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Lightning Source, Ingram Spark or Amazon KDP: Which print-on-demand platform (POD) is right for you?

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Publishing platforms. Whether you love them, hate them, or are quite frankly scared sh*tless by the thought of them, you’re going to have to get to know them if you’re going to self-publish your book.


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Which POD Platform will YOU choose?

For the purpose of this post, we will look into the intricacies of these three professional POD platforms, Lightning Source, Ingram Spark and Amazon KDP, and see how they match up against each other.


Firstly, what is print-on-demand?


"Print-on-demand (POD) is a business model where products, such as apparel, accessories, or home decor, are produced only when an order is received."

Shopify


As you can see, it’s not just books that can be printed on demand – there are plenty of ways businesses make money by using this model. Bought a cheap t-shirt recently with a catchy slogan? It was probably created using print on demand.


For self-publishing authors and even smaller independent publishers, POD is the perfect way to print books without needing to invest a large amount of money in printing upfront. It’s also the most risk-free way to print books which won’t leave you with a stash of unsold novels filling up shelf space in your garage.


Aren't Lightning Source and Ingram Spark the same company?


Yes. They are both part of the company “Ingram Content Group” who offer digital and physical book distribution, print on demand, and digital learning services. Lightning Source and Ingram Spark are two different platforms offered to authors who want to use a (POD) service to publish their book. I’ll go into the differences within this article.


So, what are the differences between Lightning Source and Ingram Spark?


I’ll go into more detail for both further down the article, but essentially Ingram Spark is aimed more at self-publishing authors with a desire to publish a small number of books, whereas LS offers tools and capabilities more suited to independent publishers publishing multiple books annually. However, that doesn’t mean that self-publishing authors can’t or shouldn’t use LS.


But, let’s start with KDP.


What are the benefits of Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)?


As a part of the Amazon mega-machine, KDP has the ultimate advantage that it is linked directly to the largest online retailer in the world. (The other POD platforms are also linked, but I’ll get to that later.)


KDP is easy to set up from your Amazon account and it is completely free; Amazon take their cut out of your royalties instead of charging an upfront fee.


From someone who uses KDP day in day out, the immediate advantage of KDP over its competitors is its useability. Give yourself a day or two to find your way around the portal and it’s relatively easy to use. For anything that isn’t quite as obvious to work out, there is a whole library of KDP user articles and FAQ’s to follow for step-by-step instructions. (But if you're still struggling, our Self-Publishing Course might be a good place to look for guidance from the experts to support you through the platform upload process. For more specific assistance, you can purchase "The Techy Stuff" individual service from our Build A Book store.)


Once you’ve published your book, another benefit to using Amazon’s own POD portal is that you get a large and personalisable sales page with options to add your own marketing graphics and an author page that readers can follow.


There is also the option to use Amazon Ads to help bolster your book sales, along with different options of deals and discounts you can apply to your book. You can even put your book forward for “Kindle Daily Deals” which can often gain huge sales traction if awarded one by the selection team. And, Kindle Daily Deals are free!


Being an Amazon user, you will also find that post-publication, your book will be favoured by Amazon’s algorithms over non-KDP book sellers.


One of the most useful features, which may be taken for granted if KDP is all you know, is that you can actually make changes to your manuscript even after it’s published. Of course, when self-publishing you should always ensure your manuscript is produced and finished to the highest standard before hitting the “publish” button. But, in the cases where minor errors are found, it is possible to make the amends and re-publish. Please don’t let this prompt you to skip the proofreading stage before publishing your book!


Another option Amazon have to offer KDP users is Kindle Unlimited (KU). Your book can be enrolled into the KU scheme, which makes your book available to millions of additional customers who are signed up to the KU monthly subscription. However, this does tie you to Amazon and prevents you from publishing your eBook with anyone else.


And finally, paperbacks and hardbacks will be eligible for the infamous Amazon Prime delivery service, which means your readers will have your book in their hands often within a day of purchase.


Drawbacks of KDP

When it comes to royalties, Amazon take 60% of your book sales after print costs have been deducted. Which is huge, but comparable to other POD platforms. Unfortunately, it’s just the price you have to pay, and being the leader of the online marketplace, Amazon can be safe in the knowledge that they probably won’t lose any customers with these margins!


For me, the main drawback with KDP is its lack of customer service. Don't get me wrong, it does exist. But when an advert stops working or your sales page shows an error and prevents customers from ordering your book, these are the kind of problems you want amending as quickly as possible, in Prime fashion! Not in a "we will get back to you within 7-10 days" manner.


Another sticking point for us is Amazon's distribution. Upon set-up, there is an option to enroll for Amazon’s Expanded Distribution which basically means your book will be available for libraries and bookstores to order online. But remember, this does not mean your book will be stocked in any bookstores by choosing to enroll. It simply means that a customer can walk into their local retailer and ask the bookstore to order it for them on the store’s online system.


The plot thickens – this does not include every retailer and there is no way of telling which, if any, has put in any orders. Amazon also doesn’t divulge which retailers it has signed up to the scheme.


KDP Summary:

Advantages

  • Free

  • Free ISBN’s available

  • Reasonably priced proof copies

  • User friendly

  • Personalisable sales page

  • Good for Amazon’s selling algorithms

  • World’s biggest marketplace

  • Amazon prime delivery

  • Book applicable for Amazon deals

  • Manuscript is editable even after publication

Disadvantages

  • It’s not entirely clear where Amazon’s “expanded distribution” actually goes to

  • Amazon take a big cut (but then, so do the rest)

  • Very limited customer service access

 

What are the benefits of Lightning Source (LS)?


