News Update: Should You Use Lightning Source or Ingram Spark?

by Joel Friedlander on November 15, 2013 · 80 comments

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For authors coming into the publishing industry, making choices like selecting a print on demand vendor, can be fraught with difficulty and uncertainty.

“Which one is best for me? Will they do a good job on my book? Will they deliver on time?” These are typical questions, but not always the best questions to be asking.

Ingram Book Company, the parent company of Lightning Source, recently launched their new author-centric platform for print on demand publishing and print and ebook distribution. It’s called Ingram Spark, and I interviewed Robin Cutler about the new service in July 2013.

I liked the idea of Spark quite a bit, because I’ve had to help many clients over the years navigate through Lightning Source (LSI). That’s because LSI is a business-to-business operation, and its clients are all book publishers—not authors.

Sites like CreateSpace and Lulu are designed for authors and other creatives to use. They are open, friendly, free or inexpensive, and used by tens of thousands of people.

But many authors have continued to use LSI for its unique blend of products and the distribution of Ingram, the world’s largest book wholesaler, reaching 133 countries.

Catching Up

Over the months, Ingram has been operating both businesses in parallel, and it hasn’t always been easy to tell where one starts and the other stops.

At first, authors were encouraged to try Spark first, since that’s what it was designed for. If you decided LSI was better for you, they would let you apply for an account there.

But in the last couple of weeks I started to hear that they had changed their policy. Authors who resisted using Spark were being told it was their only option. That was a bit troubling, because there hadn’t been any formal announcement from Ingram.

When a reader sent me an email describing an encounter like this, and that the Customer Service Rep (CSR) at Ingram told her point blank that it was Spark or nothing, I decided to find out exactly what was going on.

I got in touch with Robin Cutler, and we had a very informative conversation about the policies and practices at Spark, and how some of these policies look to the indie authors on the outside.

Robin assured me right away that the incident with the CSR was a “training issue.” I took this to mean that some policies may not have been spelled out, leading to the possibility that people could misinterpret Ingram’s intentions.

She also told me that authors can still choose between LSI and Spark. Robin pointed out the advantages to the self-publishing author of Spark’s interface and the ability to distribute and track both your print books and your ebooks throughout their channels.

Talking Discounts

The reason that many authors I talked to decided not to use Spark was the discounts offered (and one of the questions you really should be thinking about when choosing vendors, in addition to their other characteristics).

Ingram had decided that all authors using Spark would need to give their distribution partners a 55% discount.

Now, there’s nothing unusual about a 55% discount, and if you want to sell in bookstores—and that’s Ingram’s business—you’ll need to allow about that much anyway, and 40% at the absolute minimum.

The problem with Spark is that there’s no choice. At least for me, this lack of choice was in itself a problem. Unlike CreateSpace, which mostly services Amazon sales—and where you have to give a 40% discount—Ingram distributes to everyone in the book distribution chain.

That includes retailers like Amazon, brick & mortar stores like Barnes & Noble and all the independent stores, to wholesalers, jobbers, and just about everyone else.

I pointed out to Robin that to really understand the indie publishing community, you had to realize that many authors have no interest in selling their books to bookstores. In fact, it’s common advice to newcomers to avoid selling to bookstores unless they have a bona fide marketing plan and the money to put it into action.

I also talked about some of the many publishing models used by self-publishers. I have a book myself with LSI that’s on a “short” discount of 20%.

The book is almost 20 years old, and I know the market: people who want the book will buy it regardless of how discounted it is. I have no desire to promote this book to bookstores, and I don’t take returns.

This is true for lots of niche publishers. Why would I voluntarily give up 35%? For this book, that would be $6.28 on each book sold that I would be out of pocket to use Spark.

This problem is even more apparent with ebooks, where Spark only pays a 40% royalty. To authors who are used to getting 70% royalties on their ebooks, that’s a potential deal killer.

Robin explained that these royalties are influenced by agreements with “downstream partners.” What I take this to mean is that Ingram has existing contracts with wholesalers and others that aren’t easy to change. For ebooks, it may be hard for Spark to compete widely in the marketplace unless they manage to adjust these ebook royalties.

I asked Robin what kind of criteria I could use in advising my clients about which service to use. She said Spark was really intended for publishers with less than 20 titles.

This is perfectly reasonable if most of your clients are traditional publishers with real backlists and a publishing program putting out new books every year.

But it’s very far away from the typical self-publisher, and even from experienced authors who may have published 3, 4, or 5 books.

What Self-Publishing Is Really About

Part of the attraction of self-publishing to a lot of authors is the ability to have complete control over the production of their books.

When it comes to sales, part of that control is getting to pick—within the bounds of what’s available and what’s possible—your own business model.

When Spark took that choice out of your hands, it seemed to me that it represented a fundamental misunderstanding of the motivations of many self-publishers.

