Fit to print?: My take on Createspace vs. Lightning Source
In my new goal to help share what I’ve learned about self-publishing over the last few years, I thought this should be the first subject I address. It’s the question that I get referrals from other authors on the most consistently.
Firstly, as a self-publishing author, you might be wondering if it’s necessary to have a paperback at all. Well, it’s up to you. It’s not necessary, per se, but there’s still a not-so-insignificant community of readers who are die-hard lovers of paper. For them, ebooks just hold no appeal, either because they enjoy the tactile experience, because they like to interact with the book on a physical level (EW! I don’t mean that way. I mean, like highlighting or making margin notes.), or because they simply don’t care for technology or don’t have disposable income enough to invest in an ereader.
As an indie/self-published author, the monster’s share of your sales are going to be in ebook format. However, if you don’t have your novel-sized books available for sale in paperback, you’re missing on a market of dedicated readers. And like ebooks, getting your work into print is relatively simple. Whereas only a few years ago, self-publishing a paperback would have required an investment of thousands of dollars from an author, the process now can be done for almost nothing, using Print-On-Demand (POD) vendors. There are many POD operations including LuLu or Blurb.com, but if you’re really looking for full-scale production and distribution, your best bets are either Createspace (an Amazon company, hereafter referred to as CS) or Lightning Source, Inc. (hereafter referred to as LSI). The question then comes to, which one should you use?
Well, firstly, you should know it isn’t necessarily an either/or question. Both CS and LSI are non-exclusive, meaning if you wanted to, you could release the same book through both vendors. Based on my experience, however, LSI holds the clear advantage and suits best most (but not all) situations.
- They are part of the Ingram Content Group.
And that means awesome distribution. In fact, Ingram is one of the primary distributors of paperbacks in the world; almost any book site or bookseller can obtain stock through them. (CS offers customers the option of listing a book in the Ingram catalog, but it costs you extra and takes a huge chunk out of each sale.)
- You have (almost) total control over your wholesale discount.
Traditionally to be stocked by a bookstore or retail outlet, a 40-50% discount off of retail is required. i.e. If your book has a cover price of $10, they’ll buy the copy from you for $5-$6. Your royalty is the difference between this wholesale price and print cost. For this reason, until POD, self and small publishers had to inflate the cover price of a paperback in order to achieve any profit. CS’s standard wholesale rate is 40% when vended through Amazon. (It’s lower if the reader purchases through the CS store, but believe me, hardly any one does and Amazon doesn’t like to compete with itself so they make the CS not so attractive.) LSI lets you set the rate, as low as 20%. This INCLUDES sales made through Amazon. Mind you, at 20%, a bookstore will not be stocking your book. However, if your marketplace for paperback sales is primarily online, what the hell do you care? This lower wholesale discount allows you to lower the price of your paperback without cutting into your royalties. You can also change your wholesale rate and retail price, so if your book goes viral and you do want to make it practical for bookstores to order, you can adjust your rate and price accordingly.
- Quality is king.
This isn’t to say the CS-printed books are bad quality. I’m only saying that in my opinion and experience, LSI prints are better.
- It’s all about the options baby.
Both CS and LSI offer customers most size formats common in the market today. LSI offers more. LSI also offers hardback printing and matte finishes on paperbacks. (FYI: I know that CS is also trying to bring this option online.)
- Show me the money!
Bottom line: you’re going to make better royalties using LSI, and that’s mostly because of the control you have over your wholesale discount. Here’s an example: using CS’s royalty calculator, a sale of a copy of my historical romance, A Love by Any Measure, currently priced at $11.50 would net me about $1.92/copy when sold through Amazon, and about a loss of .38/copy if sold through expanded distribution (a non-Amazon site via Amazon). (There is a higher profit on the CS store, but as mentioned, hardly anyone buys there.) Selecting at 20% wholesale discount, my profit per copy via LSI is around $3.83, regardless of where that book sells.
- Okay, so why isn’t LSI always the better option?
As I said, I’ve used both CS and LSI, and the reason isn’t merely because of all these advantages. There are times when CS is a better option. There are a few disadvantages to going with LSI, namely:
- Although author copies are cheaper than with CS, the shipping tends to be more and takes longer to deliver.
- With LSI, you must provide your own ISBNs. (CS lets you buy them cheap, keeping in mind they’re really leasing them to you, not selling it to you outright.) ISBNs in small numbers aren’t cheap. A pack of 10 will cost you around $250.
- Format standards with LSI are more complex. You’ll either need a bit of computer knowledge or have a professional formatter properly create a file that meets LSI’s guidelines.
- There’s more upfront cost and wait with LSI. Your first publication with LSI will take at least 4 if not 6 weeks before going live. (Subsequent works barring problems generally process in 5 business days.) They charge $75 for the initial publishing ($37.50 for the interior, $37.50 for the cover), plus $12/year/title to list the book in the Ingrams catalog. If you discover a mistake or want to change your cover, there’s a $40 fee each time you do so.
So, in the end, CS does make sense if you’re new and want to limit your financial exposure, or if you believe there will be a very limited market for your books in paperback. I used CS when I released a novella that I was certain would generally have small sales (it was a ‘just for fun’ type of book) and knowing I’d never sell enough copies to make back the printing costs.
Comments, questions, experience to share?