If you want to reach more readers and make more money, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) recommends that you publish your POD print books on both KDP Print (Amazon’s print-on-demand service) and IngramSpark (Ingram’s print-on-demand service developed specifically for indie authors), simultaneously. This article explains how and why. Our thanks to Debbie Young and Sarah Holroyd of Sleeping Cat Books for major contributions to this post.
Post updated 21st August 2021
Both Amazon and IngramSpark are valued partner members of ALLi, and both have been significant enablers of digital print publishing for authors. In a world where print-on-demand makes so much sense for so many reasons, it's not surprising that these two services are at the heart of most indie authors' print sales operations.
What is Print-on-Demand?
Print-on-demand services do just what that term suggests: each book is printed only when ordered. This just-in-time distribution system saves the author from:
- keeping expensive inventory
- storing stock against future orders
- fulfilling orders as they come in
When a reader orders a copy of your book from the sales outlets serviced by either of them (for KDP Print, Amazon's stores worldwide, and for IngramSpark bricks-and-mortar bookstores and libraries), they fund the production, bill the customer, take their cut for production and distribution, then pay you the rest.
Both platforms fulfil print orders in pretty much the same way, so why is ALLi recommending you use both? Isn't that a needless duplication of effort?
Actually, no, because each offers unique benefits – and you want the best of both worlds.”
Why Bother with Print Books Anyway?
The majority of indie authors make most of their money from ebooks and a growing amount from audio, the ratio depending on the genre. Print generally has a much narrower potential for profit than ebooks per unit, because the cost and effort of physical production and fulfilment is much higher for a print book than for a digital file.
To make the most of the intellectual property of your book, though, it makes sense to publish it in as many formats as possible, including print. Using print-on-demand publishing processes through KDP Print (KDPP) and IngramSpark (IS) provides a relatively cheap and easy way to produce a print book and deliver it to readers who choose that format. Neither requires you to invest in stockholding or warehousing, which means it’s also more affordable and flexible. If you find an error after selling your first few copies, or if you want to update your backmatter each time you bring out a new book, you can, without having to scrap any existing stock.
What Print Options do KDP Print and IngramSpark offer?
Both KDPP and IS offer multiple standard and nonstandard trim sizes, a choice of glossy and matte cover options, and a variety of formats including paperback, hardcover and large print.
The paperback options are similar from each provider, with a choice of cream or white paper for each book. Cream is the trade convention for fiction and white for non-fiction. IS has recently introduced an option for a “groundwood” paper, a stock that more closely resembles that of trade paperbacks, but it’s down to the individual author to decide which they prefer: it’s pretty subjective, and most readers are unlikely to notice the difference.
For hardcover, IS offers the additional options of hardcover books (digital clothbound with a dustcover, casebound where the cover image is printed on the hardcover, or casebound dustcover where the image is printed on the hardcover and covered with a dustcover), though KDPP is set to offer this service soon and is currently offering it to a select few in its beta program. As to large-print books, popular with libraries, either paperback or hardback may be used.
Although the end products are effectively the same—with just a few differences in spine thickness and cover color saturation—how IngramSpark and KDP fulfil book orders varies, and each service offers different benefits and drawbacks.
The Benefits of KDP Print
Publishing your book via KDPP will ensure that your book is listed on Amazon’s storefront in all the territories it serves with print, and for a larger royalty per book than offered by for other POD services. It’s important to be aware that the list of these territories is not the same as the list of territories in which IS sells e-books, and that the royalty structure is very different.
As a print-on-demand supplier, KDPP does not require you to pay up-front for stock. It simply subtracts the print cost and its cut of the profit from the list price and passes the balance on to you as your royalty.
- “KDP Print is free at point of use for all indie authors. You pay only when you sell, so you can save your budget for making your book the best it can be in before you publish it (professional editing, design, etc).
- As KDPP only makes money out of your print books when someone buys your books, they have a vested interest in helping you make more sales.
- Your books will be automatically included on Amazon's storefront in all the territories it serves with print (not as long as the list of territories served by its ebooks, but it's growing slowly).”
