Contrary to all the lamenting a few years back, the printed book format is not dead. When the rise of e-books began, many people were quick to say, people would stop buying physical books. A lot of business minded specialists wrote article after article of this “fact”. Apparently they all forgot to speak to the most important sources…readers.
This year we are seeing a stabilizing of e-book sales, a resurgence of print sales, and the skyrocketing of audio book sales. It pays dollars and cents to know this and make sure as an indie author, you are maximizing your distribution channels. Today I want to focus on the print format and how to get the best bang for your buck and time.
Yes, e-books are convenient. The ability to fill up an e-book reader with hundreds to thousands of books is both amazing and addicting. However, for many it is still no replacement for the printed format, which is why over the last year the rise of e-books has begun to stabilize. Has it reached its peak? I have no idea, but I can say all authors would be remiss in excluding the printed format as a source of income.
The Distribution Choices
In my opinion, when it comes to print distribution, there are really only two choices: IngramSpark and Createspace. IngramSpark is owned by Ingram and Createspace is owned by Amazon. Both have their pros and cons, but for discoverability and return on investment (ROI), they are the best choices available at the moment.
|Price of Service||$49||$0|
|Ease of Use||Easy||Moderate Learning Curve|
|Color Book Option||Yes||Yes|
|Discoverability Channels||Amazon, Bookstores, Libraries||Amazon, Bookstores*, Libraries*|
*Createspace only gives you access to bookstores and libraries if you use a Createspace generated ISBN. More on this later.
So which one should you use? Both! Yes, you read correctly, both. The discoverability opportunities through each channel is very different. Because of this, it pays to have your books available in both.
For authors hoping for libraries and bookstores to place their books on shelves, then IngramSpark is your best bet. For an additional fee, Ingram will include your book and blurb in their catalogue that they supply to libraries and bookstores all around the world. Libraries and bookstores expect to be able to purchase your books at a steep discount. IngramSpark allows you to set that discounted price, where Createspace does not. Ask most booksellers and librarians, and they will tell you that they rarely if ever purchase from Createspace. It just isn’t cost effective for them.
Where Ingram excels at exposure to libraries and bookstores, Createspace excels at discoverability within the behemoth that is Amazon. There is no denying that Amazon provides the lion share of most indie authors’ royalties. If you make a huge portion of your e-book sales on Amazon, then it pays to have a print option available with them as well. Amazon, showcases all of the format options on your book’s landing page. It is a subtle reminder to readers that they can purchase one or all formats. Below is an example of how one of my books appears on Amazon.
Although IngramSpark does distribute to Amazon, getting the format integration on your titles is best done via Createspace.
The ISBN Issue
You’ll notice in the chart above that Createspace does offer distribution to bookstores and libraries. However, it comes with a caveat: This is only available if you choose to use a Createspace generated ISBN. Why is that an issue? The good folks at TheBookDesigner offer a great summary explanation:
Also, it is worth noting that in order to distribute to libraries and bookstores, Createspace actually uses IngramSpark. What a tangled web we weave!
For those of you who don’t mind the ISBN issue, you may ask, well why not just use Createspace? The answer is simple. Because most booksellers and librarians are not going to pay full retail price for your book. And from a bookstore perspective, why would they be buying books from the competition (ie. Amazon)? The chance of libraries and bookstores buying your books from Createspace are very slim. This is another reason to use both Createspace and IngramSpark.
The other advantage of print format, is that they are great for book signings, other author events, or as prizes for your street team, giveaways or other general promotion. Both Createspace and Ingram offer discount prices to the author to purchase their books. This means that you can offer readers signed copies of your book.
If you have an author website (which you should, no excuses), you can offer signed copies as an option. I’ve set up a simple Google Docs form on my website, that allows readers to put in a request. It is a simple process and has worked out really well in terms of offering readers something a little special.
In the end, will your print sales equal or surpass your digital sales? Probably not. However, the return on investment for print books is very different than digital books. Kindle libraries don’t go on display in people’s homes. They aren’t leafed through in a library or showcased on a bookstore shelf. Print succeeds visually where digital can not. When you think about the psychology of marketing, you understand that seeing a product both on the internet and physically in the real world provides subtle pushes to purchase. At the very least it imprints your name and brand further.
As usual I hope this information helps any of you thinking out going into indie publishing, or those of you looking to expand their reach. If you have used either Createspace or Ingram Spark, I would love to hear your experiences and feedback. Comments are welcome!