In doing the research on self-publishing for print, it didn’t take long to get thoroughly overwhelmed. POD Publishers are a dime a dozen, each with an onslaught of details, numbers, packages and options to consider. Of course, there’s a lot of great blog posts out there, but as you compare one author’s experience with the next, you’re left scratching your head at the contradictions as the industry expands leaving a trail of information obsolete.
The good news is with the current resources available it has never been easier for an author to self-publish professional quality books and sell them globally with ease and total control from beginning to end. There is a way to succeed that fits your unique situation so long as you first define your needs and goals.
In this article, we’ll focus on the two 800 pound gorillas in the room for POD and global distribution: IngramSpark and Amazon KDP.
First: Find Your Approach
The nature and purpose of your book will determine your route from the get-go. Maybe you’re publishing grandma’s recipes for family members, memoirs for friends, or simply hoping to earn a few bucks by sharing life experience with the plan to self-promote on your blog. Perhaps you’re a first-time indie fiction writer content with selling strictly on Amazon – pretty much the “go-to” for online book purchases and a great place to get your feet wet. You could be a writer with zero design skills or technical aptitude, if so, many publishers offer package deals for each stage of the process. Or, you may be tech savvy, and want the widest possible audience including universities and libraries world-wide. Then there are other considerations; do you want hard or soft cover, laminate, glossy, matte, interior color or black and white, will it be published in print, ebook or both? What about promotion?
In light of the above, we feel pretty confident we know our product and goals; our book, The Big Book of Font Combinations (now on sale at Amazon) will be a soft cover (at first), black and white trade book with a glossy cover. It’s a handy guide to have on the shelf whether you’re a seasoned designer at an agency, home office, or a budding design student in college. We have the technical aptitude to take on a more challenging route if need be in order to get a great quality book produced and distributed to the widest audience possible.
With that said, we decided to go with two of the most widely used publishers: IngramSpark or (whose parent is Lightning Source), and Amazon’s KDP (Previously known as CreateSpace until Amazon merged them into KDP back in Aug. 2018).
Since that’s settled, let’s get to comparing them in case you’re looking to choose between one or the other. The comparison will also serve as a quick tidbit on why we chose to opt out of the smaller POD publishers and settle on using both major companies together. Obviously, this is only a general overview of the two – you can delve much deeper into the nitty gritty on your own.
Advantages of Ingram Spark (IS)
- Wide Distribution
Ingram Spark is backed by the largest distribution network (Ingram Book Group, LLC) reaching well over a 100 countries (with 39,000 retailers in their network) and is the world’s largest book wholesaler for online or independent brick and mortar stores, big or small chain stores, as well as libraries and universities. The smaller publishers who offer wide distribution connect and sell through IS anyway, so by using them, you’re simply adding another mouth to feed – more on that later.
- Reputable Company
Face it, IS (through Ingram) has been around longer than anyone else. They have a long history of producing great quality books and they’re the largest distributer. For this reason, wholesalers are far more likely to order a book from the IS catalogue with an imprint from IS or even one created by the author as opposed to that published by their rival, Amazon.
- ISBN and Printing Rights
IS refers you to RR Bowker’s MyIdentifiers.com to obtain an ISBN number; this is actually an advantage. As a self-publisher, it’s in your best interest to purchase your own ISBN number/s so that you retain the publishing rights of your work. If you own the ISBN, you can re-assign it to KDP or any other publisher in the future. Just so you know, when you purchase your ISBN, it’s more cost effective if you buy a block of them than just a couple. They’re not cheap, but you can’t get around it if you want to distribute. A single number is $125 (be careful! They’ll upcharge $25 too add a bar code, but IS and KDP will produce them for free, so opt out) and a block of 10 is $325. Either way, you’ll need at least two if you are publishing ebook and print versions.
Royalties (your profit) are between 45-70% of the list price, less the production costs. E-books royalties are 40%. Printed books vary based on the wholesale discount, but the size of your audience makes up for any smaller percentage. Again, it all depends on your goals. You can make 60-80% (less the production) with other publishers, BUT the catch is the book is only sold in their online store. And how many people actually shop Joe’s Publishing online book store when they’re looking for books? There’s a pretty slim chance they’ll find your first one-off fiction book. Again, if you have a well done book, a broad audience will more than make up for smaller royalties. When other publishers offer wide distribution, realize they will take a cut of the margin, as well as IS. So in the end, you could be left with a buck and change or less if you’re lucky.
- Excellent POD Book Quality
In my findings, many authors who’ve experienced both publishers say the book quality of IS is much better than KDP. They also offer hardcovers and more affordable color printing than KDP if your book is photo heavy, though color printing is never cheap. Also, IS offers the most options with regards to paper weight and quality, trim sizes, cover and binding.
- Customer Service
Reliable, but not as quick to respond as KDP
- Lower International Shipping Prices
Get cheaper global shipping prices with IS because they have multiple distribution centers all over the world. Expect longer delivery dates and higher shipping prices with KDP.