On the other hand, Ingram is to be praised for attempting to see to the needs of self-publishers by creating Spark. And at the launch, they promised to pay attention to the feedback from their market, and to respond accordingly.

It’s my sincere hope that they will do exactly that.

I’m someone who started publishing my own books in the 1980s, when almost no one thought self-publishing was a good idea, and it was really tough to even get a distribution account at Ingram.

So to have a portal where self-publishers can manage the production and distribution of their print books and ebooks throughout a 133-country territory, is enough to make me swoon.

Summary—What Should You Do?

For now, my advice about these two companies remains the same as before:

  • If you are a do-it-yourself author without experience in book publishing and you are unsure whether it’s something you intend to do for long, consider Ingram Spark for print on demand and wide distribution.
  • If you are hiring professionals, have a real plan for publishing and marketing books to a definable audience, and plan to grow your business, consider Lightning Source as an invaluable strategic partner in your growing business.

And pay attention to the news. When and if Ingram introduces flexibility to their discount policy, Spark could well end up being the best game in town.


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    { 79 comments… read them below or add one }

    Joshua Seraphim May 11, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Ingram Spark has horrendous customer service and I am close to contacting an attorney about their practices. As of 5/11 we have yet to receive January’s remittance. I recently switched from LSI to IngramSpark, yet LSI handles payments for both systems. LSI also added a credit to our account, and conveniently this credit is nowhere to be found on our IngramSpark account. I contacted “customer service” three times – each time the hold – wait time was 10-15 mins.

    Today I received an email with no mention of our remittance, and a dubious claim that their AR Dept. did not see any “credit activity.” I called their “customer service” again today and again had a hold time of 14 mins.
    If this is not resolved tomorrow I am retaining an attorney.


    Rob Oberto May 11, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    I called Ingram Spark two weeks ago to ask a question. I was on hold for 45 minutes. That was the last straw for me. I decided not to use them.


    Joshua May 11, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    The issue was resolved but not to my satisfaction. Basically what Ingram Spark did is charge me again for 1 years POD marketplace fees – from present until May 2016. Which is fine. No one explained this to me after being on hold for 15 mins. Friday and their AR account rep. said nothing about this, just that I was charged, she also did not even mentioned remittance.

    A CSR kindly explained all this to me – after a 20 minute wait! This is shady, dubious, and unacceptable wait times. LSI is also consistently late with remittance. Last month they were 5 days late. Remittance is set for the 1st of each month. One more slip up from them and I will retain an attorney to collect all remittance due and audit every penny they are charging me.

    Createspace always pays on time, but their distribution and book design is a lot to be desired.


    Rob Oberto April 24, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Joel, I’m about to release a 6 x 9, non-fiction, inspirational book titled “Intimacy With God: One Man’s Journey.” In this classification more books are paperback, but some are hardcover. I’m assuming I’ll go with PB because of the lower cost, but I would like to it to be in HC and ebook. What would your thinking be about going with PB vs HC? I’m right at the point where I need to decide. Your input will be helpful. Thanks in advance.


    Joel Friedlander April 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Rob, you really need to know your market to answer this question. I’ve done simultaneous hc/pb which can work out quite well if a percentage of your market really would buy the hc when the pb is also available. Most publishers love hardcover books because the profit margins are much better than paperbacks. And if you’re planning on using POD, there’s not much risk in doing both, but you will have a high retail on the hc.


    Rob Oberto April 23, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    I was doing some book price calculations in light of IngramSparks return policy. If I choose to accept returns and have the books destroyed, I am charge for the cost the book store paid for the book. That’s in addition to the printing cost. I know that my books will never be returned to IngramSparks because of strong consumer demand–wink–but those costs could destroy a new author/publisher. So I’m now wondering why I would want to risk that, and instead, just go with CS and Amazon. Joel, could you please speak to this issue? Thanks!


    Joel Friedlander April 24, 2015 at 11:23 am

    Rob, selling to bookstores can be a complicated and expensive prospect, and often is not a particularly good way for self-publishers to go. If you decide to try it, you pretty much have to make your books returnable, otherwise stores won’t order them. But if you have a book a specific market wants, you may be better off dealing with them directly and avoiding all the distribution/returns hassles.


    Rob Oberto April 24, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Thanks for the reply! Good info for where I am in the process right now.


    Theresa M. Moore April 8, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    I am about to give up on Ingram Spark entirely. I switched there from LSI because LSI was not going to do anything about ebooks. Today, I found out that my print books were not given global distribution since I transferred them from LSI to Ingram Spark. They were available to US markets and their printer network. I had to go in today and select the distro platforms I wanted to sell from. This after waiting patiently for six months for them to dig themselves out of the snow. No wonder I had very few sales since October. I called them about this was put on hold for almost an hour before I finally hung up. Now, I have a revision on hold because they caught something on the interior PDF, when that PDF had already been vetted and approved before. I was revising the cover ONLY but their staff thought I was revising the whole thing.

