By Linda Austin, Moonbridge Publications
updated March 2020
IngramSpark (IS) is a print-on-demand, digital printing company for books, and also formats ebooks. It is associated with Ingram Content Group, a major book printer-wholesaler, and is the self-publishing branch of Lightning Source, Inc., (LSI), Ingram’s main book printing company. Many indie and small publishers used IS because of its low cost and the Ingram connection. IS books are listed in the Ingram database that booksellers and libraries use to find and order books.
IS provides printing and a distribution channel to sales outlets. Authors must provide their own book cover files, and their manuscripts should be formatted in Adobe InDesign and submitted as pdf files to IS specifications. The author is responsible for figuring out the uploading, so hiring professional cover designers and interior formatters who can get the files ready correctly is a good idea. IS provides a cover template based on the book’s dimensions and page count (which should be divisible by 2, with the final page being blank).
Authors form their own publishing companies and purchase their own ISBNs (book identification numbers) from Bowker. IngramSpark will create the bar code using the ISBN. Authors must enter their book information into Bowkers Books in Print database, a resource any book-buying company or store can peruse in order to research a book’s ISBN, publisher, status, description, etc.
IS will provide one of their free ISBNs if you like. This would mean IngramSpark is the publisher. IS also has an option where for $85 you can buy your own ISBN from IS, which means YOU are the publisher, as a special arrangement between IS and Bowker.
IngramSpark charges a title set-up fee (currently $49 per book, $25 per e-book, or package deal $49 for both print and e-book at the same time), although special offers are advertised now and then. E-book files must be in e-pub or mobi format, or IS will convert for you for a fee. IS offers both softcover and hardcover options in many sizes including landscape format, with choice of matte or gloss cover. Black and white photos or illustrations usually copy well if high quality images. Digital printing in color always carries some risk. IS offers standard or premium color interior, but reports are that standard is at least as good as premium. Have a hard copy proof mailed to you for approval and make sure the cover colors (and any interior colors) look correct. Hard copy proofs (vs e-mailed files) are available at reasonable fee plus shipping. Be sure everything is perfect as once the book files are submitted to print, fixing mistakes and uploading a revision will cost another setup fee.
Book distribution and sales:
IngramSpark does not sell to individuals. IS provides books to Ingram, Amazon, B&N, and other online booksellers, including internationally. Online sellers and physical bookstores and libraries order IS books through Ingram Content Group. Authors set a discount rate between 30% and 55% for these buyers. If an author expects sales to libraries or bookstores, discount rate is best set at 45-55% of list price with returns allowed. The 55% is industry standard. If an author expects sales only through online sellers like Amazon or B&N, the discount can be set at the lower rate of 40%, or even 35%. At 40% discount, the author receives 60% of list price minus printing cost and minor admin fee. Ebook income for authors is 40% minus a small fee.
IngramSpark will list your book in their online catalog which is viewed by browsing book buyers—cost is currently $12 annually per title per book format ($12 total annually if both print and e-book were submitted together). Authors should market to bookstores and libraries, to let them know their books exist and are available through Ingram Content Group. Book information also automatically goes to Amazon, B&N, Target, and other online book sites. IS can get books into international Amazon sites, although they will most likely be lost in the listings unless the author can market to an international audience.
IS will direct-deposit sales profits (royalties) to your bank account with a 30-day lag time in case of returns. IS has an online calculator, so authors can experiment with different pricing to see how that affects net profit.
Regarding returns, know that IS will deduct the cost of printing those books from the author’s royalties, and that’s the price of doing business as a professional publishing company. If the author chooses to have returns mailed back to him/her instead of being destroyed, the author will pay for the shipping—so best to choose the destroy option.
Warning: Books printed through IS are listed on Amazon but may show not in stock or with several days of delay prior to shipping. If this happens, upload the book with same cover, interior, and ISBN, into the Kindle Direct Publishing system—and do NOT choose the Expanded Distribution option, as the book is already in the Ingram system. Then Amazon fulfills its customers’ orders for your book and IS fulfills orders from any other source.
