Recently there has been much discussion in the publishing community around whether authors should publish their books with both IngramSpark and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform (formerly CreateSpace) or choose just one publishing platform. Below we break down some of the pros and cons you should know about.
KDP is an Amazon-owned company, which gives it some competitive advantages when it comes to book sales through Amazon. However, KDP 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 couple of years, 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. Some say it’s an algorithm issue with Amazon’s stocking system, but how can the world’s largest online retailer have an unresolved algorithm issue when they have some of the best technology in the world?
Many of us in the publishing industry see it as a monopolistic practice and an under-handed way for Amazon to force authors into publishing on the KDP platofrm. Essentially, if you publish anywhere other than KDP, 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 IngramSpark and KDP. To do this, you would use KDP to distribute to Amazon only and use IngramSpark’s massive distribution network to distribute everywhere else. (IngramSpark is owned by Ingram, the world’s largest supplier of books to bookstores.) 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.
Also, keep in mind that major bookstores don’t want anything to do with Amazon/KDP-produced books, so Amazon’s “distribution” may actually be rather limited. IngramSpark is much better option if you want your book available to top retailers.
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.
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 is a sister organization of Ingram, the largest supplier of books to bookstores, it offers excellent distribution to the bookstore market, libraries and beyond. KDP offers its own “expanded distribution,” but it doesn’t match Ingram’s reach.
- RETAILER DISCOUNTS: You can set your own retailer discount with 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 KDP. In fact, KDP only offers retailers 25% off, which most brick and mortar stores won’t touch, thus limiting your ability to have bookstores carry your books.
- WHOLESALE DISCOUNTS: Amazon wants publishers to provide 55% off retail, but you don’t necessarily have to comply with this. I have always set my discounts at 40% through IngramSpark, and Amazon still lists the books and even discounts them. But if you publish with KDP, your retail discount will automatically be set to 55%.
Setting your retail discount with 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%.
- BOOK ROYALTIES: Depending on how you set your retailer discount, you can potentially earn more book royalties when publishing through IngramSpark. Check out this royalty comparison done by Carla King at Author Friendly. But this post on the ALLi site shows that KDP wins the per-book price war, so much of it depends on how discounts are set and quantity breaks.
- ROYALTIES FROM RETAIL DISTRIBUTION: KDP significantly lowers the amount of profit earned by authors when sold via distribution to other retailers, while IngramSpark authors earn higher royalty payments. See Dave Chesson’s comparison here.
- RETURNABLE BOOKS AND RETAILERS: You can accept returns on 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, IngramSpark brings a big advantage.
- AMAZON PRE-SALES: IngramSpark allows authors/publishers to setup pre-sales for print books 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. Oddly, KDP doesn’t allow pre-sales on print books; these are only allowed on the Kindle edition of the book.
When you set up a pre–sale, 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.
- HARDCOVER PRINTING: IngramSpark offers hardcover printing options, while KDP does not.
- BULK PRINTING DISCOUNTS: KDP does not compete with the high-volume print discounts offered by IngramSpark, so if you plan to order your books in quantities of 500+, pricing will be better with IngramSpark.
- COLOR PRINTING: If your book interior is printed in color, you’ll get far better printing prices from IngramSpark, as much as 50% less than KDP. IngramSpark also offers low-cost and premium color printing options.
- SETUP FEES: IngramSpark both charges fees of around $39 for new titles, while KDP 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: KDP has a long-standing reputation problem within the publishing industry. Barnes and Noble and many indie booksellers don’t want to stock KDP 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: KDP offers free ISBNs (International Standard Book Number), which IngramSpark does not. However, one important tip, no matter which publishing service you use, is that you should 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 KDP 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, KDP 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 is a better choice for publishing versus KDP, largely due to the unfair practices Amazon is using to give KDP books an advantage on the site, but also because IngramSpark offers 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 KDP. Amazon is pushing its weight around and essentially forcing authors and publishers into publishing on KDP—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.
This post was updated: November 2019
Yes, there are many more options other than CreateSpace these days
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.
Yes, my Lightning Source book came into stock on Amazon so I started my book launch…and it went out of stock instantly and I had to release a Create Space title or loose all my pre-paid advertising money. Fortunately I managed to get it live quickly, but I still resent the fact that Amazon used underhanded business tactics to force me into using Create Space.
I published a non-fiction book (English and German versions) with IngramSpark five years ago. I’ve had “out of stock” issues off and on with Amazon, but now it’s pretty much permanent. Only the English version with Amazon.com is listed as available. Neither the English nor German versions are available through Amazon in other countries, including in Germany and England where I’ve had previous sales. IngramSpark has occasionally submitted new tickets which may or may not help and then only temporarily. To Stephanie Chandler, even after your article on the issue, you recommend going with Ingram. Why? I see no other option but that I’m being forced to change to CreateSpace.
