Printing at Lightning Source vs. Create Space—the differences are remarkable

Update: November 11, 2016 — Since I wrote this blog, I have posted a related item:

CreateSpace Or IngramSpark? POD Pros & Cons + Cost Comparison


 

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:diller_front_cover_email

  • 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.

 Other issues:

  • 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.

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About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.wigeonpublishing.com
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25 Responses to Printing at Lightning Source vs. Create Space—the differences are remarkable

  1. noewoman says:

    I will say this: I just published the first book in my series with LSI. While I find their turn-around time a bit slow, their customer service response was very good. I paid for a print proof copy and I’m glad I did (found a typo I hadn’t caught with the online proof). I showed that ARC to several gift shops and indie book stores (they already have it in ebook format because I did that thru Kobo) and all were very, very pleased with the quality. Lots of “this is really nice – who did you use?” comments. I’m doing my own fulfillment for print orders so I can include extras with the books.

  2. Penelope J. says:

    Glad you shared this assessment. No question, in print I prefer quality. However, as you mention, hand-holding may be more important for new writers.

  3. Bookstores don’t order from Amazon because they can’t get the 55% discount and the books are not returnable (these terms are choices with LSI). Even CS expanded distribution will not provide those terms. Many bookstores will take consignment, so authors who publish with CS do have that option, and sales of books on sites other than Amazon tend to be negligible anyway. CreateSpace does have its place in publishing, although I hate their off-white paper color and I can vouch their print quality is not as good as LSI’s. Not sure if Amazon is still showing LSI books as having 1-6 weeks availability time. Anybody know? Oh, and LSI sometimes offers discounts on setup fees, at least they did last time I used them.

    • Bookstores can order CS books through LSI and get the 55% discount, if the authors choose extended distribution. But Amazon takes another 5%, which raises the total discount to 60%, meaning the authors make even less $$$ than if they had used LSI in the first place.

      The bookstore owners I have heard from that don’t want CS/self-pub books is because of what they say is the generally inferior quality of writing and editing. I am judging the San Diego Book Awards again this year. I have read four novels so far, all self-published, and none of them are up to what I consider to be professional standards. I will address the issues in my next blog, but suffice to say the problems range from dreadful story structure to lackluster writing and editing to glaring grammatical errors to numerous typos, including on the cover itself. I.e., each of the four books had at least one typographical or spelling error on the back cover.

  4. noewoman says:

    I’ve decided to do my own fulfillment on print copies. I know it’s extra work, but I’m writing a series, and I want to include marketing materials on the rest of the series with each shipment. That means I register to “sell my stuff” on Amazon. I can always change my mind later (and I’ll probably employ my daughter to do the actual shipping tasks, anyway).

  5. Larry, I am glad you wrote this post. I know you from Gutsy Indie Publishers as well as Linda Austin, and you both offer great advice. I don’t know why I haven’t had problems with CS POD. I order 100 books from them at a time. They are cheaper than LSI and ship them much faster. Both CS and LSI have that “ugly bar code” that says I’m from CS or from LSI, however, I had one batch of CS books without any bar code, which surprised me. Indie bookstores take my books from LSI or CS on consignment and have never complained if they came from CS. So perhaps I’m lucky with CS so far when I order 100 at a time, or do you have another answer for me?
    Thanks, Sonia.

    • Sonia, if you’re having good luck with CS, then that’s great. I’m only reporting my experience. But as I said, the differences are quite dramatic, especially with images. The images in the CS book appear as if someone took a trowel and laid on a thin paste of mud on them.

      As for bookstores, I was not referring to consignment, but even then there’s a prominent bookstore in San Diego that will not take self-pub books, even on consignment. But authors/publishers cannot visit every bookstore and library in the country and ask to have their books placed on consignment. That’s what distributors like LS and Ingram are for. For me, that’s the primary reason to use LS. And now having seen the products side-by-side, it’s even more incentive to use with LS, even if the profit margin is a bit thinner. That’s not to say I’m going to withdraw the book from CS. But if I continue to get complaints about the quality, I will.

      • Larry, I’m a little confused about what you mean about the distribution process. Are you talking about someone ordering your book at an indie bookstore and because you’ve signed up with LSI, the book will be delivered to that store? This would not be the case if you had signed up with the CS extended distribution? Please let me know if this is what you mean. BTW, I could not find this post on GIP. Did it disappear?

      • Sonia, the post is still on GIP. You just have to scroll down the page a ways. I could repost if you think it’s worthwhile.