Sales and Use Tax
Authors can buy copies of their own books at printing cost, plus some minor fees and the shipping cost. IngramSpark will ask you for a Sales & Use Tax Exemption form from your state’s Department of Revenue. The form allows you to purchase your books without paying sales tax, on condition that you will re-sell those books and collect sales tax from any buyers in your state. Tax rate varies per town or jurisdiction where books are sold. You will then report and pay all collected taxes to your state at year end. If you only sell via consignment to bookstores, the store will collect and report the taxes. If you sell the book yourself, such as at book fairs, you are responsible for collecting, reporting, and paying sales tax.
Summary and Comparison to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing for print books:
Ingram Spark is a more difficult to format files for than Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for print books, so authors need to use a professional cover designer and interior formatter (may be the same person). The upfront costs are higher due to setup fees, but usually free if the author orders 50+ books or if IS has special offers. Cost per printing is a little higher compared to KDP. Cost per printing is a little higher compared to KDP. Making changes/fixes once the book is published is free with KDP but will cost you another setup fee with IS, unless they have a special going on. Both IS and KDP create and add in the bar codes for free.
IS and KDP offer free ISBNs where they are the publishers, not you. Most authors using IS buy their own ISBNs from Bowker but IS offers an option where authors can buy an $85 ISBN for their own, so the author’s company is the publisher on record—this through a special relationship with Bowker.
IS requires 30% to 55% discounting on book list price, KDP only asks what the retail price will be for all buyers. KDP takes a little larger percentage of profits per sale than IS. Both offer options for international sales, but IngramSpark’s distribution range is more far reaching.
What sets IngramSpark apart is its professional distribution system with discounting and returns. IS is most valuable for those who believe sales will also come from physical bookstores or libraries. Marketing skills, book genre, quality of writing and editing, and often professional book reviews will figure into that decision, as well as commercial viability of the book. IngramSpark is the printer of choice for those serious about being an active and professional publishing company. If books will be sold only through Amazon anyway, most authors prefer to use KDP.
IngramSpark (as well as Kindle Direct Publishing) has many free articles and videos to help self-publishers learn about publishing and marketing.
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Hi there! I used Ingram Spark as the platform for my self-published children’s chapter book, Jennie Fowler Nighttime Prowler, which just released on August 15th. I set it at a 55% discount and made the books returnable to give it the best shot possible of getting stocked in bookstores…and it has worked! I contacted my local bookstore and they connected me with the procurement person in the major book chain in this part of the country (who operates out of a different location). I sent her the electronic galleys for review and on Friday was informed they are going to stock them in my home community’s store and have me in to do a book signing later this month. They are also going to stock the book in the major chain (Chapters) in the two biggest cities in my province. If they do well in these three stores they will begin to stock them at other locations. As well, one other independent bookstore in a different part of the province has stocked it and a children’s bookstore that I approached with a sample copy is currently reviewing it and will likely stock it as well.
Even more exciting, because the book is distributed through Ingram and available through standard industry terms despite being self-published it is also being considered for inclusion in a Holiday Readers Guide that promotes Atlantic Canadian Books. The guide goes to every single home in 4 of the Canadian provinces (500,000 are being printed this year). If approved I have to pay for the advertising space but the exposure will be worth every cent as many bookstores stock a few copies of each book in the guide. Because they are offered standard industry discounts I’ve been told they are far more likely to keep the unsold books and discount them to clear than they are to return them.
I just wanted to share my very positive experience so far and offer some hope that getting stocked in a bookstore is a very real possibility using the Ingram Spark platform if you are willing to make the calls and to do the networking needed to connect with the right people 🙂
Very good, and congratulations, Lisa! Your book looks very cute. Ingram Spark is so new I haven’t heard much from authors about it yet, so thanks for letting us know your experience.
I am new here and I try to find the best way for publish my book. I am a NON US people so, please don’t judge me for my english! 🙂 I still don’t understand the shipping calculator on ingram! Who has to pay the shipping if a bookstore order some books? There are 2 calculators on ingram: publisher and shipping. With the publisher calculator I can see my earnings, but I thought shipping costs are already included and these is my actually earnings! Right now I am not sure anymore, because I guess I have to pay shipping form that as well. For example at the publisher calculator I get 5 $, do I have to pay the shipping as well from the 5 $? 5$ minus shipping are my actually earnings? Because then I will get less money!
