To keep things simple for first-time authors, I often suggest they stick with Amazon’s ecosystem, using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for both ebooks and print books. (The KDP print service recently replaced CreateSpace, which was also owned by Amazon.)
However, there is another major player in the print-on-demand (POD) space: IngramSpark (IS), which is the POD service from Ingram, a major book distributor.
In this overview article, we’ll look at why you might choose one POD service over the other—and the strategy for using both. I’m also doing an in-depth series that takes each section into greater detail. I will update this article with links as they get added. If you have specific questions, let me know and I will do my best to incorporate answers for you.
Since I work primarily with nonfiction books, in this article I’ll use the example of a standard 6×9, 150-page, black-and-white book. (We’re not going to cover color books or ebooks here.)
For paperback books, KDP and IngramSpark offer similar options. They both have multiple standard and non-standard trim sizes and offer glossy and matte covers. I find the difference in paperback quality between KDP and IS to be negligible (YMMV).
IngramSpark, however, also offers hardback books: clothbound with a dustcover or casebound (where the cover image is printed on the hard cover).
Both platforms require basically the same elements to set up a book (interior file, cover file, metadata); however, KDP makes the process far, far easier.
KDP’s interface is straightforward. It’s free to upload files, and if you find a mistake later and need to upload fresh files, no problem—just do it. Post-publication, their reporting dashboard is clean and simple.
IS’s interface and processes are unintuitive and their instructions are poor. IS charges setup fees of about $25 per file ($49 for both interior and cover). Once you’ve approved your book, if you need to upload new files for any reason, you must pay fees again. Reporting dashboard? Headache.
I rarely have issues that require me to contact KDP’s customer service. I’ve talked to IS more times than I can count and I’ve been frustrated with them more often than not.
Before approving your book for sale, chances are you’ll want to see a physical copy of it.
KDP gives you the option of ordering up to five proof copies. They come with a big “PROOF” label on the cover, so they are not copies you could sell. But what you want before approving your book for sale is a chance to see if there are any mistakes, so to me that is not an issue.
IngramSpark does not give you an option for proof copies. They have a two-step approval process, in which you first approve for printing, then approve for distribution. To get a tangible copy, you have to approve your book for printing. Then you can order an author copy for review before you approve your book for distribution. However, since you’ve approved your book to print, if you need to make any changes after seeing a print copy, you have to upload a new file and pay another fee. Hmmm.
Both platforms allow authors to buy their own books at cost plus shipping. Printing costs are in a similar range, but KDP is consistently less expensive than IngramSpark.
For example, a single 6×9, 150-page book is $2.65 to print on KDP and $2.97 on IS. When you add shipping (and an order fee for IS) for ten copies, the all-in unit cost is $3.45 on KDP and $4.04 on IS. Sixty cents more per book may not seem like a lot, but over time, it can add up.
Hardback (IS only) is more expensive than paperback by about 2.5x. The same book that was $2.97 in paperback is $7.53 in hardback.
People tend to blur the different parties involved in self-publishing. Distinguish them thus:
- You, the author, are the publisher.
- The POD service you choose (KDP or IS) is the printer.
- Amazon, other online stores, bookstores, libraries and so on are distribution channels.
When you use KDP, you can choose to sell your book on Amazon and through KDP’s “expanded distribution” to reach non-Amazon channels, such as other online booksellers, bookstores, libraries, and academic institutions.
Using KDP for print-on-demand appears to give you an edge in the Amazon search engine algorithm over books published elsewhere (like IngramSpark). All other things being equal, greater visibility leads to greater sales.
IngramSpark is the equivalent of KDP, but IngramSpark does not have an owned sales platform equivalent to Amazon. What IngramSpark has is the near-equivalent of KDP’s expanded distribution (in fact, KDP’s expanded distribution goes through Ingram).
When you use IngramSpark, you can make your book available to online stores (such as Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com) and to Ingram (the book distributor), which makes your book available to bookstores, libraries, and so on.
One of the big benefits of using IngramSpark is that bookstores and other brick-and-mortar retailers are already used to buying books from Ingram (the distribution channel) as a part of their regular purchasing process.
Additionally, to get into bookstores, your book almost always needs to be returnable. When bookstores have books that don’t sell, they send them back to the publisher for a refund. IngramSpark makes books returnable; KDP does not. (Note: You the publisher bear the expense of returns. If bookstores aren’t your focus, you can make your books not returnable.)
When you sell a book, three components determine how much money you make:
- the price,
- the cut the sales channel takes,
- and the printing cost.
Let’s consider our 150-page b/w book again, priced at $10.
When you publish on KDP and sell through Amazon, Amazon gets 40% of the price (you’ll see this referred to as their “discount”), so the calculation is:
- List price = $10
- minus Sales channel (40%) = $4
- minus Printing cost = $2.65
- equals your revenue = $3.35
If you go through KDP’s expanded distribution the sales channel gets 60%, so your revenue is $1.35.
When your book is sold through IngramSpark’s distribution, the calculation is the same as that for KDP, but on IS you have a choice of what discount to give the distribution channel.
The minimum discount you can offer is 30%; the maximum is 55%. To effectively sell to bookstores, you need to offer a 50–55% discount; if you plan to sell primarily online and to use your book for marketing, you can set the discount at 30% so you retain as much profit as possible.
Setting a 30% discount for the sales channel gives you $4.03 in revenue. Setting a 55% discount for the sales channel gives you $1.53 in revenue.
Notice that even with IngramSpark’s higher print costs, you can make more money on book sales with IS than you can with KDP.
The Strategy for Using KDP and IngramSpark
Based on your needs, there can be good reasons to stick with one platform or the other. KDP is easy, flexible, and has lower-cost author copies. IngramSpark is not user-friendly and nickel-and-dimes you on fees, but it offers higher royalties, hardback books, and better (potentially cheaper) distribution into non-Amazon retailers.
Many indie authors, however, use both POD platforms. The strategy:
- Use KDP for Amazon sales only. Do NOT enable KDP’s “expanded distribution.” This gets you some benefit in the Amazon search engine and lets you order cheaper author copies.
- Use IngramSpark for all other sales channels. If you sell primarily online, this lets you set a lower discount than Amazon takes. If your strategy entails bookstores, your book can be more appealing due to returnability and retailers’ existing familiarity with Ingram’s distribution processes.
There are some complexities introduced by using this strategy (e.g., related to ISBNs) that I will cover elsewhere, but overall it’s a strong approach to maximize sales and profit.
Still confused about which POD platform to use? Want some help? Get in touch (919.609.2817 or firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll set up a discovery session to get you sorted.