        Addressing your question: Yes, that’s what I mean, in part. Any bookstore could order the book through Ingram/Lightning Source, whether it’s for a special order or to place it in stock. In addition, B&N and other online retailers will list the book once they get the data from Ingram.

        With Amazon’s extended distribution, I suppose you could achieve the same result (unless CS is named as the publisher, which might cause some booksellers to balk). However, under the extended dist. program, Amazon discounts the price by 60%, which doesn’t leave the author much. The industry standard wholesale discount is 55 percent, which is the maximum discount by LSI. And because Amazon uses LSI as its distributor, the argument is, why not eliminate the middleman (Amazon), and deal directly with LSI?

        I acknowledge that some authors do not want to deal with LSI because of the cost and headaches involved, so they are willing to sacrifice the additional 5 percent to have Amazon take care of it for them. But the decision should be made from one of full knowledge of the process, players, and financial considerations. Only then can anyone weigh his/her options fully and make an informed decision.

  6. ggiammatteo says:

    Great post. I see authors confused all the time about who to go with for printing. I use CS for Amazon distribution only, and use LS for all else. I agree with you, the quality differences are clear. LS is far better quality. In fact, I just experienced the same thing you mentioned about the spine. I have a non-fiction book that is only 110 pages long. CS said they couldn’t guarantee consistency on the spine text, so they removed it. LS had no issues, and it looks great. IMO, LS does a far better job all the way around as far as quality goes. Thanks for posting this.

    • You’re welcome. Although I have tempered my thoughts a bit since I wrote that, and I need to update it. I still agree overall, but on the CS side of things, the customer service is far better than LSI, as is turnaround time, and the fact that file upload is free. In addition, the delays at LSI are becoming longer. I have complained and a cust. service rep. said, in essence, LSI is a victim of its own success and it needs to hire more staff. That’s supposed to be happening, but the jury is still out, IMHO.

      That said, LSI has distinct advantages over CS for serious writers/publishers who don’t want to restrict themselves to the CS/Amazon bubble. As you say, the spine is an issue. I published an 80-page book of poety, Home From the Banks, using LSI to print it, and the spine text came out just fine. CS wouldn’t touch it. I also have a hardbound edition coming out in a couple of weeks — Dare I Call It Murder?: A Memoir of Violent Loss — which CS cannot do. But turnaround on hardcover, I’m finding, is twice as long (at least) as for paperback, LSI’s promise of “lightning” speed on printing notwithstanding. However, indie publishers like us don’t have many options unless we’re willing to invest (gamble) a lot more money up front.

      #lightningsource #createspace #publishing

  7. root40 says:

    HI! Thank you for all the very helpful information. We are in the process of doing the LSI version of a book, having already used CS to print it. I have a question that I can’t seem to get answered clearly so far: Once a book is available through LSI, does Amazon list it twice on Amazon.com? If that is the case, how do they account for your ranking, etc.?
    Any knowledge you may have about this scenario would be greatly appreciated!
    And, for the record, we are pleased with the physical product we got from CS, but found there to be a LOT of issues going back and forth to get a relatively straightforward book formatted the way we wanted. Furthermore, they made many mistakes that they did fix, but each proof came back with weird typos that got incorporated via their process (not our manuscript), hence, taking even more time to get the book listed. End of the day, because of the problems, though, they gave us the InDesign files, which I was then able to use to upload to LSI (per their requirements). To CS’s credit, their customer service was VERY GOOD, and they took ownership for all the glitches and problems that were rightly theirs, while being patient with me, as well. So, to that end, I would recommend them IF someone is not under a time crunch.
    Based on your post, I am looking forward to seeing what the LSI product looks like.
    THANKS AGAIN!!

  8. Hi, thank you for the great discussion! I’m about to publish my first book, and had thought of using CreateSpace, but I’ve been reading about poor quality in the production of the books…..paper colour, glue showing and poor packaging of the books when shipped. LS sounds like a better option, but I’ve read that Amazon are slow at listing books printed by LS. Is this the case?

    Also, I’ve come across Blurb. Has anyone used them?

    Thanks!
    Gabrielle

  9. Debra Carr says:

    What a helpful thread for a ‘new-bee’ in publishing! I still have quite a bit to learn, however what I am finding is regardless of the concerns, there is consistency in the mindset of serious authors using LSI. I look forward to reading more on this blog.

