Sunday, February 13, 2011

Create Space Vs Lightning Source

07/14/2011 - I've completely revised this post based on new information that has come to light since my original post back in February. If you've read this post in the past it might be worth a re-read. What's the new information?
  • Some rebuttals to my original post that pointed out you can get 20% discount with Amazon rather than 40%

  • A recent email that alerted me to Amazon not keeping Lightning Source titles well stocked
We'll get to both of those in due time but lets start off at the beginning...

When it comes to producing paper books there is no better choice, in my opinion, then to use POD (print on demand) technology. This reduces the risks involved in the upfront cash investment of doing a large offset print run. Besides, I've put out for bid various copies of Ridan's books in quantities from 50 - 500 and I've never found a printer to match the per book pricing you can receive through POD.

When it comes to POD the two big players are CreateSpace and LightningSource. From here on out in this post I'll refer to them as CS and LS respectively. I've used both of them quite a bit in the past, and which one you use will depend on what exactly you will be doing with the printed books. If you are printing them for your own use (to sell direct on your website or to use as review copies) the answer will be different then if you want to distribute through channels such as Amazon and bookstores.

A quick note: Neither CS nor LS are publishers. They are vendors (printer/distributors) that require you to provide them with print ready files. Both offer add-on services such as editing, layout, and cover design but you should NEVER purchase these services from either organization (You can get it better and cheaper elsewhere – sigh…another topic for another day). So for the sake of this post we’re going to talk about what you SHOULD use them for.
  • Producing high quality printed books
  • Distributing printing books.
  • Providing books to yourself for selling direct (via your website) or giving away to reviewers

Let’s first talk about the quality. They are nearly indistinguishable. (I suspect they are using the same equipment). The covers and interiors come out as good as any book you’ll find in a bookstore. Yes offset is done with ink, and POD is basically a laser printing (using toner) but unless you put a printer's loop on the page you'll not see the difference. If none of my previous sentence made any sense to you, don’t worry – it just says that the quality is very good for both and you should not be concerned.

NOTE: If you have a lot of black and white photographs - I suggest you proof carefully (and possibly adjust the images) as this is one area where there are differences between toner and ink. But, if your book is largely just black text on a white page - you'll see no differences.

I've printed the same book, from exactly the same files (well adjusting for spine width a bit -- LS uses slightly lighter weight of white paper (I've not used their creme so I can't comment) and so their books are a tad thinner than a CS book) and there are very slight 4-color color differences, but both come out looking very good.

Someone else pointed out to me that one uses white glue (LS on the spine and the other a yellow glue (CS) but that's picking at nits and the important point is that both glues do what they are suppose to which is keep the pages between the covers (something I personally had a bad experience with when using a short-run printer that was neither of the above).

Another point that should be made…especially by people who publish through the likes of iUniverse and Xlibris etc. These companies use CS and LS for their printing. In the past I believe most of the big publishers used LS but I’m sure they “shop this around” frequently and I can’t say for sure who they use now but I’d lay dollars to donuts that it is one or the other of these two companies.

COSTS – A comparison
Okay, so let’s compare the costs. For per book printing, both are priced in a similar way – in that they charge based on # of pages.

Per book print fees:

  • CS is # of pages x .012 + $0.85 for cover (for any book)
  • LS is # of pages x .013 + $0.90 for cover (for books sold through channel)
  • LS is # of pages x .015 + $0.90 for cover (for books sold direct to publisher)

This doesn’t seem like much difference but lets do the comparison for a 300 page book

  • CS = $4.45 (all books)
  • LS = $4.80 (those sold through the channel)
  • LS = $5.40 (those sold to you)
We'll talk more about channel selling - but for now just know this is any book bought through a retailer (either online like Amazon, or in a retail store such as Barnes and Noble).

If you need books yourself (for reviewers or direct selling on your website) there is no question that CS is the better choice and even if you decide LS is going to be your distribution partner I suggest you use both (yes you can use both) for books you buy for yourself.

Now let’s look at “setup fees” they are:

  • CS $39.00 per title (using the PRO plan – which you should ALWAYS use)
  • LS $75.00 per title ($37.50 for interior, $37.50 for cover)

Proof fees?

  • CS = price of book + shipping so about $7.00 - $9.00 depending on shipping method selected
  • LS = $30.00

Yearly fees?

  • LS = $12.00 per title per year
  • CS has one – but it’s been waived every year I’ve been with them so I can’t remember what it is – I think it is $10 - $20 or so but since I’ve never had to pay it I don’t keep track.
So for setup you can expect:
  • LS = $117 per book
  • CS = $46 - $48 per book
Okay, now we come to the single biggest part of the CS vs LS equation and that is how these printed books are distributed. For those that don’t know books are not sold from publishers to bookstores they use a distribution channel. (Bookstores don’t want to write 10,000 checks to 10,000 publishers – the publishers will use a few (or just one) distribution partner and write only one check to them. The distribution partner then manages getting the books to the thousands and thousands of various sales outlets (both online and physical).

Lighting Source
LS is a subsidiary of Ingram. For those that don’t know Ingram is the 800-lb gorilla when it comes to brick and mortar bookstores. I would venture to say that almost any bookstore "can" order through Ingram though some probably order from other places as well to get best pricing. Being distributed through Ingram doesn’t mean store shelf space it means the “ability” to buy the book. (More on this in a minute). With LS you can set your discount to anything (as low as 20% though they recommend 55% to get maximum exposure)

Create Space
CS does not get you into Ingram. It puts you into something called the Expanded Distribution Channel which is stated as: “the potential to distribute your book to a larger audience through more outlets including: retailers, bookstores, libraries, academic institutions, wholesalers, and distributors.” Remember what I mentioned about bookstores wanting to write 10,000 checks? Well Amazon is a big enough player that many will add Amazon to their list (like Ingram) but unlike LS, CS does not detail who they are or give you any guarantees. The discount on the EDC is pretty high (60%) but that is pretty standard because the people they distribute to need to have their cut of the pie.

