(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.