Out Of The Circle Of Trust (kinda)

Earlier this week, I posted an article about the new print-on-demand store I opened up at LuLu.com. As a result of some previous experience with LuLu.com I determined they were a better fit for my publishing needs than my previous on-demand provider, CafePress.com. Since then I’ve encountered one aspect of LuLu.com’s service than I am entirely unsatisfied with and it is something potential users should know about before opening an account…

In particular, LuLu.com does not provide any sales information
beyond the cumulative number of items sold and what days they were
purchased. That’s it. No customer names, no locations, no customer
feedback, nothing. This inability to provide account holders with the
most basic of sales information is disturbing for a business driven by
content created by those account holders. Can you imagine if this
practice was applied to online ticket sales by third party vendors in
our business? Can you imagine not having any access to ticket-buyer
information or having no way of tracking purchases (I know, some of you
out there aren’t far from it and I feel your pain)?

In my previous work with LuLu.com, I used the service to
provide print copies of internal-use documents for clients. In these
cases, sales info is meaningless and for those purposes I still
recommend LuLu as a viable business solution. But when applied to the
more common use of selling publications directly to the public, their
information management strategy is lacking. To add insult to injury,
LuLu.com provided no information about this practice in any of their
informational material and when I attempted to call a customer service
rep I discovered they have no telephone based support. Instead, they
only offer instant messaging based customer service which although it
is a nice enhancement to traditional customer support options, it is a
far cry from providing adequate customer service as the only
communication platform.

I considered ditching LuLu.com in favor of heading back to
CafePress but decided against the idea after running into some lack of
design control problems which reminded me of why I went looking for a
different provider in the first place. The only other print-on-demand
provider I am aware of is CreateSpace.com, which is associated with
Amazon.com. This option isn’t viable due to the fact that they take an
unreasonable percentage of an account holder’s gross revenue and they
do not offer any telephone support. Due to the latter issue, I was
unable to inquire about what sort of information management system they
provide to account holders. Finally, CreateSpace does not support
documents in standard letter size 8.5" x 11" format, meaning I would
have to typeset both of my publications over again from scratch, which
ultimately sealed the deal against CreateSpace.

Not knowing who purchases any of the Adaptistration
publications might not seem like a big deal, but from my perspective it
has been a crucial component to providing proper service over the past
few years. One recent example which illustrates the value of knowing
who your customers are is something that happened last week. In this
case, an individual purchased a copy of the 2007 Orchestra Compensation
Report a few days before the 2008 edition was released. Naturally, the
buyer didn’t know the new edition was coming out and I felt bad that
they spent their money on a 2007 edition only to have it be outdated
within a few days. But since this was the final publication sold
through my old CafePress.com account, I had the buyer’s name and was
able to contact the individual to see if they would like me to mail
them a print-out of the updated 2008 pages as a gesture of appreciation
for their interest and trust in making the purchase in the first place.
They accepted the offer and I sent off the updated pages in yesterday’s

Unfortunately, if a situation like this transpires via sales
through LuLu.com I won’t be in a position to contact the buyer to make
a similar good-faith offer. I’m still pressuring LuLu.com to change
their policy and find a work-around to provide the buyer info until a
system-wide change can be made but have yet to hear back from them.
Consequently, LuLu.com’s lack of comprehensive service is pushing their
company outside of my circle of trust; but I’m hoping they’ll get back
in sooner than later.

In the meantime, if you purchase any of the Adaptistration publications through my LuLu.com store
know that the actual product is of very high quality; in fact, I do think LuLu.com’s quality control edges out CafePress.com. However, if you
have any questions or concerns please contact me directly.
Additionally, if any readers can recommend a print-on-demand provider
beyond the three profiled here, please let me know.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “Out Of The Circle Of Trust (kinda)”

  1. the companies that learn to adapt will eventually be the ones that get our business. i found the online on-demand printing market inflexible and too expensive for my needs so i purchased a laser printer. the initial investment is expensive and still a hassle, but in the long run much cheaper than the current web 2.0 options.

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