As many of you already know, we were unbelievably excited to finally release our book, When the Rain Falls, this past week. It was so amazing to be able to share our work with the world. Since then, I’ve been thinking over the experience and decided for this post I would talk about the age-old debate:
Ingram Spark, Amazon KDP, or some other distributor?
A lot of people have shared their various experiences about this, but there were a few key things that were missed which I think might help people to decide. We chose to do a mix—IngramSpark for paperback only, KDP for both paperback and ebook, and we also manage several other vendors separately, namely Barnes and Noble, Google, Kobo and Apple. And, we added Draft2Digital into the mix which further enhanced our ability to extend our reach as widely as possible. Phew, I know. A lot to manage. But let me explain why we did it this way.
Firstly, let’s look at Amazon. Many people choose to go exclusive with Amazon through the program KDP Select, which enrolls your books in Kindle Unlimited. The pros of this are because it’s based on a subscription model, you get paid for ebooks depending on how many people download and read your ebook (based on pages read). Asides from the monthly subscription fee, it removes the cost barrier for the customer so they’re more willing to take a risk with an author they don’t know. But to be in this, you have to be exclusive to Amazon, and you significantly narrow your distribution channels. Considering most of our customers are in New Zealand, and Amazon don’t have a store in New Zealand, this would be a barrier to marketing our book successfully in New Zealand. Plus, I had an inkling and did a little bit of research to confirm that many teens probably don’t have access to KDP Unlimited—they’re more likely to buy an ebook outright than subscribe to a service. KDP Select tends to work well for romance authors, because the customer base is primarily adult women (reportedly, anyway).
But, as a major giant, Amazon is obviously not a marketplace to be ignored. You can still choose to market through Amazon but leave the KDP ‘Select’ box unticked. You miss out on having a built-in audience, but it’s a fair option if you want to market widely, so this was one of the methods we used. KDP was an easy platform to set everything up and I had minimal issues. Possibly the only difficulty is that you cannot put a release date on a print book—you have to estimate how long it takes for Amazon to approve it for sale in order to time it with your chosen ‘release’ day. Amazon says up to 72 hours, but it’s more like 12-24 hours on average. And expanded distribution? I didn’t investigate it too much, but my instincts say to forget about it—most bookshops and libraries don’t use Amazon to purchase from because they don’t want to give Amazon any more power than it already has. Fair call.
Which brings us to…
We looked into having Ingram distribute both paperback and ebook, and decided to use it only for paperback. Here’s why. When you list ebooks with Ingram, although you can opt out of Apple and Amazon and publish direct to these vendors, you have limited control over the rest of your ebook distribution channels. For ebooks, you as the author only get 40% royalties versus other vendors which often offer around 60-70%. I assume this is because Ingram still has to pay the vendors it distributes to as well as taking its own cut. Using IngramSpark is like adding another middleman, which is why it’s wiser to manage as many vendors as possible directly without going through a third party. Not to mention, you can’t change the price between one vendor and another: you stick in your pricing preferences and it populates this price over all your ebooks. Why is this important? Some stores you have flexibility to price higher. You want your price to look like it fits—not for it to be too cheap, or worse, too expensive.
So why use it for paperback? IngramSpark is the Print on Demand branch of Lightning Source—a major distributor to bookstores. Not to mention it also gets you into popular distributors like Wheelers, which is a major player for libraries getting hold of your book. We already managed to sell a copy to a library in NZ thanks to Ingram making our book easily accessible to these catalogues. The downside is that to distribute in stores you generally have to select a ‘wholesale discount’. It’s suggested to offer a wholesale discount of at least 40%, but ideally 55% (because the stores need to make money, too, and they won’t buy it if there’s not a significant discount). This means you have to price your book higher than on Amazon, because otherwise you would be making a loss. Only what Ingram doesn’t tell you is that it applies the wholesale discount across every single sale you make. So, say you decide to distribute your print book from only IngramSpark, and you allow IngramSpark to distribute to Amazon. IngramSpark takes it’s printing and handling fee, and I’m assuming since Amazon is the one cataloguing the product, they get it at wholesale price. The customer pays the full retail price you list through IngramSpark. See what I mean about creating an extra middleman? One thing is for sure, we’re getting the smallest fraction. By the time you minus off Ingram’s printing and handling costs, and the wholesale discount we’re lucky to be left with a measly dollar. Not what you would call a get rich quick scheme. I think of paperback more of a way to increase visibility. The more people who see your paperback, whether it be in stores or in libraries, or even in someone’s home, the more people are going to buy it. Eventually, it adds up. But there’s no denying it’s your ebook sales that will earn you the most royalties.
One thing to note for paperback on Ingram, is that it self-populates automatically to all Ingram’s distribution partners, including Amazon. So, what happens when your paperback is on both Amazon and Ingram? Once you’ve published to Amazon, Amazon will automatically merge the two paperbacks as one product on their site, so long as you are using the same ISBN. And, it will typically display the lowest price which, nine times out of ten, turns out to be theirs. This is obviously great for your customers, but also great for you, since you will likely get more royalties through Amazon KDP than through Ingram.
As for usability, IngramSpark is extremely fussy with file uploads. So, make sure you read through their directions thoroughly before spending your $49 USD to upload. I have a bit of a hawk-eye when it comes to the fine details, so we managed this all right. But even so, the one snag I hit was uploading the interior PDF. Even though the PDF was black and white, the CMYK color profiles were embedded in our file, and I had to download Adobe Acrobat Pro version (I just used the trial) to convert the file to grayscale. Bit of a pain considering I didn’t have this issue with KDP.
I’ve already talked a bit about why it’s good to target as many vendors directly as you can. Unfortunately, there’s only so many platforms one person can manage before things start spiraling out of control. My tip is to hit as many of the major ones as possible, and then use a service like Draft2Digital to distribute to the ones that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. Why Draft2Digital? We liked the distribution partners they listed, plus it gave us the opportunity to select which stores to distribute to and exclude the ones we were already listed with. It’s interesting to note Draft2Digital is also beginning to offer print as well. Though, I would be cautious until there’re reports on how well this is doing and to explore limitations. As an alternative for ebook distribution, Smashwords provides a similar service.
So, that’s my assessment so far. What are your thoughts on the self-publishing industry? If you’ve published through any of these channels, let us know your experience in the comments.