Print on Demand: CreateSpace, KDP Print, IngramSpark: Which one should you use to publish?
You finished writing your story...
Now comes the hard part...
Turning it into a book!
You put in months of hard work and wrote something great (or at least something that you are proud of). Well done and congratulations, because that isn't easy, and it isn't something that a lot of people can do. Now you want to turn it into a paperback to show it off to the world. After all, ebooks are great, but there is nothing quite like having that dead tree in your hand that you can feel and smell to make your dream a reality.
But, the indie author world can be a scary and dangerous place for newcomers looking to make a name for themselves. There are hundreds of companies out there willing to charge you a fortune for various services, and many of those services that they offer are actually 100% free if you know how to find them.
Free, you say?
Yeah, free. For example, you can post your book on most digital platforms and sell it on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Nook completely free. But, you might say, that is only for DIGITAL books, and surely I will have to pay a lot more to have a paperbook made?
Amazon has a new platform called KDP Print, and there is also a platform called CreateSpace, and both of them are 100% free to use and will distribute your books for you.
There is a third option I would like to talk about, and that is IngramSpark. It costs money to set up a title (unless you are a savvy author who waits until they run their near constant free setup promotions) but in certain ways it blows the other two platforms out of the water.
What ways? Read on to find out!
What options are available?
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 that you might never sell, or should you use a print on demand company that will only create copies as books are ordered by customers and pay more for each copy? There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.
If you plan to sell and give away a lot of copies to friends, family, and reviewers, then you're going to want to get those copies as cheaply as possible. You can save pennies (or more) on each copy by printing a large run of books at all once, but then you run into the downside of having to store and maintain those copies and handle the shipping cost. For most indies, these negatives outweigh any benefit gained by printing cheap copies. Worse...what if you find a few typos and fix them, and then realize the mistake still exists in every single copy you printed?
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 available for sale on hundreds of websites entirely without spending a dime. The downside is that, since the books aren't already printed, 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 in how you can distribute your books, each individual company that offers a print on demand or large run service like these has minor differences and variations to their process that impact their overall value.
So, let's look at a few of the companies that are available, shall we?
CreateSpace: Print on Demand
This is an Amazon company, which could be a touchy subject for some Indie authors, as well as bookstores and distributors. It falls under the umbrella of services that the 'Zon offers, and as such many people in the industry will recognize it for what it is if your book's ISBN says it is distributed by Createspace.
This can be a good thing because Amazon has powerful branding, but it can be seen as a substantial negative as well: many booksellers don't like Amazon on principle (they think it is destroying or trying to dominate the industry) so there can be negative reactions to books that use it.
The other downside is that seeing 'distributed by CreateSpace' flags it as a self-published title. Just searching through the internet will show that there is still a stigma against self-publishing titles, and this can be viewed as a clumsy mistake.
However, the important question to ask is: will this lose you sales? It depends. Many authors never really sell a lot of paperback copies anyway, and even when they do they often sell them directly through Amazon (which sells more books than the other companies combined). However, if you are a more established author and really want to move the needle in the paperback market, then this option can have some severe limitations.
It has upsides, though, as well: some of its benefits are that you can order copies to sell or give away cheap, offer discounts (though only through the CreateSpace store, which kind of sucks), and setting a book up and distributing it are incredibly simple and free.
IngramSpark: Print on Demand
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. I won't really talk any more about it because if you are considering using this option, you are still better off going through CreateSpace. That might change in the future when they finally smooth out the process, but for now CreateSpace wins.
Other Options: There are Tons
There are tons of ways to get books published, including a lot of companies that will take your money up front and offer you 'free' distribution, and many of them offer some little perks or benefits. Some of them aren't even bad companies, but they are considered vanity presses because their goal is to help you have your book printed, not help you make money.
That's fine if that is all you are looking for, but just keep in mind that their business model is to make money off of authors, not books. If any of them ask for a lot of money upfront then they usually aren't worth it, because with a little bit of extra work you can do almost anything they will do for you for free, or at least way cheaper than they want to charge.
Remember: these companies are there to make money off of YOU, not readers.
Let's Start Comparing!
Comparison 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 Print is actually the easiest platform to set-up, because since you most likely 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 at some point down the line so it looks professional.
In general, though, just because it is easy I would still say use one of the other options.
Comparison 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's distributors than IngramSpark's. 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.
That being said, they are also quick to fix reported mistakes and will work to make it right, usually by reprinting a title. If you have a problem with a batch of books, just re-do it until they get you copies you are happy with.
Side by side comparison of them at their best, IngramSpark 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 Print uses the same services as CreateSpace as well as some of their own. As for other companies: I used Lulu once to print a large batch of books since they were cheaper than IngramSpark, and I found out they were just that: cheaper. They looked and felt crummy and the pages were almost see through if you held them up to light.
I'll never make that mistake again.
Comparison 3 - Distribution and Pricing
All printing companies let you set your own price, and you could charge hundreds of dollars per book if you want. You shouldn't, but you can. With IngramSpark, you can even set regional pricing on your own, as well as the percentage discounts for bookstores and wholesalers, which gives you even more control over the price.
CreateSpace has an option called expanded distribution which enables your book for sale beyond the Amazon world. What they don't tell you is that they actually use LightningSource (an Ingram company) as their distributor, so if you use that option, you'll be using Ingram anyway.
The other part to that is that there are huge negatives to how they distribute: 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 the 65% for the rest of the book. 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 globally 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 actively 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 books 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 has been 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.
Comparison 4: ISBN Distribution
All companies offer the ability to buy an ISBN directly on their website during product creation if you want to use your own Imprint name, and their pricing is fairly comparable. CreateSpace and KDP Print will allow you to generate a free ISBN from their pool if you want, but they will be listed as your 'publishing company' if you go this route.
Many authors don't go this route because it screams 'self-published' but it is a completely viable way of publishing your book without spending any money on it at all. CreateSpace used to have a cheaper way of buying an ISBN but still keeping your own Imprint (though it wasn't distributable) but they discontinued it.
Either way, CreateSpace and KDP still have more options than IngramSpark does. Though, if you are actually planning to publish more than one book, I would highly recommend buying directly from Bowker and owning your ISBNs rather than using either company to get tehm. 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. Consult with your local system to determine how to obtain ISBNs.
Comparison 5: Options and Ease of Use
Most of these companies are easy to use, though the CreateSpace UI is more intuitive and KDP Print is easier still, so they have the upper hand here. It walks you through the process step-by-step and at many points will do its best to help fill in fields for you (especially KDP Print if you already have an E-Book).
However, Ingram has more overall options for printing, including the ability to make hard copies available. 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.
When it comes to how easy the platforms are to use, they all stack up pretty evenly and only come with a modest learning curve.
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, IngramSpark will distribute your book globally, and Amazon will source from CreateSpace or KDP Print. 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 used to do this with paperback copies of my fiction novels, and I wait until a 'free' promotion before loading onto Ingram to keep costs down. After a while, though, it simply became extra hassel and now I distribute exclusively through IngramSpark.
If you only plan to sell your book on Amazon, then just use the KDP Print option or CreateSpace. If you want to sell globally and distribute your ebook on multiple 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 a copy they get the equivalent 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 are interested in learning more about writing, publishing, and marketing your book then check out this guidebook on indie publishing.
If you have something to add or think I'm wrong about my analysis somewhere, then sound off in the comments below! Also, let us know what you do to distribute your paperbacks and hardcopies!