KDP Print Payments
When you set up a new book, your dashboard will show you how much it will cost to print each copy on demand. The cost of printing consists of a fixed price per book plus a price per page multiplied by the number of pages. The fixed cost per book depends on the number of pages (it’s higher for books with 24-108 pages than for 110-828 pages, presumably because less profit is generated from the per-page cost for the lower number of pages). Click here for more details of how KDPP calculates the printing cost of your book.
To calculate your royalty, multiply the royalty rate by the list price and subtract the print price. The standard royalty rate for KDPP is 60%, whereas for expanded distribution it’s 40%.
For standard distribution, (60% X list price) – print costs = royalty
eg for a $15 book of costing $4.85 to print, (60% x $15) – $4.85 = $4.15.
More details of how KDPP calculates your royalty, click here.
NB there is no distribution fee – that’s paid for by the customer either as an added cost on their bill or indirectly via their membership of Amazon Prime.
Thus publishing your print books via KDPP allows you to reach the majority of readers who buy print books online via Amazon.
A Note about KDP Print’s Expanded Distribution Service
If you tick the “Expanded Distribution” box on your KDPP dashboard, Amazon will also make your paperbacks available to other outlets, ie bookstores, other online retailers, libraries and academic institutions, but within the UK and US markets only, and at a lower royalty rate. However, these other parties tend to prefer not to buy from Amazon but to order through their usual suppliers, which you can reach more efficiently and cost-effectively when you publish in parallel with IngramSpark.
Interestingly, Amazon itself is one of Ingram’s biggest customers. If you tick Expanded Distribution in KDP, the reader’s purchase is likely to be fulfilled by Ingram. Amazon also uses Ingram publishing services to produce paperbacks for many of Amazon’s publishing imprints. As a self-publishing author, you have the option to go direct to IngramSpark instead.
It’s up to Amazon which printer they source any given order through. They’ll most often use KDP, since they own it. But when KDP is backed up (as often happens around major holidays), Amazon can source through IngramSpark or Lightning Source, Ingram’s other POD provider, instead in order to maintain customer expectations for delivery times. Whichever printer produces that order is the platform where you’ll see that sale reported, and from which you’ll receive publisher compensation.
If you choose to use Ingram for your ebook distribution too, when setting up your ebook on IS, opt into all other sales channels except Amazon. This is not possible for print with IS, where the selection is by geographic markets, not individual retailers.
NB ALLi recommends, where possible, that authors upload ebooks directly to ebook retailers, rather than using an aggregator.
The Benefits of IngramSpark
IngramSpark is part of Ingram Content Group, which has a distribution network that reaches beyond the internet into physical bookstores, academic institutions and libraries. These outlets are unlikely to order stock from Amazon because most bookstores see Amazon as competition and the trade discounts Amazon offers to them are not commercially viable. They prefer to place their business with the same distributors and wholesalers from whom they order trade-published books.
Like KDP Print, IngramSpark provides a print-on-demand service, but unlike KDP it does not supply directly to the end-user, ie the reader. Instead, it sends its catalogue to the book distributors and wholesalers from whom retailers, libraries and academic institutions order books. If you publish your book with IS, a bookseller or library’s purchasing department can now order it. Most such buyers prefer to order their books direct from wholesalers or distributors with a single invoice and delivery for their daily order, than to incur further administration for less reward by dealing directly with publishers or authors. While different territories have different preferred distributors eg Gardners is more widely used than Ingram in the UK, books in the Ingram catalog are available to buyers worldwide.
It doesn’t mean they WILL order it, only that they can. It falls to the indie author – just as it does to the trade publisher – to generate the bookseller/library’s desire to stock your book.
Another difference from the KDPP system is that the IngramSpark dashboard asks you to specify whether you will accept returns. This is because the bookstore ecosystem allows booksellers to return a certain quantity of its orders unsold to its distributor for full credit – a system designed by the publishing trade to encourage booksellers to take a punt on new titles rather than playing it safe with old favourites more likely to sell. There is an argument that agreeing to returns (which means you pay for the returned book and the cost of shipping, but in most cases you don’t actually get the physical book back yourself – they’re generally pulped) will increase the chance of making a sale, but it also means you carry all the risk. Supposing a great piece of publicity encourages hundreds of bookstores to order thousands of your books – and they then don’t sell. Although rare, such incidents have caused small publishing houses to go bankrupt. Only offer returns if you are comfortable with the risk.
