Print on Demand: Createspace, KDP Print, IngramSpark, and More!
You finished writing...Not comes the hard part...
You put in the months of hard work and wrote something great. Well done and congratulations, and now you want to show it off to the world.
But the world can be a scary place for new authors looking to make a name for themselves. There are hundreds of companies out there looking to charge you money for various services, many of which you can perform on your own.
For example, you can post your book on KDP and sell it on Amazon for free. It will only take you a short amount of time to make an account and do this, and when you're done you'll be able to say you are a published author. But, from personal experience and talking to a lot of people over my career, I can say that there is nothing quite like holding a paperback copy in your hands.
Sure, people are reading your words in eBook, but what you really want is that dead tree to hold onto and admire. Printing a paperback can be one of the most rewarding parts of the entire writing process.
I, personally, release all of my books in eBook, Paperback, Hardcopy, and audio formats.
What options are there?
When it comes to finding the right system for printing your books, you have some tough decisions to make: should you go with a vanity press and print out a bunch of copies, or a print on demand company that will only create copies as books are ordered? There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.
If you plan to sell and give away a lot of copies, then you're going to want to get those copies as cheaply as possible. You can save pennies on each copy by printing a run of books at all once, but then you run into the downside of having to store those copies and how to ship them when people order them.
Print on demand, on the other hand, has a very low cost of entry. In fact, it is possible to publish your book in paperback and have it up for sale on hundreds of websites entirely without spending a dime. The downside here is that, since the books aren't already created, when people order a copy it might take them a couple of days to actually make the copy before they ship it.
On top of these differences, each different company that offers a service like this has minor differences and variations to their process that impact their overall value.
This is an Amazon company. It falls under the umbrella of services they offer, and as such many people will recognize it for what it is if your book says it is distributed by Createspace.
This is a good thing because it has powerful branding, but it can be seen as a negative as well: many booksellers don't like Amazon on principle (they think it is destroying the industry) so there can be some negative reactions to using it. The other downside is that it is a staple process for self-published authors, so not only will you be flagged as an Amazon author, you'll be flagged as self-published.
Will this lose you sales? It depends. Many authors never really sell a lot of paperback copies, and even when they do they often sell them through Amazon. However, if you are more established and really want to move the needle in the paperback market, then this option has some severe limitations.
Some of its benefits are that you can order author copies cheap, offer discounts (though only through the CreateSpace store, which kind of sucks), and set up and distribution are incredibly simple.
Ingram is huge in the publishing world, a major global distributor. ImgramSpark is a branch of their LightningSource distribution platform and is keyed toward Indie Authors and Print on Demand services.
Authors used to be able to sign up for LightningSource instead if they really wanted, which was basically an identical service with some technical difference, but now everyone is funneled here.
Which isn't to say this lacks anything LightningSource has: Spark is a great platform and has evolved and grown throughout the years. It's fairly easy to set up a new book (though not as easy as CreateSpace). It's biggest advantage, however, is that when you sell books internationally and outside Amazon you still make the full value of your sale in royalties, which can be a huge difference if you sell a lot of copies.
This is a new program offered by Amazon where you can sell your books directly on the Amazon platform alongside and linked to the Kindle version. You can even import from CreateSpace onto this system.
It is pretty much identical to CreateSpace except it is somewhat limited in features. It is new, still in Beta, so they are working on the kinks and bugs.
For the most part it is interchangeable with CreateSpace and will eventually have some new perks and benefits.
This is a more full service platform, and will serve as a stand-in for a lot of different companies. Lulu is easy to use and works fairly well, and its better for authors who want to work with a company the entire way and centralize a lot of their process.
There are tons of ways to get books published, including a lot of companies similar to Lulu, and many of them offer some little perks or benefits. However, keep in mind that any of them that ask for a lot of money upfront usually aren't worth it, because with a little bit of extra work you can do almost anything for free, or at least a lot cheaper than they want.
Remember: these companies are there to make money off of YOU, not your readers.
Item 1: Setup/Adjust Pricing
With all of these platforms, you need to have your own well-formatted cover and interior file, though if you make the same book in both places the files can be nearly identical. Createspace is free to setup a new title, as well as modify the interior and cover files when you want to make changes. IngramSpark has a $49 fee to create a new title, as well as a $25 fee to update the files individually if you ever want to make changes (for formatting, edits, etc.).
There are discounts and coupons you can get (IngramSpark often offers between 10%-100% discounts for initial setup to bring new people in) but they aren't always available. And, even then, if you make eventual changes you will still need to pay for them.
KDP is probably the easiest platform to set-up, because since you probably already have your ebook on the platform, you can import most of the information over to use as a paperback. They also have a clever cover builder to generate a cover, though you'll probably want to build your own down the line.
Item 2: Quality
All companies print books on demand, which means they will source books when necessary and then ship them directly to customers. Ingram has suppliers all over the world, and CreateSpace has suppliers in the US and UK. You can't control the supplier in either case, which means they will choose who prints/ships based on proximity and cost.
However, anecdotally (and consistently) it seems that there is a much greater variance between CreateSpace distributors than IngramSpark. Many people have reported bad prints, missed pages, entirely wrong interior files, and other problems from CreateSpace. Some of their suppliers are worse than other, and some are downright terrible, which means there is a randomness to it that can be detrimental.
Side by side comparison of them at their best, Ingram takes this category with a slight edge, but they win hands down when you factor in that it could take several tries for CreateSpace to get you a good copy.