Take a look at the video below. Josephine Boyce posts a great comparison video on her POD books. She also shares her first time experience using both companies as well. You can really see the quality difference between IS and KDP.
Downsides of Ingram Spark
I’ve found a few hang-ups, but they’re negligible and for our printing needs. We prefer global distribution and seasoned publishers who’ve “been there, done it”.
- Production Time
IS has a longer wait period for your printed book – around 3-5 days once POD order has been placed, as opposed to KDP which is same day. Although, according to the experience of several authors, IS gives themselves leeway; the turn around tends to be faster. Also, cost of printing is a tad higher than KDP per standard book which can add up. However, they have better discounts for high volume book orders.
They have a $12 annual fee, as well as a $49 upload fee for print, (or print published together with ebook) and a $25 upload fee for ebook while KDP is free. However, the set-up fee does get refunded within 60 days of uploading your book if you order a batch of 50 copies or more. Doesn’t hurt to order a round of books for you to have on hand anyway as give-aways or to sell on your own through a blog if you have one. There are also discount codes if you search around.
- Not so Intuitive
Steep learning curve with regards to your PDF submission if you’re not technically savvy. I heard they had a pretty hefty set of instructions. After getting through the first book and getting it approved, I can confirm this is true. You definitely need someone that knows what they are doing, or you need to invest the time and effort yourself. No one thing was super hard, but it’s a lot of small steps.
- Fees for Revisions
There’s a $25 fee for each revision after you accept your digital proof and hit “Publish” (ouch!), so, basically, get your PDF right the first time and don’t think you can easily make changes later. However, it’s reassuring to know they have a highly professional review team who will not process your upload until the specs are correct for printing, so no need to worry about paying extra for a resubmission because of a technical error: it’s gated like that. Obviously, they do not review the interior pages. This is where it’s crucial you and your editor if you have one, review your digital proof (they will email with a download link each time you submit a new set of files) with a fine tooth comb. Keep in mind you do need to pay for your hardcopy proofs for both companies. And you do want to order one before you let it out in the wild.
- Higher US Shipping
Higher US cross-country shipping is quite a bit more than KDP. This really makes no sense.
Advantages of Using KDP
- User Friendly
Intuitive or hand-held PDF submission and seamless ebook transference for print book. Short and sweet upload process. Great if you’re not tech savvy.
60% royalties (less printing cost) if you’re selling strictly through Amazon. Excellent royalties for the selling in Amazon, clearly the biggest online bookstore out there – which makes KDP a great option for people who are content to sell through them alone. See below about broad distribution through Amazon.
- Production Time
Quick POD turn around – within the same day of order. Additionally, they’re probably one of the cheapest price per book POD’s out there.
- Free Revisions
You can re-upload your PDF files multiple times without extra fees. Great for the first time self-publisher or anyone prone to overlooking typos. HINT: Test your PDFs (cover and interior) at Amazon first but don’t publish. Get the files right, then publish at IngramSpark, then come back to KDP. IngramSpark needs to be the first one to see you using a particular ISBN, then Amazon. I don’t know why, just do it in that order!
- Customer Service
Quick and available. By email, they are very responsive.
- Provides ISBN
Although we think it’s a disadvantage, some folks are relieved to have one less to think about. If you only ever plan to sell your book on Amazon, this might not be that bad. Just keep in mind, they’ll retain the publishing rights. But, better safe than sorry: get your ISNB from Bowker. Just do it.
Downsides of KDP
- Broad Distribution
Your POD book is made available for Amazon shoppers only for the 60% royalties rate. If you would like world-wide distribution you need to sign up for their “Expanded Distribution”. The kicker here is, now you’ve introduced the middle-man and you can expect your royalties to be slashed leaving you less profit (with the exception of your Amazon sales) than if you were using IS. Additionally, if you would like them to enroll you in libraries and institutions for distribution, you’ve got to allow them to place their own ISBN on the book, handing over the publishing rights. And, just so you know, their distribution channel partner is…IngramSpark (LightningSource), as is all the small fry publishers out there. You can see why it’s important to determine your preferences and needs beforehand.
- Book Quality
According to experienced self-publishers, KDP’s print book quality is good, but not great (see above video). There are various factors to consider; paper weight, shades of white, laminate or non-laminate cover, etc. (worth your time to take a look at each publisher’s offerings). In addition, KDP doesn’t offer hardcovers, also color production is much more expensive if you’re publishing a children’s book or anything image heavy. IS works best for color. They also have a wider variety of final trim sizes.
Conclusion: Publish Your Book on Both Platforms
There are several other popular POD publishers such as Bookbaby, Outskirts Press, Blurb, LuLu, DiggyPod that offer a variety of services and packages that be might be a better fit for your particular needs. In this post we simply wanted to share why we opted for Ingram Spark together with KDP, as well as a brief introduction of them for anyone who may be just beginning the grueling research of POD publishers!
Got questions? Ask away, and we’ll try and be helpful. Got corrections? Things change all the time. Let us know!