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Ingram Spark Not Bright For Self-Publishers. By ALLi Watchdog Ben Galley.

lsHere’s some news straight from the buzzing stalls of Book Expo America. There are some big changes afoot at Ingram, affecting authors who use Ingram’s POD wing, Lightning Source.

Lightning Source, from my point of view as an author/user, is one of the finest providers in the industry at the moment. They produce books of brilliant quality, have great distribution connections and are very affordable. Not only that, but LS allows authors to short discount, meaning that the author gets to set the retail discount for their books. Shorter discounting has become common in the self-publishing market, thanks to pioneering providers such as LS, and up until now it has meant that the author gets to keep higher royalties on their print books, which is very important given the higher unit costs of printing compared to digital.

However, LS is being reinvented as Ingram Spark, and although a lot of it will be changing for the better, it looks like there could also be trouble ahead for many author-publishers, both new and existing.

Ingram Spark

Let’s introduce Ingram Spark, a brand new platform that will be released this July 1st. Similar in a lot of ways to its predecessor LS, it’s a smarter, tightened-up POD and eBook platform. It’s easy to see that Ingram have been speaking to a lot of users about their opinions on LS. The little aspects of LS that may have been a bit inconvenient, (such as the slightly irksome upload process, which could do with about three less steps to it), has been overhauled.

The main feature of Spark is that authors can now publish eBooks and physical books at exactly the same time. Before, authors would have to publish the print book separately to the ebook (ePub) edition. This meant that information such as ISBN, description, and publisher details would have to be input twice. Again, irksome, but up until now there was no alternative, so authors like myself just accepted it. With Spark, the process has been combined. Those wishing to publish eBook at the same time only have to input info once. Even better, there’s a discount of the processing fees for doing it at the same time.

The interface has also been revamped. Keeping the same simple nature of LS, Spark is a lot slicker, and also features really impressive drag-and-drop upload features, meaning that authors can publish faster and without any confusion as to which file they’re uploading.

Celebrations all round then?

Not for me. One big difference — the sort of difference that’s a lot more significant than anything described above — is that authors have no control over their retailer discount. It is set at an inexorable 55% – traditional industry standard. This seems a backward step to me, no doubt influenced by those distributors and retailers were unhappy with short discounting.

From an author-publisher’s point of view, this represents a 20-25% reduction in my print income. It also means I may have to re-price some of my books due to their higher unit cost (the curse of writing epic fantasy, I suppose). This is not just a simple case of logging on and making a change here and there. No. It means I have to change the cover design to reflect the new price, and then republish, incurring change fees at LS. These could range from £25-£50 per book.

Is this a case of if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it? Spark is more of an upgrade than a fix, but Ingrams seem to have forgotten the author in this revamp. LS’s ability to short discount was a major selling point. Not only that, but the concept of short discounting, I feel, was becoming more acceptable for retailers and distributors, opening up the print market for more self-publishers and therefore more content available to the all-important reader. Spark restricting discount seems like a step backwards to me, and that is a real shame.

So Ingram Spark represents a bittersweet change for me, and not a few other authors, no doubt.

Spark will go live for new authors from July 1st and I’ve been informed the dual eBook functionality will go live in August.

Existing users will not be automatically migrated, but instead migrated over time. I’ve also been informed that the changes to discounting will not be implemented on the LS side until the migration.

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37 Responses to Ingram Spark Not Bright For Self-Publishers. By ALLi Watchdog Ben Galley.

  1. Philippa Rees June 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Oh hell! I was on the point of uploading to LS, very much for the short discount reason, though I did wonder whether in the first months of a book’s launch whether to offer returns and opt for 40%.

    Does this mean I would retain the short discount if I did it before the 1st July? For how long? Any idea?

    The other reason was having invested in ISBN and set up as a publisher it seems crazy to throw away that advantage and now opt for CS (no matte covers and debatable quality) just because Amazon does not always play nicely with LS. I have now managed some reasonably influential endorsements (if interested see http://involution-odyssey.com/endorsements-for-an-odyssey/) and these need to be linked to a physical book if possible.

