As part of our new report, Digital Platforms and Technologies for Publishers: Implementations Beyond "eBook," we interviewed a number of industry visionaries. The following is a summary of a discussion between Lulu’s Bob Young and Gilbane’s Steve Paxhia.
Bob Young: Lulu—Next Steps
Bob Young is the founder and CEO of Lulu.com, a premier international marketplace for new digital content on the Internet, with more than 1.1 million recently published titles and more than 15,000 new creators from 80 different countries joining each week. Founded in 2002, Lulu.com is Young’s most recent endeavor. The success of this company has earned Young notable recognition; he was named one of the “Top 50 Agenda-Setters in the Technology Industry in 2006” and was ranked as the fourth “Top Entrepreneur for 2006,” both by Silicon.com. In 1993, Young co-founded Red Hat, the open source software company that gives hardware and software vendors a standard platform on which to certify their technology. Red Hat has evolved into a Fortune 500 company and chief rival to Microsoft and Sun. His success at Red Hat won him industry accolades, including nomination as one of Business Week’s “Top Entrepreneurs” in 1999. Before founding Red Hat, Young spent 20 years at the helm of two computer leasing companies that he founded. His experiences as a high-tech entrepreneur combined with his innate marketing savvy led to Red Hat’s success. His book, “Under the Radar,” chronicles how Red Hat’s open-source strategy successfully won industry wide acceptance in a market previously dominated by proprietary binary-only systems. Young has also imparted the lessons learned from his entrepreneurial experiences through his contributions to the books “You’ve GOT to Read This Book!” and “Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul.
For many years, authors who were unsuccessful in getting their books published by a commercial publishing company could underwrite the costs of publishing their books and sell them through “vanity presses.” It was rare that books published in this manner ever recouped the author’s investment and earned a profit.
Bob Young admits that when he was in college that he never fully appreciated the writings of philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. However, one of Sartre’s teachings—“We see the world the way that we expect to see it”—stuck with him. This passage helps explain how established practices and entities become so entrenched. Yet in 2002, Bob Young had an idea that would attack the established policies and practices of the book publishing industry. The industry had consolidated tremendously in the previous decade, and the distribution and retail networks changed dramatically. These changes have had a profound impact on potential authors. The reduction in the number of publishing entities has resulted in it becoming more difficult for authors to get their works published. The publishing company may already have a similar title or be unwilling to take a chance on an unpublished author. Sometimes, a book is written by a prominent author but the market niche is too small for traditional publishers to serve. These phenomena leave a significant number of high quality books without a publisher.