CreateSpace vs. Ingram Spark: How They Stack Up

Comparing Apples to ApplesEver since Ingram Spark launched late last summer, we’ve been keenly interested in it for many reasons, among them: 1) Spark offers the first print-on-demand service for hardcover books with jackets; and 2) Spark provides writers with a friendlier path into bookstores than Amazon/CreateSpace. (Some bookstores won’t stock CreateSpace books because they believe Amazon is killing their business.)

I’ve just finished a project in which we published a book both on CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. Here’s what we learned:

• CreateSpace is faster to publish. Ingram Spark requires 3-5 days to produce a book once an order is placed. CreateSpace produced and shipped our book on the same day we placed the order–and that was a Saturday.

• Royalties are about equal–unless you plan to sell your book from your own site. Spark offers you a flat royalty of 45% of list price minus production costs for each book sold. Amazon offers you 40% less production costs. But if the buyer purchases the book through a link from your website to Amazon, you get 60%.

• CreateSpace gets books to market quicker. This was a surprise: after we approved our proof copy, Spark asked us to allow 6-8 weeks to get the book into their distribution channels. Yike–and we had already planned a series of bookstore signings. With Createspace, we were able to get the book up on Amazon in 48 hours.

• CreateSpace offers lower “author pricing.” For the exact same book, Spark charges our author $3.43, while CreateSpace charges $3.15.

• CreateSpace’s shipping costs are considerably lower. Whether you’re ordering a single proof copy or cartons of your books, shipping costs can be significant. Why Ingram Spark doesn’t understand this and choose less expensive shipping partners is a mystery. In our case, a single proof copy of our book shipped across country cost the following:

Ingram Spark:
Ground $46
2nd day $173

Standard $23
Expedited $51

• CreateSpace customer service is better. Their email turnaround time is a day or less–and you can get a live person on the phone if you’re desperate. With Spark, you must email your question, and turnaround time (for us) turned out to be 2-3 days.

• CreateSpace charges no service fee. Spark charges $49 setup fee and a $12 “POD market access fee”–whatever that is.

Ingram Spark is an important player in this new world of publishing–and I hope they succeed in offering writers more choices in how to publish their books. But Spark need to do a little tweaking of their offerings if they expect to co-exist with ultra-competitive Amazon.

New Options for Writers Who Self-Publish

Book Expo, the granddaddy of book conferences, is traditionally the place where publishers meet with booksellers. But lately, there’s been a lot for up-and-coming self-publishers–not the least of which is UPublishU, a full day of sessions and exhibits specifically for entrepreneurial writers.

Because I work with writers interested in self-publishing, I viewed BookExpo this year through that specific lens. Here’s a recap of the most interesting things I saw:

– Hardcover print-on-demand books with matte covers become easier to produce.
Ingram SparkIngram, owner of LightningSource, has just launched Ingram Spark, a new print-on-demand site that allows entrepreneurial writers to produce hardcover books on demand, with matte covers. (Amazon’s CreateSpace still offers only softcover with gloss covers.) As of this writing, the service is entirely untested, but it’s well worth watching since LightningSource has already established its credibility in the self-publishing world.

– Ultra-short print-runs are now possible in four-color offset.
Four Colour Print Group LogoIf you’re working on a children’s book, a cookbook, a photography book or any other kind of book that depends on beautiful photos, you’ve probably been disappointed by the quality of the proofs you’re seeing. Digital short-run printing (using toner on paper) tends to lack the richness of color that four-color offset printing (using ink on paper) delivers. But four-color offset has been expensive, requiring you to order print-runs in the thousands of books for economies of scale.

But all that is changing. Exhibiting at BookExpo this year was Four Colour Print Group, a company that offers four-color offset printing for print-runs in the low hundreds of books. I checked them out carefully for a client of mine who’s doing a children’s book: the quality is much better than digital printing, and the cost is no higher than mid-range digital printers’ costs.

– Nook may be dead, but don’t count out Kobo.
Kobo eReader and ebooksWriters who publish ebooks tend to think that the only e-readers of importance are the Kindle and the iPad. But it’s becoming clear that the Kobo is still a serious platform for self-publishers. Why? Because it can get your ebook in front of patrons in indie bookstores.