    If you were me what would you do now?

    • Ben Galley June 4, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

      Hi Philippa – it will be interesting to hear back from LS on the subject on how this will be affecting the relationship with Amazon. I agree, it really does need to improve. This may help. It may not. The rep at BEA seemed to agree that there has been some pressure from some retailers and distributors for better discounts. Perhaps one of those has been Amazon. We’ve submitted some Q’s to Ingram, so hopefully we will know even more soon.

  2. Victoria Noe June 4, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    As a Lightning Source author/publisher, I would’ve liked to have heard this from them first.

    • Ben Galley June 4, 2013 at 11:46 pm #

      Hi Victoria. The Ingram rep I spoke to at BEA was incredibly open with info, but I agree – a press release or email to authors is needed, and should have been sent out already. However, as this won’t be affecting existing LS users instantly, I assume they’ll be sending one out after Spark’s release.

      • Kelli March 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

        Yep. Same here. Instead, my account was canceled and I was told to re-establish a spark account — all without notice. My sales went unattended for 4 months.

  3. Michele DeFilippo June 4, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Very interesting. While the 55% discount does seem like a step back, I’ll be watching to see how Amazon reacts. Will they stop showing LS books with delayed delivery dates or continue their silly game that forces publishers to use both CreateSpace and LS? LS printing is superb and their interface is in sore need of improvement. I hope this is it.

    Michele DeFilippo, owner
    http://1106design.com
    Book design and self-publishing advice, with hand-holding
    Great reviews start here.

  4. Sharon A. Lavy June 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    My understanding was that book stores will not order the shortlist and they cannot afford to. So this does not look like a backward move to me. I would like more info. Have brick and mortar stores actually purchased from a shortlist from anyone on this blog?

    • ALLi Editorial June 4, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

      Yes absolutely, Sharon. Ben himself is one but lot of ALLi members have got their books into stores. Will try to round up a few to pop in for the discussion. I know Ben is in a writing cabin somewhere in Vermont right now.

      • Ben Galley June 4, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

        Hi Sharon – bookstores will definitely take short discounted books depending on their sales and relationship with the author. I’ve worked very hard to get into Waterstones stores in the UK. Though you do raise a good point – perhaps more stores will be now be more interested in taking indie books. In the meantime however, we take the hit on royalties.

        • Karen Inglis June 4, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

          Ben – what discount do you offer? – I’ve not heard the term ‘short discount’ before – I used to offer 40% and got into Waterstones with that (via Gardners) – and have recently upped it to 45% after discovering that not much of the discount was passed on, meaning W’stones was keen to deal direct.

        • David Jarrett June 5, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

          Ben – what was the clincher in the end to achieve a book in stock at Waterstones? A local sponsor manager for example?

          • Ben Galley June 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

            It’s true – a lot of discount isn’t passed on to Waterstones due to Gardners taking the lion’s share. It makes the game even harder.

            In regards to getting into shops, it was a case of proving myself able to make sales, and lots of them, in one local shop. Then spiralling outwards.

  5. Carol Bodensteiner June 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Timely info. I’m near to publishing and have been debating using LS. I hate to show my ignorance, but what is the “shortlist”? Thanks.

  6. Karen Inglis June 4, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

    I use LS but I offer a 45% discount in the UK (recently upped from 40% which is what I started out with in 2011/12) and 55% in the USA. I chose those higher discounts from the outset to improve the chances of bookshops ordering my books from the wholesalers – the point being that the wholesalers who supply the bookshops take a cut out of whatever discount you offer – and to make your book attractive to bookshops there needs to be enough of a discount left for them by the time the wholesaler has taken their share…

    I saw something fly by on Twitter about Ingram Spark the other day but have not had any info sent to me by LS which annoys me – I will talk with them tomorrow… This doesn’t feel like sufficient notice to me…

    Carol – in answer to your question above, I’ve never heard the term ‘short discount’ but from the way Ben describes I think it is simply the fact that you can set your wholesale discount low if using LS (I think you can go down to 25% ).

