IngramSpark Part 3: The Little Things

For my last trick, I have a few little details and opinions to share about IngramSpark. They are all things I either contacted IS about, or researched online because I had lingering questions after I read their guidebooks and FAQs.

A note to start: IngramSpark’s online chat is great if you have questions. They’ll ask your account number and ISBN for the book you have issues with, and they’ll be able to help you then and there. It’s the most efficient way to get assistance. Email takes a few days for a response, which isn’t ideal, and I haven’t tried the phone support yet.

Since this turned out somewhat longer than I originally intended, I sorted it all into sections again.

Wholesale Discounts

According to IngramSpark, this discount includes their cut, as well as a discount they pass on to stores, which allows them to discount the book by a certain percentage and still make a profit. They recommend you leave these settings at the default amount of 55%, but you can change it to anything you like, with a minimum of 35%. They do, however warn that setting a smaller wholesale discount might affect a store’s willingness to stock your book.

Two notes I have on this particular point. The first is that it’s still not clear to me whether this discount rate affects only physical inventory, or stockless online listings as well. In other words, if I set the discount at 35%, will stores just not stock it on physical shelves, or will they also not catalog the book in their online listings?

The second is the result of online research, which brought me to a number of blogs debunking IngramSpark’s claims about how the discount rate is broken down. Several Indie authors noted that the bulk of the discount actually goes to IS and their affiliates, rather than the stores themselves, and that by the time the book gets all the way down the line to them, that “discount” is almost nothing for the store. I do not have first hand experience to validate this, but it’s worth noting.

Book Returnability

IS gives you the option of setting your books as returnable or not. If you choose to make them returnable, you can also choose whether you want the returned copies destroyed or sent to you. They leave the option to your discretion, but warn that physical stores will likely not stock a book for which they cannot return unsold copies. Here’s the fine print on that:

If you set your book as returnable, there is no time limit within which unsold copies can be returned, and no restrictions on the condition in which those books can be returned. Which means a store can order 1,000 copies of your book today, return 900 of them in 2029, with half of them damaged or totally unreadable, for a full refund.

If you choose to have those copies destroyed, you (the author) will be invoiced for the total printing cost for those books, regardless of the amount of royalties you received for their sale. In other words, if your book cost $7.00 to print, and you set the price to receive $1.20 per book as your royalties, you won’t just return the $1.20 they paid you for its sale. You will be charged the full $7.00 IS paid to get it printed. Which means your net for the return of that book will be -$5.80. Do the math for quantities of hundreds or thousands.

If you choose to have those copies sent to you for potential resale, you (the author) will be invoiced for the total printing cost for those books, plus the shipping cost to get the returned copies to you. You will then be stuck with those books for storage and/or resale, and again, there are no restrictions on what condition they might be in.

This is all spelled out on the IngramSpark website, but it took some searching and a chat with their support for me to find it and get it clarified. Authors beware.

Setup Costs

IngramSpark charges $50 per book for initial setup. This fee is charged upon upload, and is applied to every version of the book you set up. If you want the same book in the same trim size in hardcover and paperback, you will be charged $50 for each of them.

This fee also applies if you need to do corrections or changes. Your book will not be printable until you approve the digital proof they send you. Meaning, you cannot get a physical proof of the book until you approve it, which makes it “live.” You can make changes for free before you make the book live, but after it’s live, any changes will constitute a new setup fee of $25 per file, which then starts the process of digital proofing all over again.

So, to sum up, in order to check how the book actually prints, you need to approve it first. Then, if cover colors didn’t come out right, or if there is an error that needs to be corrected, you need to pay to get it done.

If it sounds like a rip-off, it kind of is. At least from where I’m sitting. But it appears to be the cost of doing business with them, for the privilege of being competition-neutral among bookstores. Yes, I’m a little bitter about this, but I’ll get over it. The one good thing is that IS did away with the annual cataloging fee (or whatever it was called) which would have cost an additional fee per book per year just to have it available for stores to order and stock (if they choose to).

Book Pricing

The IngramSpark website has a handy dandy royalty calculator, which lets you test out your book pricing to see how much you will make in royalties, based on the unit price you set. This is actually very helpful, and gives you an idea of where you stand before you start the setup process, so you still have a chance to change things if necessary.

Here’s the thing: You are now in the Print-on-Demand game. By default, your production cost will be much higher than traditional bulk printing through a big publishing house, which means you will need to set your retail price a good deal higher than other, similar books. If all the other obstacles weren’t enough, this might be the biggest one, because it might deter readers from buying or ordering your book in the first place. There’s a reason why most Indies stick to eBook publishing only.

Quality Comparison

I now have samples of print books from both CreateSpace and IngramSpark so, in case you were wondering, here is how they compare:

Covers: Paper stock and finish are pretty much the same. However, it looks like IngramSpark color matching and the print quality of graphics is slightly better than CreateSpace. Discrepancies (such as spine alignment and cropping) is roughly the same. Small errors happen in both just because of the cutting process.

Interiors: Paper stock is thicker through CreateSpace than IngramSpark. It means books are thicker, too, which affects the cover dimensions and gutter size. I actually prefer the thinner stock from IngramSpark, as it feels smoother, and I can use a smaller gutter, which fits more text per page and reduces page count. In terms of print quality, IngramSpark prints darker than CreateSpace, which makes the text pop better, but it also produces light ink smears across the pages sometimes. They’re not severe enough to be very noticeable, but keen eyes will definitely pick it out. The books also have printers marks visible by the spine along the pages’ inner and upper edges. Again, not too big a deal, but you will notice it.

Durability: Too soon to tell. It looks like the binding is the same or similar for both printers. I have leafed through both books and they hold together pretty well so far, but I have heard complaints from both IngramSpark authors and CreateSpace authors about pages falling out after a while, etc. I have not had such issues with either printer yet.

In Conclusion…

The platform you choose will depend on your strategy. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but you should always keep in mind that nothing is ever guaranteed. Simply publishing through IngramSpark does not guarantee that your book will magically show up on the shelves of your neighborhood bookstore. Simply publishing through CreateSpace does not mean you will never see your books in a brick-and-mortar store. It might be more difficult, but it’s not impossible.

A great deal of book sales still occurs online, anyway, so it might not matter, anyway, unless you plan to do book signings or author conventions. In that case, publishing through IngramSpark might make it a little easier to work with local bookstores for preorders and inventory stocking for the event itself. It also has more options in terms of trim sizes and paperback vs. hardcover (CreateSpace doesn’t offer hardcover options at all, and trim sizes are limited). If you’re on a shoestring budget, or just want your book in print for yourself and a few diehard fans, CreateSpace might be the better option. It’s cheaper, and still gets your book listed in online stores all over the world, which is what counts, anyway.

This concludes my IngramSpark series.
Is there anything I left out? Got more questions?
Drop them in the comments below. =)

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