    I charge the standard 55% and my sales come from Barnes & Noble and Apple for the most part. But to find out that my books were not on global distribution is a capper to my willingness to publish with Ingram Spark. Also, I have to make sure that my imprint is listed, when I discovered that they thought my business name was my imprint. Talk about stupid.

    As for Kindle, I do not do business with Amazon. Their contract does not give the author/publisher any benefits, and it has a bad habit of posting ebooks for free without the author’s permission for as long as it wants. That does not translate into ANY royalties for me. I am in this to recoup my losses, not to “play” at being a publisher. So anyone crowing about the so-called “benefits” of working with Amazon had better do their research.

    As for bookstores not stocking my books, it’s not my problem if so many customers are disappointed and go online to buy them. I sell my books directly from my site, so maybe bookstores are a bit overrated these days. They only stock books from the major publishers after being bribed for the prime shelf space. Otherwise, they are not doing me any favors by refusing to stock books which are priced at the standard discount with the option to return. They already think that most POD books are automatically substandard, when I have seen doorstops published by the majors. It’s a perception which will not change until they are forced to close their doors.


    Tom March 7, 2015 at 5:12 am

    Our design client selected the 40% discount at IngramSpark. Some book stores agreed to stock the book. However, other bookstores said that because they would only receive a 20% discount, they would not stock the book.


    Joel Friedlander April 8, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Tom, if you want to improve your chances of bookstores stocking your book, you should list it at 55% discount and as “returnable.”


    alan March 4, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Im currently using LSI and a discount of 20% for my print books. I will be publishing with kindle directly. I was to distribute my ebook with LSI but my LSI rep said ingramspark has a far great ebook distribution reach than LSI. I know ingram spark publishes to the iStore and kindle but if I go with ingramspark can I opt out of these 2? Also do you have to set a minimum of 40% discount on ebooks at ingramspark. Would love to hear your thoughts Joel.


    Joel Friedlander April 8, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Alan, you do have to set a minimum 40% discount at Spark, and keep in mind there are much better distribution options for ebooks, including Smashwords and Bookbaby, either of which will pay far higher royalties.


    Harshajyoti Das July 28, 2015 at 6:49 am

    I publish directly on Kindle using the KDP dashboard. For other platforms, I use I recommend you do the same for ebooks. It’s much more easy. Just worry about print distribution.

    For print version I use createspace. Planning to shift to either LSI or Ingramspark.


    Beth January 2, 2015 at 11:57 am

    I am thoroughly disillusioned with Lightning Spark and being nickel and dimed for everything. I am a small publisher 8-10 books a year and have yet to reap the rewards of dealing with Ingram/LS. On the other hand, I have found CS easy to deal with, responsive, fast and about 30-40% less expensive. For example, with CS you make changes at no cost. With LS it’s $75 each time.


    Joseph Pamelia October 12, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Well, the article really doesn’t point me in the right direction. I am already published by Createspace, but they have a NO return policy, which bookstores all over the world do NOT like.

    The question is; again…is Ingram Spark more advantageous to Lightning Source IF you are distributing books in print? Same question for Digital Format?

    Also, how exactly does the RETURN policy work for Ingram Spark and Lightning Source?

    If a bookseller returns your book or destroys it, is your account debited now and you owe money??What??


    terry tumbler July 31, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I hate to be a killjoy, but Ingram’s behaviour when a delivery goes wrong takes some swallowing. My publisher chose economy delivery because it is so cheap. The delivery got lost. Ingram couldn’t even prove that they’d despatched it. “Your problem not ours” was their attitude. I know they can track boxes but to refuse to do anything, when they can’t even prove they sent it? Seriously folks, once bitten, twice shy.


    Maya Goode June 23, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Thank you for this article it was really helpful. I am planning to publish my first book next year. Since it is literary mainstream fiction, wholesale to bookstores is a significant part of my plan. In many ways, the new spark looks ideal for this minus the e-book distribution. I wonder, if you can only use them for print distribution or if this is a case of having to take the whole package.


    Theresa M. Moore April 8, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    You have the option to publish them together or separately, but you will need an ISBN for each one. It is more economical to publish them together. But, given the behavior of the support staff, it might be better to publish them separately. The distribution is determined at title setup. This means you have to fill in everything on the form(s) properly or they won’t go.


    ray April 21, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I’m a complete novice. does the discount apply only to books sold on amazon etc – what about if one is selling thru one’s own website?




    Joel Friedlander April 23, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Ray, the discount is for anyone who wants to buy wholesale from your POD supplier. You will be buying your own books at the manufacturing cost, so you can sell them on your website at whatever price you like, without regard to the (wholesale) discount.


    Theresa April 9, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I’ve been trying to find this information “spelled out” somewhere online but I can’t. Maybe you can help Joel? If I distribute my print books through IngramSpark, can my readers walk into any Barnes and Noble (or one of their other brick-and-mortar distribution channels) and order my print books over the counter? This might seem like a no-brainer but I can’t seem to find it spelled out anywhere.