    Thus with LS you can use both your chosen discount and your book price to affect how much you make – but, as I understand it at least, by choosing a low discount it’s likely that you will only get retail sales via Amazon etc and not sales through the large wholesalers who supply the bookshops as the latter won’t find it worthwhile to take a risk on you…, other than if a customer walks in to order your book specifically…

    Check out the publisher compensation calculator on LS’s home page to see how this works >> https://www1.lightningsource.com/pubcompcalc.aspx

    • Karen Inglis June 4, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

      I should have added above that my children’s books are stocked by several branches of Waterstones in SW London – ordered via Gardners who in turn order from LS. Like Ben I have worked hard to build relationships – and in fact did 4 successful signing events with them in April/May

    • Carol Bodensteiner June 5, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      Thanks for the explanation, Karen. Since I’ve worked through a distributor to get into Barnes & Noble, I’m used to the 55% discount. When I’ve gone directly to bookstores, I’ve given the standard 40% discount. Because I printed in quantity with a regular printer, that left me adequate margin. Having to pay such a high per copy printing price through LS or CS, has me rethinking these sources.

  7. David Jarrett June 4, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    Hmmm. Not happy with this proposal from LS / Ingrams at all. They offer print on demand, why are they intending to dictate the level of discount to be offered? Surely that is a publishing decision and they are the printers? They also charge quite a lot for set-up, proofs and amends, so I for one am not interested in being told that I have to offer 55% discounts as well.

  8. ALLi Editorial June 5, 2013 at 12:50 am #

    Further feedback from another ALLi Watchdog:

    Ingram are introducing Spark as a way of dealing with several issues from clients, including general book trade:

    1. The LS user interface too cumbersome and needed updating

    2. LS plants worldwide frustrated by the increasing number of new accounts from self-publishers with little or no knowledge of book file submission and resulting pull on LSI’s support staff

    3. Booksellers turned off by the short discounting on so many new titles in Ingram catalogue

    4. LS was becoming less known as a digital printer to the trade and more a platform for authors

    5. Author business was growing exponentially and there was a real opportunity to challenge online print platforms like CreateSpace

    6. Ingram better needed to integrate systems for small publishers to develop ebooks and felt LS was not the place to do it

    No press release about Spark mentions ‘authors’ in its pitch. It is described as a publishing platform for boutique publishers, not an author platform. If Ingram wanted to pitch this directly to authors, they would have called it something different and held the ‘open’ discounting option.

    It looks to me like Ingram are creating a more exclusive publishing platform with Spark, but I doubt they have any intention of taking LSI clients en mass over to it, but rather in a more selective way. That 55% trade discount is there for a reason and I would warn authors not to make casual assumptions about the future before we have seen the enrolment process for new Spark accounts.

    There will be migration, but you can bet Ingram have no intention of migrating the same issues with LS directly over to sparkling clean ‘Spark’.

    In my opinion, this move is about addressing the points above, restoring LSI to what Ingram want it to be (a print plant and extension to Ingram Content Services) and tapping the self-publishing and small publisher market they way they want it – not how authors want it.

    • Jessica Bell June 6, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      I asked about the migration of LS users to IngramSpark on the Lightning Source FB page:

      I said, “I’m a bit confused about all this. I read somewhere that LS will migrate its users to IngramSpark. So this means Lightning Source will BECOME IngramSpark?”

      And they said:
      “Jessica – this is incorrect. We are not planning to migrate LS publishers to IngramSpark. Spark is an additional platform that was developed to help smaller publishers get started with Ingram. For more information, you can sign up for updates at http://www.ingramspark.com – they are planning communications prior to the launch to help clarify this new service. I hope this helps.”

  9. Diana Kimpton June 5, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    I considered using LS for trade sales in the UK but the price per book made it impossible to make a profit at normal trade discounts without pricing the book much higher than it’s competitors. (I write for children and children’s books tend to be cheaper than books for adults.) In the end, I’ve settled for a small print run with distribution. It means paying a chunk of money up front and risking having books left over, but the cost per book is half the price of ones from LS so I’ve more flexibility in pricing. It’s a gamble but I decided it was worth a try.