Kobo, which used be Borders’ answer to Barnes & Noble’s Nook, has survived Border’s demise, and has even thrived abroad, becoming the number-one e-reader in much of Europe. Now it’s reappearing in independent bookstores in the U.S. with a new twist. If a patron buys a Kobo at her favorite indie bookstore, that bookstore gets a cut of every ebook she purchases for her Kobo. Indie bookstores love that program, and indie bookstore patrons (zealous supporters that they are) now have a way to buy ebooks and support their favorite indie bookstore.

A Smart Attempt to Redefine the Bookstore

If you read last Sunday’s article in The New York Times about Barnes & Noble’s struggles, you know that we’ve lost one in five independent bookstores in the US since 2002.

But what if the bookstore could be re-thought from the ground up? That’s what Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA, has begun to do.

Kepler’s has for many decades been the premier independent bookstore in the Stanford area. I remember haunting its aisles as a student in the late sixties. But like all independent bookstores, it has struggled mightily to stay alive over the past decade.

Now the current owner, Clark Kepler, has brought in some smart partners who are creating a new business model: the store will be reworked as a place where the community gathers to share ideas. Books will be a part of that–but the events portion of the business will be spun off as a nonprofit. And digital books and ereaders will be embraced as another way to support the exchange of ideas in this new place.

If you’d like to know more about Kepler’s new vision, check out this 4-minute video:

Creating an Illustrated EBook

Are you considering republishing your children’s book, cookbook, graphic novel, crafts guide or travel book in digital format?

For these kinds of books, the ePub format–which allows words to flow from one page to another as your reader enlarges text or changes fonts–doesn’t work. The illustrations, sidebars, and photos you so carefully placed beside certain sections of your book take on a life of their own.

For such books, you need to create a fixed-layout file, one that displays each spread just as your designer originally planned.
Spread from Pinhole and the Expedition to the Jungle
Fixed-layout ebooks look great on the new tablets that everyone’s getting for Christmas (Apple iPad, B&N Nook, Kobo VOX). But they are tricky to produce, especially if you’re moving from a print book into an enhanced iBook for the iPad.

Renowned explanation graphics designer Nigel Holmes and I have been running down rabbit holes for the past year trying to get his book Pinhole and the Expedition to the Jungle into a fixed-layout format for the iPad. We finally did it.

And here are the top things we learned:

  1. There aren’t yet many vendors who know how to take a print book and turn it into an enhanced ebook for the iPad. We used YUDU, which is located in (surprise!) Great Britain. Innodata also works, I’m told.
  2. Price pressure on these books is fierce. You spend a chunk to have the book recreated for the iPad, and the market wants to pay $3.99 or less. Yike. Hopefully, all those folks who got iPads for Christmas will be looking to buy enhanced ebooks, which could drive up revenue.
  3. If you hold the iPad in landscape mode, you see an entire spread from the book–without a seam. Nice! But on the iPad’s 10-inch screen, the font you chose for your print book looks small–and on the 7-inch screen of all the other tablets, it’s unreadable. Of course, your readers can enlarge the text with their fingers, but then you lose the effect of the spreads.
  4. Every new format of a book requires a separate ISBN number. Per BISG.

For a little extra pizazz, we also laced the adventure story with sounds. If you have an iPad and would like to see the result, here’s a free peek.

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire takes on Apple iPad


The competition between Apple and Amazon for the hearts and minds of readers continues to be good news for us all.

Amazon has just announced a new series of Kindle products that includes the Kindle Fire, a touch-sensitive, color tablet that–at the retail price of $199–will pressure Apple to bring down the price of its iPad.

In an air-conditioned tent in central Manhattan–ground zero for the publishing industry–Bezos demoed the new device, which he’s calling a “media tablet.” Its 7-inch touchscreen provides readers access to apps from Amazon’s Android appstore, which includes Kobo reading apps and magazines.

Equally interesting for readers (and writers) is a new Kindle Touch, which includes an “x-ray” feature that allows you to “look at the bones of a book”–including characters, terms and Wikipedia references. The two new Touches retail at $99 and $149.

You can find succinct reviews and specs for these various tablets at Engadget and TechCrunch.

The Power of Social Media in Building an Audience

Yesterday when I opened my iGoogle page, “today’s spotlight video” looked something like this.