I hope someone can explain me that!
Hi Nici, thanks for stopping by. You are writing English quite well – how nice to be bilingual! The buyer (book store or library) pays for shipping. If you buy your own books, then you will pay for shipping to your house.
This is the most helpful article online on the CreateSpace vs. Ingram question, and there are several. I know if I just go with Ingram with a print book it will also be available on Amazon in print. What I’m not sure of is if I upload an e-book to Ingram will it also be available as a Kindle download on Amazon?
Thank you, and thanks for stopping by and reading. Yes, whatever you give Ingram automatically goes on Amazon as well as on Barnes & Noble. If you upload an e-book to Ingram, then it should appear as an Amazon Kindle e-book, too, and it probably shows up on Barnes & Noble for their Nook.
Wonderful post, very informative. One thing I’m not clear on with Ingram whether they actually distribute hardcover books through Amazon? They list Amazon as a partner on their website but qualify with “kindle”, as if they only distribute ebooks.
The reason we’re looking at Ingram instead of CreateSpace is CS doesn’t do hardcover, and that’s what we really want. But we also want to sell through Amazon.
Hopefully Ingram does do physical books through Amazon? Their customer service is SO hard to reach. Would love to hear from authors who have actually done this.
Hi Mark, Ingram Spark books appear on Amazon. If Amazon got an order for your book, it would order from Ingram. You will likely have that problem of Amazon showing longer ship time, but at least your book would be available there. Spark hardcover is a fairly new thing, but if it’s listed with Ingram, it will show up on Amazon.com. Ingram has responded well to me via email, also via telephone, but I was on hold for 20 minutes. I have had to contact them about four times lately!
The service is bad. I never reach them and also they never replay my emails. I am from europe and I can not call them all the time! I am happy that you have that blog! I want to say one more time thank you!!!
We’ve had similar problems with lack of response, Nici. Our emails often go unanswered. We do get through on the phone here in the USA, but hold times seem to average 20-30 minutes… about the same delays Linda reported.
Thanks so much for the quick reply! Very helpful, as is all of the information I’ve found on your blog. What a wonderful resource!
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This is a very helpful post, thank you! The comments help, too. My book, Riley Carson And The Cherokee Caves, is already on Amazon through CS. My main reason for using Ingram is so I can potentially get it into bookstores and libraries. Is this the best course in order to do that? It sounds like the majority of my time needs to be spent on marketing. 😉
Hi Megan, glad to be of help. I think Ingram is mostly beneficial for certain nonfiction books, mostly because libraries and book stores are not so keen about carrying books from unknown authors, particularly fiction books. But, in your case your book could do well across the state of Georgia so Ingram could be very useful. Your local indie book stores should agree to host a book signing or otherwise sell your book on consignment, and you won’t have to worry about the cost of returns that way. Looks like you thought about marketing when you wrote your book, not afterwards – well done, congratulations!
Thanks! I was thinking that consignment might be a good way to go. By day I work in graphic design and marketing so I did have some thoughts about that when I started this book. As a big fan of Star Wars, I also thought about the marketing George Lucas did in the 70’s and how he really pioneered that. On my part, this is all an effort to educate people about responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, so it’s a good cause very near to my heart. 🙂
Just wanted you to know that Ingram/Spark is now applying penalties on returns.
Hi, I run a micro publishing company (10 titles) and one of our authors did a signing that sold 100 books. Unfortunately, the bookstore ordered 170 books and returned 50 of them. Ingram dinged us for the return and shipping at $7/book, then a 1050 “other” charge. Just in the process of finding out what that was but they directly linked it to that publication. They did send us the books, but at the cost of the return, we have to sell them for $30 each to break even. There is nothing in the Ingram information area about this “other” charge or the return policy.
