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What’s The Best Print On Demand Service For Self-published Paperbacks?

What’s the Best Print on Demand Service for Self-published Paperbacks?

Headshot of Jay Artale

ALLi's Communications Manager Jay Artale

In a new occasional series here on the blog, ALLi's Communications Manager Jay Artale dips into our vast Author Advice Centre archive of information and distills the answers to some of the most frequent questions among self-publishing authors.

Before you dive headlong into creating a paperback version of your ebook you should ask yourself why you want a print version in the first place, which will give you all the information you need to choose the right print partner to achieve your self-publishing goals.

Many of the decisions regarding printing your books will depend on your goals. If you only intend to sell online, you’ll have fewer decisions to make. If you intend to try and get into brick-and-mortar stores, you have a lot more to consider. Quality and cost are considerations, but ease of use also comes into play when making your POD decisions.

Determine your POD goals

Choosing a print partner is not as much about money as it might seem at first. It’s a decision that can only be answered after you determine exactly what you want to do with your printed book. Here are five questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you going to be primarily an ebook author with a few printed books for promotional purposes?
  2. Are you going to restrict print sales to online, through the pbook retailer and your own website?
  3. Are you going to limit yourself to a few local or handpicked bookstores?
  4. Are you going to go all out and try to get a distributor and do a print campaign with the associated trade-style publicity in newspapers and other media that is necessary to sell books in this way. If yes, why?
  5. Have you realistically budgeted time and money costs?

Ninety-nine percent of indie authors will find it a super-stretch challenge to sell widely through bookstores, even as they set out to conquer the world. Be realistic and you’ll save yourself money.

Print on Demand Frequently Asked Questions

We see the same Print on Demand questions popping up again and again, so we thought we'd address the most frequently asked POD questions here:

What's the best service to choose to produce my paperback?

You don't have to use a third party service to make your ebook available in paperback, you can do it yourself. In our How to Choose a Self-Publishing Service we provide you with a review of the following print distributors, and an in-depth comparison review between CreateSpace and Ingram Spark:

  • CreateSpace
  • Hillcrest
  • Ingram Spark
  • Lightning Source
  • Matador
  • Lulu
  • Thomson-Shore

Jim Giammatteo has reviewed each of these services, so that you don't have to. His POD comparison was based on a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback with 300 pages, B&W interior, cream paper, perfect bound, and gloss finish on the cover.

Print Partner Publishing Evaluation Grid from How to Choose a Self Publishing Service

 Should I use CreateSpace or Ingram Spark for Paperbacks?

The difficult part, being an author, is in being able to spend the time to validate a company and see if what they’re selling is, in fact, a good deal. Sometimes even a good company offers services that aren’t the best.

Any time that you are evaluating a vendor or a service company, look at what their intent is. In the case of CreateSpace, they offer a lot for free or at a very reasonable price, but is it so they can “upsell” you other services?

On the other hand, Ingram has no hidden agendas. They offer print services. They don’t charge a commission; they don’t offer cover design, or marketing, or layout, or ISBNs, or anything else. Ingram makes money when you sell a lot of books. That is their motivation – to sign up customers who will sell a lot of books. In other words, they want the same thing as indie authors.

Long ago I stopped looking at any company or service as good or bad. I look at them with one thing in mind – how can they help me achieve my goals?

The choice between CreateSpace and Ingram Spark isn't an either/or decision. Here at the Alliance of Independent Authors we recommend using CreateSpace and Ingram Spark for their strengths.

Use CreateSpace for:

  • Amazon-only distribution, and don't sign up for their expanded distribution.
  • US shipping to readers who order from your website, or for giveaways, or to send review books to bloggers, etc. They really shine in this department. It’s inexpensive and it’s quick.
Ingram Spark Offer to ALLi Members

Don't forget that ALLi members receive publishing discounts.

Use Ingram Spark for:

  • For all other distribution outside of the Amazon universe. That means every book that goes to B&N, or BAM, or Charter Books, or to libraries, or if they get ordered by bookstores, these books come from Ingram.
  • Non-US shipping to readers who order from your website, or for giveaways, or to send review books to bloggers, etc.
  • Independent bookstores in an effort to get in with them – use Ingram Spark because the quality is better and some bookstores may be averse to seeing a book come from Amazon's CreateSpace.
  • An initial order for autographed books. After all, the people who ask for autographed books are most likely your best customers. Give them your best material.

Why does CreateSpace keep saying my books are out of stock when they're available all the time from Ingram Spark?

