Authors who are self-publishing print books have essentially two options for affordable print-on-demand (POD) and distribution to Amazon and other online retailers:
- Amazon KDP Print
For years, first with CreateSpace and now with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon has enjoyed a competitive advantage because it provides a free ISBN—the mandatory unique book identification number—for selling books in print through book retailers. It is an important reason why Amazon’s market share of self-published print books increased from 6% in 2007 to 92% as of 2018. In 2018, Amazon published 1.42 million print books, leaving just 130,000 to be published by others.
The free ISBN from IngramSpark removes this advantage
Up until April 2020, IngramSpark required authors to have their own ISBN, or buy one through Ingram for $85, if they wished to use Ingram to distribute their print book (more about imprints and ISBNs below).
This is no longer the case. IngramSpark now offers customers a free ISBN option, just like Amazon KDP. With this financial obstacle removed, how is IngramSpark different from KDP Print?
Five important ways IngramSpark is different from Amazon KDP Print
- IngramSpark offers pre-order. Self-publishers can list their print book for sale up to one year in advance of its release date.
- IngramSpark can print hardcover books. A hardcover will require an additional ISBN, but this is an otherwise affordable way to create an additional item to sell.
- Self-publishers can set retailer discounts. The standard discount (55%) will get your book into the most retailers, but Ingram also allows publishers to choose a number between 30 and 54%.
- Self-publishers can accept returns, or not. If you accept returns, you can choose to have those destroyed or shipped to you for other uses. It is standard practice in the book trade to permit bookstores to return unsold books. In other words, your books are on consignment. Few if any bookstores will order books that are non-returnable.
- Print without an ISBN. There are times when you may want to prevent a book from being sold by retailers, and not using an ISBN is the perfect way to do that. Ingram will assign a free non-distributable SKU in this case.
A sometimes-important sixth difference is that authors can order copies of their pre-released book to distribute when soliciting reviews and endorsements before the book is released—either as finished books or marked as Advance Reading Copies (ARCs). This is not possible when using Amazon KDP Print, where the limit is five copies, and each book has a band wrapped around the top that says “Not for Resale.”
Why not use IngramSpark instead of Amazon KDP Print?
There are two primary knocks on IngramSpark relative to Amazon KDP. One is that it is more expensive to use. The second is that it is more complex.
A third—not always discovered until a book is published and available on Amazon—is its availability for immediate purchase.
- It can be more expensive. Unlike Amazon KDP, IngramSpark charges a $49 “title setup” fee to process a book for printing (and eBook processing). However, you can avoid this if you are a member of IBPA or ALLi, or a customer of AuthorImprints. IngramSpark also periodically provides a discount code, as it is doing now during the COVID-19 pandemic (use code: INGRAMSPARK2020). In addition to title setup and processing, Ingram charges a $1.99 handling fee per order for author copies, and its shipping prices seem higher, at least compared to Amazon. Speaking of author copies, the cost to buy paperbacks from Amazon Print tends to be lower than IngramSpark.
- It can be more complex to use. In the spring of 2020, Ingram began implementing a long-overdue overhaul to its user interface to make it easier to use. As of May, it appears that any new accounts are required to use the new system, which had previously been optional.
- Amazon can place a shipping delay notice on IngramSpark books. A chief complaint among our clients is that book listings provided to Amazon via IngramSpark often have a notice in the Amazon buy-box that orders may take an “extra few days” to process. This can be a huge customer turn-off, so the work-around is to use both services—KDP Print for Amazon and IngramSpark for all other online retailers, a simple matter if you own your ISBNs.
What about the quality of printing?
I refer to POD books as being like snowflakes—each can be slightly different than the other.
The spine text on one copy may be slightly off center, but the images inside look perfect. Another copy’s spine is perfect, but the images inside are a tad dark. Or maybe the text from a group of pages is at a slight angle from surrounding pages. Results can be perfect, imperceptible, or annoying; you never know what the customer may receive.
Is this something to be concerned about? No, certainly not for most books. It is also not unique to self-published books. As noted by industry veteran Mike Shatzkin in his post, Ingram now has 18 million titles in its POD catalog, and publishers of all sizes are embracing POD like never before. In fact, he believes it’s the way of the future for traditionally published books.
Is IngramSpark quality better than KDP Print?
This is a red herring in my experience, and we’ve produced hundreds of books through both KDP Print and IngramSpark. My comments about quality apply to both. All things being equal, I would never choose one over the other based solely on the assumption that one might print books with more consistent quality.
The reason to choose one over the other should be based on the differences noted above or your need for other paper options. IngramSpark does have three color-paper options compared to one for KDP Print, and Ingram has one black-and-white-paper option that KDP Print does not offer.
Sometimes you do not have a choice about who prints your book
One more important thing to note is that Amazon and Ingram are partners when it comes to printing and distribution.
- KDP Print’s Expanded Distribution option utilizes Ingram’s wholesale book distribution to make your book available to non-Amazon retailers such as BN.com.
- During periods of heavy demand—such as the holidays—Amazon utilizes Ingram’s POD resources to print book orders placed through Amazon. You have no choice in this matter.
Should you use the free ISBN from IngramSpark?
- A free ISBN from anyone carries risks. It names the company providing the ISBN as your publisher and may have restrictions. For example, the free ISBN from Amazon requires that you use Amazon to print your books—you cannot use any other printer.
- Both IngramSpark and Amazon are authorized resellers of ISBNs. Ingram’s price is $85 per ISBN and Amazon charges $99. The standard Bowker price is $125 for one or $295 for 10.
For more about the importance of book imprints and understanding advantages and trade-offs, see this article: What is a book publishing imprint?