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.