    I have a lot of ebook readers wanting to buy print copies but no one seems to want to order from Amazon, everyone is asking where they can buy it in-store. Maybe if they have the over-the-counter option, they’ll go for that.


    Joel Friedlander April 9, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Theresa, your book will show up on the Ingram feed that is distributed to all their retail partners, and from which they should be able to order your book without a problem.


    Theresa April 9, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks for the quick and painless reply, Joel!


    Nancy Willard February 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    This is a helpful discussion – except that I am only more confused now. My book will have two markets both in the US only (my book focuses on US law) – general users (so I am assuming Amazon) and university book stores (for use as a text book).

    Based on what I have read, it does not look like Create Space would work, because university book stores would not purchase from them because there are no returns. Did I read this correctly? Is IngramSpark then the better choice? But then how do you get your book onto Amazon?

    Years ago I did self-publish through Lightening Source. But this was so long ago I can’t remember how this worked.


    Joel Friedlander February 22, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Nancy, if you publish with Spark your book will end up on Amazon anyway, automatically. And when you’re soliciting course adoptions, you’ll be able to let them know that the book is available through Ingram. You’ll also want to check out this article: Breaking News: New Ingram Spark Discounts for Indie Publishers.


    Theresa M. Moore April 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Yes, Amazon will take your book regardless of the discount you set, but you should opt for global distribution even if it covers US law, as there may be expats and law lovers who may be interested. It’s good to exploit all your options.


    Michael Brooks February 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for all of this amazing information.

    I’m wondering if anyone has an update on this? I just called LSI last week and asked to be able to use LSI over Spark. I was told by the representative that I reached that really, under no uncertain terms, could you use LSI if you had less than 30 titles. In my case I have just the one.

    Does anyone have comments on using other vendors outside of CS and LSI/Spark? I’m also looking into Book Masters, who apparently provides full service. Unfortunately they includes lots of small fees which makes it challenging for a first timer to figure out.

    I am trying to get as wide a distribution as possible.

    Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.


    Alex Stan Campbell January 17, 2014 at 5:09 am

    A week has passed since I commented on the poor communication with Ingramspark that I have experienced. yet, in spite of much trepidation, I have chosen Ingramspark. I have signed the agreements but now I am still seriously concerned about the slow and impersonal responses from then. I thought that maybe the communication would improve once I signed the agreements.

    I can only compare to Createspace. I spent considerable time flirting with them over the past six months. I found that I got to speak with or receive an almost instant response from a human with a name. In fact, one can get an instant response by phone, by clicking on “call me.” By comparison, my communication experience so far with Ingramspark has been poor. My first contact (who had a name) no longer responds to me. Now I wait two days to get a response from someone called “Ingramspark”. No name.

    I realize that dealing direct with authors and small publishers is new to them, where previously, they were business to business.

    Being new at this, I need some hand-holding, but I chose the Ingram company because of their reputation. Now, I’m nervous.

    Question: I see many comments on here from people who have worked with CS and Lightening Source. But has anyone actually used Ingramspark? (as opposed to LSI)



    Victoria Noe January 13, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    I used LSI for the first two books in my series, Create Space for the third. I wasn’t horribly unhappy with LSI; more curious, I guess. CS screwed up my first order so badly – crooked covers, etc. – that it had to be reprinted. It took a lot of emails and phone calls to get them to do that. Too many.

    My books are small (under 100 pages) and pricing has been an issue for me. I have to raise the price on them in order to get expanded distribution. I’m okay with the standard 55%, but as currently priced, I’d actually lose money. I’m also okay with raising the prices on the print versions. Although I did my due diligence and researched comparables before I published, I priced too low.

    So, as I revise all three and start on the 4th, I will mostly likely do them all with LSI or Ingram Spark. I have several more books coming, and I do want the distribution they offer to brick & mortar and libraries. I’m just not sure yet which program is right for me.



    Yolanda January 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Viki,

    I’m a bit surprised that you had a problem with CS. I use both CS and LSI to print my own titles, but mainly use CS for 75% of my clients. I’m a bit surprised because CS allows you to either review a paperback proof or a an electronic proof before you publish or print the book. One of my recent clients make countless changes to both the interior and exterior at no charge and we were able to view each change electronically before the final print. And when I needed to contact someone, I contacted them via the contact form on the CS dashboard and someone has always gotten back to me 4-24 business hours after my email.

    I’m so sorry that you are having an issue with them.


    Powers Molinar January 13, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I agree with Victoria. I’ve seen noticeable variability in CS’ cover printing that I haven’t seen with LSI. I’ll still use CS to get on Amazon quickly but will use LSI for everywhere else as CS has no returns policy.


    Victoria Noe January 13, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    I always get a print proof copy. In fact, I got 5 of them for my CS book. They were just fine!