We went to Ingram for the expanded distribution, but may just change back to CS for bookstores just do not understand how much they hurt Indy Publishers with returns.
I think you mean code 1050 is the “other” charge? Not sure what that is, but I do not recommend choosing to have returned books shipped back to you. Not only do you pay the full wholesale cost, but then $2/book for shipping and handing, too, and sometimes those books can be damaged. When you have a signing, ask to bring your own books and sell on consignment OR tell the store how many to order and please do not order more because the returns hurt you financially – and they should know that! You can always bring bookplates and sign those if you run out of books, and let those customers have the store order copies for them. Difficult to estimate numbers, I know.
When you are not located in the US (Canadian publisher) they will charge $20/book returned. So when you get a bulk, then you are in trouble.
Came out to almost $30/book on the return. So not wanting to kill the environment, we initially opted for return, not destroy. Even looking at Destroy causes a lot of issues for us because we would be looking at wholesale on the returns (can really hurt the bottom line if the signing goes bad).
We no longer accept returns because of this issue. If our author is signing, we’ll have the bookstore order direct from us and they’ll run on a assignment status only.
Thank you, Max, glad to be of help. You can use any printer you want. Sounds like you have b&w drawings. Ingram Spark quality will be better for art books than CreateSpace. If you ONLY sell by hand or at indie stores, you might find a local book printer to print at reasonable cost and then you avoid paying shipping (check out their sample illustrated books to see the quality). You wouldn’t even need a bar code, just put the ISBN on the back cover and pencil in the price at the upper corner of the first page. Local stores may not want to buy your book outright but prefer consignment. Note that the best digital printing is with toner, not ink jet, if you are looking at local printers. Local digital printers will print a minimum usually of 25 books. Do buy a print proof copy, don’t depend on a pdf proof. Don’t order too many books as you can always order more if needed. Also, if using a local printer, show them your state retail sales license to avoid having to pay sales tax on your printing costs (Ingram and CreateSpace would also want a copy) since you will turn around and sell them to customers who will pay the sales tax.
Hi, This has been a huge help to me. Thank you very much.
I am a children’s author in the UK. The third book in my ‘Fluffy The Magic Penguin’ series will be released soon – using Ingram Spark rather than CS this time.
I found the quality of CS to be pretty good, but my long-term aim is to have my books in actual brick bookstores. It is something I have dreamed of since I was about 8 years old!
So, very recently, I have started my own Limited publishing company and opened up an Ingram account.
I know people are concerned about the difficulty with meeting Ingram’s cover and interior specifications. In my own personal experience, the same interior I had previously used on CS for my first two books was accepted by Ingram without question or adjustment. The cover was the awkward part. I had taken on all responsibility for formatting and it took weeks of playing around with images and sizing before Ingram would accept my cover. BUT, I finally cracked it, using three different software programs; PowerPoint, DrawPlus and then InDesign. The process was long, but once I cracked it, the second book was so much easier and I am very satisfied – knowing that I did it myself and saved a small fortune on the cost of a graphic designer. The subscription to Adobe for InDesign is definitely worth it if you wish to design your own cover. I created the design in PowerPoint and then exported to DrawPlus before pasting into InDesign over the top of the template which Ingram had provided. Lengthy, but so worth it!
I just wanted to share my experience and ask if anyone from the UK has any stories about getting into brick-and-water bookstores? Good or bad experiences!
Thanks again for the site – huge help!
If anyone thinks I may be able to help them – let me know!
Very happy to run into your blog with so much insightful information. Thanks a lot! You have mentioned a couple of times that Amazon could intentionally delay shipment of Ingram books, is that a well known phenomenon that happens to everyone who publishes through Ingram and sells on Amazon, or is that an occasional Amazon behavior? And if it it a well known issue, is there a way around it? We don’t want to publish on CS because of quality requirement, but we don’t want to be penalized by Amazon shipping either. Not sure what’s the best option for us, look forward to your guidance.
