Print on Demand: CreateSpace or Lightning Source?

by Joel Friedlander on January 27, 2011 · 267 comments

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There are a lot of self-publishing companies out there, they seem to sprout overnight in the fertile soil of the internet.

But when clients ask me who they should print with, I only recommend two: CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

(In the interests of disclosure, you should know that I have a contractual relationship providing content to the terrific CreateSpace community forums, and I’m an affiliate there. And I’ve published my own book through Lightning Source.)

Between these two companies, virtually any self-publisher can get a book into print. Each is appropriate for a different kind of publisher, and that’s what determines which one I recommend for any particular individual. Here’s how I decide:

CreateSpace

I recommend Amazon‘s print on demand vendor when the publisher

  • Intends to produce only one book for the foreseeable future
  • Is not particularly computer-savvy and does not have technical assistance
  • Could use some editorial services or cover template capabilities
  • They have no budget

Lightning Source

I recommend Ingram Book Company’s print on demand vendor when the publisher

  • Intends to start a publishing company with longer-term plans
  • Has already started thinking about their next book
  • Plans to hire professionals to help get her book into print
  • Already has a company or is willing to set one up, and can afford the estimated $200 in set-up fees

Mick Rooney Knows

I never recommend other vendors. There are 59 companies being tracked by Mick Rooney‘s Self-Publishing Index for Author Solution Services on his indispensable POD, Self-Publishing and Independent Publishing blog, where he analyzes and rates each of these companies.

If you look at the result, you’ll see CreateSpace and Lightning Source at the top. Both of these companies are owned by much larger companies, each of which is a dominant force in its part of the industry. Amazon, of course, is the largest retailer online, and Ingram is the largest book distributor in the country.

You can double up on these companies from either end. Ingram will make your book available for ordering at almost every bookstore in the country, and automatically list it on Amazon. And with CreateSpace, for an investment of $39 you can get the exact same reach as part of an “expanded distribution” package.

So Now What Do You Do?

What does this mean to you, the self-publisher? A print on demand vendor with the backing of either of these huge companies is likely to be more transparent in their operations, and more stable over a long period of time than smaller companies.

Am I saying that all the other author services companies, self-publishing companies, subsidy publishers and vanity presses are worthless? No, of course not. Some of them have talented people working hard to create great books for their clients. Some don’t. Some are only in the business of selling you services, not in the business of selling your books. Some have been around for a while, some have been around for about a week.

I know many authors happily publish with companies like Lulu, Dog Ear, Fast Pencil and others, and for the right author I’m sure they each have something to recommend them.

I just don’t see any compelling reason to recommend anyone besides CreateSpace or Lightning Source for serious authors producing books they expect to sell in the marketplace. If you’re more of a do-it-yourself publisher, go check out CreateSpace, their friendly and easy to use website, their active forums for self-publishers and the trove of information they make available.

If your’e more of a competitive publisher with professional help and a publishing plan, set yourself up at Lightning Source. You’ll get great customer support in a business-to-business environment, access to all the customers of Ingram, and the capacity to do color books, hardcovers, and even offset runs of larger quantities, all with good quality

That’s my opinion. Either way, make your choice, and move your book confidently into print.

Photo by i_yudai

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    { 254 comments… read them below or add one }

    Carlen November 20, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Hi Joel or anyone experienced with createspace.com…

    I need to get a clearer picture of the economics of printing/fulfillment with createspace. If I order books for myself, createspace takes 60% of the book cover price. But if createspace prints for an order via Amazon, does it take 60% of the book cover price or of the discounted price posted on Amazon? Then I have two more questions: 1) By what % does Amazon typically discount the cover price? 2) What % commish does Amazon then take of the sale? Bottom line: What % of my cover price do I wind up with?

    I certainly would appreciate some insight here. Thank you.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 20, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Carlen,

    For a step-by-step explanation of how this works, see this article: Understanding Print on Demand: Follow the Money.