    Then I placed an order for two author signing events and only 10% were within the CS “variables” for covers. They kept insisting the problem was my cover art, but couldn’t explain why some of the books were fine and most weren’t. I used to work with commercial printers many years ago and it looked like the paper went through the machine crooked. But no one would admit that.

    The reason I’m not comfortable using them anymore is that a customer who gets a book that has a noticeably crooked cover isn’t going know that Create Space was responsible. They’re going to wonder why I have such a shoddy looking book.


    Theresa M. Moore April 8, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Set up and revisions are easy-peasy with CS, but distribution is another matter. If you pay for “global” distribution and have your own ISBN, your title will be ineligable for distribution to libraries and colleges. CS wants to confine distribution to Amazon markets only.


    Roberto Santos December 24, 2013 at 3:49 am

    Hello Joel and friends!

    I have learned a lot from reading your site. It is a huge source of information for us author-publishers who seek a better way.

    I am Brazilian, and I realized that here LSI has printing agreement. Thus, the price of shipping throughout Latin America is now extremely low. So also realized in Australia. That is precisely the weaknesses of CS.

    That is, once the CS mount a print center in Latin America, Australia and Japan, probably it will become the market leader. I think at the present moment, being in the matter of printing and shipping price, LSI has greater advantage over the CS, precisely why I wrote above.

    I have a question, I appreciate if you can answer: IngramSpark being the sister company of LSI also has distribution in Latin America and Australia?



    Tom December 9, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Great discussion. Thanks for helping us understand the differences!


    Marisko December 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    I’m not sure where to ask this question. I apologize if this is the wrong place. My question is about IngramSpark’s relation to Baker & Taylor. If we sign IngramSpark’s contracts, are we blocked from working directly with Baker & Taylor?

    I am grateful for this website. Thank you Joel!


    That Literary Lady December 5, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Joel, thanks for bringing up this topic and sharing. I’m glad that I am “grandfathered” into LSI, as I have under 30 titles, so far. I started using CreateSpace as it was a more economical choice for some of my clients. I didn’t know that they had recently lifted the $25 Expanded Distribution Fee. I briefly looked over Ingram Spark, but it appears that I need to go back and read about the program more carefully. Thanks again.


    Powers Molinar December 5, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I literally just setup an LSI account in the past week for one title. Must depend on who you get when you contact them.


    Tim Nelson December 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Just an update, direct from IngramSpark today (Dec 5, 2013) after requesting an LSI account——-

    On Thursday, December 5, 2013 11:05 AM, #Ingram Spark Support wrote:

    Hi Tim,

    I certainly do apologize. Unfortunately, all new publishers coming aboard with less than 30 titles are being routed to IngramSpark. The response turnaround times are typically the same with both IngramSpark and Lightning Source.

    I hope that you have a wonderful day and we greatly appreciate your business.

    Thank you,

    IngramSpark Support

    For additional support please email us at


    Sandy December 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I am curious. Where are you located? Your headquarters and where do you actually print the books? Thanks.


    Powers Molinar December 2, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    My issue with Createspace is that its expanded distribution network does not allow returns. Most independent brick and mortars won’t bring in a title they can’t return. LSI does have a return program. I’m looking at using CS for Amazon only and LSI for everything else for my paperback.


    Leigh December 2, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I just took a look at LSI versus Ingram Spark. My understanding was that LSI was the way to go for the best distribution and the best royalties. When I crunched the numbers at Ingram Spark, I discovered my compensation would be $1.52 per book. Does that sound right? That’s a severe cut from what I get from Amazon US and Europe currently. Now that CreateSpace has opened more distribution channels for free, it seems it would be a better way to go.


    Theresa M. Moore April 8, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Did you factor in the standard 55% discount? If not, that would explain why you are confused. Just adjust your pricing to account for that. If you have your own site, you can discount the list price and sell for however little you want. But you do have to account for the cost to print and ship in your calculation.


    Hkk December 1, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you for looking into these issues and posting about them here on your website. If I have niche distributors that already want to buy the book as well as hosts of the course locations worldwide and I am looking for print on demand publishers to ship to niche distributors and smaller orders of 20-30 at a time worldwide, do you have a suggestion? I want to keep the cost of printing the books down and don’t have a huge amount of interest in ebooks, or having the print on demand work on online sales for me. Thank you for any input.


