October 12, 2015

Print On Demand: Why I Chose IngramSpark

This post has been a long time coming, and it's quite long itself, but choosing a Print On Demand (POD) provider for your book, if that's a route you want to go, is a bit complicated. Many posts exist comparing the two largest (but by no means only) options for independent authors: CreateSpace and IngramSpark. Some have slightly outdated information (e.g. about wholesale discounts on IngramSpark), but the general overview is solid. 

So rather than rehash information available elsewhere, I want to discuss some of the misinformation out there and the reasons why I personally chose IngramSpark.

There are a few reasons commonly cited for why indie publishers "should" choose CreateSpace, including: 
  • Claim: CreateSpace is free to use. IngramSpark charges a $49 setup fee.
    • On the surface, this is true. But IngramSpark actually refunds your setup fee if you place an order for 50 print copies within the first 60 days. Believe me, with giveaways, contest entries, review copies, sales directly through you, etc., 50 copies isn't much at all. You'll likely be buying them anyway, so you may as well put that initial investment into your budget and stop worrying about the setup fee.
  • Claim: IngramSpark only allows a 40% or 55% discount. (Outdated)
    • Given that CreateSpace requires a 40% discount for Amazon, but a 60% discount for books sold elsewhere, I'm not sure why this is used to support publishing on CreateSpace. Regardless, the current reality is you can set your discount anywhere from 30%-55% on IngramSpark, including random numbers like 47%.
  • Claim: File revision on CreateSpace is free. File revision on IngramSpark costs $25 each time.
    • Again, on the surface this is true. Sort of. People are afraid of IngramSpark because this makes it sound as though there's a high cost for making a mistake of any kind. What actually happens is this:
      • When you upload your files to IngramSpark (an interior file and a cover design file, separately), each of those is both automatically vetted and then manually vetted, as in by a human being who checks for any problems. If there are no problems, your file is accepted. If there are problems, you are notified.

        If you are notified that there is a problem, you have to upload an entire new file (or files, if there are problems in both). There is no charge for this (at least in my experience). Of course, this is only about technical problems with the files, e.g. size being off on the cover file, not issues such as typos or corrections to the text. So while you do have to make sure your files are as spotless as you can get them the first time around, since you can't correct them willy-nilly, you don't have to worry about being charged because of a technical mistake. They simply won't accept your file unless it satisfies their high standards.

        For me, as a first-time independent publisher, this was actually rather reassuring—someone who knows what they're doing double-checking that I hadn't made some huge error.
  • Claim: CreateSpace gets books to market "more quickly." IngramSpark takes up to about 4 weeks (or up to 8 with your first book), and sometimes there are delays specifically with Amazon.
    • This information is actually provided by IngramSpark, so it must be true for some people's experiences.
    • My print book was available for sale through retailers, including Amazon, within 4 days. Lucky me! (Seriously.) But also, maybe there is just a buffer in case of unforeseen problems, or maybe the process is continuing to be streamlined and that information is also a bit out of date. 
      • I did have to upload my cover to Amazon separately through Author Central, but that takes about 2 minutes.
      • On Amazon, my print copy was simultaneously available in the US and UK! And it quickly became available globally, though the rest of the Amazon sites added it gradually.
  • Claim: Customer service is better on CreateSpace than IngramSpark.
    • Maybe. I haven't dealt with CreateSpace, but in order to receive my $49 refund to my credit card, I did have to deal with IngramSpark's customer service. While I quickly received an invoice promising the credit, in order for the credit to go to my card and not my IngramSpark account, I had to call. The person I spoke to honestly was clueless and a tad rude. He'd never heard of the promotion (despite it being on their website) and couldn't seem to understand that I was referring to a specific invoice until I repeated that about 6 times. But once we were on the same page, I quickly received my rebate.
    • I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: IngramSpark manually vetted each of my files. As far as I know, CreateSpace doesn't do that. I can deal with some less-than-stellar customer service in exchange for an expert set of eyes on my files before I pay for print proofs (or the file revision fees).