Another difference is that whereas it is free to upload a book to KDP Print’s dashboard, with IngramSpark, you must pay a set-up fee (currently £$49 per book), and each time you upload a revised cover or content a revision fee (currently $25 per revision). This is to protect the integrity of its catalog and to guard against abuse. The good news is that ALLi’s Author and Authorpreneur members are entitled to five fee waivers per calendar month, accessed via a members-only code. (A small number of other organisations also have a free code available to members only.)
Some authors feel that IngramSpark’s dashboard is less user-friendly than KDP Print’s but that its customer service desk is more responsive and personal. YMMV.
“When you publish a paperback with IngramSpark, it goes into their master distribution network that reaches out beyond the internet to bricks-and-mortar bookstores and libraries. These are unlikely to order stock from Amazon, because:
- most bookstores see them as competition
- terms are not as favourable
- it creates too much paperwork to be worthwhile (they prefer to consolidate all their orders with one or two regular distributors or wholesalers)
Other reasons to use IS's services include:
A more flexible range of print choices including better quality paper, the option to produce hardbacks and large print and a personalization service.“
Just as with KDP Print, when you publish your print books via IngramSpark you pay nothing up front, with your royalty automatically calculated by IS on a similar system of a percentage of the list price less production costs – but, unlike for KDP Print, you also must specify a trade discount, set by you with maximum and minimum range specified by IS, that you are prepared to offer to those other parties involved in return for stocking your book in their store. The percentage discount varies between territories and will be shared between the distributor (and wholesaler if there is one) and the bookseller.
Accommodating the trade discount can substantially reduce your slice of the royalty, which IngramSpark correctly calls “publisher compensation” (royalties, strictly speaking, are payments for rights licensing), compared to what you might earn for the same book when printed by KDPP and sold to an Amazon customer.
Why is a trade discount required on IngramSpark but not KDP Print? When you sell your print books through a bookstore, not only do you have to cover the print production costs, you’re introducing a third party distributor, possibly a wholesaler too, as well as the additional middleman between you and the reader, ie the bookseller. Clearly distributors and wholesalers need to be compensated in their efforts in providing a sales and distribution service to the bookstores.
In addition, Ingram charges 20% discount as its distribution fee.
To the author, the trade discounts are part of their cost of sale, just as if you were selling books in your own store you’d have additional costs to cover.
So how do you decide which discount to offer? Most booksellers will expect 35–45% from your recommended retail price, and even more for books for which they promise to provide extra sales support, for example 60% for books sold in high-volume outlets such as airport bookstores. However most indie published books sold in physical bookstores are “special orders” ie ordered at a customer’s request rather than stocked on the shelves on spec, and the bookseller is likely to be happy to accept a lower discount for the sake of a guaranteed sale.
If you are planning to market heavily to bookstores and drive demand for your books, it makes sense to offer the maximum discount for each territory on the IngramSpark dashboard and allow returns. (The maximum and minimum thresholds vary by territory.)
If, however, actively marketing to bookstores is not part of your strategy, and your focus is on online sales, then it makes more sense offer the lowest discount and not allowing returns. Readers who prefer to buy via physical books may still place “special orders”, but at no real risk to you.
If your strategy varies by territory, eg you are focusing on bookstores only in the US, you can specify different discounts and returns policy by territory.
Note that “returns” does not necessarily mean the unsold books are returned to you. In the US, there is a tickbox to choose between “yes – deliver” or “yes – destroy”; in other territories the only option is “yes – destroy”. “Destroy” doesn’t mean the whole book is destroyed: to reduce shipping costs, a distributor will sometimes ask for proof that the bookstore has made a book unsaleable, eg by returning the cover only, to save carriage costs.
Why Not ONLY IngramSpark?
So if IngramSpark distributes to Amazon, why not save yourself some trouble and publish only via IngramSpark? There are two reasons ALLi recommends you use both together.
Firstly, it’s a simple case of profitability. Although the print costs are pretty similar across the two services, if you sell an IngramSpark book to a reader via the Amazon storefront, IngramSpark’s compulsory trade discount will be deducted, which reduces your royalty.
