IngramSpark Print-on-Demand vs. Amazon KDP Print
  • IngramSpark vs KDP Print
  • What about print quality?
  • Should you use their free ISBN?
  • Resources and related articles
IngramSpark Print-on-Demand - A 2020 Update Now Offering a Free ISBN

IngramSpark Print-on-Demand vs. Amazon KDP Print

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:

1. Amazon KDP Print (formerly CreateSpace)

2. IngramSpark, part of Ingram Content Group

For years, first with CreateSpace and now with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon 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% in 2018. In 2018 (the last year these numbers were reported), Amazon published* 1.42 million print books, leaving just 130,000 to be published by others.

*If you use Amazon’s (or Ingram’s) free ISBN, that company is technically your publisher.

The free ISBN from IngramSpark removed that advantage

Up until April 2020, IngramSpark required authors to have their own ISBN, or to 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?

Six important ways IngramSpark is different from Amazon KDP Print

1. IngramSpark offers pre-order. Self-publishers can list their print book for sale up to one year in advance of its release date.

2. IngramSpark prints hardcover books with dust jackets. Amazon began offering hardcover books in 2021, but they don't print dust jackets, and there are a limited number of trim sizes. (Note that a hardcover requires an additional ISBN, but this is an otherwise affordable way to create an additional item to sell.)

3. With IngramSpark, self-publishers can set wholesale 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% (most international markets require a minimum 35% discount).

4. Through IngramSpark, self-publishers can accept returns, or not. 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. Nevertheless, it's an option with IngramSpark. But if you do accept returns, through IngramSpark you can choose to have those destroyed or shipped to you for other uses.

5. 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. Here are three examples of how AuthorImprints uses this feature to help our clients create a book but not make it available for purchase by the public:

  • Produce a book for your family and friends, such as a family album.
  • Create advance reading copies to help solicit pre-publication reviews and blurbs.
  • Create books for the exclusive use of your business or school.

A sometimes-important sixth difference is that authors can order copies of their pre-released book to distribute when soliciting reviews and endorsements before publication (marked or unmarked as Advance Reading Copies, ARCs). Amazon KDP limits authors to five copies per order, and each book has a band wrapped around the top that says “Not for Resale.”

6. Sell books direct to readers. IngramSpark's Share & Sell with shareable purchase links allows you to sell print books direct to readers from a website or via social media.

Why not use IngramSpark instead of Amazon KDP Print?

There are three primary knocks on IngramSpark relative to Amazon KDP.

1. It is more expensive to use. 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 did during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to title setup and processing, Ingram charges a $1.99 handling fee per order for author copies, and its shipping prices are usually higher, at least compared to Amazon.

2. It is more complex. In the spring of 2020, Ingram implemented an overhaul to its user interface, but it is still confusing to use. Part of that is because there are more options, such as wholesale settings, compared to Amazon. But there are a sufficient number of quirks, combined with substandard customer support, to keep this a relevant concern.

3. Customers can experience delayed delivery times. 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 turnoff.

Amazon Buy Box for Book Printed by IngramSpark

IngramSpark print quality vs. Amazon KDP print quality

We refer to POD books produced by either service as being like snowflakes—each can be slightly different from 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 compared to surrounding pages. Sometimes, pages are missing. Results can be perfect, or issues can be 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 has 20+ 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 false narrative in our experience, and we’ve produced hundreds of books through both KDP Print and IngramSpark. Our comments about quality apply to both. 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 two 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
  • 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 because you are nearly always required to use the services of the company that gave you the free ISBN. For example, the free ISBN from Amazon requires that you use Amazon to print your books—you cannot use any other printer. The same is true for IngramSpark.
  • Both IngramSpark and Amazon are authorized resellers of ISBNs, so you can buy your ISBNs from either, if you aren't buying ISBNs directly from Bowker. Ingram’s price is $85 per ISBN and Amazon charges $99. The standard Bowker price is $125 for one or $295 for 10. (IBPA members can save 15%.)

For more about the importance of book imprints and understanding advantages and trade-offs, see this article: What is a book publishing imprint?

Resources and related articles

How to Print Advance Reader Copy (ARC) Books Using IngramSpark

How to Use IngramSpark to Personalize the First Page of Your POD Book

Bowker Self-Publishing Report Analysis-5 Surprising Findings for 2019

3 Questions for Lightning Source’s Bailey Davis About IngramSpark Pre-Order

4 thoughts on “IngramSpark Print-on-Demand vs. Amazon KDP Print”

  1. The main question I have about the free Ingramsparks ISBN is will it limit places the book can be sold. They kind of hint at that in what I’ve read. I.e. if I have a free Ingramsparks ISBN, will my book be available on Amazon, or will it only be available through some Ingram specific website?

  2. Emily, IngramSpark must be your only printer which means the book will be available only from those stores that IngramSpark sends the book to. That includes Amazon, BN, and many others.

  3. Since the printing costs of IngramSpark are higher than Amazon, can I price the book differently? I only make ~$3 off Amazon print books and with IngramSpark, this is reduced to ~$2 and then add in the wholesaler discount and I don’t even make a dollar off each sale. I don’t want to raise the cost significantly but just enough make ~$2 of IngramSpark sales. Thanks in advance.

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