Because I love both soul and gospel music, I clicked on it–and became an instant fan of an unknown singer who doesn’t even have an album out yet. (LaTosha Brown. Check her out. Fabulous!)

As LaTosha tells it, as of the day-before-yesterday, her video had been viewed 310 times. Today, that number is 496,642–an instant fan base! Her record company, PortoFranco Records, is scrambling to get this cut on iTunes so some of those fans can actually buy the single.

Kindle Singles Books are not as accessible as music in this way, but there’s cause to believe that short pieces, priced low and marketed through social media, could become for authors what this single song is for a talented, upcoming musician: a way to develop an instant audience for their work.

Earlier this year, Amazon launched Kindle Singles, a division that is actively seeking articles, essays and stories of 5,000 to 30,000 words. These pieces, which are being reviewed and quality-controlled by editor David Blum, are being priced between $.99 and $4.99–impulse buyers’ pricepoints. Publishers Weekly recently reported that six of the 75+ published works on this platform have already reached bestseller status among all Kindle books.

Kindle Singles has terrific potential. It provides a new platform for long-form journalism and could revive the world of short stories. And most importantly, it could build audiences for those emerging voices who have been abandoned by traditional publishers.

Delivering Ideas: 2011 & Beyond

What does it mean to be an author? How do you deliver ideas powerfully? How can technology help?

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, I think it’s a good time to grab a glimpse of publishing’s future–a fascinating place! Check out this stunning 4-minute “essay” on global health trends created by brilliant Swedish academic Hans Rosling:

The Biggest Problem with Self-Publishing

bookstoreThe biggest problem with self-publishing your book: distribution.

The companies that help authors self-publish (Amazon’s CreateSpace and others) generally have options that will get your books into the databases of traditional distributors such as Ingram and Baker & Taylor. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll be showing up in bookstores soon.

There are a number of reasons why bookstores are not keen to bring self-published books into their stores:

First, the discounts offered to booksellers on these books is generally not competitive–typically they are discounted by about 25% instead of the 42% discounts offered by traditional publishers. (Some of the self-publishing companies allow authors to opt to give booksellers higher discounts.)

Second, retail prices are generally $4 to $5 too high for the market. (CreateSpace is more competitive.)

Third, self-published books are not easily returnable because there is no traditional publisher to process the returns. (Some authors have tried to set up deals with booksellers to accept returns, but this is a fussy process that holds little intereste for most booksellers.

Fourth, promotion of self-published books depends on the author–and many authors fail to do the work.

Finally, the quality control offered to booksellers by traditional publishers is lacking in self-published books–and so booksellers can’t easily tell which books are good and which are not.

So if you are self-publishing, don’t count on bookstores to sell your books. You have to do it through speaking engagements and social media. Don’t underestimate the amount of work that takes. If you’ve written your book, you’re only half-way done.

New Award for Literary Science Writers

It’s been a big week for Palo Alto.

Last night Obama showed up for a $30,000-a-plate dinner at the home of Google VP Marissa Mayer. The Dalai Lama spent two days speaking on altruism at Stanford. And Harrison Ford flew into town to stand next to the biologist E. O. Wilson for a press announcement at the Garden Court.

PEN American Center logoOf the three events, the Ford/Wilson announcement is the one that speaks most clearly to active writers. The actor and the Harvard biodiversity expert were here to kick off a new literary award–the $10,000 PEN/E.O.Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The intent of the award is to encourage and support those writers who know how to marry literature with science.

Wilson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his nonfiction book The Ants, funded the award together with Ford who is an active conservationist. The award becomes another in the prestigious collection offered by the PEN (poets, playwrights, essayists, editors and novelists) American Center, including:
the PEN/Nabokov Award
the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for First Fiction
the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction
the PEN/Galbraith Award for Nonfiction

If this is your genre, go for it.

IDEO Imagines the Future of Books

When I was Director of Stanford Publishing Courses, I often tried to arrange visits to IDEO–the brilliant, Palo Alto-based design firm that was spun off from the work of Stanford professor David Kelley. IDEO uses design thinking to innovate–and is surely one of the top creative firms in the country.

Here IDEO takes on the future of books–three ideas worth a look:

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.