Working with Createspace & Ingram Spark

This is a long post, but it's filled with information I was searching for prior to using Ingram Spark. So as someone who has just finished the process, I wanted to share my findings.

As we've traveled along this sometimes foggy road called self-publishing, Bret and I have had to make many decisions together - book length, book size, book price, which companies should review the finished product and who should print our books for us. 

As we self-published our books and had done all the work ourselves, it was important to us that we own our ISBN numbers and not have a printing company own a part of our book. This caused a problem with Createspace if we wanted libraries to be able to order our books because they couldn’t list our books with Baker and Taylor if they didn’t own the ISBN number. There is an option to apply to become a vendor with Baker and Taylor, this costs $350 and you have to send them 5 copies of each book and give them your marketing plan. But if you print with Ingram Spark your book can be available to libraries through their distribution even if you own your ISBN number.

We worked with Createspace (CS), who are owned by Amazon, first. They made the self-publishing process very simple, with user-friendly interfaces and customer service reps just an email or a quick phone call away. Then we worked with Ingram Spark (IS). Both Ingram Spark and Lightning Source are owned by Ingram, the largest physical and digital content distributer in the world. We found IS to be a little less "user friendly" and a little more expensive to use and print with (if you're printing in high quality color, which we found necessary for our children's picture books).

With IS you have a set up fee of $49 per title, which we weren't too bothered by as it is a one-off fee per book, and it looked as though the actual printing of each book would be cheaper in the long run (even in color). But ontop of the printing and shipping costs, you also have an extra fee that you don't have with CS: the "How quickly would you like your book printed?" fee. For a premium color, 40 page, paperback book, it's about $1.50 per book if you want your book to be shipped in one day business day, but if you’re prepared to wait five days for it to ship then there is no extra fee.

An important issue for illustrated children's books is color. IS's standard color option is $2.20 for a paperback book, which is less expensive than CS's standard color option at $3.65. I had heard that Ingram Sparks printing quality surpassed CS's and was excited to see our proofs from Ingram because I found CS's color quality to be bright and vibrant. This was not true for Ingram's "standard color" option. The colors looked washed out and dusty in comparison. In order to have those vibrant colors we had with CS, we had to opt for the much more expensive "premium color" with IS which costs $5.50 per book (two and a half times more than standard color) to print. So it works out more expensive to print a quality color picture book with IS than it does with CS.

Regarding book pricing, from what I had researched you should offer a 55% discount off your retail price to booksellers. That really doesn’t leave you an option to compete with traditionally published books already on the market, which are sold for lower retail prices, some as low as $7.99 for a paperback book. We can't charge that for our books because then we would actually owe IS money every time our book was printed. Also IS's interface lets you change your color option from standard to premium yourself, so, like me, you might order another copy thinking it's will now be in "premium color" only to have it arrive in "standard color" again. When I called up to ask about this I was told that only IS can make those changes in your account and they don't stick if you do them yourself, but it's a little misleading because their system allows you to think you made the change successfully.

CS and IS have different guidelines for how your PDF should be formatted. The same PDF that was printed perfectly with Createspace was printed out of alignment with IS, even though the digital proof looked perfect.  On one proof the pages were too far to the right and too high up, throwing off our margins and picture alignment. Then on another proof both the left and right side were off. So we had to redo the PDF for Ingram to make it larger, and then have them convert it to PDF-X and convert the RBG images to CMYK color for us - not too much of a problem, but that didn’t necessarily fix the possibility that the pages could still be printed too far to one side on one printing and differently on the next. I was told by a customer service rep at IS that every time the book is printed it could very well have variance in the margins in each printing.

One thing I wish had been clearer with IS is that you only get a digital proof  every time from them. They do not offer physical proofs of your book prior to approving your book (unlike CS). Only after you officially approve the digital proof can you order a physical copy of the book to see what it looks like. If you receive your physical copy, and the margins are off and you want to upload a new file to fix any errors, you will then be charged $25 every time you upload a new file after approving the digital proof. I assumed it was only after you had approved the physical proof, because once you view the digital proof they give you three options to select from: "1. ___ approves this title and authorizes its inclusion into the distribution channels. 2. ___ approves this title, but prefers to keep it from the distribution channels until a physical proof has been ordered (you will need to place a separate order for this title). 3. ___ does not approve this title and requests alterations." This is confusing again, because there are no physical proofs with IS. That one book I ordered was considered a short run, not a proof order, even though it is worded as "physical proof" in option no. 2. If you were only using IS as your printer, I think these charges could rack up quite quickly until you got your book perfect, especially if you have double-page pictures as we do. CS have a file reviewing tool on their website, and you can make changes any time you like for free even after the book has gone live. However, when I explained the confusion about being able to select the "premium color" as well as the confusion about the proof order and file revision fee, the IS rep I spoke to did say that I could phone again to get those fees refunded as a one time courtesy, and I really appreciated that.

If you use CS you can be on their expanded distribution (ED) even if you own your own ISBN's, but if you use IS too, you will automatically be taken of ED with CS. I called CS and found out they use Ingram for ED, which of course is the same wholesaler that IS uses, so that didn't really matter, but it says in the tiny print on CS that they use other printers for their ED. I asked which color option CS chooses and the rep I spoke to said they don't get to choose that, it will be the nearest one to what you selected with CS. As we have seen first hand that the CS PDF did not print the same with IS, I think we're better off placing our books through IS ourselves because we can check the quality of the books going out in expanded distribution. If you're only printing black and white books this may not matter, and thus you can probably print less expensively with IS.

Working with two printing companies and learning about different practices in the printing industry has been a vital educational experience that has enabled us to make informed decisions, and were happy to be with both CS and IS.

Color variations between IS standard color and IS premium color:

standard vs premium


Color variations between Createspace and Ingram Spark.                                                          Left to right: CS color, IS standard color, IS premium color:

More soon,

C.C.

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