So what can we say about both companies and distribution….they give “some” opportunity to get the books to “other” outlets.I'm going to break distribution down into several important channels:

  • Amazon (because they are the biggest online retailer)
  • Brick and Mortar Bookstores (because most authors want their books to show up here)
  • Other Online Retailers
As I mentioned in the beginning, most of the books sold by Ridan are actually ebooks. For the print books our sales are:
  • Large majority from Amazon
  • Next highest sold direct through our website
  • A few books sold through other distribution channels
This is because of how we align our business goals. If you've got a model that attempts to maximize bookstore sales (especially those in brick and mortar) you may make different choices than I did.

Amazon Selling
Since this is our biggest dead tree market we want to maximize the income from this channel. In this case, LS is the clear winner as you can set your discount in LS to 20% rather than the 40% that CS will take. So let's revisit our 300 page book ans assume that it is being sold on Amazon for $12.95.
  • LS: $12.95 - $4.80 (print) - $2.59 (distribution) = $5.56 profit per book sold
  • CS: $12.95 - $4.45 (print) - $5.18 (distribution) = $3.32 profit per book sold
That's a HUGE difference. If you compare the difference in setup fees (you are break even after selling 32 books and from that point on will be making $2.24 more if sold through LS.

But there are some catches.
  • With LS you can't choose different discount %'s for different channels. And bookstores generally want a 50% - 60% discount so by offering 20% your chances of selling any in brick and mortar stores is slim at best.
  • When using CS Amazon has 40% margin so they will discount your books - I've seen as much as 32% off offered on books by Ridan sold through CS. Buyers like discounted books so this "sales price" may entice more purchases. At 20% discount I've never seen Amazon put those books on sale (they are already too slim on their margin). Now all this being said - there is no guarantee what books Amazon will discount and which they will not so just because you use CS will not guarantee discounting.

  • In Stock - if you use CS your books will always show as "in stock". In the deep dark past there was a time when Amazon removed any non CS POD books - which brought outcries from many for obvious reasons. They got into huge trouble for this and restored the titles but it appears that now they may be cutting inventory kind of close when ordering books from other distributors. A recent article (7/7/2011) in Self-Publishing Review alerted me to this. In fact I've been checking my non CS titles daily and sure enough Nathan Lowell's Full Share is constantly teetering on being "unavailable". He currently has 2 copies available but it has been fluctuating between 7 and 9 most days and I've not seen it "fully in stock" since I started watching it when this article came to my attention.
Bookstore Channels
Okay now let's consider bookstores. As previously mentioned Ingram is HUGE in this space so LS has a competitive advantage over CS
  • LS: Is owned by Ingram and uses them to distribute their titles.
  • CS: Will not get you into the Ingram but they have their own Expanded Distribution Network (EDC) but they will take 60% margin instead of 40%
Ingram distribution is HUGE and if you plan on focusing on brick and mortar stores than this is the much preferred distribution partner. Now before you get too excited, it does not mean that your books will be sitting on a bookstore shelf. Bookstores actually work more like consignment shops in that they don't pay for product they put on their shelves. They order books and 60-90 days later when the bill comes due they have the option to ship back books that did not sell and they do this often. Because POD books must be paid for when the order is taken, many bookstores won't buy them even if you've setup in LS for them to be returnable since they have to pay money up front, then get it back later which is much more difficult then just shipping back books that they didn't have to put out any up front cash for.

So the books may not be on the bookstore shelf but it usually means that someone can walk into a store with an ISBN, and special order a book in the Ingram chain. The bookstore may require the person requesting to "pay up front" and some may not have the systems that allow them to order POD so even though you are in Ingram but your chances of special ordering are better if you are with Ingram then if you are not.

And once again there is a catch...remember that I said that you couldn't have different discount rates when using LS? So if you set 20% to maximize your Amazon sales you've probably shot yourself in the foot for any bookstore sales. Generally they want 50%-60% discount rates so when they see you are only offering 20% they may not think that it is worth it. Again, this may be a situation where you do a little hybrid - use CS for Amazon selling (and take 40%) and set your LS discount rate at 55% (and probably specify returns allowed) to be most attractive to bookstore selling.

Other Channels
As far as non Amazon and non bookstore I think that CS and LS are about equal. If I compare my sales from both LS titles and CS titles that I've done through Ridan I sell a bit more in the EDC than LS but the differences in numbers and the differences in discount rates are not enough to make one better than the other.

Using Both
There's no reason why you can't use both CS and LS. And in fact I do this. In the beginning I used LS with a 55% discount and returnables to get Ingram distribution but sold directly through Amazon for 40% discounts (and saved 15%). The problem...LS even with their Ingram channel was not moving many of my books through their channel. In fact the $117 setup fee took me a LONG LONG time to make back and so for awhile I abandoned LS altogether. But...when I found out I could get 20% discount on Amazon I started using LS again (primarily for books sold to Amazon) and purchased any books I sold directly with CS.