  10. Angela Hoy June 5, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    it looks like Lightning Source (Ingram) is now forcing all publishers of 10 or fewer titles into Spark, while requesting much deeper discounts. They are not offering design or conversion services. Files must be submitted to their specs.

    PubPreppers.com offers formatting, design and conversion services guaranteed to meet Spark’s specs. The ebook conversions are for epub and mobi. Mobi is what Amazon requires for the Kindle. Epub is what everyone else requires (B&N, Apple, Sony, Kobo).

  11. Ben Galley June 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    UPDATE – Ingram’s marketing department has come back to me with a few corrections on the information I received at the BEA. It seems there was some confusion over the concept of migration. Ingram Spark, as mentioned above, will not be replacing LS, and is being launched as a separate publishing platform for users. The 55% discount will be in effect for Spark, but will not be changed at LS. Authors will still be able to short discount via LS. Better news and a big sigh of relief for existing authors then, but we’re still waiting to hear back on the points your raised about Amazon relationships, and the trend of short discounting.

  12. Aaron Shepard June 9, 2013 at 12:26 am #

    It seems that many readers of this blog may not be familiar with the most up-to-date strategies involving Lightning Source and discounting. Specifically, the short discount is no longer the most profitable approach for working with Lightning. You might want to take a look at my article on this:

    http://www.newselfpublishing.com/PlanB.html

    • ALLi Editorial June 10, 2013 at 11:13 am #

      Great article, Aaron, that deserves a blog post of its own. We’d like to reproduce it with your permission.

    • Newt Barrett June 14, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      Aaron, I believe things are now even worse with LSI and both Amazon and B&N. Our new book, Moving to Naples, has gone from 1-2 extra days to process to out of stock on Amazon even though it’s just selling modestly. But, your Plan B is probably a non-starter for us because its a full color book–so CreateSpace would leave us with almost no profit even at $24.95/copy.
      Now, we may have to create a b/w version to stay in the game.
      Also, I was shocked that B&N suddenly shows it as out of stock even though we probably haven’t sold a single copy there.

  13. Newt Barrett June 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    More on our LSI/Amazon problems. Now Amazon showing July30 ship date when LSI used to be able to deliver overnight. This makes print on demand a completely meaningless term.
    And, oddly B&N shows that our paperback title is not availailable at all–even though they show complete product information.
    Very strange goings on.

  14. IngramSpark June 17, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Thanks Ben for clarifying a few misconceptions about our program – we appreciate it! We thought we would provide a bit more info straight from IngramSpark to ALLi readers….

    IngramSpark is intended to be an easy way for independent publishers to begin working with Lightning Source and Ingram for distribution for “P” and “E”. One of the things we wanted to do was make it easy to get books into distribution, and part of the ease was establishing a common discount structure. We found that many independent publishers were asking us for a recommendation on a trade discount, this seemed like an easy, on-line, way to establish a discount.

    We want to point out that while Spark is an easy way to start doing business with Ingram, it does not replace the relationships that many publishers have established with Lightning Source and Ingram over the years. That’s right, no changes to terms, discounts or other criteria we have established for doing business together. In fact, we hope that new publishers will use IngramSpark as an entry point for their long term relationship with Ingram and Lighting Source, and as the relationship grows, establish a more in depth business relationship which has the potential for custom options in discounts.

    Our target is really publishers who haven’t done business with Lightning before and want and easy way to set up their Print and “E” distribution relationships. For long time customers of Ingram, nothing changes, and in fact you should get more personal attention as we go forward.

    We didn’t tell our current clients about Spark when we launched our marketing because these important clients weren’t the target, we value our long time clients and want to assure them that nothing changes. In fact, if you have any questions about where we are heading with this program, be in touch with your client services or general sales representative directly. If you are not a current customer of Ingram/Lightning Source, questions can be answered at contactrobin@ingramcontent.com

    We hope this quick note helps allay any fears out there about Spark and dispels any rumors. Please ask questions of us directly, we want to be sure the correct details are reaching our customers and the industry.

