Which is right for your book?

Picking the right printer and distribution option for your book can be a confusing journey. Searching the web for answers will result in an overload of information and conflicting answers. Some people swear by Lightning Source, others speak highly of CreateSpace. And just when you think you have things sorted out, IngramSpark comes along and adds another load of information to process.

One reason for all of the conflicting answers is there is no “one-size-fits-all” method to self-publishing. What method one author uses may not be the best choice for self-publishing your book.

Before you think about your printing and distribution choices, think about your current and future goals, and what success means to you. Having a clear definition of those things will help you make the right choices to meet them down the road.

In this article I will take a close look at Lightning Source, CreateSpace, and IngramSpark and let you make an informed decision on which path suits your needs.


*Update: Since the writing of this article, Lightning Source has stopped accepting self-publishing authors into their system and is directing them to IngramSpark instead, CreateSpace dropped its setup fee for Expanded Distribution, and IngramSpark has announced that they are now letting you choose between a 30% and 55% wholesale discount option.

View a webinar Kimberly Martin of Jera Publishing presented titled “CreateSpace or IngramSpark, What is the Right Choice For Your Book” in September of 2014.

Lightning Source, CreateSpace, and Ingram Spark are all print on demand (POD) printers that also offer distribution services to self-publishing authors. That means that in addition to being able to print your book, they can also distribute your book to a book wholesaler, such as Ingram, who will then make your book available to Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, as well as other book retailers, both online and off.

Lightning Source and IngramSpark are both owned by Ingram, which is one of the largest book wholesalers. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon. CreateSpace offers two choices for distribution, Standard and Expanded. The Standard option will get your book listed on Amazon only. The Expanded option will get your book distributed to Ingram.

Lightning Source and IngamSpark offer more binding types than CreateSpace, such as hardcover and saddle stich, while CreateSpace offers only perfect binding. Both offer color printing, but Lightning Source also offers a budget color option they call Standard Color.

Costs and Pricing

Profit per Book Sold

To calculate how much profit you will make on each book you sell you need to know the list price of your book, the wholesale discount you are offering, and the printing cost of the book. The retail list price of your book is the price it will be sold to the consumer. The wholesale discount is the discount off the retail list price of the book that you offer to the wholesaler (or retailer).

The formula is as follows:

List Price

– Wholesale Discount

– Printing costs

= Profit per Book Sold



$10.00 (list price)

– 50% (discount)

– $2.00 (printing cost)

= $3.00 (profit)


Crunch the Numbers

Let’s crunch the numbers and find out how much you can make when using Lightning Source, CreateSpace, and IngramSpark.


The fees shown below are based on a 6 x 9, black and white, perfect bound book.

Lightning Source IngramSpark CreateSpace
Cost per book $.90 $.90 $.85 $.85
Cost per page $.013 $.013 $.012 $.012
Setup fee $75.00 $49.00 $25.00
Yearly fee $12.00 $12.00
Wholesale discount 20%-100% 55% 40% 60%


The Breakdown

Let’s run some numbers for an average book:

  • 6 x 9
  • 250 pages
  • black and white
  • perfect bound

We are also going to assume that the author invested $1,500 in getting the book published, and expects to sell 50 books per month. For LightningSource, we will set the wholesale discount at 25%.

Here is how the numbers look after running the calculations:

  Lightning Source IngramSpark CreateSpace
printing cost per book $4.15 $4.15 $3.85 $3.85
gross profit per book sold $3.342 $0.345 $2.144 $0.146
gross profit per 500 books $1,671.25 $172.75 $1,072 $73.00
1st year ROI** $430.50 -$1,341.70 -$213.60 -$1,437.40
book sales to break even 471 4,483 700 10,445

* Numbers have been rounded, and were valid at the time this article written.

** ROI: Return on Investment, the amount made in this example after the first 12 months (12 months profits – investment)


“Wait, what is going on here? Why do you show me making so much more with Lightning Source when their printing costs are more?”

It all comes down to that wholesale discount we discussed.

CreateSpace Standard distribution requires you to set a wholesale discount of 40%. CreateSpace Expanded distribution requires you to set it at 60%, IngramSpark requires 55%. But LightningSource lets you choose between a 20% and 100% wholesale discount for your book. A low discount such as this is often referred to as a short discount. I suggest setting it at 25% (which is what the numbers reflect in the chart above) as that seems to be the magic number in getting your books listed on online retailers.

“But, if I set my wholesale discount to 25%, doesn’t that mean that I can’t get my book on the shelves at bookstores?”

This is correct. But even if you set your wholesale discount to 55%, which is considered a standard trade discount, you are not likely to see your book for sale on the shelves at Barnes and Noble or other large book retailers. The majority of brick and mortar chains will refuse to carry a self-published, or POD title, regardless of the wholesale discount offered. Your best bet in getting your book on the shelves is to establish a relationship with your local bookstores and sell your book directly to them on consignment.

Even if you got your book on the shelf at some bookstores, most of your sales will probably come from Amazon.com or other online retailers. Is it worthwhile to you to give up the profit on all of the sales through online retailers in the off-chance that Barnes and Noble may decide to sell your book in their retail stores?  That is a question you must consider and answer yourself. You can change your wholesale discount for your book at any time with Lightning Source. So if you change your mind later, you are not locked in to your original choice.


“After looking at these numbers, why would someone ever want to go with CreateSpace or IngramSpark instead of Lightning Source?”

Think back to your goals and definition of success I mentioned at the beginning of this article. What are your goals? Your answer will help you determine the right method to choose for your book. Both Lightning Source and Ingram Spark require that you own your own ISBNs, which is an additional cost. You should also set up a business structure when going this route, which has its own fees and legal red tape to go through. With CreateSpace creating an account is much easier, you can have them assign one of their own ISBNs, and you can choose to skip setting up a business and just publish under your own name.

Crunch Your Own Numbers

Want to crunch your own numbers? Use our online Book Profit Calculator to calculate your own book’s potential profit. You can find our calculator at:


Enter in your data and see how much you can make on your book. Try out different list prices to see how raising or lowering the price affects the bottom line. Remember, don’t get greedy! While raising the price of your book will make your numbers look great on paper, in reality, having your book priced too high will result in lower sales and less money made overall.

Kimberly Martin

Kimberly Martin

Self-publishing specialist with over 15 years of experience, speaker, and coach. In my spare time, I can be found reading, hiking, taking photographs, riding my motorcycle, spoiling my three rescue cats, and decorating the Jera office with my collection of vintage typewriters.
Kimberly Martin
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