194 Radio City: The Heart of Liverpool

My Photo
Location: Denbighshire, United Kingdom

After deciding to resign from the Civil Service after 25 years, I am now free to pursue my dream of writing. My first book '194 Radio City - The Heart of Liverpool' was published through Lulu in April 2006, and is available from good bookshops and internet suppliers. If you have difficulty getting a copy, please contact me.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lulu Interview

If you click on the link to the left, below the Daily Post article, you should be taken directly to my interview in Lulu's September newsletter.

Fair play to them, they allowed me air my grievances about Lulu's recent Global book price increases, and I hope my comments have been fair.

I have decided to leave '194 Radio City - The Heart of Liverpool' where it is - that is not make any changes to the price or distribution. After some research last week, it appears that there are still enough places to buy it at a reduced price (ie from me, Amazon Marketplace, some bookstores) so anyone who wants a copy should be able to get a good deal. However, as for any future publications.... who knows.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lulu Shocker No. 2

Another Lulu shocker yesterday which ended up to be, for me at least, a storm in a teacup.

A letter arrived which stated that although I am not normally a US Taxpayer, a review of the US tax laws shows that the royalties I earn on any copies of '194 Radio City - The Heart of Liverpool' which are sold to destinations in the US are subject to taxation by the United States Internal Revenue Service.


I read a little further and couldn't believe the following paragraph:

"If we do not receive a completed, valid, signed W-8BEN form from you, we will have to withold taxes at the default rate of 30% from your future royalty earnings for this special selling circumstance. Therefore we strongly encourage you to take the time to complete the required documents." The documents may as well have been written in a foreign language for all I know about US tax laws, and they also suggested that we had to send original copies of our ID over to The States.


It turns out all UK Lulu authors received this letter and understandably, yet another forore broke out within the UK Lulu forums, less than 2 weeks since the Global Distribution issue came to light. Lulu came back to us with the usual platitudes (obviously, they have all been on outdated customer service training courses!) which just served to annoy everyone even more. Eventually, it turns out that two important points were left out of the letter which could have prevented all this anger. Firstly, the changes don't take place until January 2007, and secondly, it only applies to people who sell a good number of books to the US.

Not me then.

Lulu - PLEASE, can I get down to some writing now?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Interview in September's Lulu Newsletter

I received the good news last night that I have an interview appearing in the September issue of Lulu's newsletter. I spent the last couple of hours working out my replies to Angela Hooper's questions! I will post a link to it from this blog when it appears.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Download now available

For a limited period only, I have made my book available through Lulu in download format. Priced at £3.01 this is a much cheaper option than many of the online bookstores are offering on the print version. This is an experiment really, as I don't yet know whether it will be something I want to continue with in the long term, however my royalties will be exactly the same as for a print copy. For numerous reasons, I held off doing this for a while although I did always intend to offer it at some stage. But since the recent price increases at Lulu came in, it seems to be a sensible time to give it a go.

You can buy the download by accessing my storefront at Lulu's site (see Links on the left hand side).

Friday, September 08, 2006

My decision... and Howard Hughes

I replied to Lulu's email this morning. Here is an excerpt:

"Thank you for your email and explanation, both within here and on the forums.

Speaking purely for myself, I think what angered me most of all was the fact that this huge change was undertaken without any discussion with or notification given to the UK authors (and any other interested parties). I accept that as a pioneer in the print-on-demand market you are bound to make mistakes, but I am sure you can see that the strength of feeling on the forums reveals that we all feel let down. I really do hope this trust can be rebuilt because up until a few days ago, the partnership appeared to be a mutually supportive one, and one with which the authors felt secure and happy. I also sincerely hope you can do as you now state, ie to work with each case individually to achieve an amicable solution.

I feel, as we are all attempting to be honest and open here, I can't make any demands or suggestions to you at this time, purely because I don't yet know how this will affect my sales. Although selling through places such as Waterstones and Amazon was a significant portion of my overall sales, it wasn't necessarily the highest (although I cannot know this for certain for a few months because I believe sales figures can sometimes be slow coming in). I would prefer to wait a while to see what the outcome is, if that is acceptable to you. I trust there is not a time limit on questions relating to loss of sales with GD - I am only trying to be fair to you here. It could be that my sales aren't affected that much. I would also like the time to contact booksellers who already stock my book to see whether this will affect their decision to stock it in future. I did pay to place an advertisement within an online weekly radio magazine a couple of weeks ago. It still has 5 weeks to run. The banner ad has a direct link to my Amazon page. I did ask them whether it would be possible to change this to my Lulu page should the need arise, and they have said it will, however I am interested to see whether people are put off buying my book after a price increase which I feel is far too expensive for a book of this size. My sales have increased by 600% through Amazon since taking out the advert; a success, I am sure you will agree. But will your changes put a stop to all that? I don't know....

...For this reason, I will leave things as they are for this week and monitor this ad along with everything else related to my book....

