Ingram Spark

Ingram Spark

(self-publishing branch of Lightning Source, Inc.)

By Linda Austin, Moonbridge Publications

updated November 2017

Ingram Spark is a print-on-demand, digital printing company for books, and it also formats e-books. It is associated with Ingram, a major book wholesaler-distributor, and is the self-publishing branch of Lightning Source, Inc., (LSI), Ingram’s main book printing company. Many indie and small publishers used Spark because of its low cost and the Ingram connection. Spark books also go into the Ingram database that booksellers and libraries use to find and order books.

Ingram Spark provides only printing and a distribution channel to sales outlets. Spark authors must provide their own book cover files, and their manuscripts should be formatted in Adobe InDesign or other professional publishing software and submitted as pdf files to Spark 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. Spark provides a cover template based on the book’s size and number of pages (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. Ingram Spark 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.

Ingram Spark 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 Spark will convert for you for a fee. Spark offers both softcover and hardcover options in many sizes, with choice of matte or gloss cover. Black and white photos or illustrations usually copy well if scanned at 300 dpi or higher. Digital printing in color always carries some risk. Spark 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 print cost plus tiny handling fee plus shipping. Be sure everything is perfect as once the book files are submitted to print, fixing mistakes will cost money. Lightning Source is the printer for Spark.

Book distribution and sales:

Ingram Spark does not sell to individuals. Spark provides books to Ingram, Amazon, B&N, and other online booksellers. Physical bookstores and libraries order Spark books through Ingram. Authors set a discount rate for these buyers, and Spark highly suggests 35-55%. 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 booksellers like Amazon or B&N, the discount can be set at the lower rate of 35%-40%, or maybe even less. At 40% discount, the author receives 60% of price minus Ingram’s fee for printing. E-book income for authors is 40% minus a small fee.

Amazon CreateSpace (CS) Expanded Distribution works with Ingram and with Baker & Taylor (B&T), the major book wholesalers, but gives buyers less discount (currently only 25%) than Ingram Spark . CS does not allow returns. For those reasons book store buyers do not like to buy from CS Expanded Distribution, although libraries may. Authors who expect book store and library sales will prefer to use Ingram Spark.

Ingram Spark will list the 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. Book info also automatically goes to Amazon, B&N, Target, and other online book sites. Ingram Spark 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.

Authors can purchase their own books at Spark’s print cost and pay shipping. Spark can offer bulk order discounts. Spark will direct-deposit sales profits (royalties) to author checking accounts with a 90-day lag time, in case of returns. Spark has an online calculator so authors can determine pricing and shipping.

Regarding returns, know that Spark 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 by Spark, the author will pay for the shipping – so best to choose the destroy option.

Summary and Comparison to CreateSpace:

Ingram Spark is a more difficult to format files for than Amazon’s CreateSpace (CS), 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. Cost per printing is a little higher compared to CS. Both Spark and CS create bar codes for their books, Spark requires the author to provide an ISBN while CS will provide one of its own if the author chooses that route. Spark highly suggests discounting of book list price (35%-55%) for its book buyers, CS does not have an option for discounting since it sells direct to readers. (With Expanded Distribution, CS controls the discount offered, not the author.) CS offers other publishing services, Spark does not, except for e-book formatting. Both offer options for international sales, with Spark offering sales to more countries.

What sets Ingram Spark apart is its top rate distribution system. Spark is most valuable for those who believe sales will also come from physical bookstores or libraries. Marketing, 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. If books will be sold only through Amazon anyway, most authors prefer to use CreateSpace.

Note: Amazon will likely list Spark books as not immediately available, which is why many Spark authors will also use CreateSpace.


39 Responses to Ingram Spark

  1. Pingback: Do Authors make Money? Here's the Truth | Sonia Marsh - Gutsy Living

  2. authorLPT says:

    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 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. James Hayton says:

    I’ve just had my physical proof send by CS… the quality is really poor, and the book looks and feels cheap. I’ve seen a lot of forum comments about quality issues with CS, so it worries me a little. I was going to use CS for all amazon sales and Ingram Spark for everything else, but now I’m tempted to use Ingram Spark to print for amazon too. Any thoughts?

