In both pictures, the Lulu copy is on the left, the B&N copy is on the right.
Godzilla for scale.
Mechagodzilla for scale.
The most obvious difference is that Lulu doesn't include a mandatory barcode. B&N adds one automatically, even if the book isn't for sale. Obviously I prefer no barcode.
The colors reproduced nearly identically, as far as I can tell.
Print quality is very similar. However, I am going to give a slight edge to B&N. The B&N copy feels just a little more solid. When I pick up the books and page through them, the attachment of the cover and spine on the Lulu copy feels a little more wobbly. Also, the pages in the Lulu copy feel slightly thinner, even though the Lulu copy is supposed to be 60# cream paper while the B&N copy is 50# cream paper.
The Lulu pages are slightly brighter, and the cover and pages feel slicker. That's not good or bad - your preferences may vary.
Lulu copy is on top, B&N on the bottom.
POD printing is inherently cheap and therefore not the greatest quality, so neither one is going to stand up to a lot of rough treatment, but based on these proofs, and the fact that B&N is slightly cheaper (especially when printing multiple copies), I judge B&N the overall winner here, with Lulu having the advantage that it doesn't require a stupid barcode.
I made a few minor color adjustments on the cover and the interior, and ordered more copies from B&N (which so far has not shipped them out as quickly as they did the single copy).
If you are printing a single copy for yourself, I would say that if the barcode bothers you, order from Lulu. Otherwise, I think B&N is slightly better.
If anyone does print their own copies, please send me pics!
Alexandra Quick and the Very Big Bloated Hard-to-Print Paperback
Now that print copies of Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle are a Real Thing that exists in the world, I have begun creating the POD draft for Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below. In fact, I have completed the layout. I don't have illustrations or a cover yet, and I need to do proofreading, but it's mostly done.
Aaaaand here's the problem: it's 838 pages. (Note: this includes frontmatter, backmatter, TOC, etc.) Lulu and B&N and pretty much every POD service around have a hard limit of 800 pages for paperbacks. :(
Yes, I could shrink the margins and the font size and do some other tricks to get it under 800 pages, but it would look crappy. And book two is not the longest book in the series.
(Honestly, I am pretty proud of the production quality I've achieved just trying to imitate the Harry Potter design with Affinity Publisher. IMO, AQATTC looks better than some of the professionally published small press books on my shelf.)
So... right now my options are:
(a) Print it as a hardcover. Significantly more expensive, and B&N and Lulu seem to have a max page count of 800 for hardcovers too.
(b) Split it into two volumes. (Which means eventually my seven-book series will be more like a 13-volume series...)
(c) Find a local print shop that can do custom print jobs. This will also be more expensive, and I suspect most of them will probably tell me that they could print it, but at a certain thickness, the book is just going to fall apart quickly. OTOH, I have a paperback copy of Stephen King's The Stand which is over 1100 pages. So it can be done, somehow.
I'll do some investigating and see how much more money I am going to spend on this mad self-indulgent venture.