...I really appreciate your honesty and openness since this mistake was revealed, and hope this will remain, as it seems to me to be an integral part of keeping this type of on-line business thriving.

Thank you for replying to all our concerns promptly.

Kathy Barham"

So as you will see I have to take some time to observe what real effect this will have on my sales. Interestingly, Radiojam came out yesterday as usual, along with my ad, and once again my Amazon sales ranking jumped up, as has happened pretty much every week following its issue, so maybe I won't suffer too much after all. However, I do know of UK Lulu authors out there who, for many reasons, will definitely lose hundreds if not thousands of pounds in sales and marketing costs because of this change, and I hope Lulu will keep its promise to look at every case individually and find some way of offsetting the loss. I will be watching the forums with interest to see how this develops, and will help in any way I can.

To end on a lighter note - as stated above, Radiojam came out yesterday and I was pleasantly surprised to see an article there written by Radio City's very own schoolboy competition winner, Howard Hughes! He writes, amongst other things, about his memories of working with Chris Tarrant on Capital Radio. This is an extract:

"My first encounter with Chris was the 0730 headlines, read from the guest mic in front of him. I was terrified - we had 2.5 million listeners, so if you screwed up people would know. I knew CT had mercilessly teased previous newscasters so I thought attack was the best line of defence. My last quirky news story took a light-hearted dig at Chris. It was a gamble. He looked up from the desk, slightly smiling and said "you won't last!". That's how our on air relationship began.

But it was not easy at the start, not at all. I dropped more than my fair share of awful clangers trying to keep up with Chris. But after a rough few months the penny finally dropped and I realised I'd succeed if I stopped trying to compete and started trading on myself and my life. So I became the underdog, the guy who lived a life totally the opposite of CT's.

I cycled round the park, shopped at Tesco's and bought clothes from a charity shop. One day I got an old La Coste top from the Oxfam in Esher. It turned out, although I didn't know it, the shirt had been donated by Chris. The day I went into work wearing it started a story he still tells."

You can read the rest of Howard's story in this week's Radiojam. If you haven't subscribed yet, and you are a radio fan or work in radio, then I can only say you are missing out - it's an informative read, but amusing and quirky too... and it's free, so what have you got to lose?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lulu's Explanation

All UK authors who have taken out Global Distribution received this email today:

"Dear UK Lulus,

You're receiving this email because you have purchased Lulu's Global Distribution Service. Since the beginning of this service, Lulu has translated the US dollar price you set into other currencies. In early 2006, Lulu found that the price set in pounds sterling was often not covering the higher costs we incur for manufacturing in the UK. Further, the tranlations were in many cases inconsistently applied and sometimes simply wrong. As a result, Lulu has altered the currency translation formula to cover the higher costs of manufacturing in the UK and reflect the dollar value versus other currencies. You will notice in most cases that the retail price to consumers has risen, and has been rounded either to 50p or 95p as most books are priced. We know it's alarming to see a price increase for no apparent reason, so we wanted to explain the reason for this change.

Remember that you will continue to maintain complete control over the price of your content in USD. You've always had this right, and the corrected international pricing formula does nothing to affect that right.

We know this change is unsettling right now, but the new global pricing structure will be more stable than the old one, which was adjusted monthly. That meant that books which were almost exactly the same, but published at different times, would show significant differences in price. Those inconsistencies are also eliminated under the new system.

All that said, we take full responsibility for our failure to communicate this change to our international community in a timely manner. We're already designing a system for community notification on any pricing issues, to ensure that we never make this mistake again.

Thank you for bearing with us as we work out the details of bringing distributed, print-on-demand self-publishing to the entire world. It's never been done before, so we're all figuring this out together. We're here to do all we can to minimize any adverse effects that the sudden change may have had on you, our UK Lulus. If , for example, your price printed on your book cover is now incorrect, let us know and we'll assist in changing it. Please feel free to Email (.........) with your questions, and we'll do our best to help.

Best wishes,
Lulu Customer Support"

and from Bob Young, CEO Lulu inc. in answer to our queries within the forums:

"You are quite right, we messed up, badly.

While pricing decisions--for whatever reason--are always difficult, there is no excuse for us not to provide our loyal customers with lots of notice of such changes.

For some complicated technical reasons we cannot now roll back our prices to the former ones, but we have come up with a plan that we hope will properly address the problems this particular change, and the lack of notice we provided, has caused you and other Lulu users.

I greatly regret that we didn’t afford you the proper time to prepare for a pricing adjustment, but we’re more than willing to work with you and other authors that have been adversely affected by this change. A note to this effect, along with the details, rationale, and positive expectations surrounding this price change, will be going out shortly to all UK owners of our Global Distribution service. I truly believe that we will resolve this to your satisfaction, but let me know if you have any further concerns.

Lastly, to insure that such occurrences will not happen again, I've instructed the Staff to create a process by which any future price or service changes are given proper amounts of time for community feedback and notification. We will not make this mistake again.