If you only distribute your book via Ingram Spark you may run into the out of stock scenario on Amazon. This is a little bit ridiculous because CreateSpace uses Ingram to print a lot of its own POD books. But rather than focus on the “why's” of this scenario, let's look at the how to overcome it. Your best option is to publish your POD books on CreateSpace and Ingram Spark, and then your POD book will never be out of stock.

Do I need my own ISBNs?

CreateSpace offers several options for ISBNs. The free and $10 options are only good if you only want to distribute solely through CreateSpace; 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 mentioned, CreateSpace uses Ingram for distribution. So if you purchase the CreateSpace 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 CreateSpace has it assigned.

There are a couple of ways around this:

  • Buy the CreateSpace 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.

But the method recommended by ALLi is to use your own ISBN, bought directly from the provider in your country. In every country, a single organisation is responsible for selling ISBNs directly to publishers (and you will be the publisher of record when buying your own ISBNs.) Bowker sells them in the US, and Nielsen sells them in the UK. In some countries, the provider offers ISBNs free; costs vary around the world.

This article was created using excerpts from How to Choose a Self-Publishing Service by Jim Giammatteo and Orna Ross (Don't forget that all ALLi Members may download free ebooks of our ALLi Guidebooks as one of many membership benefits.)

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This Post Has 48 Comments
  1. If you use CreateSpace for amazon and Ingram for distribution to bookstores, how do you prevent Ingram from ALSO distributing to Amazon? Won’t Amazon show your book twice?

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    1. Awesome coment thanks for the tip, I’m just getting my publishing website ( up and was looking into monetizing blog content. Synchronicities are incredible!

  3. I meant to say “exorbitant shipping costs up to 35 dollars if you want your books delivered within three weeks”. They try to lose you, customers, that you sell to outside Amazon Channels by exorbitant shipping costs, unrealistic delivery times and losing shipped books.Most books shipped to Isreal did not reach their destination.We currently have books that are supposedly in”quarantine” in New Zealand.When they don’t deliver books customers ask for a refund but you don’t get a refund from Amazon.

  4. I have published about 30 substantial books by Createspace and Ingram Spark. As my sales have grown I have experienced some things which I think others should know about.I manage a substantial online social network with about 1.2 million members and am able to get independent information through that network that most people publishing through CreateSpace do not have access to because I have a channel to directly contact my customers.We have reasonable belief based on many types of feedback that Amazon and Createspace do not correctly report sales. This is most evident through for sales through Amazon regional sites such as, and Amazon will not respond to any requests for precise information on sales volumes through regional channels.Each month dozens of false pages appear on Amazon selling my books. We do not receive royalties through these pages. They usually do not list the ISBN numbers and customers report the books have poor binding and print quality such as smudged printing and binding that falls apart when the book is delivered.We request monthly that Amazon close these pages. Their repose leads us to suspect strongly that Amazon have some connection to these vendors.They are slow to take action and permit the same vendors to repetedly set up the same pages again days after they were closed The editions that they sell are the same editions that are being sold on Amazon’s China site. In addition to these issues if you select Amazon’s extended distribution for non Amazon Online bookshops and/or universities you will find that before you sell a single copy there will be a dozen vendors on Amazon claiming to have used copies and underselling you significantly on price.Though our web site we sell perhaps five times the volume of books that all Amazon sites claim to sell in total.Amazon have responded by extending delivery up to 9 weeks for sales from our sites and placing exorbitant shipping costs up to 35 dollars if you want your books delivered within a week.The couriers also lose a lot of books. They lose shipments to universities and other larger orders.Our website has had thousands of attacks coming from Amazon servers. They have bots that go through the site putting every book into the cart to check prices but purchasing nothing several times a day.I believe that these prices go to the alternative vendors on Amazon who adjust their prices to be always lower than the price you are offering.There are many other issues but these are some of them. I think a large class action is coming as more authors are aware of what is happening at CreateSpace and Amazon.

    1. I have questioned the sales of vendors for a long time. Vendors are making money. I feel there is no accurate accounting of books sales. Authors are not seeing all the money from book sales.

    2. I remember my 1st book I had about 20 say they just bought my book and wanted me to sign it. They had the book but only 2 sells showed up within that 2 day time frame. I tried it our myself. I bought 6 copies of my book and only 1 showed up as sold. I mostly sell them myself and do okay as I can trust myself for accuracy but not amazon and createspace.

  5. Hi! This is a really helpful starting point. I knew what I wanted to use print on demand for (small runs for giveaways, local stores, etc), I just wanted to know more about providers. This post gave me all I needed to kick off. Massive time saver! Now to get into the detail…

  6. […] Title: “What’s the Best Print on Demand Service for Self-published Paperbacks?” Description: Written by Jay Artale, Self Publishing Advice Center, Alliance of Independent Authors, June 21, 2016  […]

  7. Do you think it is better to buy isbn from there source country , and if you have the capability to prepare the book in two formats ePub,PDF and make proof reading , just to use there distribution service to get good quality of e-digital copy and get reasonable profit ?

