Amazon Out of Stock Issues and the Pros and Cons of Publishing with CreateSpace, IngramSpark and Lightning Source

Amazon Out of Stock Issues and the Pros and Cons of Publishing with CreateSpace, IngramSpark and Lightning SourceRecently there has been much discussion in the publishing community around whether authors should publish their books with both IngramSpark/Lightning Source and CreateSpace or choose just one publishing platform. Below we break down some of the pros and cons you should know about.

But first, let’s clarify that IngramSpark is a publishing platform for indie authors and Lightning Source, its sister company, is targeted toward more experienced publishers with multiple titles. Both provide print-on-demand publishing solutions and compete directly with CreateSpace.

CreateSpace is an Amazon-owned company, which gives it some competitive advantages when it comes to book sales through Amazon. However, CreateSpace also brings some business practices that are viewed as less-than-favorable by many independent authors and publishers.

OUT OF STOCK ISSUES ON AMAZON

For the past year or more, Amazon has been marking some book titles out of stock when they aren’t (they can’t really be out of stock when they’re printed on demand!). Speculation has been growing as to what is actually happening here. Is it truly an algorithm issue with Amazon’s stocking system or is Amazon using monopolistic practices to force indie authors to publish through CreateSpace?

Many of us in the publishing industry see it as a monopolistic practice and an under-handed way for Amazon/CreateSpace to force authors into publishing with them. Essentially, if you publish anywhere other than CreateSpace, your books may show out of stock during a book launch, promotion, or for no other apparent reason. We’ve seen it over and over again.  This isn’t a new issue, but it seems to be picking up steam. See this post from Writers Weekly.

One workaround some authors are using is to publish books with BOTH CreateSpace and IngramSpark/Lightning Source. To do this, you would use CreateSpace to distribute to Amazon only and use IngramSpark/Lightning Source to distribute everywhere else. This prevents the out of stock/shipping delay issues on Amazon while allowing you to take advantage of the excellent distribution to other retail channels available through Ingram.

It’s unfortunate that Amazon is forcing some authors and publishers to take this path. If we want these business practices to change, we need to speak up. Forcing anyone to use a service is a terrible business practice.

out of stock issues on amazon

We experienced this issue first-hand when this newly published book, distributed through Lightning Source, went out of stock the day it was released. It stayed out of stock for WEEKS until we were forced to list it for sale directly through CreateSpace.

ADDITIONAL PROS AND CONS

Following are some pros and cons you should know when planning to publish your books with any of these firms.

  • EXPANDED DISTRIBUTION: Because IngramSpark and Lightning Source are sister organizations of Ingram, the largest supplier of books to bookstores, both offer excellent distribution to the bookstore market, libraries and beyond. CreateSpace offers its own “expanded distribution,” but it doesn’t match Ingram’s reach.
  • RETAILER DISCOUNTS: You can set your own retailer discount with Lightning Source and IngramSpark, which is important if you plan to distribute your books to the retail market. Most brick and mortar bookstores require at least 40% discount off the retail price, which you cannot set with CreateSpace. In fact, CreateSpace only offers retailers 25% off, which most brick and mortar stores won’t touch, thus limiting your ability to have bookstores carry your books.

In addition, Amazon wants publishers to give them 55% off retail, but you don’t necessarily have to comply with this. I have always set my discounts at 40%, and Amazon still lists the books and even discounts them.

Setting your retail discount with Lightning Source and IngramSpark at a minimum of 30% will make your book available to Amazon and other retailers, though it won’t guarantee they will list the title. Setting your discount at 53% will ensure that a 40% discount passes through to retailers, after Ingram takes its piece of the pie. If brick and mortar retailers are a target for you, set your discount at 53%, but if you’re focusing on online sales, you can set it lower. Ultimately your discount is up to you, but we recommend somewhere between 40% to 53%.

Note that CreateSpace takes 40% of the retail price when your books are sold directly to Amazon customers, but it takes 60% when your books are sold through expanded distribution. With Lightning Source and IngramSpark, you can set your discount at any percent you choose (which can help boost sales with non-Amazon retailers).

  • ROYALTIES FROM RETAIL DISTRIBUTION: CreateSpace significantly lowers the amount of profit earned by authors when sold via distribution to other retailers, while Lightning Source and IngramSpark authors earn higher royalty payments. See Dave Chesson’s comparison here.
  • RETURNABLE BOOKS AND RETAILERS: You can accept returns on Lightning Source and IngramSpark titles, which makes your book more attractive to retailers. No bookstore wants to order non-returnable books, so if bookstores are a primary target for you, Lightning Source and IngramSpark brings a big advantage.
  • AMAZON PRE-SALES: Both Lightning Source and IngramSpark allow authors/publishers to setup pre-sales on Amazon, weeks or even months in advance of your book’s official release date. Note that you have to have your book files print-ready in order to do this.

When you set up a presale, you can set a release date in the future and begin pre-promotion efforts. Generating pre-sales, which is when buyers commit to purchase the book when it goes on sales, means that all of those pre-orders are billed on the day your book is officially released—and all those sales on release day count toward your ranking on Amazon bestseller lists.