    • Aaron Bunce says:

      James, I published my first book through both CS and Spark. There was visible clarity loss in the CS version of the cover versus the spark counterpart (I proofed through CS and Spark at the same time). Plus, the paper CS uses is thicker, so the book will have a larger spine, different cover dimensions, and heavier shipping weight (no small thing when order books). This also means that if you want to published through both, to A: take advantage of CS’s slightly higher royalties through Amazon, and B: take advantage of Spark’s wider distribution network, you will have to prepare two different sets of files for print. I have also had customers show me their books after they have been read. The Spark books seem to hold up better. Spines tend to break down on the CS books more easily, and the laminate they use for their covers isn’t quite as good. Overall, the CS books aren’t bad. In the end I decided to make life easier on myself and go exclusively through Spark for print titles. Printing costs are a few pennies higher (per books), but the quality of product and scope of their distribution network more than makes up for it. Hope this information helps.

  5. I use CS for everything, and I’ve had only one issue with one book. I think their quality is good. I also have a bunch of Ingram-printed books, and I honestly see no difference. I know the word is that bookstores will not carry CS books, but no bookstore is going to carry an indie book anyway, unless, such as my case, it’s a small local store.

    And as I outlined in a previous comment, no bookstore will order a book unless they have return rights. The calculus for a return is not good.

  6. James, that is interesting to hear about the poor quality of your CreateSpace book. I believe Amazon uses a few different printers around the country, not just one anymore, so you may have just gotten a bad one. I see a lot of CS books and they are okay. What I don’t like is the crease on the cover just off the binding, because once you crack open the book that crease stays bent. I have also heard CS books don’t hold up well under multiple reads, but then most people only read a book once. This would be of concern with reference books.

    Using Ingram Spark alone can be problematic. Amazon has sometimes shown Ingram’s Lightning Source books as not being available right away – even though they are. Amazon may do it with Ingram Spark books, too. Amazon won’t admit it, but I suspect they just want to force people to use CreateSpace. If you think real stores across the country will want your book or you have a reference book, then it’s more important to use Spark, which can cost more to set up and publish through than CreateSpace. If you see Amazon messing with your availability, then load the book into CreateSpace, too, using the same ISBN number and cover.

  7. Ingram Spark should have guidelines on their website, so whoever you’re working with can log into their Spark account and copy or print them out for you. Also, there’s a Yahoo group called Self-Publishing which has members who know about this. You might find a Facebook group of illustrators or children’s book authors or self-publishers that might help you.

  8. Erin Hughes says:

    Jason, you might have already found this by now, but the .pdf at this link should tell you what you need

  9. Nici says:

    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!

  10. 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.

  11. JREmery says:

    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.

  12. Hi Jan,
    Having one book with two ISBNs will be confusing because yes, the title will be listed twice, with different ISBNs. I called Lightning Source today because I will be dealing with the Amazon problem soon (I have an LSI account, but they want me to switch to Spark as I have a new book coming this fall). The LSI rep thought you must be using CS expanded distribution, which puts your book into the Ingram system. So when you went to Spark (Ingram), they already showed your book/ISBN existed in their system. Spark should have told you to take the book OFF expanded distribution, then load to Spark (perhaps with a waiting period until the unlisting happens) – because with Spark’s great distribution system, you would not need CS (inferior) expanded distribution anyway. If you are not using expanded distribution and this problem happened, Spark would just require Amazon CS to send them some sort of okay to use the same ISBN.

    So, I would first take the book out of CS expanded distribution, if you are using that. The LSI rep told me you should be able to contact Spark and explain what happened and have it fixed, preferably use the original ISBN so no problem with Amazon. If Spark has already run your book with ISBN #2 through their distribution lines, you will see your book listed twice on Amazon with different ISBNs. So call Spark right away and tell them to stop the press! If they try to charge you for fixing the ISBN, tell them (nicely but firmly) the Spark rep did not explain correctly what you should do and so this mess happened, and you don’t want to pay to get it fixed when it wasn’t really your fault. Not sure what to do about the new ISBNs registered with Bowker for the same books – may need to contact Bowker as not sure if their system will let you clear those ISBNs to re-use. Good luck!