  8. […] Title: “What’s the Best Print on Demand Service for Self-published Paperbacks?” Description: Written by Jay Artale, Self Publishing Advice Center, Alliance of Independent Authors, June 21, 2016  […]

  9. Explain the discounts please. Are you shipping bulk orders from Canadian localion?
    Are these prices USD or CND?
    Do you accept fianl review PDF with colour front and back from another publisher?
    What are the upcharges for hardcover?

  10. There were aspects of this article that were a bit unclear to me, so let me say what I’m looking for.

    First and foremost, a POD company with a good reputation that isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.

    Personally, barring a damaged product, I don’t care about returns. Neither do I care about the cost of making changes. A book should be edited, proofed, and print-ready before you submit it, so returns and changes are a non-point issue.

    I want to have my book available anywhere; Amazon, Barnes and Noble, local bookstores, etc., and even on a personal website dedicated to the book if I so choose. While I plan to direct people to Amazon, and therefore expect most of the sales to be through Amazon, I want the book to at least be available through another source if someone should happen to search for it, or ask for it at their local bookstore.

    I want one ISBN (per book type), one copyright registration, and one EAN barcode (per book type).

    Further, I want complete control of the cover, and the cover copy design. I had an image designed for a wrap-around cover, and I intend to use it. I don’t want a solid-color spine.

    I also want a specific page size. The volume of text in the book is minimal enough that it will be a small book. If the pages are expanded to 6″ × 9″, it will be smaller still. I prefer the 5″ × 7.5″ dimensions I’ve used, which are consistent with a standard trade paperback.

    I don’t want to pay an annual fee. I’d prefer it to be a once-and-done scenario. Upload it, set the wheels in motion, and otherwise forget about it.

    I would also prefer to pay per print, and not a royalty per sale.

    All that said, what company is the recommendation?

    1. Hey Alex did you get a reply to your question from anywhere? I’m looking for the same kind of service you outlined but don’t have an answer yet.

  11. FYI, i dont understand half of what people are saying here at all. I am a newbie in the book world. i have tried Bookpatch, Createspace, Lulu and looked at Ingram which turned me off. Bookpatch is ok but they charge a handling fee….each sale and i don’t like that. thats for the consumer. i tried Lulu in which i had to set the price of my book higher just to make a buck. so i left them….createspace has been fine and better priced than the other two. i havent found many that are easy to use and are user friendly without all the garb to read Ingrams. i dont know what they are asking of me so i decided not to go there.
    and some of the companies listed in this article….are the same people and/or are in the UK. I will just keep searching……

  12. ugh….i am finding Inram charges for you to make any changes to your LIVE book. $25 an that correct?

  13. Writing books for personal use using has been great. Until I saw a picture of a flipback book/Dwarsligger.
    But I have yet to find a self publishing website with the template for personal use.
    Any help would be appreciated.

  14. Please see my responses to your questions for an idea of where I’m coming from. Then I’d be very grateful for an answer to my question:

    1. Are you going to be primarily an ebook author with a few printed books for promotional purposes? NO

    2. Are you going to restrict print sales to online, through the pbook retailer and your own website? NO

    3. Are you going to limit yourself to a few local or handpicked bookstores? NO

    4. Are you going to go all out and try to get a distributor and do a print campaign with the associated trade-style publicity in newspapers and other media that is necessary to sell books in this way. If yes, why? YES, BECAUSE MY BOOK IS OF GENERAL RELEVANCE TO THE POPULATION OF THE UK AS A WHOLE. IT’S NOT AN ESOTERIC HOW TO BUT A GENERAL POLITICAL/SOCIAL SATIRE TYPE THING.

    5. Have you realistically budgeted time and money costs? TO A REASONABLE EXTENT, IT’S WHATEVER IT TAKES – INCLUDING HIRING A PR FIRM/PUBLICIST

    Ninety-nine percent of indie authors will find it a super-stretch challenge to sell widely through bookstores, even as they set out to conquer the world. Be realistic and you’ll save yourself money. WHY DO YOU SAY THIS? MY GOAL IS TO SELL AS MANY BOOKS AS POSSIBLE, AND SURELY OLD-FASHIONED REAL WORLD BOOKSHOPS ARE STILL A VERY IMPORTANT CHANNEL? IF THE PR WORKS, AT LEAST SOME PEOPLE ARE LIKELY TO GO THERE AND ASK FOR THE BOOK?

