! Despite being early supporters of Creative Commons, we were slow to offer the licenses on our site because our team was so busy with other features. But eventually we had to make Creative Commons options available, because as a company we pay close attention to what members of the Lulu community talk about and request. While the flexibly licensed works constitute a minority of the total number of books published on, the folks who use them carry a lot of weight with us. As a technology, is designed around the principal of offering creators more control over the distribution and sale of their work. That means designing a system that gives authors, musicians, and others as many choices as possible, both in licensing and every other respect!

Posted 17 May 2006