    • Jan Reid says:

      Thank you very much Linda. I greatly appreciate your reply. Sorry for my late response but I’ve been busy trying to sort some ‘low resolution image’ problems at IngramSpark, They keep rejecting the book cover for my second book, even though it was accepted by CreateSpace / Amazon, so I’ve been trying to create a new book cover because of it. Hopefully now, because of your ‘findings’ I may be able to avoid further cost & rectify the ‘duplicate’ issues of both my books. I thought I had set my profile to receive updates of this blog (otherwise I would have seen your response sooner, through my email). I must look into that too…
      ~ Jan
      P.S. I was just about to hit ‘post comment’ when I noticed my first comment was made under a old WordPress account I recently deleted, even though I had checked the – notify me of new comments via email – so that was probably why I didn’t receive your response in my email (just FYI).

  13. Jan, maybe the best option now is to try getting CreateSpace to change the ISBN to the one listed with Spark.

  14. Yes, that is interesting, isn’t it. I figure it’s somebody being cheap and pretending Amazon is a library they can return books to so they can read for free. People can return their print books, too. Returns show up in your reports – there’s a lag time between purchase and payments to allow possibility of return.

  15. 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.

  16. 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 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!

    • Nici says:

      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!

  17. Keena says:

    After i received my Library of Congress Number, I submitted my book specifications to Ingram Sparks in their requested format. The paper proof that I received from them was low quality and included lines running through some of the pages. I sent the same required specifications to a local printer and the quality was excellent. I sent an email to Ingram Sparks, but will be surprised if I get a response. I will get in the queue next week when I have a few hours of time to wait to talk with one of their customer service reps. I am concerned that after I straighten out this problem,individuals ordering my book may receive poor quality books. Has this happened to anyone else?

    • Hi Keena, since no one else has answered, I will put in my 2 cents. I hear of such things with CreateSpace also, but usually both companies will send another copy and it is fine. Sometimes they have to replace a whole box ordered, just depends on which printing location is used and how their printing equipment is working that day. Customers ordering can get replacements, too. Spark reps can take a while to answer emails, but waiting 30 minutes on hold may be preferable so you can have a discussion and get answers quicker.

      • …another 2 cents – though as I’m from UK perhaps it’s a just a pennyworth….
        I’ve had some issues with Createspace printing quality in the past – guillotining not straight, blobs of print, variance in cover colours beyond that which I think acceptable. In all cases they provided replacement books at no cost which were ok in quality but were unable to answer my question on what quality assurance processes do they have in place to prevent such poor quality books being sent to my customers – of course I suspect the answer is none. Whilst they will argue that they are happy to replace poor quality books my feeling is that the damage has already been done in that my customer’s perception of the book has already been compromised. I’m looking at using Ingram Sparks as well as Createspace and hope the quality is more consistent.

        • Thank you, Paul. Since digital printed books are printed only one order at a time and usually in small quantities, the chance for error is greater, I think, based on how a printing machine is working that day.

  18. Pingback: » Ingram Spark

  19. Jan says:

    I make way less then that with a soft cover. LOL! It’s really different when you write a book that includes color pictures/illustrations. You have to decide which is more important to you; quality, or your pocketbook. You need to make up for what you lose in print, by doing an eBook. I had 200+ colored pics.

  20. Jan says:

    Hi Linda. I never used CS “expanded distribution” as everything I have ever read said that Ingram would be best suited for expanded. CS was printing my book, but I switched to Ingram Spark. I used the same ISBN. All I did was was “deselect” CS. It’s very easy to do, and CS can even do it for you. All you are doing is telling CS no print, Ingram Spark please print. Not sure from everything I’ve read that having the exact same book with different ISBN is the way to go.

  21. MeganWargula says:

    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!

      • MeganWargula says:

        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. 🙂

  22. D Owen says:

    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.

      • Douglas Owen says:

        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.


  23. 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.

  24. Richard Dodd says:

    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!


    Richard Dodd

  25. Jin Zhang says:

    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.

    Jin Zhang

  26. 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.

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