  15. I am an author who just completed and submitted my fourth book through Draft to Digital who within the last two weeks has quit working With Amazon’s Create Space to produce and distribute a print version. (They only have the E-pub now.) I am therefore looking for a print on demand/distribution service to fulfill the print version of the book. I am finding it difficult to accept the terms of many companies as Create Space that state in their contractual terms they have the sole right to change the terms at will, which completely counters the whole idea of having an agreement, leaving one open to no protection what-so-ever. I would like to know how to deal with this matter and how others contend with this dilemma. Suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    1. ok i am not sure e-pub is but i been using them now for 6 months and i am fine with them. i have a bl and wh paperback i sell. i love their digital proofer.

      i think all companies change the terms anytime they want. so i am not sure what you are meaning. whats the issue?

  16. Nothing beats CustomCat in terms of margins – definitely checked out TeeLaunch, ViralStyle, Gearbubble, Redbubble, TeeSpring… is where you sign up.

    CustomCat has some of the best margins I have ever seen, and the quality of the material is tremendous. It integrates with Shopify very well too – so super easy to get my designers to pop up 50 designs there for me to work with.

    They give you a free 30-day trial when you sign up as well.

  17. What I find lately is that it’s difficult to even log in to these sites to obtain pricing &c, always something about invalid user name and password though I’ve been using same for years and first time with many of these POD companies – I may be an invalid but I’m not invalid. One would imagine that communicating would be made easy for customers, BUT NO-O-O. Create Space is unresponsive, others have instituted policies demanding changes to text in various way, but I reply this is my book and my money, where’s the beef? Like Burger King I want it my way, else I’d wade through the labyrinth of historic publishers. This appears to me to be the demise of POD unless some new companies shall arise like the phoenix from the ashes.

  18. Does CreateSpace or any POD company offer eBook services as well? So that an author can get their work formatted for eBook release at the same time?

      1. What service should I use if I want my ebook enrolled temporarily in KU, but at the same time I want paperbacks? I know KU only says ebooks have to be exclusive

  19. Gamatteo has errors in his research. Lulu costs nothing to publish and distribute to Ingram. They also take returns. Yes, CS is cheapest, but not if you are trying to get your book into wholesalers. Their model really works best within Amazon itself. Flawed research gives you flawed conclusions.

    1. I have used Lulu for years with success, but they recently did a website upgrade (during lockdown) which has been an absolute nightmare and they used the opportunity to hike their production costs way up. They no longer allow one to set a discount and the books I have been selling there for more than a year now cost an exorbitant amount to print (even when I set an earning of $1.50 per sale) and my sales have gone right down to practically zero as a result. Plus their wizard keeps malfunctioning. When I say its a nightmare, I mean one with screaming dervishes!! I want to move my books but don’t want to use big brother Amazon. The books contain some artwork so I nee a good quality printing service and accurate print color.

      1. I concur wholeheartedly. I’ve spent 1000s of hours writing and designing my books for Lulu, and now their whole system is an absolute nightmare. I found a bunch of errors in the pricing, which I corrected, and now they are demanding that I buy proofs of all my books and when I complained, they ignored me. Now my books are no longer available through retail channels. I’ve been waiting 3 weeks for them to respond! I don’t know where to go. I can’t afford to pay for my books to be published. My books are not second rate either,

  20. Thanks for the Publishing-on-demand details and the time you invested into the research, especially the comparison chart and the clarification that goes beyond price comparisons for book publishing. I appreciate it!

  21. Are you saying there’s a problem with US shipping from Spark? I’ve used the ‘full fat’ version, Lightning Source, in the past and it’s been perfectly fine: the books get printed in their US facility and sent from there. I think they also have a base in Australia.

  22. Thanks for your informative lesson on printing our own paper backed books. In my particular situation, I’ll be donating 50 copies of my book to the museum gift shop where I volunteer my time one full day a week. All of the profits from the sale of my book will go back to the museum. So, since I’ll be providing 25 copies to family and friends, purchasing 75-100 copies is an easy decision even though I’ll also be selling the e-book on Amazon.

    Many thanks,

    Glenn Bowman

  23. Always distressing to see a writing blog full of errors and ambiguities.
    “You’re” when you meant “your”
    Numbers in table that sometimes are dollars, sometimes percentages, but not clear which.
    Stating Ingram doesn’t offer ISBNs but then stating you can buy your ISBN from Ingram
    Stating autographed copies are better from Ingram but giving no clue why

    I realize this is a short blog designed to sell your own book, but Indie authors deserve a blog that doesn’t look like it was slapped together at the last minute

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