KDP uses the same service as CreateSpace, which isn't too bad, and they do seem to be doing a better job now of making the books better. I used Lulu once to print a batch of books since they were cheaper than Ingram, and I found out they were just that: cheaper. They looked and felt crummy, and you could see right through the pages if you held them up to light. I'll never use them again.
Item 3 - Distribution and Pricing
Both companies let you set your own price, and you can charge hundreds of dollars per book if you want. You shouldn't, but you can. With Ingram, you can even set regional pricing on your own, as well as percentage discounts for buyers, which gives you even more control.
CreateSpace has an option called expanded distribution which enables your book for distribution beyond their initial three platforms. What they don't tell you is that they use LightningSource as their distributor, so if you use that option, you'll be using Ingram anyway.
The other thing they don't tell you is that they use Ingram, but poorly and everyone loses out. To explain what I mean, let me give you a rundown of how bookstores purchase books:
Let's say your book costs 10 dollars. When a bookstore buys it, there are two major features they look at: their discount, and whether or not it is returnable. With Ingram, you set your discount between 30% and 55%, and it is completely up to you. With CreateSpace, you have no control over it.
Bookstore owners usually like books to be in the 45%-55% range discount (i.e. they pay $4.50 for your book and make $5.50 in revenue which could be good profit). They also want it to be returnable (for 90 days they can send it back if they feel like it won't sell).
Ingram gives you three options for returns: none, mail, destroy. With both options for actual returns, you will have to cover the cost of printing the book and returning the book, but if you choose destroy they will simply throw your book away and you won't have to pay shipping to get it back. If a book isn't returnable, bookstores are less likely to take a chance on it.
CreateSpace sets these options as non-returnable and 35% discount for stores (so they pay $6.50 per copy and make less profit). These aren't great terms, so bookstores are less likely to want to carry your book if you use Expanded Distribution.
They also take their cut directly out of this. If you set those terms on IngramSpark, you would get around $3.00 royalty per copy sold, but with CreateSpace you get about $0.95 cents.
At this point Ingram clearly seems like the winner in this category, but there are a few nuances to keep in mind: first off, having control over your global pricing sounds cool, but in practice you need to sell a LOT of books for it to pay off. If you're only selling a few here and there then it isn't nearly as valuable. Second, CreateSpace is definitely Amazon's Preferred Vendor, which means Amazon will always source from CreateSpace. What's more, they will stock your CreateSpace book in warehouses so that when people order they can get it quicker and see the 'In Stock' tag on your product page.
However, I've had luck using Ingram setting higher discounts and getting Amazon to discount further. If you sell your book for $10 and set a 50% discount, Amazon might actually sell it for $8 giving readers the impression that it is marked down in price, which can help with sales. Since you make more money through Ingram anyway, this can be a viable strategy to modifying your product page to be more enticing.
Item 4: ISBN Distribution
All companies offer the ability to buy an ISBN directly on the website during product creation, and their pricing is fairly comparable. CreateSpace and KDP will allow you to use a free ISBN if you want and they will be your 'publishing company.' Many authors don't like this because it screams 'self-published book' but it is a completely viable way of publishing a book without spending any money at all. They used to have another option buy a cheap non-transferable ISBN as well, but they dropped it.
Either way, CreateSpace and KDP still have more options and is the winner of this category. Though, if you are actually planning to publish more than one book, I would highly recommend buying directly from Bowker and owning your ISBN rather than using either company. You can get ten ISBNs for the price of two there, and you can buy larger packages to save a lot of money down the line.
Note, this only applies to US users, because in Canada and elsewhere there are free or cheaper options for getting ISBNs.
Item 5: Options and Ease of Use
Most of these companies are easy to use, though the CreateSpace UI is more intuitive and KDP is easier still, so they have the upper hand here. However, Ingram has more overall options, including the ability to make hard copies. This is a huge plus in their favor, because even though paperbacks legitimize a book, there is nothing like holding a hard copy of your work in hand with a dust jacket you can take off and admire. Lulu is also easy to use, but again I cannot recommend them because of their downsides.
What should you do?
All of these companies are great for publishing a paperback copy of your book. CreateSpace wins out as being easier to setup and get started and the preferred Amazon vendor, as well as having better options for ISBN, and Ingram wins out as the better distributor and giving you more control over pricing.
There is, however, an alternative to picking either of these individually, and that is to use two as distributors. If you buy your own ISBN through Bowker, you can load the exact same book onto multiple platforms. Make sure not to turn on the expanded distribution option in CreateSpace (since they use Ingram anyway).
With this method, Ingram will distribute your book globally, and Amazon will source from CreateSpace or KDp. You'll no longer get the huge cut out of your profits when selling books outside of Amazon, but you will also get the benefits of having an Amazon preferred setup where Amazon will always keep your book in stock, even if they've never printed a single copy.
I do this with paperbacks of my fiction novels, and I wait until a 'free' promotion before loading onto Ingram to keep costs down.
If you only plan to sell on Amazon, just use the KDP print option or CreateSpace. If you want to sell globally and use a few platforms, then use IngramSpark. If you are a power user and you want to really sell your book, then use KDP Print to source for Amazon and IngramSpark for global distribution, and simply use your own ISBN so that wherever people buy it they get the same book.
There are a lot of different options out there for printing your books on demand, and not all of them are equal. Hopefully, the information I've given you here will help you make an informed decision.
If you have something to add or think I'm wrong about my analysis somewhere, then sound off in the comments below! Let us know what you do to print!