Other than the first two points, though, I couldn't have known that popular wisdom was wrong without having gone through the process with IngramSpark. So why did I choose them in the first place?
  1. Quality:
    • Ingram distributes for major publishing houses and, with IngramSpark, for indie publishers. (CreateSpace actually uses Ingram to distribute internationally.) Everyone seems to agree that their books are higher quality in terms of durability, paper quality, etc. Independent publishing is a serious investment, in terms of both time and money, and I didn't want that investment wasted on low-quality printed books.
    • Both providers offer two color choices for paper, but traditionally, white paper is only used for text books and nonfiction. I actually own a book from Entangled Publishing printed by CreateSpace that used white paper, and it looks plain strange. However, CreateSpace's "cream" paper is apparently actually yellow. So for a professional and habitual (aka "traditional") look, IngramSpark it was.
  2. Royalty structure
    • The actual numbers depend on the format and length of your book, but it's true that CreateSpace books earn a few cents per copy more on Amazon than IngramSpark books do (at the same 40% wholesale discount). However, CreateSpace books earn drastically less (almost 75% less) if distributed anywhere else, like Barnes & Noble, internationally, or through a bookstore.
      • This is a major reason some people recommend distributing to Amazon through CreateSpace, and everywhere else through IngramSpark. Personally, this didn't overshadow my many other reasons for choosing IngramSpark.
      • Yes, bookstores will order your book if someone personally goes in and asks them to! Or if you can get your local stores to stock it. And if that does happen, you'll earn a lot more per copy through IngramSpark.
  3. Trim size
    • Both POD providers offer a variety of trim sizes, but the smallest size offered by CreateSpace is 5"x8". I actually like my books small and easily portable, so I was initially considering printing in mass market paperback (like many romances are), which already would have limited me to IngramSpark. After many side-by-side comparisons of real books in my home, I  decided on 5"x7"—which still left me at IngramSpark.
      • I found this size comfortable to hold, while simultaneously fitting (height-wise) on the same shelf as mass market paperbacks. Shelf space is important to readers! And books that don't fit often get tucked somewhere out of the way—and out of sight.
      • Bizarrely, Amazon still lists my print book as 5"x8", though other sites list the right size. I have no idea why and have not found a way to fix it.
    • Related to trim size is format: IngramSpark offers hardback options. CreateSpace does not. While Mortal Musings is currently only available in paperback, it's nice to know that if I did want to release another edition in hardback, I easily could.
  4. Cover style
    • CreateSpace prints all covers with a laminate finish, which I find uncomfortable to the touch. Plus the laminate shows every fingerprint. It just wasn't what I wanted.
    • IngramSpark offers a matte finish as well—meaning you as the author get to choose. I love the soft feel of my matte cover; it's almost velvety.
    • UPDATE: CreateSpace now offers matte covers as well (this is listed under their "what's new" section on the home page). And they do have the added bonus that you can switch between a matte and laminate cover with no charge even when your book is already for sale. IngramSpark would, as far as I know, charge for changing the cover style. So in this category, CreateSpace may now have an edge if you just aren't sure which option you prefer.

So that's a bit about my experience and decision-making process with Print On Demand publishing. Have you looked into POD providers? What do you think about IngramSpark vs. CreateSpace?

And if you want to check out that super soft cover I mentioned, and the quality of the resulting book itself, you can always order a copy! ;)


  1. Ingram spark provides a decent product, when their system works. I've had orders languish for over a month before being filled. Currently their ordering system is offline and has been for almost a week; they have no ETA for getting it fixed. I've experienced a high defect rate. Emails go unanswered but phone calls are usually answered within 40 minutes. The problems with IS are too numerous to detail. Blurb is a better option a little more expensive but a much better value in terms of both product and service.

    1. Hmm, that's very interesting. I just went on my IS page to see if I could place an order, and while I didn't take it all the way through to payment since I don't currently need more copies at home, I had no problems.

      I definitely agree that the customer service when I've needed it hasn't been stellar, but otherwise my experience hasn't been like yours—orders have always shipped quickly, etc.

      It's definitely worth noting if they're inconsistent like this. Thanks for sharing your experience!