  15. Karma Bennett November 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    As a publishing professional, the required discount makes total sense to me. If anything, it should be more.

    Here’s the problem: Ingram’s whole strength is distribution in brick-and-morter stores. Publishers get a few minutes to pitch their books to the B&N buyers, so it’s not like these buyers are taking a thorough look at the books. They have to trust the credibility of the publisher to some extent.

    But with self-publishing you have none of that credibility to stand by. The very nature of self-publishing, that anyone can do it, means that there will always be some awful books with awful proofing, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the good stuff.

    Now I can’t imagine why any book buyer would buy any Ingram Spark book, with that kind of risk associated with it. And now you tell me the book store should expect to make less profit per book sold? That’s a recipe for 100% failure, in the one area Ingram excels (distribution). Ingram needs to give these buyers some incentive to consider buying a book that no one has vouched for based on a sales pitch from a team who hasn’t actually read the book…a big discount would at least be a start.

    That being said, I agree it would have been nice for them to offer folks who want the discount to simply opt-out of widespread distribution. There are certainly plenty of authors who are happy not to be in bookstores, and much prefer their discount. Why not let them be?

  16. Michael W. Perry November 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    I’ve not queried LSI about this, but I have been publishing books through them since 1999, so I perhaps have a feel for their situation.

    LSI was never intended as a way for authors to self-publish. It was set up for experienced publishers of all sizes as a way to allow them to release a POD title that’d feed directly into wholesale book distribution. That means their clients were people who usually get a book right the first time. They use professional applications like InDesign or Quark to get high-quality PDFs. They have multiple levels of proofing and checking so mistakes are few. They also know how to design (particularly covers) to make their books bulletproof.

    With that sort of input, LSI could offer specific support staff to deal with any problems that develop and still keep their setup fees low. I’ve been around long enough, I get a large discount in the setup for new titles. Larger publishers–those adding perhaps a new title every day–are often charged nothing because they rarely need support.

    That’s not true of many self-publishing authors. They know little about publishing in general. They often write in Word for Windows, which is emphatically NOT designed for book layout, and they have trouble creating compliant PDFs.

    The result leaves both LSI and these authors unhappy. LSI gets support demands that can’t be covered by their setup charges. Authors get ticked off at the cost of repeated uploads and proof copies. And keep in mind that LSI’s system is designed for publishers who get books right the first time. The revision process is almost unbelievable clunky once a title is released to Ingram.

    IngramSpark was designed to work better with inexperienced authors. I’m not sure what Ingram’s policy will end up being. For now, I doubt they’re going to kick someone who’s in LSI out. That would create too much ill-will. At most, they might put some pressure on authors who’re making too many support demands to shift to IngramSpark and, in those cases, the author would probably benefit by the change.

    I’m also uncertain about how Ingram will handle those who want to migrate the other way–having gained experience on IngramSpark and wanting to shift their titles over to LSI. Ingram might make the process easy, but that’d require some coding. It might insist that a publisher go through the entire setup process again. That would be a pain.

    In any case, perhaps the best thing to keep in mind is that, if you’re in LSI and aren’t creating problems, you should be safe. Ingram is a family-owned company and I’ve always been impressed with their customer service. They’re not a faceless bureaucracy with an obsession for control and world domination like Amazon.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ingram set some requirements to be in LSI. For bookstores, they have requirements for sales volume. If your sales are too low, you can’t get books from them wholesale. And if Ingram does set some specific number of titles to qualify for LSI over IngramSpark, you’ll just have to live with that. Use your time with IngramSpark to get better at publishing, so you’ll be prepared to move in LSI, if that seems a good move.

    Recently, I’ve been regretting just how complicated publishing has become. Until a few years ago, publishing was simple. I sent two files to LSI, and within a couple of weeks, that book was available on almost every online store on the planet that stocked English-language books and from bookstores in 100+ countries.