If you do both here's what you need to know.
  • You don't need two ISBN's - In both cases they are the same format of book (trade paperback) so only one ISBN is needed
  • The Interior PDFs can be exactly the same file - no formatting changes required
  • The Cover PDFS will have to be adjusted slightly for different spine widths once you know the page count you need to go to each site and look for their "spine calculators" to determine the size of the cover.
Back in the day when I used LS for Ingram distribution I actually priced the Ingram book a bit higher than the Amazon one (because I was doing a 55% discount instead of 40%) I actually had the same ISBN but the barcode on the cover of the LS was slightly different because for instance a book I sold for $12.95 at Amazon I might sell at $13.95 through the Ingram channel.


So, let’s wrap up this very long post….

  • DTB (dead tree books) are worth while to sell directly (via your website) as there are no distribution fees (just a small credit card processing fee) buy books to be sold this way from CS.

  • Amazon – the “cheapest” way to do this (lowest discount) is to go direct to LS where the discount is 20%.

  • Distribution channel of LS should be better than CS (Ingram is a powerhouse) but you negate this if using 20% discount for Amazon. If you really want to maximize the Ingram channel you should have a discount of 55% and mark your books as returnable.

  • If your sales volume is VERY low on print books it may take you awhile to earn back $117 setup fee for LS.

  • Quality is the same between both

If you read my original post on this subject I said that CS was the clear winner but that was before I knew you could do the 20% discount through LS and that has shifted my thinking. So now it really comes down to which distribution channel you want to maximize and you need to choose your partner and the discount rate carefully.

As always I’d love to hear what you think about this post.


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Anonymous said...

Great information. Thanks for taking the time and sharing.

Brian Kittrell said...

Hey, I saw your post listed on KindleBoards, so I decided to drop by.

I think it's a good post. The only thing I noticed that varies from my experience is the discount required. CreateSpace does require 40+% discount, but Lightning Source will allow a 20% discount off list to get it on Amazon.

So, you don't have to discount it down to 40% or 50%, they allow me to play at a 20% discount all around. I can sell through the Barnes & Noble website at 20% off list, also. (Books-A-Million also carries the title under the same rules.)

Just wanted to mention that. I'm able to keep more like $3.00~ per book at 20% discount (my list is usually $9.99), so I leave it there. I believe 20% is the absolute minimum to play, though.

Linda Acaster said...

Thanks for the insight. I'm in the UK and used a facilitator as intermediary with LS, which has a presence across here. It's left me with laughably little money and hardly any shops will stock POD books.

Ebooks via Amazon's Ktp is being much more successful, but we have to upload onto the USA site. And here's the rub for POD books, there is no Createspace presence in the UK.

I'm bringing out a non-fiction ebook later in the year and would like a print copy. Shall have to see if I can sort it on the USA site as a Brit and then collect some when I holiday over there! If I get there this year.

Robert Duperre said...

Hey Robin. Good post.

As a side not on CS' expanded distribution, it's also helpful to do just because Amazon actually follows their own rules and matches lowest price available.

For example, last year, with The Fall, the first book in my series, I originally had the price set at 16.99 (too high, I know). When the expanded distribution clicked in, Barnes & Noble put it up for 12.45. It stayed that price for a long time. A month after it was listed on B&N, Amazon matched the discounted price. I had about 20 sales during the time the book was discounted, and I still received the $5.07 in royalty, even though the price was more than $4 less than what I listed, seeing as if a discount on a book does NOT initiate with you, Amazon does not hold you accountable for it.

So yeah, it's a good thing.

Terry Mixon said...

Robin, this is a great post. The print version of my book was still far off in my thinking, since it isn't completed yet, but you've helped me a lot in making up my mind. Thanks again for all the great information and insight you share.

Anonymous said...

A million thanks. This is just the sort of data required. I always regret I cannot attend meet-ups in Washington DC and wonder if you make the material available on-line.
I have published books in Canada, taking the plunge and ordering a thousand or more copies at a time. Cover design is a problem. Formatting the book for publication is not. Printing means laying out maybe $5000. Distribution is excessively difficult, but if you can get a review in the local paper, the book can sell well. At the standard 40% discount, profitability is possible.
On rule-of-thumb basis that retail is from five to eight times print cost, hard covers are risky. Self-publishing makes a handsome HB book easier. As you say, selling privately at the full retail makes it profitable and craft shows/book shows makes this possible.
Do you have a similar analysis of ebook publishing?
Best regards

Cait London said...

Thank you. I'm published traditional and epub by several major publishers, but now placing my backlist into epublishing. Probably some new things, too. So I've been debating about DTBs and what I could do there. I'm passing this link on to friends as mine shared it w/me. Very, very interesting.

Zoe Winters said...

Hi Robin,

I think CS can be great for more casual self-publishers, which I know you are not. But IMO, I still think LSI is the best option for those who are in this long-term. But other people's mileage varies.

I make $5.58 profit per print copy of Blood Lust sold through distribution with LSI. And I will be making $6.36 per copy with Save My Soul(it's a little shorter.) Anyway, my full counterpoint is at my blog.

I think it's a personal decision, though, but I wanted to share why I still prefer LSI. I think it's good for people to know both why one person prefers CS and why another prefers LSI as they go in to make their own decision. For many CS will be a more attractive option, for some LSI will be.

John E said...

Great post. I wonder about international distribution. If an author wants paper books available for order in Australia, Europe, Canada, etc., as well as the US, would CS still beat LS?

Thanks for the time and effort.


Unknown said...

Great information! The CS annual fee is only $5, btw: still less than LS's annual fee. I went with CS first, and I'm only more glad as time goes by.

I opted out of the extended distribution channels so I could offer a lower price on my books, because, as you said, DTB's aren't huge sellers either way.

Cellophane Queen said...

CS beats the crap out of LSI. I put one book up on LSI, and never had a distribution sale, while my CS books did get sales farther afield than just Amazon. I made more money and paid less to have it produced.