    Reply

    Carlen November 20, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you, Joel. I’ll check it out.

    Reply

    McGrouch November 19, 2014 at 1:17 am

    Here I am again after having unsuccessfully tried to communicate on this forum. I had the one simple question, whether CreateSpace prints non-English books. Can somebody answer my question for me? Or shall I use my English to write my book or translate it?

    Reply

    Denis G. November 19, 2014 at 2:01 am

    Hi, Best place to ask would be Createspace, would it not? :-) If you bear in mind that CS’s main interest is to sell books on Amazon and that they also have sites in French, German, etc., I can see no reason why they wouldn’t accept your creative work. On the other hand, sales numbers might be an issue, if the site is not one of their more popular platforms… Check directly with Amazon, for the latest details. Use your usual account and follow Createspace links. I recall there being an option over there to indicate the language of the book one is setting up. Good luck with your book.

    Reply

    Carlen November 18, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Hi Joel … How does the quality of printing at Create Space or Lightning Source compare with digital printers? Is there a max these two will print on demand? Also, Create Space has a distribution relationship with Ingram’s doesn’t it? If I use Create Space’s e-book conversion service, does it convert only to Amazon online?

    Reply

    Denis G. November 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    Hi Carlen, While Joel is pondering his own reply, I can maybe offer these few words. :-) The quality of both those companies is as good, if not better, than many “local” digital printers IF your pre-press material is soundly prepared. I recently completed the design of a book for a client who, for reasons of non-profit affiliation, insisted on a state-run press of relatively high standing, but wasn’t impressed with the result. It made me wish there were local Lightning Source franchisees out there. LS/Ingram Spark is the one linked with Ingram distribution networks, by the way, NOT CS, which is an Amazon subsidiary. Read through the other posts on this forum, if you haven’t yet done so. It will nibble away most of an evening but it’s highly worth it.

    Reply

    Carlen November 19, 2014 at 5:52 am

    Denis … thanx for the response. I’d heard from other sources that the print quality of POD is suspect. But I picked up a book from my shelf that createspace did, and it looks good to me. Glad to hear your confirmation.

    Reply

    Cheri November 4, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Joel,
    Do you have any current info on Sparks, Lightening Source, vs. CreateSpace. I’m about to publish a Children’s full color picture book for Christmas. I used Create space before, but have just found out about Sparks…not sure what’s what. Quality is an issue. And, not sure if there is still a beef with Ingram and Amazon?

    Reply

    Susan September 25, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I’m wondering about quality for a children’s picture book – which print on demand company offers the best quality?

    Reply

    Self-Publisher November 25, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Most people have found LightningSource (LS) to have the slight edge in printing quality. LS also uses slightly thinner paper to help produce a thinner book, which looks more professional. But for children’s books, the opposite would be better; so CreateSpace should be fine too.

    However, do bear in mind the cost difference. LS charges you for just about everything at the beginning (setup, revisions, etc), but once ready, you only have to place orders and tell LS where to deliver or let bookstores order directly from LS (you need to promote to them and readers to get this part to work). On the other hand, CreateSpace has virtually no costs at the beginning to set up the book (assuming no editing, illustration work etc is required), and even to make revisions, but later only a small charge may be imposed for additional distribution services you might choose to have for your book.

    If you don’t mind paying a little extra for slightly better printing quality, I suggest LS. But for children books in full colour using thicker stock paper, CreateSpace should be very good for this.

    Finally, choose CreateSpace if you want the option to sell single copies to customers in the POD mode; otherwise LS for bulk orders to bookstores etc.