    Now publishing requires four ISBNs and various files going out to LSI, Amazon, Apple and Smashwords, each with its own requirements. What used to take maybe half-an-hour now requires two days or more to tweak the formatting, to create different cover images, to change pictures between B&W and color, to fit submission requirements, to proof the results, to approve the release, to check that it really is available, etc. It is a pain.

    And in that sort of world, something like IngramSparks, which has the potential to make the entire process much less messy, deserves respect.

    If you want to get mad at or be afraid of some entity, focus on Amazon. If the publishing world were to give out a “Does Not Play Well With Others” award, Amazon would win it hands down, year after year. Many of the complications with publishing today flow from the fact that Amazon is doing its best to be a world apart, forcing everyone to deal separately with it. Everyone else is migrating to ePub. Kindles have their own formats. Publishers were happy with LSI. Amazon wants to force them into CreateSpace. Etc. etc. etc.

    In such a world, companies like Ingram are the good guys.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  17. Balfour November 23, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    I have had the worst experience with Create space and Amazon combined and have sworn off them. Their shoddy printing and greed is stultifying! I experienced better treatment with LSI. I only tried CS because of the no upfront fees, but their printing screams POD CHEAP POD! And their customer support is even more deficient! As has been eloquently explained by others in this forum, LSI is and was never designed for amateur self publishers, and it seems Ingram Sparks is their attempt to cater to that group. Yet, as usual, we all want to have our cake and eat it too, hence the complaints about Ingram Sparks discount requirements, etc. We should all be jumping in with LSI and Ingram and ditching Amazon/CS! Truth of the matter is, our interests as self-publishers is of no interest to Amazon and will never be met there; it just wants to squeeze competition (and us) dry and feed its uncontrollable greed! I believe as self publishers, it is possible to network through forums such as this to help each other to better footing and experiences in the publishing industry. For example, we should have links to all kinds of support services like interior design, cover design, editing, book reviews, and more importantly, as we recognize our shared interests, we can respond as an effective bloc to situations that affect us collectively and thereby effect mutually beneficial change. We are all of us who use this kind of forum seeking the same things. Without further ado, you all get my point. Be well!

  18. Helen January 16, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

    Have any of you self-publishers used both Amazon/CreateSpace and Ingram Spark? If so, what has been your experience?

  19. Alex Stan Campbell January 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    I almost went to CS. I found their process to be easy and their reps helpful. However, I chose Ingramspark for the Ingram reputation.

    I have to say that if LS was complicated, Ingramspark is only slightly less complicated AND (compared to CS) help comes very slowly and is highly impersonal. Ingram has traditionally been a business-to-business operation, so they are not adept at customer relations. Someone suggested here that they did little in the way to press releases or promotion. Not surprising. Their quality is second-to none but they have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with authors directly.

    So, here I go, as a new author, trying find my way through the maze. It’s going to take longer, thanks to the two-day wait for answers to questions…and by the way, never signed by a human’s name. I originally received two e-mail message from a real person…and then he vanished, never again to respond to email or phone calls. Maybe he’s in the stockroom now.

    • Stacy September 6, 2014 at 1:51 am #

      Alex ~ How did your experience with IS go? I’m in the process of choosing between CreateSpace and Ingram. Very confusing as I read mixed reviews on both. I’m looking for a quality product for the reader first and ease of use second.

  20. Kemila June 4, 2014 at 6:26 am #

    Thanks. All these have been helpful. I just signed up with IS, and they asked for credit card… Not sure how they’ll charge, hopefull all the charges I’ll be aware of. But reading this forum, I have more confidence with them.

    • Mary August 19, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

      Kemila, how has your experience gone with IS? I have 15 traditionally commercially published books but am considering indie publishing for projects I can’t get placed with traditional publishers.

  21. sandhya August 12, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    I have published a book about 4 weeks and struggling to see it with its distributor. The only reason I chose ingram was because of their large distribution network.

    Hope it would be sorted out!

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