No brainer as far as I'm concerned. I closed by LSI account.

Edward G. Talbot said...

Great post. I figured out about half of what you outlined here on my own and decided to go with CS, but you've filled in a lot of stuff I didn't know.

And definitely a key point you make at the end if that choosing the extended distribution impacts your price. I went with $12.99 and extended distribution, but I seriously toyed with going $9.99 and not enabling it (because for $9.99 I would have lost money on every extended sale). In the end I decided that unlike with ebooks, very few readers are going to buy a book for $9.99 that they wouldn't buy for $12.99. And I'm still going to offer a "coupon" to anyone who contacts me to get a signed copy of the book directly from me for $9.99 shipped in the US.

Thanks again!

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

Excellent and useful post—especially since I came to the same conclusions myself and chose CreateSpace for eight novels so far. And, I will continue to put more of my books into CS, as soon as I finish getting them all up in eBook form, where I make many more sales and much more money.

You are a Queen for taking the time and effort to put this up for all of us, and especially for the beginners, who need this kind of help.

Maybe for your next TBW, you could explain to beginners why they shouldn't use those ms. prep services.

Again, great work!

Aaron Shepard said...

Robin, I'm afraid you've entirely missed the main benefit in using Lightning Source. As I discuss in my books "Aiming at Amazon" and "POD for Profit," the reason to use Lightning Source is that you can set a 20% discount for books sold _to Amazon._ You thereby raise your profit by around 50%. If you're getting significant sales on Amazon, then this is the best way to optimize them.

By the way, you also missed the fact that CreateSpace's Expanded Distribution to booksellers actually goes through Lightning Source. Yes, Lightning prints and sells all those books for CreateSpace. Also, though Borders doesn't like to order books from Lightning, Barnes & Noble is actually a direct partner of Lightning, making this the easiest way to get your books into their database for special orders. Both these are discussed in articles on my Publishing Page, at

Aaron Shepard

Mark Barrett said...

What do I think about your post? I think it's awesome -- and not just because I came to the same conclusion myself.

Thanks for taking the time to put all this together.

curiousjessica said...

Robin, thanks for this great info! I am in the process of self-publishing and had 99% decided to go with createspace - but hearing someone else recommend it is a relief.

Cathy Keaton said...

Oh, thank you so much for this insightful post! It is very helpful in the exact way I wanted it to be. There is simply no way to dispute your facts. The numbers speak for themselves.

And, they probably will continue to, unless there is some major change in CS or LS in how they do business.

Vincent Eaton said...

I've been following this mini-debate for a while now, as I am living in Europe, setting up with LS was best, if only because they give international printing possibilities, whereas CS is only USA-based (currently).
An interesting article that weighs the two printers is a post by Aaron Shepard:

Thanks for info. Keeps me chewing my cud....

Grace Bridges said...

Many thanks for putting together this very informative post!

Just one thing - I sell from LS to Amazon (and all retail channels) at 20% discount. This is the minimum allowed and has no ill consequence.

Michael Allen said...

Extremely helpful, and I know from experience how long it takes to write something like this. Many thanks.

R.E. McDermott said...

I'm a new (unpublished) writer considering POD and totally confused. That is, I was totally confused until I read this cogent and informative post. I'm so glad I came upon your blog and know it will be a great resource. Thank You

Unknown said...

Great post with a ton of information. I got your link from Dean Wesley Smith's blog. I have a self-help book that I've self-published twice (runs of 1,000) and sold out both time. I put it on Kindle and smashwords as an e-book, but it's not doing too great. I think for this type of book people like to be able to write in it, etc. So, I'll got take CS.
I look forward to your other subjects. Best, Lois
BTW, my blog is

Layton Green said...

Hi Robin,
This is Layton Green and I am in the process of creating a dead tree version of my novel The Summoner. First of all, love your blog and thanks for the informative posts. Second, are you saying that if I go with CreateSpace (which I am), that for books purchased online at Amazon there is still a sales channel fee? And that for my 335 page novel I will need to price it at 13.95 to make a dollar? Or am I reading that wrong?

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

I loved your post. I am currently researching who to go with and I seem to keep coming back to CS. My main concern is that you don't really get to "tinker" before you are firmly committed into the process (ISBNs and the like).

Why am I concerned? I have been buying and reading self-published books and my main concern is the formatting. I have seem some really horrible layouts, typos and just general bad form. I'm a perfectionist and I would hate for my book to come out looking like a slapped together mess. That's what worries me most, that once I am into the process, I won't be able to complete it properly.

So, because I am seeing these formatting issues with great frequency, I am worried that it is a very difficult thing to get right.

L. M. May said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to go deep into details in comparing LS and CS (especially the number crunching) and for sharing actual sales tables. It's a huge help to those of us who will be dealing with this question later this year. Thanks!!!

KevinMc said...

Robin, reading Aaron Shepard's blog and Zoe Winters's book on self publishing, I had understood that the minimum discount for LSI books sold on Amazon was 20%. That's 20% less than CS books sold on Amazon - or $2.80 a book extra in your pocket, for those $13.99 books.

Is there some *disadvantage* to using this lower discount of which I am not aware? Thanks for the great article.

(PS: If you do use CS, don't forget that the $39 "Pro" fee also drops costs on books printed. Without Pro, a 300pp book is about $7.50; with Pro, the price to print drops to about $4.45 - and it doesn't take many sales for that big a difference to make back your $39! I'd do the Pro even if I wasn't using their extended distribution channels.)

Gerard de Marigny said...

Excellent post Robin, thank you for the info! (DW Smith pointed me to you)

Question: I primarily went with LS because it can print hardcovers (I write fiction & asked for HCs) - CS does not. Do you think it's worth it for me to utilize LS just so I have hard copies printed?