Hello Jin, sorry to be so slow to answer you! Yes, that’s common Amazon behavior. My Cherry Blossoms in Twilight book is showing “May take an extra 1-2 days to ship” even though it does not. There is nothing you can do about that except also upload to CreateSpace. You should upload to Ingram first, and then watch your book’s Amazon profile to see if they show maybe delayed shipping – it may not, or it may not at first but then will later. Most people probably don’t care if only 1-2 days delayed shipping.
Greetings! I appreciate all of your information. May I have clarification on one item? With Ingram Sparks, there is a print cost and their service fee. I checked off the 55% for wholesale. When they send the information to Amazon, if someone orders from there, Amazon only pays 55% of the total price? If this is the case, I am only making pennies on each book. Thanks, Mark
Hi Mark, when any company or store or library orders from Ingram, they will buy your book at about 55% discount and you will be paid by Ingram Spark the remaining 45% minus print/service cost. You can use Spark’s price calculator to see how much you would make per book sale, adjust your price or discount as necessary. My books are set at only 40% discount, returns allowed.
If you ALSO have an account with Kindle Direct (Amazon) to print your book for Amazon sales, then when someone buys your book from Amazon, Kindle Direct prints it and will send you royalties – Spark is out of the loop.
Thank you for the information and effort.
I was looking into Ingram Spark and other print-on-demand companies and am about to publish (hopefully this month). I had a few questions that you can probably answer well. Would you want to help me? It’s especially about money.
1. Besides initial setup fees per book and the like, are there any other fees at Ingram Spark?
2. What do you fill in at Business or Legal Name (if in Europe)?
3. Scenario: you have gone through the things, have set prices, infornation, and so on at Ingram Spark. Someone (or a retailer) orders a book (or many books) from Amazon (or directly from Ingram). Do you have any costs?
I want to know how it works in practice concerning the money. If I have set the whole thing and it’s moving, do I have any unexpected costs? Ingram takes care of the calculations and I just receive the calculated profit per book after 90 days, where shipping costs, printing costs and you-name-it have already been taken care of? I just want to have an easy simple process, where I have set things in order and then I am interested in getting paid, not in paying anything anymore!
Hi UU, no other costs – that you will see. When a business buys your book through Ingram, Ingram will take away the cost of printing and you get the rest of the money. There is a calculator on the Spark website so you can see how much you will get per book sale. Now, if a buyer happens to return a book, Ingram will charge you the cost of the book (deduct the cost from whatever Ingram owes you so not like you have to send money to Ingram), and if you choose to have them mail you the returned book, the cost of mailing will be deducted from your Ingram account, too. It is recommended to allow returns, but many choose to have Ingram destroy them. I have rarely had returns in the many years I’ve used Ingram.
Thanks for the quick response. You sure are fast and your information is helpful.
What about the practicalities of uploading PDFs (content and cover)? I saw there was a cover generator, which probably generates a visual barcode, given an ISBN. I was planning on doing typography and the cover myself, so I was also wondering about what the generated file would look like.
But there is more and perhaps this is a atep before that. Must one, if one already has ISBNs, first fill in book information (and so on) on the respective country’s ISBN website, or how does it work? Does Ingram simply send all this information to some kins of ISBN database covering the country’s? What is the proper order, or what must one know? (I suppose I am also looking for the hierarchy in this case. Your original seems to imply that you must first go to the respective country’s ISBN institute before setting up the title at Ingram. But then are you not doing things superfluously?)
Spark pretty much requires an Adobe Indesign pdf for cover and interior. I hire professionals to create my cover and format interior using Spark specifications – Spark is more particular than Amazon Kindle Direct. When you upload the cover file and indicate bar code, Spark will create a bar code on the back cover for you. You can open a Spark account and fill in whatever book info you can, finish whenever, then upload your interior file when ready, but you do need an ISBN before uploading the cover. Your book and its ISBN are registered with an ISBN institute, so it’s an id number assigned to it. Of course, any business dealing with your book needs to know its id number. Spark will sell you the use of an $85 ISBN, but it belongs to Spark so your book’s publisher will be Spark, not you, if you care. If you plan to write more books, it’s cost efficient to buy a set of 10 ISBNs from Bowker, or Nielsen Book ISBN Agency if you’re in the UK.