Secondly, and more nebulous, is consistency of supply. While for fast-selling books printed by IngramSpark, it might keep a steady stock in its warehouse for non-stop fulfilment, for books that are ordered less often, it sometimes displays an “out-of-stock”, warning the purchaser that the book might not be delivered for weeks or even months. In reality, the delay is likely to be only as long as it takes Amazon to send the order across to IngramSpark for fulfillment, but this pessimistic estimate may deter customers from ordering.
Amazon’s priority here is to provide the best customer experience—and the reader, not the indie author, is their customer. They’d rather the customer waiting for an out-of-stock order is pleasantly surprised when the book turns up “early” than risk upsetting them with an unsatisfactory delay. However, if you also upload your print book to KDP, Amazon will always list it as in stock, even though it may still source it from IngramSpark.
Adam Croft and John Doppler of ALLi Watchdog, discuss the issues around the Amazon delays in this candid interview.
Top Tips on Using KDP Print and IngramSpark together
Both platforms require you to sign their publishing agreements before proceeding. Unlike contracts with trade publishers, these are non-negotiable. If you want to publish with them, you need to sign. When IS updated its agreement in 2020, there was some concern that it seemed to require indie authors to pledge to publish ebooks as well as print with them, which deterred some from signing. However, it does not oblige you publish ebooks with them (in any case, ALLi does not recommend using IS for ebooks as there are other more appropriate and lucrative platforms, and also because it advocates going direct to ebook distributors such as KDP, Apple and Kobo wherever possible.)
Both platforms require the same elements to set up a book (interior file, cover file, metadata) but the dashboards are configured in different ways. Take your time to familiarise yourself with them all, and take comfort from the fact that it gets easier with each new book you set up.
Both KDPP and IS have copious online resources for frequently asked questions, so if you are stuck at any point search their help materials before resorting to their helpline or email service. There are also many clickable links on different items as you work through the dashboard to help you understand the terminology and to complete each field appropriately.
As stated earlier, you must use the same ISBN on both platforms, and wherever else you might choose to print the book, eg if you commission a small private print run, to avoid confusing the algorithms. If you are new to ISBNs, download ALLi’s Ultimate Guide to ISBNs to understand how they work. Members can access their complimentary copy by logging into allianceindependentauthors.org and navigating to PUBLICATIONS > SHORT GUIDES.
Which Comes First?
It doesn’t actually matter whether you publish first with IS or KDPP. Provided you use the same ISBN for both, your submission, provided it meets all their publication quality criteria, should be accepted on both platforms without a hitch.
However, there are occasionally hiccups where one of the platforms will reject an ISBN as “already in use”. The most common cause of this is when an author ticks the Extended Distribution box on KDPP, which will disqualify it from being published by IS. Also common is inadvertently uploading the wrong ISBN, typically the one you’ve already used to set up the ebook edition. So if this happens to you, check that you have done neither of those things before proceeding.
Publishing print books on both platforms includes your book going through a review process, once you’ve checked it yourself. The review process tends to go through much faster on KDPP, but on both platforms it is slower than the approvals process for publishing ebooks. This often takes new authors by surprise, so allow plenty of time between uploading and your publication date, so that you’re not caught out.
Both platforms ask you to input your publication date, but only IS currently allows you to offer pre-orders for print. To take advantage of this, you need to plan well ahead, as it can take a few weeks for new book information to filter through from the IS database to distributors’ and retailers’ catalogs. This is because IS broadcasts its new data once a week, and it’s down to those further down the chain how often they update their databases. Neither you nor IS have any control over those data sets.
On the plus side, if you are able to upload a pre-order in plenty of time to IS, it will appear on the Amazon retail store. This is the only way currently to put a pre-order for a print book on Amazon.
Both IS and KDPP allow you to proof your book online and to upload changes until you get it looking exactly how you like it. IS won’t charge you for uploading new versions until you’ve hit the publish button.
Both platforms also encourage the author to order a physical proof copy before publishing. Allow a couple of weeks for printing and shipping to be on the safe side, and consider that if your proof requires some amendments, you’ll need to loop round the system again, adding more weeks to your timescale. It’s up to you to decide whether an online proof is enough.
Proof copies from KDPP – unlike author copies – will have “proof – not for sale” printed across the cover, so will not be suitable, obviously for adding into your stock for hand-selling.