Also, how do you handle requests for autographed copies?

I really appreciate your advice!

Unknown said...

Robin, thank you so much for the in-depth assessment. I was especially pleased to hear your recommendations about CS's Expanded Distribution Channel because I have been debating the wisdom of opening that option. It is nice to have some data available about what actually sells through those channels compared to Amazon.

Thanks again,

cidney swanson said...

Wow, impressive analysis. Thank you very much for sharing your conclusions in such detail. As I read, it occurred to me that a reason for having some dead tree copies on hand (other than sales dollars) would be so that you have a review copy to send off to reviewers who won't accept e-formats. You've really shown how affordable this can be, and I'm pleasantly surprised!

Robin Sullivan said...

So one of the things that is so cool about the Internet is you learn something new everyday. I had no idea that publishing through LS you can get a 20% discount rather than 40%. This is HUGE and I will certainly ammend my post accordingly.

Now...anyone know how you turn off CS and start up LSI as an Amazon channel without "mucking" everything up as far as reviews and rankings and what not....Hmmmm I see another post in the works.

Ed said...

Hi Robin,

Thanks for the post; you’ve done some hard work in coming to your conclusions!

If I may point out two other weaknesses in your arguments, however(!): first (and most importantly to the bottom line), the “Expanded Distribution” option with CS will get you into the same channels that LSI will, as you said— but at significant cost. The percentage of YOUR take on these books is extremely low, compared to what it is for books sold through the CS channel or even through Amazon. When coupled with the fact (already pointed out) that LSI’s percentage can vary to as low as 20% or even 10% (or even 0%!), this means that your cut of the book sales plummets with CS compared to LSI.

Also, LSI offers much wider distribution than CS (international, vs. U.S. only) for no additional cost. This may be a non-factor for some, because international platforms are more difficult to cultivate. But nevertheless, it is a factor.

Kristie Cook said...

Someone already said it, sort of, but CS's EDC is through Ingrams. That agreement went through sometime in the first half of 2010 (right before we decided to go through CS). However, it's listed at a 30% discount on the Ingram's DB, so retailers don't like it, especially indies. The 20% discount to Amazon makes LSI sound better, but if retailers don't like 30%, they certainly won't do 20! On the other hand, it seems that most people sell most of their DTBs through Amazon and B&N anyway...and direct.

We started with CS because of the lower cost, especially being new to this chaos. We've been discussing switching over to LSI because it seems that it's easier to plan a release. CS gets a book up on Amazon almost immediately but it takes months (with lots of complaints) for them to get into Ingrams. Since everyone, incl. Amazon, would get the Ingrams listing about the same time with LSI, I would think books would be more widely available at about the same time. Anyone know?

Also curious about the switch, when you own the ISBN and have an imprint.

Connie Chastain said...

I self-published my first novel through CreateSpace and I couldn't be more pleased with the quality of the product. Due to unrelated circumstances, I haven't been able to do much promotion or learn more about distribution, but I hope that's about to change. For me, finding your post was timely, indeed. Thanks for the great info.

K. A. Jordan said...

Very informative - I'm going to go read the other side now.

Always best to get as much information as possible before making up my mind! (Actually, I think I'm going to need a paradigm shift from e-book to DTB.)

Michele DeFilippo said...

For what it's worth, we send books to both CreateSpace and Lightning Source, and Create Space communications and customer service are just awful...the worst kind of "big company" boilerplate replies that never address the question asked. At Lightning Source, you'll deal with a real person who actually answers your questions.

Lightning Source doesn't offer editing or design services. Create Space does, but the quality is very poor. Regardless of which print vendor you choose, I recommend that authors hire their own editing and design experts to have greater control over the prepress process.

Michele DeFilippo
1106 Design
Your Book. Designed. With Hand-holding.

Graham Wilson said...

I am a Canadian book publisher experimenting with POD and we are a LSI customer. We usually receive printed books at a mailbox in the States and import into Canada from there. The problem is LSI doesn't ship to mailboxes and to have the books shipped to Canada they only use DHL. As a result the cost of shipping is much higher than the print cost of the books. Recently we had 25 review copies of a book prepared and more than 60% of the invoice was shipping! Until LSI ships via Media Mail their service is of no value to us.
Graham Wilson
Friday501 Media

Angela said...

I started out with Createspace then republished with LSI for several reasons.

The main reason was Createspace does not put their books in the Ingram database which allows the books to be carried and ordered bookstores and libraries. LSI will. This was something I wish I had known.

The second is Createspace set my royalties for me. Amazon, I had a 25% royalty, whereas the UK Amazon, and all others were considered expanded distribution where I got about a 10% royalty. I wished I had known this as well before I started with Createspace.

With LSI, I set what the wholesale price is and the royalty. Wherever the book is bought from the royalty is always the same.

Overall, I feel Createspace is good if you aren't very serious about the book. Maybe you've always had a dream of writing a book about your kids or grandkid and just wanted to have it published. It's not good if you want your book to be read all over the world.

Eddie Snipes said...

Great article! Thanks for providing this valuable information.

Summer Ross said...

I have come over from Wendy Tyler Ryan's blog, this was extremely helpful. I'm liking CS more and more.

Arlee Bird said...

The info you've provided here is worth keeping for reference. I'm now following your blog to see what else you have to offer.

Tossing It Out

Martin said...

Aaron Shepard points out exactly why LS is superior to CS, flat out, and undeniably correctly, contradicting the original thesis, and no one pays a blind bit of notice. Extraordinary.

Julie said...

