Originally published February 18, 2019; most recently updated November 22, 2021.
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. 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 nonstandard trim sizes and offer glossy and matte covers. I find the difference in paperback quality between KDP and IS to be negligible (YMMV), though I have a slight preference for KDP due to their thicker paper (55# vs 50# on IS).
Until 2021 IngramSpark was the only option for POD hardbacks (between these two services); now KDP is offering some limited hardback functionality. IS offers many trim sizes and clothbound with a dustcover or casebound (where the cover image is printed on the hard cover) and some variations. KDP offers five trim sizes and casebound only (no dust jackets).
For most details, here’s a meaty 1700-word post on print options.
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? Serious 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. Currently (November 2021), IS can only be contacted by email; they have disabled their live chat function and are not taking phone calls. Seriously.
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 $3.32 on IS. When you add shipping (and an order fee for IS) for ten copies, the all-in unit cost is around $3.45* on KDP and $4.51 on IS. Over time, a dollar more per book adds up. (*When you order author copies on KDP, the books are sent to your Amazon cart, where shipping costs are shown. This is a change from when I originally wrote this article, and I couldn’t get an updated shipping cost for this fictional scenario.)
Hardback is more expensive than paperback by about 2.5x. The same book that was $2.65 on KDP in paperback is $7.30 in hardback. On IS, the $3.32 paperback becomes $9.47 as a 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, 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 on 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, which is Ingram, the sibling-company book distributor. (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 $3.68 in revenue. Setting a 55% discount for the sales channel gives you $1.18 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 if you go with the lowest possible discount.
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 more hardback options, potentially higher royalties, and better (potentially cheaper) distribution into non-Amazon retailers.
Many indie authors, however, use both POD platforms. The strategy:
- Purchase your own ISBNs. You can use the same ISBN across platforms as long as the book is identical–that is, the same trim size, the same cover type, and so on. (Be sure to understand how ISBNs work before using this strategy.)
- Use KDP for Amazon sales only. Set your book up on KDP first, and do NOT enable KDP’s “expanded distribution.” (If you set up IS first, the IS data feed will go to Amazon, which is what you don’t want.) Rationale: Using KDP gets your book some benefit in the Amazon search engine. Bonus: By setting up KDP first, you have the chance to order proof copies and correct any issues before you upload to IS, thus reducing the need to incur revision fees on IS.
- Use IngramSpark for all other sales channels. Set your book up on IS second. Rationale: If you sell primarily online, having your book on IS 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.
Overall the dual-platform strategy can be a strong approach to maximize sales and profit.
KDP and IngramSpark Printing Options for more details comparing the two platforms.
Still have questions? Please read the comments. Then if that doesn’t do it, email me at email@example.com and if it’s something new, I’ll try to answer your question and add our exchange to the comments. (Comments are closed because I got tired of the spam!)