Both companies will also allow you to buy author copies for your own distribution at cost price plus shipping and handling. Delivery times will depend on how busy their presses are, so allow lots of time if ordering copies for your launch or other event. With IS you may choose to pay extra for expedited printing and speedier shipping, which of course will put your unit cost up. As with proof copies it is worth building in as much time as possible to your publishing schedule so that you are not caught out, especially at the busiest times of year. The presses tend to run 24/7, and often run at full capacity, so if you want priority service, don’t be surprised if you have to pay for it.
Parting Advice: Bookstore Distribution
When you sell your print books through a bookstore, not only do you have to cover the print production costs, you’re introducing an additional middleman – an intermediary with more substantial overheads than an online store: rent, staff, taxes, heating, lighting, advertising, etc.
Clearly these overheads have to be paid for, and that’s why bookstores expect to receive a substantial discount on books they buy to sell on. Most booksellers will expect 35–45% from your recommended retail price, and even more for books for which they promise to provide extra sales support, for example 60% for books sold in high-volume outlets such as airport bookstores.
To many new indie authors, the need to factor in this extra level of costs comes as a shock, although it makes perfect sense.
Although IS will distribute to bookstores it’s difficult for indies to offer competitive terms and price, because of the higher unit cost of print-on-demand. Although bookstores might place one-off orders for customers, indies usually find that publicizing to bookshops is highly time-consuming for less financial reward, compared to selling direct to readers online.
Remember, the discount you set on your IngramSpark dashboard is not the same amount that the bookstore will receive. That discount has to be divided between all the parties in the distribution chain, including 20% to IngramSpark for its distribution service, and to any other distributor and wholesalers who are instrumental in getting your book from the printing press to the retail outlet, as mentioned in the previous section.
A Note re ISBNS
If you choose, as ALLi recommends, to publish your print book via both IngramSpark and KDP Print, you will need to buy your own ISBN. This is because you must use the same ISBN on both platforms, otherwise you will end up with two separate product pages on the Amazon storefront, one for the IS edition and the other for the KDPP edition, as Amazon builds sales pages by ISBN. Remember, an ISBN is a unique product identifier, and if the product is the same, it doesn’t matter where you publish it, you should use the same ISBN, eg if you also do a private print run for hand selling with another printer. This is worth doing in any case, because whoever owns a book’s ISBN is deemed its publisher, and it looks more professional if you or your chosen imprint are the publisher rather than KDPP or IS. Besides, in the bigger picture of your publishing business, the cost of an ISBN is only a very small part.
Summary on ISBNs
“Use your own ISBN on both platforms – if you start off by using a free KDPP one, you won't be able to use it on IS, because it belongs to Amazon, not to you. (For more advice about buying and using ISBNs, click here.)
Use the same ISBN for the same book on both platforms, otherwise it confuses the system and throws up error messages. It doesn't matter that the platforms are different – what matters is that you are creating the same product. Equally, if you were having a short run printed at a local printers, you'd use the same ISBN there too.
Choose carefully where to order your author copies, for the sake of time and cost. You can order one or more proof copies from either service before you publish (but only the KDPP proof will be marked clearly as such on the cover so won't be resaleable). Speed and cost of delivery depends on where you live, as author copies may or may not be printed in your home country.”
IngramSpark Offer for ALLi Members
One extra point worth noting is that as mentioned above, IS, unlike KDPP, does charge a set-up fee up-front plus a fee for keeping the file in its database. In addition, if you discover a typo in your proof and want to upload a corrected file, you'll be charged a revision fee.
ALLi’s Author and Authorpreneur members are entitled to five fee waivers per calendar month, accessed via a members-only code. (A small number of other organizations also have a free code available to members only.)
To find out more about using short run services, ALLi members Jane Davis and Adam Croft have described their experience for ALLi.
Your Book in Bookstores: ALLi’s Guide to Print Distribution for Authors – by Debbie Young
Order the ebook here. ALLi members can download for free by logging into the membership site and navigating to PUBLICATIONS > GUIDEBOOKS
Order the print edition here: insert universal book link for print editions. Or order from your local bookstore quoting ISBN 978-1913588656
Using ISBNs: A Short Guide for Indie Authors