Great post. Very, very informative. Thank you - I can see that this took a lot of time to write!

Anonymous said...

I considered using CS for one of my books, but I seriously hated the look of it. Cheap. I'm not a fan of the gloss and it was scratched and curling right out of the box. With LS you can choose a matte or gloss cover. I hope CS offers this choice soon because it lost a customer and I'm sure many others because of that poor quality.

And I like that with LSI, royalties are always the same no matter who buys it or where, and I can change the discount rate any time At 20%, I'd make $6.19 for every book sold.

And in addition to being able to set your wholesale discount as low as 20% with LSI, allowing for a higher royalty, they also offer publishers/authors a graduated discount on bulk orders.

50-99 copies: 5% discount
100-249 copies: 10% discount
250-499 copies: 20% discount
500+ copies: 25% discount

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if CreateSpace will send checks abroad to international publishing companies? Tks!

Robin Sullivan said...

Sorry, I don't know about Amazon's check policy. My payments from Amazon are direct deposited into the bank.

Chris M said...

My wife is the author with 1 novel in print and two in eBook format. I am working to publish her second as a POD. The two main contenders are so similar that this post has been most helpful from the cost and sales viewpoint.

The main problem we now have, is that being UK based, payment in USD is not really the best. I asked CS if they would use PayPal, but the answer was no. We may have to live with conversion fees, unless anyone can come up with a better option?

Robin Sullivan said...

Unfortunately, I don't know much about how either CS or LS work with people overseas. IF you find out somethng that makes one better than the other - please stop back and share and I'll update my posts to reflect the additional information.

Robin Sullivan said...

I've completely re-written this article as of today to take into account the ability to set prices to 20% and some recent developments where Amazon is not keeping non CS POD's in stock as well as they have in the past. Thanks a lot for all those that posted that told me about the 20%. It made me completely change my article.

Kristie Cook said...

A little over a year ago, CS announced that they and Ingram had signed an agreement for Ingram to handle CS's EDC. In other words, if you're in CS's EDC, you're in Ingrams. I know for a fact my books are in Ingrams and I've only used CS. Has this changed?

cidney swanson said...

Thanks for the update (and for pointing to it from a current post.) Your explanations are clear and easy to understand--two things I appreciate as discussions like this can make my brain move into "la-la-la-la-la" mode swiftly.

Robin Sullivan said...

Kristie - I throughly read the Kindle EDC and they had no mention of Ingram. So I assumed their channel did not include them (after all CS and LS are fierce competiors and Ingram owns LS). And if they had Ingram distribution this would be a huge selling point (Still not sure why they leave this out).

Anyway the fact that you challenged me made me search deeper and I found this.


Which shows me why I should never assume (You know the old saying) So I guess I have to update this post...again...sigh on one hand I'm grateful for all of you out there keeping me on the straight and narrow, but on the other hand want this post to be finished!

Kristie Cook said...

Great articles! Thank you for sharing. Sorry about "challenging" you, but didn't really mean to. Since everyone is always changing things, I wouldn't have been surprised if something about the CS/LS agreement had changed, too. And with all these changes, I don't know that this post will ever be complete. :-P

Spears II said...

Greetings Robin,

My wife has published one novel POD and we are just about to launch the next. It was nice to see a rehash of this topic. I am surprised though that the quality issues gets so little play. When we first published through LS we found the quality of the book a problem. One customer wrote an Amazon review about how his pages fell out of his copy(LS). I think it would have been a kiss of death for our sales if we had not already switched to CS and offered to replace his book. He was kind enough to remove his review after that. CS as you mentioned has heavier paper and this, for us, is a quality issue. I think the binding is also better with CS. CS just seems to put together a better book in our humble opinion. Of course others might have a different experience. I just think LS and CS are not the same quality wise.

Anonymous said...

I have tried many other services but yours appeared to be the best. Lots of thanks.

Anonymous said...

I talked with CS yesterday (July 22, 2011) and they told me that Ingram is their main distributor. They do not, however, guarantee that Ingram will pick up your book, that's up to Ingram.

Also, I have always found CS to be top-notch in customer support (I use the call me feature and I always get someone immediately).

Peter Taylor said...

I've learned a lot - many thanks.

I live in Australia and had some books POD printed by an overseas company. I purchased 100 copies for private sales - but had to pay an extra $112 import duty I hadn't accounted for. Make sure you research what such other charges are likely to do to your book's profitability.

All best wishes

Ardyth said...

This has been immensely helpful and exactly the information I need. Thank you so much for updating this and keeping it current. I'm still debating which service to use for my book, but now know what questions to be asking myself.

Robin Sullivan said...

Kristie Cook said...thank you for sharing. Sorry about "challenging" you, but didn't really mean to. Since everyone is always changing things, I wouldn't have been surprised if something about the CS/LS agreement had changed, too. And with all these changes, I don't know that this post will ever be complete. :-P

Kristie - No need to apologize for "challenging" - in fact challenge away on this or any other post I have. I'm trying to give full and complete information and just as wikipages get better by contributions from multiple source so will this blog get better if people contribute.

So please - keep me on my toes and share the wealth of information - that's what this is all about !!

Robin Sullivan said...

@Spears - your "pages falling out" may have been an isolated incident. I've not seen that myself with wither CS or LS (though I did have a terrible problem with that from a short run printer I used. I'll keep my ear to the ground to find out if I hear from others having similar problems - but so far, as I mentioned, both seem to have similar quality from the books I've personally done through them.

Anonymous said...

Have any one of the authors who went with Lightning Source had reasonable sales? I published with them for 15 years. Never made a dime. I hated their royalty statements, and even though I set all my books to NO RETURNS, LS always had returns on my royalty statements that exceeded my sales, so I always owed LS. With my ebooks, I've never had not even one return of any of my books sold. Just saying?

