UPDATE: DECEMBER 13/2013: CreateSpace has removed their fees for Expanded Distribution, no doubt in direct response to the launch of IngramSpark.

 

Ingram, the U.S. wholesale distributor and parent company of Lightning Source International, has launched IngramSpark, a self-publishing portal intended to give CreateSpace a run for their money. But will it, or is it a case of too little, too late?

When I first began self-publishing in 2011, LSI’s attitude toward self-publishers could only be described as contempt. The application process was onerous, the staff often condescending in their communications with me. Were it not for the limitations of CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution versus LSI’s superior global reach, I wouldn’t have bothered with them. LSI clearly failed to see what was coming down the pike, and let the self-publishing phenomenon all but pass them by.

Having realised their error, and getting killed by Amazon’s predatory business strategies, Ingram has obviously designed Spark to capture a piece of the indie publishing pie. IngramSpark clients can elect to distribute print books only or both print and ebooks.

Here are what I consider to be the pros and cons of the new program versus CreateSpace, including its Expanded Distribution:

PROS:

  • Ease of access: gone is the onerous application process and the need to sign multiple contracts to cover all international jurisdictions.
  • Reasonable title set-up fee of $49.00, which is waived or refunded if a print order for 50 books is made within 60 days. While $49.00 is twice the $25.00 fee charged by CreateSpace for Expanded Distribution, ED is essentially restricted to the U.S. since all books are printed in the U.S. and shipped abroad. So you get more bang for your buck with Spark.
  • Extensive global reach including Oceania, an area currently not addressed at all by CreateSpace.
  • Manufacturing centers in the U.S., UK, and Australia, with third-party printers in Germany and Brazil; CreateSpace has centers only in the U.S. and the U.K.
  • More retailers worldwide. For example, Chapters in Canada lists in their online catalogue all LSI titles as “In Stock” but do not carry any CreateSpace Expanded Distribution titles; similar issues arise with retailers who compete with Amazon in the UK and Europe.
  • CreateSpace ED titles do not appear on Amazon Japan and China sites; LSI titles do.
  • Superior print book cover manufacturing process, and the ability to choose either matte or gloss finish (CreateSpace only offers gloss).
  • Higher royalties for books sold outside of Amazon U.S. and Amazon Europe: 45% compared to 40%.
  • Ability to accept print book returns, which can encourage retailers to stock your book (but it can be costly).
  • You can order a physical proof before approving your title for sale (contrary to reports by other bloggers and reiterated earlier by me).

CONS:

  • Still cannot compete with CreateSpace for the Amazon U.S., UK, and EU market: lower royalties (45% compared to 60% paid by CreateSpace), and lengthy delivery times posted on the Amazon site. Which, as my earlier article makes clear, is part of Amazon’s predatory strategy.
  • There is no mention on the website as to fees for file updates. I suspect IngramSpark charges the full $49.00 again. Charges to update a CreateSpace Expanded Distribution file are $25.00 per cover or interior. If changing both the cover and content, the price is essentially the same; if changing only the cover or interior, Spark costs you an extra $24.00.
  • Titles are charged a $12.00 per year “Market Access” fee, compared to nothing at CreateSpace ED. But again, perhaps you are merely getting what you pay for.
  • Significantly higher shipping fees: an order of 50 books (the minimum required to waive the title set-up charge) of a typical 6″x9″ novel with 270 pages costs $60.92 for standard shipping to a commercial address and $70.12 to a residential address; compare that to $23.00 at CreateSpace.
  • Charges for expedited shipping are ludicrous: $246.80 for 2-day delivery to a commercial address and $257.10 to a residential address for those same 50 books; compare that to $49.99 at CreateSpace. The difference is obscene.
  • Printing fees are essentially identical, so what you save in title set-up fees by ordering 50 books is clawed back in shipping fees, and those shipping fees remain high for subsequent orders.
  • Spark, like LSI, is still aimed at the publisher who has fulfilled their design and conversion needs elsewhere. So don’t expect design services or ebook formatting and conversion services. And you must supply your own ISBNs; IngramSpark is not a vanity publisher.

EBOOK DISTRIBUTION:

  • The largest ebook retail and library coverage offered.
  • Ebook titles cost $25.00 to set up; the fee is waived if the file is submitted at the same time as the print files.
  • Spark pays 40% of list for ebook sales. Depending on how you price your books, that could be marginally good or really bad. For example, Baby Jane is listed at $3.99 on Amazon. Since that price falls within Amazon’s 70% royalty, I am charged a $0.12 delivery fee and paid 70%, or $2.71, on the remainder. If I were to list Baby Jane through Spark, I would receive only $1.60. Conversely, if your book is priced at $1.99, which falls into the 35% royalty on Amazon, they would pay you $.70 directly but $.80 through Spark.
  • If you choose to sign up for ebook distribution, you are NOT given the option to opt out of major retailers such as Amazon or Kobo where you would otherwise keep a separate account.
  • Ebook titles set up separately from print books are also charged a $12.00 per year Market Access fee. Among the more popular aggregators, the only one to charge an annual fee is BookBaby, at $19.00.
  • If you currently have your books up on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, et cetera, you have to remove your titles from their catalogues before you can contract with Spark to distribute the same ebooks. That means any rankings and reviews will be lost.

And how does IngramSpark compare to the standard LSI publisher arrangement?

  • Reduced title set-up fee: $49.00 down from $75.00 LSI clients pay.
  • LSI clients pay $40.00 per file update; if you are changing both your cover and content then Spark saves you $31.00; if only either the cover or interior is being changed, Spark costs you $9.00 more than LSI. What bugs me about this is that Expanded Distribution is subcontracted to LSI; why are LSI clients charged more for file updates than Amazon clients? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you while licking the feet of your oppressor.
  • Similarly, the $12.00 per year “Market Access” fee is levied by Ingram for both Spark and LSI clients, yet not charged to CreateSpace’s ED clients. Again, why are LSI and Spark clients asked to pay a fee not charged to Amazon’s CreateSpace?
  • No ability to set the retail discount. While this is the same as with CreateSpace, many LSI publishers elect not to offer as high a discount as the “standard” 55%; some offer as little as 20% discount and still see good sales. Note also that the Spark website is misleading: it lets you set the distributor discount when calculating your compensation but elsewhere the site makes it clear the discount is fixed at 55% (hence the 45% royalty).
  • Printing fees have been reduced to match Amazon’s, and the manufacturing premium for publisher direct orders has been eliminated.

In conclusion, there is nothing about IngramSpark that will change the current dynamic between CreateSpace and LSI customers — I still recommend authors contract with both companies to maximize your reach and royalties — but authors who earlier found the LSI system daunting or simply too annoying to bother with will find IngramSpark more accessible and comfortable to use.

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