Oddly enough, CreateSpace does NOT offer pre-sales, however Eric Van Der Hope has written up a work-around that involves quite a few steps, but can allow CreateSpace authors to offer pre-sales.

  • HARDCOVER PRINTING: Both Lightning Source and IngramSpark offer hardcover printing options, while CreateSpace does not.
  • BULK PRINTING DISCOUNTS: CreateSpace does not compete with the high-volume print discounts offered by Lightning Source and IngramSpark, so if you plan to order your books in quantities of 500+, pricing will be better with Lightning Source and IngramSpark.
  • COLOR PRINTING: If your book interior is printed in color, you’ll get far better printing prices from Lightning Source and IngramSpark, as much as 50% less than CreateSpace. Lightning Source and IngramSpark also offer low-cost and premium color printing options.
  • SETUP FEES: Lightning Source and IngramSpark both charge setup fees of around $39 for new titles, while CreateSpace does not charge a fee. IngramSpark does refund the setup fee when an order for 50 copies is placed within 60 days of setup so essentially, this is free as well. However, when you compare royalties earned, those fees can often be earned back quickly when book sales are generated. (Also note that members of the Nonfiction Authors Association get free title setup with IngramSpark. Check your member discounts page for details.)
  • REPUTATION: CreateSpace has a long-standing reputation problem within the publishing industry. Barnes and Noble and many indie booksellers don’t want to stock CreateSpace titles. Check out this post (among many others, which you can find with a quick Google search) by authors who’ve experienced this issue firsthand. It makes sense. Why would direct competitors want to stock books produced by an Amazon company?
  • THIRD PARTY RESELLERS GETTING ADVANTAGES ON AMAZON: Amazon has also recently changed how books are sold through its marketplace, allowing third party retailers top sales position. Here’s an article published in the New York Times about this issue, which shows Amazon is creating some unfair advantages for third party sellers, while upsetting publishers in the process.
  • ISBNs: CreateSpace offers free ISBNs (International Standard Book Number), which Lightning Source and IngramSpark do not. However, one important tip, no matter which publishing service you use, is that you should ALWAYS acquire your own ISBN, which is required for publishing all books. ISBNs are linked to the publisher where they originated, so you should absolutely avoid using one issued by CreateSpace or any other free source since that associates your book with the publisher for all eternity. Instead, purchase your own block of ISBNs and establish your own publishing company name—something that sounds like a legitimate publishing firm. U.S. authors can purchase ISBNs from Bowkers.
  • PRINTING: Oddly enough, CreateSpace contracts some of its book printing to Ingram. It’s an unusual relationship, to say the least.

As CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association, my personal opinion is that IngramSpark and Lightning Source are much better choices for publishing versus CreateSpace, largely due to the unfair practices Amazon is using to give CreateSpace books an advantage on the site, but also because IngramSpark/Lightning Source offer higher quality printing, better options for trim sizes, hardcover and color printing, and offer excellent expanded distribution services.

More importantly, I feel that authors should speak out about these practices by CreateSpace. Amazon is pushing its weight around and essentially forcing authors and publishers into publishing on CreateSpace—or else face the consequences. I suspect we’ll see some lawsuits arise soon as a result of these issues.

I will also add that because of these practices shared here, the Nonfiction Authors Association actively pursued a relationship with IngramSpark. We wanted to bring our members special discounts on title setup because we believe in what IngramSpark and Lightning Source stand for. Authority, VIP, and Thought Leader members of the Nonfiction Authors Association receive free title setup and file replacement with IngramSpark. Visit your member dashboard for details.

Not a member yet? Join us here!

This post reflects the personal opinions of its author, Stephanie Chandler, CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association and was not sponsored in any way by any vendor or outside interest. We share this information in an effort to inform our nonfiction author community.

Have you been impacted by out of stock issues?

What are your experiences publishing with these vendors?

Please share in the comments.

3 Comments on "Amazon Out of Stock Issues and the Pros and Cons of Publishing with CreateSpace, IngramSpark and Lightning Source"

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  1. Yes, there are many more options other than CreateSpace these days

  2. My paperback book, Love Demystified was published by Booklocker and placed on the Amazon website during the second week of December (Lightning Source/LS) was the printer. I spent a lot of money on a publicist and a lot of time writing content and appearing on podcasts. My paperback book was listed as “temporarily out of stock” when it first appeared on Amazon and continued to be listed that way until April 16 even though my publisher had her lawyers talking with Amazon about this during those 4 months. My book came out in December and pitched as a Valentine’s Day gift. Needless to say, because 80% of those people who buy paperback books in the U.S. buy from Amazon, I lost a lot of sales. Only five books were sold during those four months and those were all from other booksellers. I wish I had a recourse for all the lost sales Amazon caused but I don’t think I do have one.

    • This is so frustrating, Beverly, and I’m very sorry to hear about these issues. There is absolutely no excuse for your book being out of stock when it’s available via POD! I sure wish someone would address these monopolistic practices at Amazon. I’m hearing stories like yours every day.

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