Donna Cravotta said...

@Robin - wonderful post - thanks for compiling all of this information. I work as an author's assistant and one of my clients wants to use a hybrid of LS and Amazon - she wants to avoid waiting 3 months for payment through LS. We are just now printing through LS and she wants to do her distribution through Amazon, but if I use Amazon Advantage, it will interfere with my LS distribution agreement. She is going to do an Amazon campaign in September and would like to ship books directly to Amazon to have on hand for the campaign. I'm sure there is a way to do this, any assistance would be much appreciated.


Robin Sullivan said...

@Donna - I've not read the contracts to that level of detail because using Advantage in that way is not part of my business model (I always ship direct). But...I would think in this situation you could.

1) Use LS as your "channel" distributor (use the 20% to get higher per book profits)

2) Print the books for Advantage through CS (lower per book cost) and ship them to warehouse for Advantage Program.

The one thing I was annoyed by when I investigated this a while ago....I could not ship directly from CS to Amazon Warehouse. (I don't know if they have fixed this since) But it means budgeting 'double' for the shipping. I think it would be the same if using LS - there is some paperwork that must accompany the boxes that you can't get CS or LS to add to the shipment.

That's really all I know on the subject - not sure it answers your question but that is the most I know about the subect.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for updating the post and talking about Amazon's latest move of pushing out delivery times for LS titles.

Quick question: Since you mentioned Nathan Lowell's "Full Share," I checked it out and see that it is now showing as In Stock. Did you switch this to CreateSpace? Or is it still LS?

Thanks again for your time.

- Z

Donna Cravotta said...

Hi Robin:

Thanks for the response! We decided to stick with LSI for now.

Another issue with using Amazon for fulfillment is they require that you have a sticker over the bar code on the book for their tracking purposes, so you would need to print and paste a sticker on every single book.

Basically they do not make it easy. I think LSI is best for distribution and CS/Amazon for ordering books for yourself.

Once we get through the launch we will probably set-up the books in CS for self distribution.

Thanks again, I love this blog and will keep following and sharing!


Robin Sullivan said...

@Donna - there is a lot of good reasons for doing Lightning Source for distribution and CreateSpace for books you direct sell - I think you're in good shape.

Anonymous said...

It would be so much easier to take you seriously if you would avail yourself of a good editor. Your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are atrocious. Your syntax and structure are laughable. If your books are written with the same disregard as your blog, I would not worry about the quality of the POD company.

Red Tash said...

Thanks! This was much-needed information.

Michael said...

Quick question for you experts out there. I have a theatre company that is exploring creating a publishing wing for the publication of new theatre scripts by emerging writers.

Because the market for commercially published theatre scripts is very small compared to novels and other kinds of fiction - I'd like to know the opinions of those here on whether LS or CS would be a better alternative for us.

I'm thinking perhaps LS would be the better choice because of the Ingram factor (I think plays would perhaps be most of interest to schools/libraries and small boutique drama bookstores) but obviously any publisher wants their materials to be readily available on

Thoughts? Thanks guys!

Anonymous said...

FYI - LS waives setup fees with an advance order of 50 copies, which I use for review copies.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Anon - Yeah good point and I should have mentioned that. But it's not that much of a savings (see calculation below). You need to take into consideration shpping costs (which will be the larger factor). I found that when factoring that in LS actually was more expensive when doing the 50 free.

Let's do an example:
320 page book: CS printing = $4.69 x 50 = $234.50. Lightning Source printing = $5.70 x 50 = 285.00. The differnce is $50 and the setup is $75 so you are really only saving $25.

ForensicArtist said...

Phew, so much information to take into account! Thanks for this post, it's a huge help. I have a very niche market I'm going after, so I figure most will be through Kindle. I think I'm leaning CS....

Kat Ward said...

Robin: Wow. I'm such a newbie at this, so the information you've provided has been invaluable. My creative brain has to work overtime to take in all these numbers, costs, discounts, etc., so I'm bookmarking this so my partner can read it and then explain it to me in layman's terms that this (me) lughead might understand. Thank you. You've made the hook; I'll sign up to receive your future posts.

Kat Ward said...

Robin: Wow. I'm such a newbie at this, so the information you've provided has been invaluable. My creative brain has to work overtime to take in all these numbers, costs, discounts, etc., so I'm bookmarking this so my partner can read it and then explain it to me in layman's terms that this (me) lughead might understand. Thank you. You've made the hook; I'll sign up to receive your future posts.

Gary Roberts said...

I find it interesting how many people opt for the low discounts. I'm an independent publisher through LS. I always set my discount at 45%-55% and never lower.

My goal is to get books into Barnes & Nobles, Waterstones, to get online retail book outlets to carry the titles and offer reasonable discounts and to feature the titles. If you ask a low discount, there is so little room for the retailer to make a profit, there is no incentive for them to pay attention to your product.

You may make less per book, but in the long run you can sell more books and isn't that the idea of it all?

Random Thought, PHD said...

Robin & Friends,

Thank you all very much for all of the information shared. It is a great benefit. In 2008, I published my first book (poetry) through AuthorHouse and what a costly experience that was. I have since then published a children's book and the 2nd edition of my first book through CS which has been great thus far.

I was just told about LS through a friend the other day and I am now exploring their services to ensure cost efficiency and maximizing opportunities for success.

Also, the EDC through CS is now $25 instead of $39. And the quality of the books are great. Yet, I will definitely be looking to expand sales through LS. Thanks again.

Peace & Blessings,


Jennifer Ciotta said...


