I was trying to think yesterday, to figure out why some folks seem to have such strong negative reactions to the idea of using a service like Lulu. And I came up with two possibilities:
1. They've seen writers taken advantage of, by various scam agencies and publishing groups and the like, so they're very wary of anything that may look like that. Which I can totally understand -- I spent a while in class last night, warning my students about agents who charge you to read your manuscript, and supposed 'publishers' who really are vanity presses, the kind that ask for many thousands of dollars from the author and spend none of that on designing, editing, or promoting the book. Scam artists, in other words. There are enough of them out there that I can see what some folks might be hypersensitive on the subject, and why that might lead them to think of a service like Lulu as just another scam, instead of seeing it, as I do, as a service that's useful in certain circumstances, if used wisely. I'm hopeful that the discussion we've just had has made clear why one of us might reasonably decide to use Lulu for a small project -- and also clarified why it still makes sense to recommend against using it for many larger projects, for the financial reasons we've discussed.
2. Or, they've spent enough time and energy trying to justify their own works' legitimacy to others (because it was small press instead of large, or used POD technology, or some other reason), that they have a kneejerk reaction against services that they perceive as not meeting the 'professionalism' criteria that they use to justify their own projects. That's a really understandable reaction, but I think it's one that's worth trying to overcome. I'll give you an example:
When I started Strange Horizons (more than seven years ago), pretty much *everyone* in the field told me that it wouldn't work. That I'd never be able to make the finances work, that an online magazine that paid pro rates would run out of money within a year. And also that an electronic magazine, even if it paid pro rates, would never be taken seriously as a legitimate publishing venue. I was told this by people like Kent Brewster, who ran the Speculations market listing at the time, by a variety of the pro and semi-pro magazine editors, and by a ton of writers. I thought they were wrong, and pretty much ignored their advice. I went on to prove my case -- whether or not you like what SH publishes, I think it's clear at this point that it's one of the top five magazines in the genre, winning honors and awards and publishing steadily (paying pro rates) every single week for the last seven years. And counting.
Now, when I started working on the project, I can see that it would have been tempting to try to defend our legitimacy by slamming those who weren't using the same standards we were -- putting down all the semi-pro markets, like, for example, Patrick Swenson's Talebones. We could've lumped them in with 'amateur' markets, and talked about them all in the same negative terms, in some misguided attempt to draw attention to our own payment of pro (and therefore SFWA-qualifying) rates. We could've dissed everyone with a smaller circulation than ours too. But a) that would be mean, b) that would be stupid, since a lot of those semi-pro and amateur markets are doing very nice work, and c) that would be self-defeating, because it would've just made us enemies who were even less inclined to believe that Strange Horizons was worth paying attention to. What worked for us was to just concentrate on doing the best magazine we could, in the way that made sense to us -- and at the same time, recognizing the great work others were doing in different areas of the genre.
So even though I've never run a book press before, I do have a little experience on the publishing side of things. (We even put out a few print anthologies of Best of SH compilations.) And that's what my experience tells me -- listen to experienced professionals in the field, but if, on reflection, you disagree with their assessment, trust your own judgement. Maybe you've figured out a new way to do things. Concentrate on what you're doing right. And don't feel like you have to tear down what others are doing in order to build legitimacy for yourself. It'll just exhaust your energies, and draw them away from doing good work yourself.
In the end, if you do consistently good work, the public (and your peers) will see and recognize it. You just have to have faith in the process.