    Jaynie Royal November 30, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Great discussion Joel, I have enjoyed following it – thank you. Recent emails with an IS rep made it clear to me that the 55% discount (accompanied by ‘returnable’ status) is what they will use to induce brick and mortar stores to purchase my novel. I replied that I have every expectation that the vast majority of my potential sales will accrue from online sources and am doubtful that brick and mortar stores will be so terribly interested in a debut novelist particularly one publishing a lengthier literary-historical-fiction novel with slightly higher printing costs. So given the assumption that the above is true, who then benefits from the 55% discount? And with the returnable option in place it is, perhaps, not inconceivable that if brick and mortar stores do pick up my novel if it does not sell I would be subsequently responsible for returning fees that could eliminate my very slender profit margin (already significantly reduced by the 55%) altogether. As much as I would like to proceed with IS I am seriously wondering whether it is financially viable to do so. The IS rep did indicate that changes were currently being made to the program. I only hope they are looking seriously at the discount issue and will offer some flexibility in that regard.


    Corie Weaver November 29, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Well, on Wednesday I applied for LSI, as I’d been planning to do for several months. I have three titles right now with files ready for LSI, plans for another 3 next year, and a marketing plan. This morning received an email that they’ve determined IngramSpark is best for my needs. I’ve written back, asking for reconsideration. Crossing fingers. If they insist on IngramSpark, I may have to go that way – much of my marketing plan involves libraries, and I want it to be as easy for them to order as possible.


    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2013 at 11:08 am


    From recent client experiences with this issue, I believe if you give them reasons why you think LSI is a better fit for you, they will allow you in. And with your projected publishing plans, LSI might be the best fit after all, even though Ingram considers small publishers as anyone with fewer than 20 titles. Good luck, and do let us know what happens if you can.


    Corie Weaver December 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Well, so far no response to my email listing my reasons and asking for reconsideration. I called their main contact number and left a message, but nothing back yet. I must say, this isn’t encouraging.


    Corie Weaver December 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    As an update – It took a couple more emails and phone calls, and an explanation of my plan, but today just heard my application for LSI was approved.


    Aaron Shepard November 25, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Joel, I doubt we need any clearer statement than what appears on the updated home page of Lightning Source.


    Joel Friedlander November 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Yes, that is interesting, it’s just lacking any definition of the difference between “medium publishers” and “independent publishers” isn’t it? This is my concern, that there’s no way to know what their criteria are.


    Aaron Shepard November 18, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Hi Joel. I’m afraid that this is not a “trainee issue,” it is a policy set by the new accounts department at Lightning. In fact, I was warned about it before it went into effect. But there are still ways around it.

    You might want to check out my blog posts on this topic:



    Joel Friedlander November 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for the input. I really don’t think it’s set in stone, and it seems to me that part of the confusion is Ingram’s own uncertainty about exactly how to position this service vis a vis Lightning Source. It’s an evolving situation, and I’ll be keeping track of how it develops. I had a client just today who, initially denied access to LSI has now been admitted as a customer. My problem is the confusion this has caused for people, and my hope is that Ingram will make a definitive statement one way or the other. Stay tuned.


    Michael W Perry November 15, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I might add a fact about being able to set the wholesale markup that’s very important. The percent differences in what an author/publisher gets aren’t the percent differences in the discount rate. I have my LightningSource books discounted 50% rather than 55%, but that doesn’t mean I’m getting 5% more income.

    My usual way of pricing a print book is to price it around four times the print costs. A book that costs about $4 to print would sell for almost $16. The $12 difference between printing costs and retail means there’s $12 to split between the wholesale/retail chain and me.

    If I give the wholesaler and retailer a 55% discount, they’re paying me $7.20 (.45×16) for the book, leaving me $3.20 (7.20-4). That’s a profit of 20% of retail for me.

    If I give them a 50% discount, however, they get the book for $8.00, and I get $4 (8-4). That’s a profit of 25% for me. See, you might say, the difference between the two is just 5%.

    Not so. Notice notice a twist in the math that’s easy to miss. My profits haven’t increased by just 5%. They’ve increased from $3.20 to $4, that’s a 20% increase (.8/4). By raising my share by 5%, I’ve increased my profits by 20%. For every $100 I’d earned before. I’ll earn $120.

    That’s why, for authors, the ability to set your discount matters a lot. Just by tweaking your discount pricing from 55% to 50% you raise your income by 20%.

    And that ability to change your discount rate matters even more if you specify an even smaller cut for the wholesaler/retailer. If I gave my books only a 20% discount, I’d be getting paid $12.80 for the book, making a $8.80 profit on each sale, and thus making $5.60 more on each sale than at a 55% discount. If I got my math right, that’s a 175% increase in profits.

    That’s why the ability to set your own discount matters.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Auburn, AL


    Denise Gaskins November 15, 2013 at 11:58 am

    As a niche nonfiction publisher making my money with small but regular sales over the long haul, and who expects by far the majority of my sales to be through Amazon, I don’t think Spark is competitive as it stands. I’m willing to pay a slightly higher percentage to CreateSpace EDC for the convenience of:
    (1) dealing with a single website, no additional learning curve,
    (2) no up-front fees,
    (3) no fees to make changes, as I tend to be a tinkerer [I know LSI charges fees for every file change, but I can’t find anything on Spark’s website about their policy],
    (4) simple bookkeeping with a single account to watch [my time is worth something, too], and
    (5) no annual fees to keep the book available.
    If Spark wants my business, it would have to offer flexibility on the discount, to make up for the hassles listed above. Especially for the fees, which totally eat up that measly 5% difference in discount. Or else my niche will need to grow a lot more active…


    Theresa M. Moore April 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Most bookstores will demand the standard discount of 55%, but there is no guarantee they will stock your book anyway. It’s up to you.
    Spark charges for revisions, but less for setup. After that, everything costs you money. There is no way around it. There are fees to promote the title, but they dropped their catalog listing fees.