What Amazon lacks, LS has in bucketloads. There are two main reasons why you might opt for LS over or alongside Amazon: the customer service and the online store distribution.


When you upload your book to LS, it is automatically feeds into the online stores for Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and strangely enough, Amazon. This is a great way for UK authors to get their books into the hands of American customers, and visa versa for US authors. Your book will also be made available for online order by libraries and bookshops in the same way that Amazon offers. Although unlike Amazon, there is a list available which details the retailers signed up to the Ingram Content Group’s distribution partners. You can view this here.


As per Amazon, there is also a personalisable sales page with LS, but it is less extensive.


It’s important to remember that Lightning Source is not a marketplace, but a backend platform. Using Amazon as an example, KDP is the backend portal and Amazon is the marketplace. LS is the portal but there is no linked LS marketplace – the portal feeds through to other marketplaces as mentioned above (Amazon, B&N etc).


However, and this is a big bonus point for LS - especially for people who might struggle with the technical aspect of publishing – the Lightning Source customer service is excellent. They have separate customer service and sales teams so whatever your problem, there will be a specialist agent on hand to answer your queries. You are also allocated an account manager on sign-up who you will be able to contact directly via email. With the self-publishing process often being less than straightforward, having the supportive arm of LS’s customer service team in the background is most helpful.


Drawbacks of Lightning Source

The most obvious drawback is the price. You pay £52 per title upload, with an additional charge of £27.50 if you want to make any changes after publication. When you consider that the margins you make will total approximately £2 per book, these costs probably seem steep.


Furthermore, if you want to see a proof copy of your book before publication (which, let’s face it, you WILL want and need to) this will set you back another £26-35! This is one of the reasons why LS is aimed predominantly at publishers who will expect to sell a certain number of books per launch. Publishers can mostly be certain that they will make back these costs in sales, whereas if you're an individual who is aiming to get their book in the hands of friends and family members only, you might want to rethink your platform choice.


This is why we would advise that before you consider incurring these kind of costs during publication, it’s important that you identify what your book goals are before publishing. I bang on about “Book Goals” a lot to our clients, and you can find a blog post about this subject here: What Do You Want To Achieve From Publishing Your Book?

 

Once you have thought about your book goals, this might help you to decide whether a costly platform is going to be beneficial for you or not.


On top of these sign-up costs, the margins that LS take per book after print costs are comparable to Amazon’s – although represented in a more convoluted way which I won’t go into in this post! But you can work out your potential earnings on the LS compensation calculator here.


Something worth noting are the LS delivery times upon ordering. Delivery times on sales platforms that feed through from LS often state 4-5 weeks, which can be very off-putting for potential customers. Although we have been reassured by the LS customer service that these timings are incorrect and that 2-5 days is more accurate, there’s nothing that states this to the buyer upon purchase.


Lightning Source Summary

Advantages

  • Very responsive and helpful customer service team

  • Book made available on Barnes & Noble (US retailer), Waterstones and Amazon online stores

  • Distribution available in a greater range of countries due to a wider spread of international POD contracts

Disadvantages

  • Paperback only

  • Set-up costs

  • Revision costs

  • Additional charges, including expensive proof copies

  • Around 60% per book sale goes to LS

  • Not as user-friendly as KDP

  • Longer delivery times

 

What are the benefits of Ingram Spark?


As mentioned earlier, Ingram Spark (IS) is a very similar platform to LS and part of the same parent company: Ingram Content Group.


The main difference is that IS is a free platform that offers eBook, paperback and hardback POD publishing and is aimed at individual authors with no particular goal in mind of how many books they want to sell.


Unfortunately, there is not the same customer service set-up at IS as its sister platform LS. But the interface is easier to use so there is potentially less chance you will actually require assistance when using the portal. LS has more tools and options available to the user for more of a publishing model set-up, which is maybe why additional help is considered necessary and the extensive customer service facility has been made available with LS and not with IS.


Publishing through IS allows your book to be fed through to the same distribution partners as LS which is a great advantage over Amazon. See here to view the retailers that are signed up to the IS feed.


Title set-up is free, but any revisions made after 60 days of initial set-up are chargeable at £25 per file. Slightly cheaper than LS and this is why it is important to make sure your manuscript is in tip top condition before publishing!


Author earnings work like this:


You earn compensation for print books sold through our distribution network, based on the retail price minus the wholesale discount you offer, minus the print price of the book you choose to publish.

Ingram Spark


Again, this works out very comparably to the other POD platforms discussed in this post and there is a earnings calculator that you can check out here.


Ingram Spark Summary

Advantages

  • Free

  • Free ISBN’s but only for US customers

  • Offers all three book formats: eBook, paperback and hardback

  • Books made available on Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble


Disadvantages of Ingram Spark

  • Limited customer service

  • No free ISBN option outside of the US

 

This concludes the rundown of POD platforms – hopefully you should have enough information to make an informed decision about which portal you use when you self-publish. If you’re not quite at the platform upload stage yet, we offer a self-paced self-publishing course which will guide you through every step necessary to self-publish your book to a high standard. There is also a module on POD platform upload included. Click here for more info on our Self-Publishing Course.

 

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