Lulu.com Cancels Ryan Estrada’s Book Orders

As most people reading web comic related sites know, adventuring cartoonist Ryan Estrada recently completed the monumental task of drawing a 168 hour comic. After much fanfare and encouragement Ryan emerged from his trailer with a mountain of comic pages created over the course of one week. He promptly self published the entire enterprise using Lulu.com, a print to order online book publisher. Ryan posted a link to the online store and began telling everyone about Lulu and directing people to purchase his book there.

Well, as anyone who ordered Ryan’s book through Lulu now knows, something went wrong. Everyone who has since placed an order for a print version of Ryan’s book received a cryptic email from the Lulu support staff declaring that their order was canceled. This is part of the message sent out: “Oh my, we regret to inform you that there has been a problem fulfilling your order. You will receive a full or partial refund of your order, depending on how much of the order we can fulfill“. No further details were given.

I spoke with Ryan via email to find out what went wrong. According to him the Lulu tech support person he spoke to informed him that there was a problem with the PDF file he sent in for print. Instead of contacting Ryan and trying and resolve the issue, which seems to be something so innocuous it would take a couple of minutes to resolve, Lulu simply canceled every order made to date and removed the book from availability.

This clunky and odd way Lulu dealt with the issue is not very encouraging. Lulu suggested to Ryan that he fix the PDF file and re-submit it, essentially requiring everyone to place ANOTHER order. Rather than put his fans and readers through another fumble with online publishing Ryan is looking for another more reliable way to publish his book, but that will take some time.

In the meantime, in order to make amends to his readers, Ryan will soon be making the whole comic available on his web site for a limited time.

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10 thoughts on “Lulu.com Cancels Ryan Estrada’s Book Orders

  1. It is an extremely clunky way to deal with such an event I\’ll agree. However, Lulu always suggests that you order a proof copy to review before you start taking orders on any title. Not that this was Ryan\’s fault but it would\’ve saved a lot of trouble in the long run.

  2. That is SOP for Lulu.

    And the previous poster is correct, the author should\’ve ordered a copy to proof himself before making it for sale. I have done so with my books and never had a problem. I would hope that the author would want to make sure he was selling a good product before letting hundreds of people order it.

    It isn\’t Lulu\’s responsibility to proof your book for you, and the act of uploading a new PDF requires creating a new edition of the book, so it may be that replacing the orders is required by their automated system. In any case they have no way of knowing when Mr. Estrada might fix the PDF and better to cancel the orders than get a ton of complaint emails from people wondering why their book has not printed and shipped yet.

    I\’ve been using Lulu now for over a year without incident and in fact they\’ve been very speedy about fixing any problems I had, I\’d say this was the result of a temporary lapse in judgement by the author in not having the patience to wait the week or two it would take to proof his work before offering it for public sale.

  3. I can see what you\’re saying about waiting for a proof copy, but just dumping your customers at the curb without any explanation is just plain bad business.

    Why doesn\’t Lulu print a proof before accepting everyone\’s money? Or at the very least look at the file first?

    I know there are success stories out there from people using Lulu, but taking people\’s money before they even know if there\’s an actual product available is a tad shady to me. They should have contacted Ryan first and tried to work out the kinks. 5 minutes with the PDF file would have fixed everything, but instead they blew out all his orders and now he looks bad.

    This type of problem can\’t be a rare occurrence. Lulu should have a much better policy in place when dealing with this sort of thing.

  4. Lulu\’s offices and the actual printer are located in different states if I remember correctly. I believe they subcontract a printer to run their orders for them. This would explain why they don\’t run proofs very often. Also, the system is so automated I couldn\’t imagine anyone reviewing a file unless an problem arises. It\’s how they are able to produce books at such low prices without a large staff.

    Chances are, when the orders came in Lulu\’s system just sent it to the printer so by the time the issue came up they probably had no idea how many orders were in queue for the title.

    I\’d certainly like to hear their explaination as they are usually pretty good about correcting mistakes if they make them.

  5. I\’ve used Lulu for awhile myself and found the majority of problems people have with them aren\’t Lulu\’s fault but simple creator error. (And yes, I\’m including myself and my own troubles.) You have to understand, Lulu is a very automated system. It has to be to do what they do. They\’re very helpful dealing with your problems if it\’s something on their end, and they try to answer any questions you have before you start selling your work. But bottom line, it\’s not a person filing each order. You have to make sure your files and everything are in order before you start letting people place orders on them. This is a lot like uploading a corrupt html to a website and then blaming your host when it doesn\’t load right. I sympathise with Estrada\’s troubles but I\’m not getting mad at Lulu over it

  6. I didn\’t think of this until later, but the queue is also automated. If there\’s a problem with the file it probably requires moving all the orders from the queue/automated system to continue processing orders. They can\’t put something on \”hold\” until it gets fixed. It either gets printed or comes out of the queue.

    I disagree it\’s bad business on Lulu\’s part, it\’s what they need to do to keep operating:

    Why doesn\’t Lulu print a proof before accepting everyone\’s money? Or at the very least look at the file first?

    Because having a human being print and look at a proof of *every* *single* *thing* they print would add quite a bit to the base cost of the books, and personally I\’d rather have the extra $2 per book because I can do that myself, than pay a $2 penalty because some people can\’t be arsed to double-check their work.

    The reason they have this sort of policy in place is because of numbnuts that won\’t check their work. If there\’s a problem with a file they just take it out of the system – it\’s the author\’s responsibility to fix it. CafePress operates virtually the same way (cancels orders that can\’t be printed or removes problem items from orders.) That\’s just a consequence of how the print-on-demand system works. If you had a human being check every one of the millions of files people have uploaded there\’d quickly be no company left to print stuff.

    Sorry, when you check out and add a book to your cart (your own book) and are buying more than one copy, it even warns you at the screen \”you are buying multiples of an item you haven\’t proofed yet\”. The author here didn\’t follow Lulu\’s own instructions, if he had this would be a non-issue. You\’re right: this does happen once in awhile, and the people that bitch about it on the support forums are almost invariably people that didn\’t bother to learn what they\’re doing/Lulu\’s requirements, or didn\’t proof their work before making it for sale.

    Lulu\’s just a tool. It\’s up to YOU to use it correctly.

    –Jin

  7. I\’m not asking anyone to get mad at Lulu about it. I\’m just saying that rather than go back to my customers and ask them to buy the book again, I\’m gonna give it to them for free, and focus on getting the book to publishers.
    I still agree that what Lulu does is an amazing thing. But I made the mistake of trusting they could do the job with what I gave them. I never got any of the warnings you\’re talking about. The PDF is fine to open, I can print on my printer, Lulu themselves told me it is due to \”Lulu\’s finicky printer\”.
    I have no ill will against Lulu, I just think it\’s a shame the way they handle this one situation.
    If you\’re self publishing, it looks to still be the best way to go, just always order a proof copy, and go over it before you make it public.

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