  10. Lorna Reid says:

    I have a proof of my book from both Lightning Source and CreateSpace. While the print, paper, and cover quality are better (just) in the LS copy, there was, to my mind, a big issue: the book appeared warped or ‘wavy’. It was like it had been dropped in the bath and dried out. It looked ridiculous and I emailed customer service at LS, only to be told the alarming news that this was almost standard in POD books, due to the manufacturing process ands the levels of heat etc. that the papaer is subjected to, before then re-absorbing moisture from the atmosphere.

    As much as I appreciated their in-depth explanation, I was pretty gutted. To me, the LS book is not acceptable in that state. It looks silly. I believe that LS print CreateSpace’s books for them in the UK, which means that even the books that I sell through Amazon (for which I will be using CreateSpace) risk having that distinct wave.

    Has anyone else run into this problem? Is it as prolific as I’ve been led to believe?

    • Lorna,

      Thank you for raising this question. I have had many, many books printed by LS, and I have not seen this problem. I, too, find the explanation a bit dodgy. I have seen one bad print run from LS, and LS agreed the problem was with its printer and reprinted the entire run of books at no cost to me, other than the time lost. Keep in mind that LS and CreateSpace both operate dozens of printers, and each one could have slight variations depending on its age, state of maintenance, and how alert (or hungover) the operator is. That’s the one of the downsides of POD.

      Overall, I have found the quality from LS to be better than CreateSpace, but the differences are slight, and the reality is that LS prints some, but necessarily all, books from CS.

      For me, the key differences between LS and CS are financial, not print quality. I use both services to handle different sectors of the market. I am going to blog about that in greater detail in the near future — with any luck, next week.

      Larry

  11. dmeastman says:

    Larry,

    Thank you for this valuable resource. I am awaiting the LSI proof copy of my first children’s picture book. As a first-time author and publisher, the learning curve has been huge. I appreciate learning from seasoned authors!

    Thanks,
    Michelle

    • Michelle,

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you had a good experience with LSI.

      But I do need to update this because things have changed, and I am less enthusiastic about LSI and becoming more enamored with CreateSpace, especially when it comes to costs.

  12. chanakeefer says:

    I have been very pleased with the quality of my LS published book. Love the cover feel (yes, matte cover was one of my main reasons for going with LS rather than CS–no longer an issue since CS has matte). When my proof copy came from LS there was a slight misalignment on the spine that they fixed immediately. My entire run of books have been top-notch. However, now that I am looking toward the publishing of more books, I’ve been rethinking CS for the convenience factor since fulfilling orders from Amazon is time-consuming and expensive. Your post here has answered many questions. I’m not totally decided on future books but more information is definitely good.

    God bless,
    Chana Keefer
    (author of 2 bestselling/toprated Amazon books with a backlog of more chomping at the bit for their day in the sun)

  13. chanakeefer says:

    BTW, I found your post while researching book submission services like The Writer’s Edge Christian submission company. Can you direct me to reliable information about the effectiveness/legitimacy of The Writer’s Edge and submission services in general? I’m working on a memoir that definitely needs wide distribution. This aspect of the biz intimidates the hound out of me. Would love a big/reputable publisher to add clout and traction. Am I dreaming of a bygone era?

    • Sorry, but I don’t know anything about Writer’s Edge. I tend to be a do-it-yourselfer and recommend people use CreateSpace. But if you want more hand-holding (and are willing to pay for that), then maybe it would be worthwhile for you.

  14. John Lambert says:

    I currently have two projects with both LS and CS.
    LS is capable of producing a good product (I have two large 8.5″ x 11″ hardcover books in excess of 500 pages, one B&W and one Color). However they have proven to be inconsistent with their binding quality over a period of three years from shipment-to-shipment, and their shipping department all but assures damage to the books due to improper packaging, and UPS shipping abuse. I face constant frustration trying to get undamaged product delivered.
    Their customer service gives good lip service, but is substandard for a company of their size, and has proven ineffective handling my shipping issue..
    CS has two lower volume paperback book projects (both 8.5″ X 11″, one Color and one B&W).
    I have had good fast response from CS, and would switch my LS production over to CS if I could.
    CS has lower start up cost.
    Both companies have fast turnaround times from order to product on your doorstep. Both companies seem to have about equal print quality for my projects.
    Most of my issues with LS would disappear if they would fire their shipping department management, and hire someone that will address the issues, as then I might have less need to contact customer service about book damage from inept packaging!

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