    Reply

    Alistair Roberts September 8, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    Create Space looked good until I discovered they only like to deal with authors in the USA or EU. Apparently they haven’t hear of PayPal!! So unless you want a cheque, which won’t even happen until you gain a profit of $100, you aren’t going to get paid! Back to Lulu – dosappointed…

    Reply

    Nila September 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Hi Joel,

    Your site is awesome. I was totally lost until I visited your page. I am very new to publishing. I have like 15 books almost ready for publication. There are works of translation done by a language scholar. He has never tried any of the digital publishing services. All his previous books were published and distributed the traditional way. We are now planning to venture into e-books with an option for POD. I read most of the interactions between you and others and have developed an ‘idea’ about the way POD works. However, most of the threads are very old datign back to 2011. I am curious to know if anything has changed in the way these two companies operate and offer services. Do you still recommend these two companies? Aren’t there any other new competitors who are performing well? I have a couple of questions.

    Like I said earlier, this author is a translator who translates literature from a foreign language into English. So, his books usually carry both the original and the translation, printed side-by-side. Will there be any problem with using POD via these companies?
    Can you please explain about the Global printing and distribution services offered by these companies? Will the cost be the same for shipping to different countries? Will they locally print and distribute to other countries or will the buyer have to incur heavy shipping charges depending upon the country?

    Please bear with me, if you find my question very basic.
    Thank you very much for all the assistance that you provide here for people like me who can get easily lost in this wide ocean of information.

    Regards,
    Nila

    Reply

    Michelle Eastman August 26, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Createspace has dropped hard cover printing from their services. Hardcover was never an option for POD, but authors could choose to print and ship hard cover copies to themselves. Today I was told, “At one time we offered it, but have cut that service from our product line.”
    In February, my CS publishing consultant quoted the hard cover prices listed below.

    The cost breakdown for your hard cover printing:
    .15 per page then add one of the cover prices below
    $6.50 for case-bound laminate cover
    $8.50 if you choose the dust cover
    Example – 34 pages x .15 = $5.25 + $6.50 case-bound = $11.75 per book

    I have an account with LSI, but they do not offer text on the spine for a book under 48 pages. CS hard cover included spine text, so I thought it was a better option for me to supply books to libraries, where spine text is important.

    Any suggestions for a printer that includes spine text for a 32 page children’s picture book?

    Thank you,
    Michelle

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 26, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Michelle, you might try these folks: http://360digitalbooks.com/

    Or you could also try Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/

    Reply

    PV June 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

    How much lead time do CS and LS require for shipping within the US?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

    They typically ship within 4-5 days of your order being placed.

    Reply

    Denis G. June 11, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Hi Joel,
    You are hopefully out in the sunshine somewhere, and I ought to have engine-searched my NetGalley question first before asking. Many excellent comments, on the right track, and likely useful to your page’s other visitors. Here are a few:
    http://www.katiefrenchbooks.com/blog/book-marketing-what-works-and-what-doesnt-netgalley
    http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-reach-reviewers-via-netgalley/
    http://www.kearytaylor.com/2013/02/the-netgalley-low-down-for-authors-and.html
    I hope this is helpful.

    Reply

    Denis G. June 9, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Hi again Joel,
    A little sad to see spammers attempting to channel their silly wares through this wonderful site and resource recently, but I guess you’ll figure a way past it. Quick question: What do you think of the NetGalley.com service? It seems a little pricey for small publisher/author types, but is the exposure worth it? Thanks for a comment or two, when you’ll have time. All best, and keep this place humming; it’s great!

    Reply

    Natalie Graham June 8, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Hi Joel,

    My first children’s book is uploaded on a PDF and ready to print. The trim size is 9.2 x 6.7. I have a traditonal printer in the family but also want to use a POD service like, CS or LS to reach a broader audience. Would I need to correct the trim to fit a standard size or would CS do this for me? Is it easy to retrim a book once placed in PDF form

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 8, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Natalie, you can find a list of the trim sizes offered by the major POD vendors here: Book Trim Sizes. You’ll notice the size of your book is not included, and no, it’s not always easy or possible to change the trim size once the book has been exported to PDF. You would be better off going back to the original files and creating a second version in the standards 6 x 9 format.

    Reply

    Natalie June 8, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Hey Joel,

    Cool beans, and thank you for the quick response. I will then create a second version of the book.

    Peace to you Joel.

    Reply

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