    Joe Bunting November 15, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Great review, Joel. I’ve been really excited about Spark as an LSI user who’s always a little wary to recommend it to my friends and readers. I don’t mind the discount rate, but that ebook royalty? Yikes. It’s not much more than a convenience to distribute all from one place, but it does seem to show they still don’t fully get it. My solution is still going to be: CS for Amazon print, KDP and B&N Press and Kobo for eBooks, and LSI (maybe Sparks) for print everywhere else. It’s a lot of work, but I’m not convinced any single distributor alone offers what I want, yet.


    James H. Byrd November 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I’m with you, Joe. I take the same approach, except I also use Draft2Digital for distribution to Apple.


    Linton Robinson November 15, 2013 at 7:40 am

    For most writers, the answer is “neither one”.
    LSI is for professional publishers. By which I mean publishers of many books. And in such a way that they will get back the $200 it costs to put a book out through them. It’s deliberately difficult to get set-up, with vast filings of paperwork. Not to mention requiring files to be submitted in formats requiring expensive, obnoxious programs from the semi-evil Adobe corporation, rather than just uploading a word or epub or html file.
    Sparks is obviously an attempt to be more user-friendly, but still fails to work out financially. That royalty system doesn’t make much sense for paperbacks, compared to setting price off of cost.
    For most writers, CreateSpace is the Big Answer. I wish they did have a head-on competitor because Amazon makes me nervous. But going to LSI is not the answer for very many writers.
    I’ve had three accounts at LSI, by the way, and admire their quality and corporate culture. My publisher uses them for my books. I just don’t see how they suit the needs of the typical writer/publisher.


    Joel Friedlander November 15, 2013 at 8:51 am

    I’ve been very happy with the quality of products that LSI produces, and the product range as well. I’ve recently done several very large projects that could only be done by LSI because we needed case wrapped hardcovers, and both projects worked quite well in the end, with clients very happy with the end result, and I don’t think we could have done these books as easily anywhere else. So yes, it depends on your level of expertise and the kind of book you plan to publish.


    Linton Robinson November 15, 2013 at 9:01 am

    They really are a great outfit, with good and unique products. If they’d just put out a pocket-sized book I’d start working with them again.
    But it’s not worth it without big numbers.

    Speaking of which, LSI has a very cool process whereby they will switch from POD to offset production when the numbers on a book hit the “rolloff point” that makes it more profitable. I don’t think any other POD press does that. But, of course, that’s no help to the average writer.


    michelle eastman August 23, 2014 at 9:53 am


    Can you please help me understand the color options at LSI? I am a first-time author/self-publisher. I uploaded my files to LSI, and I am waiting for my proof copy. I am trying to choose the very best color option, without going overboard. I am publishing an 8.5 X 11″ children’s picture book. The illustrator created a full-color illustration on each page (text on top of images). Do I need their premium color option for this type of book? If not, should I use the standard on 70 lb. paper? Am I correct to assume the heavier paper equals a better quality product? I have poured over the LSI manuals, and the internet, and I can’t pinpoint the differences between the 3 standard color services, except the paper weight. By the way, thank you for the incredible resource you provide. I am truly grateful for your help.

    Thank you,


    Joel Friedlander August 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Michelle, you can get in touch with your LSI customer service rep and have them send you samples. You’ll get all their color options, and they even sent me a hardbound children’s book to have a look at. Examining these yourself is the best way to know what you want, I highly recommend it. I talked a little bit about color options in this post.


    Jason Matthews November 15, 2013 at 6:54 am

    I still think there’s an option for CreateSpace that works for some authors. I haven’t used Spark but wonder if the level of user-friendliness is as good as it is at CS.


    Joel Friedlander November 15, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Hi Jason,

    I think Ingram has made a good start with Spark, it’s much more user friendly than LSI, but nowhere near the kind of rich interface CreateSpace has built over the years.

    I think this is partly due to the very different businesses of their respective owners. Amazon is a retailer, oriented to dealing with buyers and focused on authors. Ingram is on the wholesale side, and has for many years been a straight b-to-b company.

    It may take them a bit longer, but they seem determined to address this market, and certainly have the resources to do so. Their responsiveness to feedback is a good sign for the future.


    Bill Peschel November 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Amazon is also a younger company with a culture designed to encourage open thinking and innovation.

