Ingram Spark


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

By Linda Austin, Moonbridge Publications

updated January 2019

IngramSpark is a print-on-demand, digital printing company for books, and it also formats e-books. It is associated with Ingram, 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 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.

IngramSpark 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. 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.

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 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:

IngramSpark 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.

IngramSpark 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.

Warning: Books printed through Spark 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 Spark fulfills orders from any other source.

Sales and Use Tax

You can buy copies of your own book at printing cost, plus some minor fees and the shipping cost. Ingram Spark 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 book stores, the book 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. Cost per printing is a little higher compared to KDP. Both Spark and KDP create bar codes for their books, Spark requires the author to provide an ISBN while KDP 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, KDP does not have an option for discounting since it sells direct to readers. (With Expanded Distribution, KDP controls the discount offered, not the author.) Neither KDP nor Spark offer other publishing services except for e-book formatting. Both offer options for international sales, with Spark offering sales to more countries.

What sets IngramSpark 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 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. If books will be sold only through Amazon anyway, most authors prefer to use KDP.



25 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. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. Pingback: » Ingram Spark

  10. 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. 🙂

  11. 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.


  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. Mark A Sharnick says:

    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

  17. 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.

Leave a Reply to Mark A Sharnick Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s