Comparing POD Giants
Amazon Vs. Createspace
You put in the hard work and wrote something great and now you want to show it off to the world. First off, let me congratulate you on a job well-done and with you the best of luck with your future writing career. I know you'll do great.
You can post it on KDP for free, it'll only take you a short amount of time, and you'll be able to say you're published. But, from experience and talking to a lot of people, I can say that there is nothing quite like holding a paperback copy in your hands.
Sure, people are reading your words in eBook, but what you really want is that dead tree to hold onto. Printing a paperback can be one of the most rewarding parts of the entire writing process.
So how do I do it?
When it comes to finding the right system for printing your books, you have some tough decisions to make: should you go with a vanity press and print out a bunch of copies, or a print on demand company that will only print copies as books are ordered?
If you print a lot of copies to sell, it's going to cost a ton upfront and become a huge investment, and that alone is enough to turn most authors away.
Print on demand, on the other hand, has a very low cost of investment. In fact, it is possible to publish your book in paperback entirely without spending a dime. Both companies offer some amazing benefits, but there are also some limitations to using them that should be noted before making a decision.
This is an Amazon company. It falls under the umbrella of services they offer, and as such many people will recognize it for what it is if your book says it is distributed by Createspace.
This is a good thing because it has powerful branding, but it can be seen as a negative as well: many book sellers don't like Amazon on principle (they think it is destroying the industry) so there can be some negative reactions to using it.
Will this lose you sales? That is debatable. Some people, however, love having that debate.
Ingram is huge in the publishing world, a major global distributor. Spark is a branch of their LightningSource distribution platform and is keyed toward Indie Authors. Authors used to be able to sign up for LightningSource instead if they really wanted, which was basically an identical service with some technical difference, but now everyone is funneled here.
Which isn't to say this lacks anything LightningSource has: Spark is a great platform and has evolved and grown throughout the years.
Comparison 1: Setup/Adjust Pricing
With both platforms, you need to have your own well-formatted cover and interior file, though if you make the same book in both places the files can be nearly identical. Createspace is free to setup a new title, as well as modify the interior and cover files when you want to make changes. IngramSpark has a $49 fee to create a new title, as well as a $25 fee to update the files individually if you ever want to make changes (for formatting, edits, etc.).
There are discounts you can get (IngramSpark often offers between 10%-100% discounts for initial setup to bring new people in) but they aren't always available. And, even then, if you make eventual changes you will still need to pay for them.
In this category, Createspace is clearly the winner.
Comparison 2: Quality
Both companies print books on demand, which means they will source books when necessary and then ship them directly to customers. Ingram has suppliers all over the world, and CreateSpace has suppliers in the US and UK. You can't control the supplier in either case, which means they will choose who prints/ships based on proximity and cost.
However, anecdotally (and consistently) it seems that there is a much greater variance between CreateSpace distributors than IngramSpark. Many people have reported bad prints, missed pages, entirely wrong interior files, and other problems from CreateSpace. Some of their suppliers are worse than other, and some are downright terrible, which means there is a randomness to it that can be detrimental.
Side by side comparison of them at their best, Ingram takes this category with a slight edge, but they win hands down when you factor in that it could take several tries for CreateSpace to get you a good copy.
Comparison 3 - Distribution and Pricing
Both companies let you set your own price, and you can charge hundreds of dollars per book if you want. You shouldn't, but you can. With Ingram, you can even set regional pricing on your own, as well as percentage discounts for buyers, which gives you even more control.
CreateSpace has an option called expanded distribution which enables your book for distribution beyond their initial three platforms. What they don't tell you is that they use LightningSource as their distributor, so if you use that option, you'll be using Ingram anyway.
The other thing they don't tell you is that they use Ingram, but poorly and everyone loses out. To explain what I mean, let me give you a rundown of how bookstores purchase books:
Let's say your book costs 10 dollars. When a bookstore buys it, there are two major features they look at: their discount, and whether or not it is returnable. With Ingram, you set your discount between 30% and 55%, and it is completely up to you. With CreateSpace, you have no control over it.