    Ingram is an older company, set in its ways, attempting to catch up.


    Alex Stan Campbell January 11, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Joel, I realize that this is an old thread, so something must have changed at Ingramspark since you wrote this blog. I have been having serious issues trying to communicate with them. I HAD a contact there but he stopped talking to me. (I swear, I wasn’t a pest and I didn’t insult him) I was ready to go with them but now, I’m not so sure. I e-mailed, called and still no response. I finally called Ingram’s main line and eventually got to talk to someone who could not explain why I wasn’t getting any answers to my questions. I get it that they are comfortable with business-to-business dealings so communicating with average humans like me might be tough for them.
    BTW, thanks for all that you do.


    Roberto Santos January 11, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Hello Alex,

    Have you tried them at facebook?

    Also, They always respond in the e-mail:

    But share with us, what problem you are facing?


    Alex Stan Campbell January 11, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you Roberto. I have not tried FB but I did get a response on Twitter. She also suggested that I use ingramsparksupport but that was after I had finally called their main switchboard and explained that my contact was not responding to e-mail messages or phone message. The gentleman I spoke to also suggested the ingramsparksupport e-mail.
    Here’s the deal. I am a virgin author having just completed my autobio. I want to be sure I get all this right, and it looks pro, so I naturally have questions. For example, on their site, I can’t go to TOOLS unless I sign the contracts. I don’t like signing contracts until I understand everything. It’s sort of catch-22. I am also nervous about signing up and then going through long periods of not getting a response to questions.

    I just reviewed CreateSpace’s info. I find it MUCH easier to understand. However, I would prefer to deal with Ingram because of their credibility and distribution connections.

    Powers Molinar January 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Alex, you’re exactly right. CS is much more user friendly and intuitive but their expanded distribution is very limiting given they don’t have a returns policy. Most independents won’t touch your book unless they can return it. LSI has the returns policy but their website is almost cryptic. I first published my novel via CS to get on Amazon and am almost done publishing again via LSI. I contact my LSI rep every time I update something just to make sure I do it right. She’s been very helpful but I feel like an idiot having to verify everything. I never contacted anybody at CS and got fully published without issue.

    Joel Friedlander January 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Alex, there’s a more current discussion going on right now on this subject here:
    Breaking News: New Ingram Spark Discounts for Indie Publishers.


    Linda Bonney Olin November 15, 2013 at 5:30 am

    How does Spark’s 55% discount (leaving the author a 45% royalty?) stack up against CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel, for an author who uses CreateSpace for the Amazon market?

    CreateSpace offers access to Ingram-served bookstores through its Expanded Distribution Channel. Even after CreateSpace recently waived its $25 fee for signing up, Expanded Distribution isn’t an attractive option to a lot of us because the royalty percentage drops so low you have to jack up the book price to make any $ at all after CreateSpace takes its manufacturing cost. The higher price can hurt your Amazon sales.

    Also wondering how Spark’s ebook distribution terms compare to Smashwords, for authors who already use KDP for Amazon Kindle distribution.


    Joel Friedlander November 15, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Hi Linda,

    The problem there is with the extra hit you take on your royalties for using the CreateSpace expanded distribution, where your discount goes up to 60% which is not very attractive to many indie authors.

    A lot of this is author education, as people coming into publishing need to learn about the oddities of our book distribution system. Making these choices can have a huge effect on your eventual profitability.


    Linton Robinson November 15, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I think you may be a little confused here, Joel. Far as I’ve ever found, with dozens of books on CreateSpace, it’s not put to you in the form of percentage of retail, but of a markup over cost. You can price it at whatever you want. If you want to make your book $100, then your percentage is going to be over 90%.


    Joel Friedlander November 15, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Standard trade practice is to state discounts as a percentage of list price, which allows publishers to make accurate comparisons across vendors. An explicit statement of the discount at each channel is what makes these comparisons possible. This is from


    Linton Robinson November 15, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Interesting. I really don’t know if that’s some sort of window dressing or what it is, but anybody who uses CreateSpace has got to be aware of the way their pricing really works. They give you a cost and you add your profit onto it. The base nut is higher on amazon than on CS’s own store, of course. But it’s very much an “added” calculation, not counting back from retail. If you increase your price, you don’t have to pay more to CreateSpace. Probably works different with distribution to stores, but that’s not something I’m involved with.

    Linton Robinson November 15, 2013 at 8:56 am

    I don’t understand why anybody would want to put a book on Kindle out of a POD producer, including CreateSpace.
    Why do that?
    When you can so easily load it to Kindle yourself with full control and better quality?
    It;s easy to get wowed by possibilities, but not all are valid. I see people going nuts to get library or bookstore distribution when there is no advantage in it for them and their chances of ending up in either place are nil.


    Leigh December 2, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    “… leaving the author a 45% royalty…”

    Unfortunately it’s 45% royalty minus printing costs.


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