I absolutely believe you should stay with IngramSpark AND add CreateSpace to the mix. As noted in the post, there are still many advantages to being with IngramSpark–better distribution through Ingram to non-Amazon retailers is a big one. Also, partly on principle. Nobody should be forced to use a service, and over and over again we’re hearing from authors who are experiencing these issues. The out-of-stock issue is not the fault of IngramSpark, it’s Amazon’s issue, and it’s gone on far too long.
My book “Beyond the Battle” is published through Ingram Spark. It was selling on Amazon no problem since it came out 7 months ago, including several times where the quantity they have listed sold out and there were always “more on the way” and the stock was back up. Now in this past week, it has listed that it will take 1-2 months to ship to a customer. I sell a lot of books myself at speaking engagements and from my own website, http://www.southfrancispress.com, but most all of my other online sales come through Amazon, so this is really tough to swallow. I do have my percentage for retailers set at the lowest that IngramSpark allows. I’m wondering if I raise that percentage, if Amazon will do better at listing my book all the time? After reading these articles, I’m also considering listing my book with CreateSpace as well as IngramSpark, because I can’t afford to lose my Amazon sales.
So I just published with Ingham. They put the book up on Amazon. Like the article was saying my books ok “Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping” is saying out of stock. So I should publish on Create Space with distribution to Amazon only and my problem is solved??
Stephanie, I Just came across this article and I have to say you are right on the money. Since this article, the problem, in my opinion, has only gotten worse. I use Lightning Source and about 35% of my titles show Temporarily Out of Stock or Ships in 1 to 2 Months. I’ve been dealing with this problem for a few years and I’m tired of beating my head against the wall. It’s quite maddening. Perhaps the only way things will change is if we have a loud enough collective voice.
I am a children’s illustrator and run a small publishing company (PlayPen Publishing) that distributes print on demand with IngramSpark. I’ve had this Amazon headache for the past 6 years. It’s so bad that I keep an Amazon tab open on the my computer. The tab has all my Amazon book listings and I’m forced to constantly check the availability and shipping info of my clients’ books. I’ve gone back and forth between Amazon and Ingram about the issue. Unfortunately, I have even had to list a couple of titles with KDP and Ingram. It makes no sense and it’s a completely underhanded way for Amazon to frustrate and force indie authors and publishers to deal with them. IngramSpark offers more publishing options and better printing.
If only the FTC would pay attention to these complaints! Something should be done to stop Amazon from bullying self-publishers into utilizing their services.
I think this is totally a ploy by Amazon to force you to use KDP. They’re even playing this game with hardcover books now. One of my clients had a hardcover through IngramSpark that showed up as in stock for the first few weeks, then mysteriously went out of stock. Just to see if my suspicions were correct, I created a paperback version of his book and listed it with KDP. Within a week his hardcover book was suddenly back in stock.
Another issue with this whole scheme is the extremely high print costs for color books through KDP. I have another client who has a 400-page color book that is priced at $23.95 through IngramSpark, but had to be priced at $49.95 on Amazon due to their crazy print costs. He makes much more on sales of the IngramSpark version, so all of his marketing efforts are directing buyers to Barnes & Noble.
It’s extremely frustrating and creating twice the work for authors and smaller publishing companies, but there’s really no other option because Amazon is the biggest bookseller and most people’s go-to for buying books.
We share your frustration and wish someone would go after Amazon for their monopolistic business practices.
I, too, recently experienced the woes of distributing through Amazon. I’m using IngramSpark and have had no issues. Then in the last week, Amazon decided to list my book as “out of stock.” And to add to my pain, the ebook it sent to one of my customers was corrupt. I sent it to the customer directly through my website’s online store and she had no issues.
Now IngramSpark is holding my title hostage because of “pending orders “ through Amazon!
Something needs to be done about this monopoly on trying to strong arm indie authors!
I have a weird situation that I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced. I used IngramSpark. I was selling about 50 books a month for the first five months my book was published. Then, since August, IngramSpark is telling I haven’t sold one book. However, I know that Amazon has consistently sold books in the past few months. I don’t have an exact number, but I’m guessing it was around 70 (maybe more). Does this mean Amazon pre-ordered these books from IngramSpark and are just selling what they already have? Or is something wrong? I tried to contact IngramSpark to ask if they can send me the data that shows how many books they sold to Amazon and when they were sold, but they said they can’t give me that data. Is there anything I can do to verify this information? I hope my question is understandable. Thanks to anyone who can help me.
Hi Rochelle, your guess is likely the reason! Amazon’s algorithms will pre-order stock books to buffer against sales. The more consistent your sales, the more consistent their stock. Sometimes you’ll start to see “only 12 left in stock” which is really just in the warehouse.
THANK YOU to Stephanie and all who have commented. Clarified much that’s been confusing me.