Expanded Distribution: The Ins and Outs

With a few exceptions, people who write books want to sell their books. Making a fortune may not be a primary motive, but it’s a delight and encouragement to see those sales. Options for the self-publisher include selling from a website, via shows or other public gatherings, or even door to door. To reach the widest audience, however, one needs to sell through distributors. These include book selling though online book stores as well as traditional book stores (referred to as “brick and mortar”).

POD (print on demand) printers offer different ways to do this. Usually they will have a package deal of some sort. The only two I’ve looked into are CreateSpace (the publishing arm of Amazon.com), and Lightning Source Ingram. I started with CS because, as a beginner, I understood their process to be more user friendly and proofs less expensive. CS is geared toward new, independent authors. LSI, on the other hand, is geared toward professional publishers although many independent authors use their services as well. More recently, they have opened Ingram Spark as a resource for self-publishing authors. Here’s what I’ve learned about all these.

CreateSpace has no set-up fees and offers a standard distribution package for free as well. This standard package includes Amazon US and Amazon Europe (with listings on their UK, German, Italian, Spanish, and French sites), plus a CS eStore. Their extended distribution used to cost $25. Since LSI started offering Ingram Spark, the extended distribution package is now free. This puts one’s book listing in catalogues available to other online book sellers (such as Barnes & Noble), also those brick and mortar stores, big box stores, etc., plus a venue called CreateSpace Direct, for registered resellers. For those using one of CS’s own ISBNs (also free, but lists CS as the exclusive publisher) there are listings for libraries and educational institutions as well.

LSI (and Ingram Spark) has a $49 set-up fee per title. Their distribution channels (markets) include all of the above for an annual $12 per title. One advantage to these, is that the publisher can choose whether or not book stores can return unpurchased copies of their books. Of course you pay them a refund, but it does make the books available in those stores. Unfortunately, traditional book stores are not interested in self-published books, which means they probably won’t order them anyway.

The other thing retailers expect, is a wholesale discount. Obviously they cannot pay full price for a title and make a profit at that same list price. To truly entice them, this discount apparently must be at least 50%. The author’s royalties are what’s leftover after printing costs and whole sale discount have been subtracted. With LSI, the publisher sets the discount. It can be as low as 20% on up. With Ingram Spark, the wholesale discount is a mandatory 55%. With CreateSpace/Amazon, it depends upon the distribution channel.

  • Standard distribution through Amazon US or Amazon Europe – 40%
  • Standard distribution through the book’s CreateSpace eStore – 20%
  • Extended distribution – 60%

So let’s crunch some numbers. What does all these mean to me, as an independent author selling her book for a list price of $12.95? The forumla is:

list price
– printing costs
– wholesale discount
author’s royalty

Printing costs depend on several factors: size and page count, color or B&W, hard cover or soft. These vary depending upon the printer.

With CS, the printing cost for a 262, 6 x 9, black and white interior paperback book is $0.85 per book plus $0.012 per page. For my book, that comes to $3.99 printing cost per book. Plugging all that into the formula to sell on Amazon US or Europe (40% discount) …

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 5.18 (40% wholesale discount)
$3.78 author’s royalty

If I sell through my own CreateSpace eStore

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 2.59 (20% wholesale discount)
$6.37 author’s royalty

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Even so, most CS authors opt to direct traffic to Amazon rather than their CS eStore. Why? For several reasons: to build reviews (available only on Amazon), consumer trust in name recognition (CreateSpace who?), free shipping for orders over $35, plus folks often already have an Amazon account.

For their extended distribution

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 7.77 (60% wholesale discount)
$1.19 author’s royalty

So for every book sold through someone else rather than Amazon, I’d only make $1.19 per copy.

Now let’s take a look at Ingram Spark. They calculate their printing costs for the same book accordingly – $0.90 per book plus $0.013 per page, which would be $4.31 per book. Plugging that in with the 55% discount…

$12.95 (list price)
– 4.31 (printing cost)
– 7.12 (55% wholesale discount)
$1.52 author’s royalty

Well, that still seems like peanuts, but it’s a little better than the $1.19 from CS’s extended distribution. Or is it? CS offers extended distribution for free. With Ingram Spark, I’d have the $49 title set-up plus $12 per year listing fee. That means if I make $1.52 per book,  I’d have to sell 41 copies my first year to break even (with a profit of $1.32!). Those same 41 copies through CS would have netted me $48.79. Then I’d have to sell 8 copies each year to pay for keeping my book in Ingram’s catalog listings. The only advantage might be the possibility that a couple of libraries might pick up copies for their patrons.

Is it worth it? Well, how many books do I think I can sell? I’m fortunate that I have a niche audience via my blog, because with independent self-publishing, promotion and marketing fall entirely on the author. Figures vary quite a bit, but most self-published books are said to sell less than 200 copies in their lifetime, with most of those purchased by the author her or himself, family and friends. Since my niche is not a huge market,  what can I realistically expect?

Dear Reader, what would you do if you were me?

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2 Responses to Expanded Distribution: The Ins and Outs

  1. Garrett says:

    So. Many. Blogs…. 😉

    For my book, I chose to just use CreateSpace/Amazon. Of course, I am also publishing in ebook format, which might skew things a bit.

    Once my 6 month “exclusive” period with Amazon is over, I may look at D2D for more coverage, but for now, I’m satisfied with running through Amazon.

    As you have pointed out, all of the marketing and promotion falls to the author, and the minute you take your foot off the gas, the sales slow or even stop.

    One thing you didn’t mention in your math above is the amount of royalties you need to accrue before you start receiving the money from Amazon or CS or Ingram. Perhaps that doesn’t figure into the equation.

    (This is for ebooks, btw, which I know you’re not pursuing) I have sold literally two copies of my book (well, “books” now) in Canada. Those two sales count separate from my Amazon royalties based in the US, so at this pace I will literally never see a dime from the sales in those countries as I’ll need to sell hundreds of copies to make the threshold.

    Anyway, congratulations again on your book! Wish I’d have seen this blog earlier!


  2. Leigh says:

    Garrett, I’m a writer, what can I say. 😉

    Good point about being able to collect royalties. And I’m not sure what LSI’s guidelines are. I also understand it’s very different for ebooks. IngramSpark is not supposed to be good with royalties for those at all (although I didn’t pay attention to the exact figures). From what you’re saying, it seems like royalties for ebooks are pretty slim anyway(?). Another reason to hold out for books in print, LOL.

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