ALLi Watchdog Giacomo Giammatteo provides an invaluable detailed analysis of the two biggest print service providers for indie authors, Ingram (via its two different subsets, Lightning Source – for publishers of many books – and Ingram Spark – for individual self-publishers) and Amazon's CreateSpace.
***UPDATE: Amazon's CreateSpace service has now been superseded by its new KDPPrint service. ALLi now recommends using KDPPrint and IngramSpark together to publish your paperback books. For a guide on migrating your CreateSpace books to KDPPrint, read this post by our Watchdog John Doppler.***
I have done a few posts on printing for the self-published author, but the more I play around with social media, the more confusion I see among indie authors. Most of the confusion stems from misinformation or old information regarding the two biggest players in the indie author printing game—CreateSpace and Ingram (either Spark or Lightning Source).
First, to clear up a simple thing that always bothers me—it’s Lightning Source, not Lightening Source. There is no ‘e’ in the name, just like there is no ‘e’ in the lightning that you see during a storm.
And to clear up a few other misconceptions—there are lots of options available to indie authors. In Choosing a Self-Publishing Service, Mick Rooney and I covered quite a few possibilities, and Mick’s site The Independent Publishing Magazine has plenty of articles on those options. But for this post, we’re only going to deal with two options—CreateSpace and Ingram Spark.
What To Compare
Determining what to compare is a major consideration for a blog post. If we go into detail on all the choices, it would require a book to do a proper justification. We don’t have time for a book, so I picked what seems to be the biggest concerns for most indie authors.
|Cost Per Copy B&W||4.45||4.86|
|Cost of Setup||$0||$49**|
|Shipping||Exc. US/Int’l okay||Very Good US/Int’l excellent|
For the above chart I used a sample of a 300-page B&W book. Paperback, 6×9, perfect bound, gloss finish, and cream paper.
Cost Per Copy
This is straightforward. CS costs 41c less than Spark.
Cost of Setup
This isn’t quite as straightforward. CS costs nothing. Spark costs $49…however, if you are a member of ALLi, that fee is only $37.50, and they also waive the $12 yearly fee.
This is one of the big factors in making a decision, and it is the one that confuses most indie authors. I’ll try to break it down to simple terms.
- CreateSpace takes 40% when you sell on Amazon.
- CreateSpace takes 60% for expanded distribution (other online stores, libraries and bookstores).
- With Spark you can choose whether to allow 40% or 55% for distribution. (LS allows lower discounts, and I have reason to believe Spark will in the future.)
This is all very important.
Most of the authors I speak with know very little about discounts and how they work. They simply sign up with CS and go about business. But remember, you’re not just an author; you are now in business for yourself, and you should pay attention to the details, especially discounts.
Let’s Take a Little Page Time to Review the Basics
Your print book is sold either online or through bookstores. If you are selling online (Amazon, B&N, Books–A–Million, etc.) and you have no intentions of trying to be “stocked” in the brick-and-mortar stores, the following examples are for you. CS offers only one discount for “expanded distribution” (which means everything outside of Amazon, such as B&N, libraries, BAM, etc.). The discount is 60%.
Ingram offers 40% or 55% discount options (LS offers 30% and even 20%). Please note—neither one of these options will result in brick-and-mortar stores stocking your book. They will order it if a customer requests the title, but they won’t stock it. Here is the breakdown based on using Ingram’s 40% discount and CS’s 60% discount.
Let me show you what this looks like in terms of earnings for you based on each company’s price of a 300-page b&w book with their respective discounts at the different retailers. The table shows the CS discount to Amazon and expanded distribution. Ingram shows the options for 40%.
|Based on retail price of $15||Profit if sold on Amazon||Profit if sold anywhere else|
Spark shows only the 40% option for this chart so that we’re comparing apples to apples. If you don’t plan on active distribution into brick-and-mortar stores, you can keep your discount at Spark to 40%. That means with every book sold, no matter where it’s sold, you’ll earn $4.14. With CS you’ll only earn $4.55 on Amazon. All books sold at B&N (Barnes & Noble), or BAM (Books-A-Million), or any stores that happen to order from you, will earn you $1.55. That’s a big difference.