Your article is beyond informative, thank you so much.

My ebook, I, Putin (Vladimir Putin novel) came out just last week. And I was *shocked* to see that many people want a print version. Thus, I have to choose between LS and CS.

To me, both are useful, from what I've read from your article and others. But with CS, your book will always be available on Amazon, which I think is key for potential buyers. As a new print author, I'd rather sleep peacefully at night knowing anyone can order my book at any time. Giving up a little money for that is worth it to me.

A friend of mine published a memoir with iUniverse and it was a nightmare. He switched to CS and has been happy ever since.

Thank you for the wonderful article.

Anonymous said...

LSI, or more specifically LS in the US, 'pushes' POD versus offset printing.

I want to use LSI for offset printing and their wholesale distribution channels/partners.

In other words I want the benefits of their offset printing and the benefits of their POD wholesale distribution model.

Can anyone comment on this?


Anonymous said...

Previous post was not clear with respect to what is needed versus what LSI offers ...

LSI does not offer offset printing with their wholesale distribution channels and partners.

LSI wholesale distribution channels and partners are only available with their POD.

However POD for a large volume book does not make any sense. Print costs are over 300% more, print quality is not as good, and there will be delays trying to print & distribute large volume via POD.

It is odd that LSI is turning away any large volume books by not offering offset printing with wholesale distribution.

Anyone know who does offer offset printing and wholesale distribution?


Whitney McKendree Moore said...

This was a very helpful article, and I thank you for it. It is helping me get braver about trying this myself!

Michelle Gigowski said...

Thank you for your great summary. I would like to sell eBooks and POD books through my website, how do you recommend I do this with as little effort as possible?



MG Harris said...

Re who might do offset printing with distribution - in the UK you could try CPI, who own the major printers, Bookmarque.
According to their website, they deal with self-publishers and do short runs with distribution.

Unknown said...

Good info, Robin, but I wish you'd proofread your piece a little more. For being in the writing business, it could use a cleanup of typos, dropped commas, etc.

Jessica L. Celaya said...

Thanks for the information. There are a lot of good things to know about the writing world.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the thorough analysis of the pros and cons of using Create Space vs. Lightning Source. It has been many months since you posted this article. Are you aware of any significant changes?

Jaq D Hawkins said...

Thank you for a very informative post. I'm looking at options to fill a request from a book store and hadn't even heard of LS before.

Jaq D Hawkins said...

Thank you for a very informative post. I'm looking at options to fill a request from a book store and hadn't even heard of LS before.

Wendy Walter said...

Hi, Thanks for the info, I'm just about to step off the ledge and into the POD world myself.
I've decided to publish my paperback with CS and my hard cover with LS. I'll target libraries and book stores with my hard cover and pick up everyone else with the paperback. I don't want another gatekeeper (publishers) and I'm worried that Amazon is just getting too powerful. We don't want them to monopolize the publishing world do we? Though going with another giant for a portion of my publishing pie seems less than ideal. Any thoughts? said...

Do you have any updates since this was written?
I used CS but I have been waiting for my order to be shipped since 16th August. I was told yesterday that they had contracted out my order and it would be another 2 days to know when they would be shipped. The costs are so high to Europe that it puts people off.

Peter Wade said...

As a fellow editor... just a small point. "a printer's loop" is actually a printer's loupe!

The rest of it was great!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this information. Many people wont share this without charging a consultation fee. LOL or writing a book about it to sell. I truly appreciate this.

László Tavaszi said...

Thanks for this great comparision of the 2 services, and the special sales strategy tips!

David said...

Thanks for your analysis.

One question, if I may?

I am in the UK.
I am finishing a book written for my grandchildren.
I have no particular desire to sell any copies.
50 copies would be plenty.
Therefore, am I correct, using your calculations, to assume that Clear Space is best for me in my circumstances.

Thanks in advance, David

Dr. Roy Vartabedian said...

My experience with Lightning Source POD has been one of frustration with the customer service rep. A real person, but found out they each have about 1000 customers to take care of! So getting responses in a timely manner, or at all, is difficult. Everything is automated. On my second rep now and it's the same thing. There is really no way to get anything out of the ordinary done, everything has to go through the way it always goes. I've had problems with billing, shipping, communications, you name it. Thought about switching, but sounds like Create Space is just as bad or worse. Are there ANY other options to get a little individual attention to detail?

Britt Mooney said...

I've heard that CreateSpace has a problematic clause in contract that could give them unnecessary control and rights over the book if they see fit. Do you know anything about this?

And as far as using both, that is an interesting idea. Which is better, in your opintion, for making sure you keep the rights and can get out of printing with them quickly if a traditional publisher is interested?

Thanks for the article!

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Jim Lange said...

Robin, thank you for some great information! Three weeks ago I published my 2nd book, Calming the Storm Within, on CS. I have not chosen their extended distribution as of yet. I talked with a rep at LS 3 days ago and she informed me that I cannot use LS since I am with CS unless I use a separate ISBN. She said that LS cannot "turn off" the posting to Amazon and that there would actually be 2 listings in Amazon for my title if I went with LS (I wanted to use LS for all distribution except Amazon). This seems to contradict what you have written and was wondering if you know if anything has changed...or did I receive bad information?

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Anonymous said...

This information was great and should help me a lot. So, thank you. I do have one question, that may sound dumb, but Im new at this, and currently only use CS. I was thinkn of using LS to get into book stores, but after reading your post, don't know if its worth it. Don't know if bookstores will even exist in a few years. Anyway, my question... What are discounts? Who is getting the discount? I don't understand them at all. Can you explain discounts as much as possible. Email me a

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