Bookstore owners usually like books to be in the 45%-55% range discount (i.e. they pay $4.50 for your book and make $5.50 in revenue which could be good profit). They also want it to be returnable (for 90 days they can send it back if they feel like it won't sell).
Ingram gives you three options for returns: none, mail, destroy. With both options for actual returns, you will have to cover the cost of printing the book and returning the book, but if you choose destroy they will simply throw your book away and you won't have to pay shipping to get it back. If a book isn't returnable, bookstores are less likely to take a chance on it.
CreateSpace sets these options as non-returnable and 35% discount for stores (so they pay $6.50 per copy and make less profit). These aren't great terms, so bookstores are less likely to want to carry your book if you use Expanded Distribution.
They also take their cut directly out of this. If you set those terms on IngramSpark, you would get around $3.00 royalty per copy sold, but with CreateSpace you get about $0.95 cents.
At this point Ingram clearly seems like the winner in this category, but there are a few nuances to keep in mind: first off, having control over your global pricing sounds cool, but in practice you need to sell a LOT of books for it to pay off. If you're only selling a few here and there then it isn't nearly as valuable. Second, CreateSpace is definitely Amazon's Preferred Vendor, which means Amazon will always source from CreateSpace. What's more, they will stock your CreateSpace book in warehouses so that when people order they can get it quicker and see the 'In Stock' tag on your product page.
However, I've had luck using Ingram setting higher discounts and getting Amazon to discount further. If you sell your book for $10 and set a 50% discount, Amazon might actually sell it for $8 giving readers the impression that it is marked down in price, which can help with sales. Since you make more money through Ingram anyway, this can be a viable strategy to modifying your product page to be more enticing.
In either case, Ingram wins this with a slight edge.
Comparison 4: ISBN Distribution
Both companies offer the ability to buy an ISBN directly on the website during product creation, and their pricing is fairly comparable. CreateSpace will allow you to use a free ISBN if you want and they will be your 'publishing company.' Many authors don't like this because it screams 'self-published book' but it is a completely viable way of publishing a book without spending any money at all. They used to have another option buy a cheap non-transferable ISBN as well, but they dropped it.
Either way, CreateSpace still has more options and is the winner of this category. Though, if you are actually planning to publish more than one book, I would highly recommend buying directly from Bowker and owning your ISBN rather than using either company. You can get ten ISBNs for the price of two there, and you can buy larger packages to save a lot of money down the line.
Note, this only applies to US users, because in Canada and elsewhere there are free or cheaper options for getting ISBNs.
Comparison 5: Options and Ease of Use
Both companies are easy to use, though the CreateSpace UI is more intuitive so they have the upper hand here. However, Ingram has more overall options, including the ability to make hard copies. This is a huge plus in their favor, because even though paperbacks legitimize a book, there is nothing like holding a hard copy of your work in hand with a dust jacket you can take off and admire.
What should you do?
Both companies are great for publishing a paperback copy of your book. CreateSpace wins out as being easier to setup and get started and the preferred Amazon vendor, as well as having better options for ISBN, and Ingram wins out as the better distributor and giving you more control over pricing.
There is an alternative to picking either of these individually, and that is to use both as distributors. If you buy your own ISBN through Bowker, you can load the exact same book onto both platforms. Make sure not to turn on the expanded distribution option in CreateSpace (since they use Ingram anyway).
With this method, Ingram will distribute your book globally, and Amazon will source from CreateSpace. You'll no longer get the huge cut out of your profits when selling books outside of Amazon, but you will also get the benefits of having an Amazon preferred setup where Amazon will always keep your book in stock, even if they've never printed a single copy.
I do this with paperbacks of my fiction novels, and I wait until a 'free' promotion before loading onto Ingram to keep costs down.
Seriously, though, who won?
If there needs to be a clear winner, then I will say IngramSpark. It offers more options, and even with a slightly larger learning curve has way more benefits. There are some severe weaknesses in the CreateSpace model that are unforgivable. CreateSpace is perfect for casual authors who don't plan to sell a lot and just want to see a copy of their work in paperback, but if you plan on building your career over time, then IngramSpark is the superior option.
Overall Winner: IngramSpark
I've used both companies extensively, so everything presented here is just my personal opinion.
Check them both out and decide for yourself!