And if you’re thinking…but I want to get into bookstores, so I need the 55% discount…That’s fine. But then you’re not comparing apples to apples, because you’re not getting stocked in stores with CS, not without the stores getting a true industry-standard discount and the books being returnable, neither one of which CS does. If you have an account at LS, you can opt for the 30% discount and earn an additional $1.50 per book.
Keep in mind that when we talk about discounts, this is the amount you are discounting the book off the retail price. This is not the amount of discount the bookstore receives. As an example—a 55% discount with Ingram means the bookstores receive a 40% discount off the retail price. So if your book retails at $15, the bookstores would buy it from Ingram at $9. Ingram keeps 15% ($2.25). You would be credited $6.75 ($15–55%) for each sale, from which you would have to deduct the cost of printing the book (4.86), which leaves you a profit of $1.89.
I tell you this so you don’t misinform the bookstores and tell them to expect a 55% discount. They’ll understand, but it will make you look naive. The easiest way to inform them is to say that you offer the “industry-standard discount,” and that the books are available from Ingram and are returnable. Read more about returns in the post on my site.
Will Bookstores Stock My CreateSpace Books?
There is a long-standing myth about bookstores not stocking books from CS because they are owned by Amazon. I’m sure a few of the bookstores take a firm stand, but the real reason that most bookstores won’t stock CS books is purely economics.
CS charges the author 60% for expanded distribution, but the bookstores only receive about 25%. The breakdown looks like this.
On a $15 sale, CS takes $9 and you get $6. From that $6, you need to deduct the cost of the book, which is $4.45, leaving you a profit of $1.55. From this example, you would think that the bookstores get $9, but they don’t. They don’t even get close to that, and here’s the reason why.
CS uses Ingram for distribution. Ingram is the world’s biggest distributor of books, so for all channels except Amazon, CS books are distributed through Ingram.
Ingram gets approximately 15% of the cut, and CS takes about 15–20%. That leaves 25% for the bookstores. That’s not enough to make them even consider stocking the book, but they will order it if a customer asks.
The bottom line is that with all Ingram books, you can earn $4.14 per book, no matter where it’s sold. If you are with LS and opt for the 30% discount, you’ll earn $5.64 per book. The math is simple. Even if you pay the full amount for setup ($49 + $12), you would only need to sell 23 books through Ingram to break even. If you opt for the 30% discount (LS for now) you only need to sell 14 books to break even.
If you don’t plan on aggressively pursuing brick-and-mortar stores, don’t choose the 55% discount, and don’t make the books returnable.
CS offers several options for ISBNs. The free and $10 options are only good if you only want to distribute solely through CS; they can’t be used anywhere else. The $99 option can be used elsewhere, but not if you opt into expanded distribution. Here’s why.
As we already discussed, CS uses Ingram for distribution. So if you purchase the CS ISBN and opt for expanded distribution, when you go to publish with Ingram and use the same ISBN, it will show as already being in their system, as CS has it assigned.
There are two ways around this.
- Buy the CS ISBN for $99 but do not opt into the expanded distribution.
- Buy an ISBN from Ingram Spark (less money) and use that for both Ingram and CS.
Of course the other option is to use your own ISBN, which is my preferred choice.
CS has an edge on shipping in the US. It is fast, easy, and inexpensive. Ingram has an edge on shipping internationally. It is fast, easy, and far less expensive. The reason is simple. Ingram has printing facilities in the UK, AU, and partner agreements in Germany and other countries. I can ship a book to a customer in Australia almost as inexpensively as I can other parts of the US using Ingram. Ingram does charge a $1.50 surcharge per order for shipping though, and CS doesn’t.
A Good Option
What I do is use both CS and Ingram. I use CS for the advantages it offers:
- Fast and good distribution to Amazon.
- Fast and affordable shipping to US customers.
- Shipping “review copies” to bloggers and/or for giveaways like on Goodreads.
And I use Ingram for the advantages it offers:
- Distribution to all stores except Amazon.
- Fast and affordable shipping to international customers.
- Shipping high-quality copies as samples to bookstores, for autographed copies, etc.
Each person has to look at their own situation and determine what strategy suits them best. For some, it might be CS only. For others Ingram only. For most, though, I think you’ll find the combination of using both CS and Ingram offers the best solutions for all of your needs.
If you want a more detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of each, check out the two-part post I did on my site.
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The prices shown in the Infographic reflect the printing costs at the time I produced this chart. They have since changed by a few pennies. The prices in the main post are the correct ones.