Thank you for making the effort to ensure this error on our part received the attention it deserved."

Although I know that people make mistakes and I accept Lulu regret the way they handled things (after all Lulu is a pioneer in this type of print-on-demand publishing so we shouldn't be too surprised when things go wrong) I feel they have perhaps become a victim of their own success here. In rushing to get a UK printer set up in order to satisfy the growing demand here, it appears certain things were overlooked. However, whether we accept these apologies or not doesn't make one iota of difference to the fact that our books have now doubled in price in the marketplace. Personally speaking, for the moment I will attempt to market my book myself as much as I can. If I sell any through Amazon or wherever it will be a bonus, but I really can't afford to spend too much time worrying about it. I need to get back to making some phone calls and writing some letters/emails to bookshops etc and seeing if they are prepared to buy direct from me, or whether the Global price increase even matters that much to them. Until such time, I won't really now how much this has hit my sales. There are some authors who will be in a much worse position than me though. The Lulu forums are currently full of irate UK authors left floundering with books they feel they can never sell now, whether that be because of the massive price increase, or for other reasons. A lot of people appear to have completely lost confidence in Lulu. You could say the bubble has burst.

And to think I believed I could finally start work on my new book this week....!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Could the Lulu Honeymoon period be over?

Came in for a bit of a shock yesterday when it was brought to my attention within the Lulu forums that, without our knowledge, all our books on sale in the UK have suddenly increased in price overnight. This means in my case that the £6.99 cover price I set (and still sell for) has now risen to £9.49. When contacted, A Lulu spokesperson has this to say:

“I sincerely appologize for the inconvenience this has caused. When we recently took a look at our figures for our global distribution costs, particuarly we discovered that the costs we had assumed for books produced through LSI UK were far too low and, as a result were losing a large percentage of our revenue due to this miscalculation. In light of this information, the increase in the retail price of your book in GBP is to compensate for the miscalculation in production costs and offset this inbalance. This was not something we were particularly happy about doing and fully understood the unfortunate impact this would have with some of our authors.”

(LSI UK is the printer and distributor within the UK.)

However, this was all achieved without any consultation with UK authors and Lulu appears to have reneged on its Global Distribution agreement, effectively changing the rules by which we had all calculated our costs and royalties (already minimal) in the first place. As you can imagine, a huge forore has broken out amongs Lulu authors from outside the US . We are demanding a return to the original pricing (after all, the mistake was Lulu's, and not ours) or a refund of our Global Distribution cost. Speaking for myself here, I can't see that anyone is going to pay nearly £10 for what was once fairly priced at £6.99. It will clearly be better for me to market and sell my books myself (as I have been doing anyway alongside the big stores), and I don't need Global Distribution to do this.

For this reason I will be making it clear to people through this website that they can still buy the book from me, either by contacting the email address at the top of the page, or from eBay for £6.99 (where it will be signed) or they can buy from Amazon Marketplace which still has my book for sale at the moment for as little as £4.64. If you look at the Amazon page now for my book, you will see it includes a "sourcing fee". This "fee" (which now appears on all Lulu books for sale on Amazon.co.uk) appears to be the amount that has been added on to make up for Lulu's mistake. Incidentally, my book can, of course, still be purchased through Lulu's site for a little under £6.99.

We are waiting for a full explanation and a reply from Lulu and I will keep you informed. As I said to Lulu yesterday, this will seriously affect Lulu's current good reputation in the UK publishing marketplace. I for one have given Lulu plenty of free advertising over the months (see the recent press release for one example) because it was a company I admired. They are not going to be getting any again until this matter is resolved.

Please do get in touch if you have any queries. I should add that this issue will not affect distribution. Everything will continue to run the same way, the only difference is that the price has increased in most places.

STOP PRESS: - latest from a Lulu spokesperson on the forum....

"I'm not familiar with the sourcing fee issue, but we are addressing the price adjustment that affected your UK titles.

Thanks for setting us straight on this situation. We value your decision to use Lulu, and want to work together in bringing more opportunities to authors like you. We'll learn from this and move forward, and we hope we can earn back your trust.

I hope to have a plan to announce today or tomorrow that will help get this resolved."

Sunday, September 03, 2006


The observant 194 blog viewers amongst you will have spotted that I have now added a links section to which I'm slowly adding various sites/pages that may be of interest. The only reason I haven't done this earlier is because, well, I didn't know how to do it! But thanks to some patient tutoring from David Clensy (thank you!), I've now mastered the art - so there'll be no stopping me fiddling around with the blog now. (I'd like to say here that David has written a book about Liverpool's very own Williamson Tunnels called "The Mole of Edge Hill". It is published through Lulu and is available both via their website and also on Amazon, and is an excellent read.)

Most of the links are self-explanatory, but I should add that those of you who are curious to know the subject matter of my next book shouldn't feel too pleased with yourselves when you spot the mention of Liverpool clubs at the end of Daily Post article. Although I may write about the club scene in future, it is not going to be in my next book!