21 June 2015

Createspace vs IngramSpark - How Do The Books Compare?

I have recently gone through the process of publishing my book with both Createspace and IngramSpark. Having my book in print is the fulfillment of a long-held dream, but it's certainly not without its challenges! There are so many decisions to make as you go through the process of converting an e-Book to a print one, but I think it's worth it :-)

The finished article
There is a lot of information already out there on why you might use both services, so I won't go into that into detail here. The main thing is that Ingram gives you better royalties on expanded distribution, as Createspace use them as a partner anyway so both end up clipping the ticket

The focus of this post is my experience with the end results so far.


The first decision you really need to make is which trim size to use (the physical height and width of the book). I agonised over this, measuring many, many books as I tried to decide what suited my genre, what is the nicest to hold, etc etc. I almost decided to go with one of the smaller sizes, but in the end I couldn't argue with economics. You are charged for printing your book by the page, and it doesn't matter how big those pages are. When you do the maths, it's really not feasible to distribute with the smaller sizes. I went with 6x9, even though it doesn't seem to be a standard size - most of them aren't in whole inches.

It was a little annoying that not all the trim sizes support cream paper for expanded distribution. You can really only choose from four sizes, and none of them matched most of the books on my shelf.

The next thing to do is download the Createspace template for your size. I used the one with content pre-populated to get a feel for how to lay things out, and I originally thought I would stick with their font (Garamond). I then spent weeks playing around with different fonts and font sizes, assessing each for readability as against increasing page count. Days were spent on margin and gutter sizes... hopefully I'm not the only one to struggle with this! I spent a lot of time on the back cover too, editing and formatting the text and deciding on colours. Hopefully the finished result is professional-looking.

Createspace rejected my files for a few reasons - I had to figure out how to embed the fonts properly using a PDF printer, and I ended up embedding my title font as an image. Ingram accepted my files straight away (I'd already jumped through all the hoops I suppose).

I was able to use my files for Createspace with Ingram, with a few tweaks. I would definitely recommend doing your formatting for Createspace first, as you can make changes for free once you've uploaded - but with Ingram it's US$25 per change. I used the same interior file for both, and the cover just needed the spine width tweaked and to be put on the IngramSpark template. The Createspace one wants the image in the centre and bottom of the page, while Ingram wants it top right. Go figure. Createspace also allows a RGB file, while Ingram will only accept CMYK (I had to borrow another edition of Photoshop to make the conversion). I did like the fact that Ingram gave you a complete PDF proof.

The main hiccup I had with Ingram was with the spine width. I used their template creator, but the width increased after the final proof, as they put in two extra blank pages at the back. In my haste to get the thing live finally I approved it, but I regret that decision. I should have revised my cover, and I probably will (once I decide if I want to make any further tweaks). Just note that if your book doesn't end on an odd page number, they will add in two extra pages (1 leaf) for the barcode etc, and it will put your spine out on the back cover side by 0.1mm. This doesn't seem like a lot but it does show on the final book. Strangely, while Createspace also adds a page their spine width was still perfect. I suppose their templates must allow for this.

Overall, the Createspace process is easier to follow and they allow changes for free.

The Physical Books - Colours and spines

I received my Ingram books first - their shipping is faster and cheaper. I got my books from the Australian printing facility. While the thrill of having a physical copy of my book for the first time was undeniable, it wasn't 100% perfect. The spine issue I mentioned above was apparent.

What's funny is that the spine colour has intruded onto the front cover image, and it's approximately the same amount of colour from the back cover on the spine. So I'm not sure whether the pages they added have actually made a difference, or whether the whole thing is in fact just wrapped too far towards the front cover. 
IngramSpark front cover detail - note the brown colour from the spine is wrapping around to the front.
Here's how the recommended spine widths compare to the actual books.

Createspace template spine: 0.69in (17.53mm)
Actual spine: 17mm

IngramSpark template spine: 0.627in (15.92mm)
Proof spine: 0.631in (16.03mm)
Actual spine: Just under 16mm
CS cover on the left, IS on the right. Note the colour variations.
The cover colour differs significantly between the two editions (to my eye). It may be due to the RGB/CMYK difference. The Createspace colours are darker. While it does make my vicar's coat disappear into the background a little, I think I prefer the darker spine. It looks richer to me. Looking at them side by side, it seems the lighter parts are lighter with the CS version as well - like Cecilia's face. So the overall contrast is more noticeable. I'm still a bit undecided which is better.

CS spine on the left, IS on the right (showing the back cover colour intruding). Colour difference is obvious. 
As the Createspace spine looks perfect, this whole thing just leaves a sour taste in my mouth about the Ingram books. Even though everything else is fine and they are a bit cheaper to print for me, I would prefer to use and sell the Createspace books.

Paper and Type

I was a little wary of choosing the cream paper in each instance as some websites say it can be very yellow. But don't worry - both are fine; I think it looks great. The Createspace pages are perhaps slightly yellower than Ingram, but nothing to worry about.

CS interior on the left, IS on the right.
Createspace's paper stock is slightly heavier which gives it a nice feel but the difference is barely noticeable. This does mean the spine is 1mm thicker.

The type is slightly heavier in the Ingram version, which I prefer.

Paper and Type - IngramSpark wins, but only just.

Customer Service

I have had to contact Ingram about a few issues (such as the final spine template differing from the automated one). The main thing I have had trouble with is the publisher/imprint name. There is no place to put your own one in, they just use your real name. You can request a different imprint when you publish, but they seemed to ignore it. I tried to do it twice through the system, and emailed them three times about it before they finally took action. Their emails are always brief and sometimes I don't understand the full implications of what they are saying. Although they say they have now resolved the issue, the imprint is still wrong on all the retailer websites. Apparently it can take 6-8 weeks to filter through. Very frustrating.

I didn't need to talk to Createspace until after I received my first copies. Two of the three had damaged spines when they arrived. I had hoped to give these copies to a local bookshop but was forced to substitute the Ingram copies instead. I then emailed Createspace about it, and they promptly got back to me with a very courteous email saying they would replace the copies. Great customer service.

Customer Service - Createspace wins


I haven't used Createspace for expanded distribution so I can't make a comparison. Apart from the issue with the imprint name (still wrong), I was impressed with IngramSpark's offering. They offer a range of discount options and a flexible returns policy, and although their website states that online retailers may not sell the book until 2-3 months from the first upload, mine started popping up on the big retailers (e.g. Barnes and Noble) in only 1-2 weeks.

A quick note on the discounts and returns - after much research, I decided to maximise my returns from the online retailers rather than attempting to go after the big guns (i.e. Walmart etc) with high discounts and returns. Many websites state that it's nearly impossible for indies to get in there anyway, and if they return your books it could cripple you (you need to pay the full retail price for returns, and you've only made a tiny royalty). I went for the 40% discount without returns, and was satisfied to see my book appearing for sale on all the major websites.

Sales Reporting

It's hard to know when Ingram shows you your sales, and very little information on how to use and read their reports. Createspace is great - it updates a monthly tally when a sale goes through. While you don't get the little graph like you do with KDP, you do get your royalty balance updated in each of the three currencies they support. With Ingram I am going to wait until after the first full month and then try to figure out the numbers.

Sales Reporting - Createspace wins, so far

In Summary

Createspace is the winner in most areas, except their shipping is very expensive and/or slow for those not in the US. I would use them solely if it were not for the terrible royalties for expanded distribution.