I never realised how lucky I was.
Thanks to 1889 Labs, I’ve avoided the hassle of publishing. No typesetting, no exporting ePubs and mobi files, no cover-making or spine calculations… and absolutely NO dealing with any retailers and distributors.
Sadly, 1889 Labs is in a position where it needs to cut back – so it’s down to me to make sure my books get (re)published.
Boy, is it a steep learning curve.
In this post I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far about the print on demand (POD) options available.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!
Where to print your book
There are many POD services, but ideally you want to focus on the ones that will offer you the best distribution and price. The ones I know of are:
- Createspace (Amazon’s POD arm)
- Lightning Source (owned by Ingram, a huge book distributor)
- Ingram Spark (also owned by Ingram, a Createspace rival)
Disclaimer: I can’t vouch for the print quality of any of these companies other than Lightning Source.
- The publishing process seems easy; you’re guided step-by-step with templates and manuals.
- The only cost incurred is for a printed proof copy. (I assume you’d be able to review a digital proof for free.)
- Lulu offers hard back printing options and some unusual sizes (but IMO you’re best off sticking to trade sizes).
- Lulu seems to have high manufacturing costs. Buying copies of your own book is expensive, plus you’ll have to price them quite highly in order to earn a decent amount of royalty.
- To me, Lulu has a negative reputation for vanity publishing.
I couldn’t find out whether you can control the wholesale discount.
Verdict: The high manufacturing costs don’t make Lulu worth your while. Plus, it’s Lulu. Eugh.
- The publishing process is painless; there’s a step-by-step guide or an advanced option for experts.
- Digital proofs are free, and print proofs only cost a few bucks.
- You can get a Createspace ISBN for free.
- Your book will never show up as out of print (or taking 3-4 weeks delivery) as it could do if you use a third party to distribute to Amazon.
- A lot of people buy books on Amazon.
- If you want ‘extended distribution’ (to libraries, bookstores, etc) you have to use a Createspace ISBN. That means Createspace is listed as your publisher, which marks your book as self-published.
- Bookstores often do not like ordering from Amazon.
- You can’t control wholesale discounts. It’s 20% for the Createspace store, 40% to Amazon, and 60% to other retailers. So books that sell outside of Amazon will earn you a lot less royalty.
- No hard back printing options.
Verdict: Despite all the negatives, Createspace is very easy to use and I would recommend it if Amazon is your main selling point.
LS is primarily aimed at medium-large publishers so is unlikely to work for individual authors – but I’ve given a run down below.
- Owned by Ingram, the biggest book distributor in the world.
- I can personally vouch for the great print quality of the books.
- They have a nifty cover template generator which automatically creates a bar code out of your ISBN.
- You can set your own wholesale discount for retailers, and allow or refuse returns. Depending on what settings you pick, bookstores will be far more likely to order your books than if they were distributed through Createspace.
- You HAVE to be set up as a company to have an account. It’s not easy either to; faxing legal documents etc, etc.
- Other than the cover template generator, you have no support. Your files need to be 100% ready to go.
- Their website was built in the 13th century. Seriously.
- It’s the most expensive. Setting up a book is $75, proof copies are $35, and revisions cost $40.
- Amazon hates competitors, so often lists LS books as taking 3-4 weeks delivery despite it being POD.
- You need to buy/supply your own ISBNs.
Verdict: Lightning Source offers high quality and great distribution to the brick and mortar side of the business. If you want to really invest and set up a company, pick them.
This is a fairly new sister company to Lightning Source, focused on authors and small publishers.
- Allows you to distribute ebooks and print books at the same time, so you don’t have to submit all the information twice.
- Great way to get your ebooks to the non-Kindle market.
- Owned by the largest book distributor in the world.
- Lightning Source handles the printing, so the quality should be good.
- You can choose between a 55% wholesale discount or a shorter 40% discount.
- Book stores are more likely to order books from Ingram than Amazon (assuming you select 55% discount and allow returns).
- Only launched last summer, so is still playing catch up with Createspace in many respects.
- You need to buy/supply your own ISBNs.
Verdict: In terms of extended (non-Amazon) distribution, Ingram Spark has a better offer than Createspace. The print quality of books is likely to be higher. However the experience isn’t as slick – yet.
There are doubtless other countless print on demand companies – but I don’t think any could match the flexibility and distribution offered by the ‘big’ boys Amazon and Ingram.
Best of both worlds?
If you want the easy, fast route and think most of your sales will come through Amazon, publish on Createspace and be done with it.
My plan is to take a little more time and not put all my eggs in one basket.
Amazon prefers to buy from Createspace. So I’ll publish through Createspace, using my own ISBN. That means I won’t get their extended distribution – but I don’t want it.
Using the same ISBN, I will publish the book through Ingram Spark for extended distribution. (Ingram Spark does not allow Createspace ISBNs so you must have your own.)
Why the same ISBN? Because sales are tracked by ISBN. If you have two different ISBNs for the same book, it will mess up the sales stats. Don’t do it!
That’s my plan, anyhow.
I’m still struggling to get Ingram Spark up and running – but I am confident that they will be a good choice once they iron out some kinks.