Update: November 11, 2016 — Since I wrote this blog, I have posted a related item:
I just received copies of Robin Skone-Palmer’s Beyond the Spotlight: On the Road With Phyllis Diller (Wigeon Publishing, April 1, 2013), which I had printed at both Lightning Source and CreateSpace. Identical cover and interior files were sent to both companies. But what a difference in product quality:
- Cover—colors in CS book a bit washed out, with loss of fine detail
- Binding—CS book a bit ragged with obvious bulge near the spine and knife marks on the edges, the pages are not even, and the glue is brownish and catches the eye; LSI has tight binding and looks professional
- Paper (creme)—CS paper thicker (clunkier), making for a thicker, weightier book, increasing cost of shipping; also more yellowish, as if its been lying in the sun
- Print quality, text—in LSI book, the ink is heavier and darker, some might say too dark, but a smaller font could be used, which would also reduce the page count
- Images—in CS a bit fuzzy and dark not as sharp and clear as in the LSI book
Upshot: in terms of printing, LSI wins, hands down, based on this comparison.
Can one conclude that LSI, at a slightly higher printing cost, is in fact a better value? In my mind, yes. But as a publisher, there are other factors besides printing to consider, not the least of which are printing options, customer service, and profit margin.
- Printing options—Wigeon Publishing’s first book, Home from the Banks, could not be printed by CS. Because of the low page count, CS said it could not place text on the spine. LSI? No problem; CS does not print hardcover books.
- Bulk orders—LSI discounts bulk orders by as much as 45 percent, beginning with a minimum order of 50 books, and does not charge sales tax (treated as a B2B wholesale transaction). CS does not offer a discount and charges sales tax of 8.1%. (There may be no set-up fee, but there is no free lunch.)
- Set-up fee—LSI charges $75 (cover: $37.50 + interior: $37.50) to set up a book for printing, and charges $40 for resubmissions. (I suspect this is done to weed out those who are more interested in seeing their books in print than in making a business out of it.) CS charges no set-up fee or resubmission fee. However, members of the Independent Book Publishers Assn. (I am), receive a 50% discount on the LSI set-up fee.
- Set-up—CS turns around a submission in a matter of hours, LSI takes three business days. Big nod to CS on this count.
- Distribution—CS, in effect, limits wholesale distribution to Amazon, thus limiting the market for the book. Yes, CS offers extended distribution, but discounts the books 60% and distributes the books through Lightning Source. LSI uses the industry standard 55% discount and gives you a direct line to retailers and libraries through its parent, Ingram Content Group.
- Customer service—can LSI be a pain to deal with? Yes. Is the LSI website difficult to comprehend and navigate? Yes. Is LSI at times slow to respond to queries? Yes. Does LSI offer instant phone support like CS does? No.
In essence, CS offers more hand holding, which is probably required because it deals primarily with folks who know little or nothing about the publishing business. But I refer you back to Bulk Orders. There is no free lunch. And, in my experience, when printing issues have surfaced, LSI has responded with specific information so the problem could be corrected.
Does this quell the debate of LSI vs. CS? No, because books printed by CS and sold by Amazon return a higher profit margin (it’s not a “royalty,” I don’t care what CS calls it), so there is a sound financial reason to use CS, at least at first glance. And, hey, the folks buying books from Amazon can’t actually pick up the book and examine them, so what’s the big deal?
For me, the big deal is bookstore owners, especially the indies, who expect to place on their shelves a high-quality, professional-looking product. Some booksellers have said publicly that they refuse to stock books from CS (yes, it has more to do with the content than the printing, but the LSI books don’t look “POD,” where it could be argued that the CS books do). I want the best looking (as well as best reading) book possible in the hands of the booksellers and the readers browsing their shops.
So, what say you? I’d like hear from others who have similar experiences, comparing LSI and CS, and what factors influenced your decisions.