The reality is that many self-publishers can reach the vast majority of eBook buyers in the U.S. by distributing their eBook direct to the major stores: Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo and Google.
Each of these provides a self-service portal for the author, or a publishing services company like AuthorImprints, to manage for them. This is often sufficient because our research indicates that more than 85% of all eBooks sold by self or indie publishers are sold in the Amazon Kindle store.
In our view, there are two key reasons why someone would use IngramSpark for eBook distribution:
- The publisher has more than a handful of books in both print and eBook format. Thus using a single distribution system such as IngramSpark saves time and makes reporting easier.
- The publisher has books whose appeal is not limited to the U.S. reader market. IngramSpark can distribute eBooks to all key retailers around the world.
Factors to consider before using IngramSpark, or any other eBook distributor
In my article 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Decide How to Distribute Your eBook I recommend indies ask themselves these 5 questions as they weigh self-distribution vs. using an aggregator:
- Are you willing to pay for convenience? You pay one way or another. Either a fee or a reduced royalty.
- Do you mind waiting to get paid, or for changes to take effect? Time periods may be hours, or weeks. Further, you may have to manage it more closely.
- How much do you value the ability to fine-tune each store’s book selling tools? I’m referring to metadata here—categories, keywords and description formatting, for example—and your ability to present it attractively.
- How many books do you have? The more books, the more time savings you get from using a single interface.
- Do you think you might participate in Amazon’s KDP Select? If so, you can’t use IngramSpark for eBook distribution or suspend it for your 90 day exclusivity period.
So how does IngramSpark eBook distribution compare?
- The big drawback is that IngramSpark pays 40% of net sales whereas other aggregators and direct-to-retailer portals pay as much as 70%. (Note that if a publisher opts out of the Amazon agreement, compensation is paid at 45% of the list price.)
- Your eBooks in this program are not charged the usual Amazon download fee (15 cents per megabyte) when the file is downloaded by the buyer.
- You need a EPUB 2 or 3 file, no Kindle (Mobi) file is necessary because they handle conversion. The EPUB file must be less than 100MB.
- You can exclude the Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks store. Also note that they do not as yet distribute to the Google Play Books sore.
- There is a setup fee of $25. (This is waived in certain cases.)
Three caveats worth noting: (direct from Ingram and subject to change)
- If you have provided any e-books to Amazon for the Kindle in the past 12 months Ingram will not be able to provide service to Kindle through the IngramSpark program.
- If you currently have eBook content available on Apple, you will need to remove those eBooks from the iBooks store prior to uploading those same titles into IngramSpark. Also note that any reviews or ratings of that content will not transfer when your titles reappear in the iBooks store.
- Fixed layout EPUBs will only be available on Apple, Kobo, BookShout, and Libreka. Barnes and Noble accepts fixed layout EPUBs for children’s books only.
Case Study: Stupidparty Math v. Myth
Stupidparty Math v. Myth is an atypical eBook: 410 pages (print length), more than 1,500 hyperlinks, and nearly 1,200 images. The EPUB file is a whopping 65MB, and the Mobi file 112MB. The other consideration was timing. Because this is a political book the publisher, Fact Over Fiction Publishing, needed it on the market as soon as possible to take advantage of interest in the mid-term elections.
My 3 key reasons for using IngramSpark eBook distribution:
Amazon: even though the royalty via IngramSpark was only 40%, it was still higher than Amazon’s 35% royalty. The download fees of 15 cents per megabyte for a book this size would quickly eat up the profit margin and those fees are not assessed on Ingram-distributed eBooks. (By the way, Amazon Kindle has a stated upload limit of 100MB but I tested this and the limit was ignored for this book. My guess is that’s because Mobi files actually contain 3 versions of the eBook—for different Kindle device classes—which are parsed during the upload process.)
Apple: it can take Apple days, sometimes more than a week, to approve an eBook. It is also a more complex workflow to self-distribute via Apple because you need to use a Mac which is an extra step in our internal process.
B&N: Barnes & Noble’s NookPress has a strict 10MB file upload limit. Since ‘Stupidparty' is primarily for the U.S. market it was imperative that we have distribution to this important retailer.
The most surprising result was how fast Kobo posted the book. More importantly, they immediately discounted it from the list price of $9.99 to $7.56. Would Amazon price match? Yup! A few days went by and Amazon was a few cents below Kobo. Here’s a recap:
- Amazon: up within two days at $9.99. As I mentioned, it took them a week to figure out Kobo was lower.
- Kobo: up within two days.
- B&N: the file cap was ignored but it took B&N more than a week to post the book.
- Apple: up within two days. Because of the size of this book I have to assume there was no manual review.
Ultimately we decided to exercise the option to remove the eBook from Ingram’s distribution to the Kindle store. There were three reasons for this.
- Most importantly, Ingram seemed unable to get the eBook into our selected categories, or Amazon ignored this element of the metadata.
- At the time, the publisher wanted to participate in Matchbook, Amazon’s program that allows print book buyers to get the eBook for free or a highly discounted price. Update: Amazon discontinued this Matchbook in 2020.
- The third issue also involved metadata but we were willing to live with it: you cannot enhance your description with HTML with IngramSpark. Update: HTML is not supported.
A final point worth mentioning is the need to monitor your accounts. I called Ingram to remove the Kindle feed and was told it should take about a day. I immediately submitted the book via KDP and waited. After five days I called to ask the status. They “pushed” the change through again it was active two days later.
More troubling however is that this seemed to cause problems with the other retailers because a few days later I noticed the book was unavailable at B&N and Kobo (Apple was fine). This was significant because I wanted Kobo to discount the book so that Amazon would lower the price. Now, nearly two weeks later, B&N is live and I’m still waiting for Kobo to re-post the book (or Ingram to send it).
Any way you cut it, distribution is not a “set and forget” task. Whether you self-distribute, or use an aggregator like IngramSpark for eBook distribution, you need to periodically monitor your book’s presence out on the digital bookshelves.
AuthorImprints specializes in managing eBook distribution for independent publishers. Besides helping you choose the appropriate channels we also optimize your book’s metadata to enhance its online discovery.
- The 2021 Guide to Amazon Fees and Royalties for Kindle eBooks and KDP Print
- How Much to Charge When Pricing a Self-Published Book to Sell on Amazon
- Kindle eBook Royalties: 70% vs. 35% and 6 Essential Things You Need to Know
- Book Launch Marketing Case Study—Swing by Ashleigh Renard
- Should You Use Amazon KDP Select or Distribute Your Book Wide?