CreateSpace Or IngramSpark? POD Pros & Cons + Cost Comparison

I hear a lot of chatter (often uninformed or misinformed) about POD (print on demand) services being offered to self-publishing/independent authors by a growing number of service providers.





Ultimately, the author contemplating self-/indie publishing wants to know:

  • Which one is best?
  • Which one is the best fit for me?
  • Which one will give me the best ROI (return on investment); i.e., make me the most money?

This blog provides a quick overview in response to these questions.

Why am I an authority? I have been a POD publishing consultant since 2007, back when Lightning Source (a division of Ingram Book Company) was the go-to outfit for savvy indie authors. (Even the Big Five in New York use Lightning Source when they need a quick turnaround for printing a hot seller.)

I later formed Wigeon Publishing and continued to use LSI because it offered the best pricing, options, and ROI. Even when Amazon’s CreateSpace (formerly On Demand Publishing) muscled into this arena, I continued to recommend Lightning Source to the authors I worked with (due to the quality of printing and lower pricing) over any other service.

However, things have changed, Lightning Source-parent Ingram created IngramSpark (reduced the set-up fee but increased the printing cost) to go head-to-head with CreateSpace. After a close examination of the options, I have been recommending CreateSpace as the first and best choice for self-published/independent authors using POD, followed by IngramSpark as the second option. In some cases, using a combination of both services offers a broader range of trim sizes, formats, and distribution options for authors.

I know some authors want it simple: a one-stop-shop. That’s fine. But just remember, there is no free lunch, the hyperbole notwithstanding. I do NOT recommend any of the other publishing services (except one, see below under Bottom Line), primarily because they offer abysmal ROI and hidden costs, and they use hard-sell tactics to convince naïve authors to purchase expensive packages while making unrealistic promises with regard to distribution, marketing, and so-called “royalties.” Horror stories abound.

Below I detail the pros & cons of CreateSpace and IngramSpark, and I compare the costs involved and the financial return (publisher compensation) for the  self-pub author.

Note: The prices quoted below are subject to change in 2017, but the relative differences between CS and IS are likely to remain about the same. The figures cited below do not include handling or shipping fees, or sales tax. Printer layouts require the page count to be a multiple of 2; remember to include pages for title, copyright, acknowledgments, dedication, author profile, etc.



  • You can be the publisher, or you can designate CS as the publisher (not recommended).
  • Author can provide own ISBN and imprint (recommended).
  • No set-up fee, if author supplies interior and cover layouts (2 PDF files).
  • No annual fee.
  • Author may buy copies of book for the cost of printing.
  • Sell directly to Amazon (40 percent discount), eliminating the distributor/middleman; (i.e., you make more money).
  • Expanded distribution (beyond Amazon) through Lightning Source.
  • Reasonable shipping costs — CreateSpace shipping costs are markedly lower than IngramSpark
  • Excellent customer service.
  • Pays author/publisher 60 days after sale (IngramSpark pays after 90 days).


  • Format limited to paperback books; does not offer hardback options.
  • Book must have at least 128 pages to have title printed on the spine.
  • Expanded distribution through Lightning Source/Ingram, resulting in price discounted by 60% (standard industry wholesale discount is 55%), making margins thin, at best; i.e., if your retail price is not high enough to generate even a tiny profit, CS will not let you use this option.
  • Does not allow returns (one of the reasons bookstores refuse to stock books printed/published through CreateSpace).
  • No discounts for bulk purchases.
  • Charges sales tax whether author/publisher has a resale certificate or not.

Fixed Charges (base price, no quantity discounts)

  • Paperback book (6×9), 110-828 pages   $0.85 per book, plus $0.012 per page
    Total, 250-page book               $3.85

Sales revenue (it is NOT a royalty if you are the publisher):

  • Trade paperback, $14.95 retail price
    You get:
    eStore – $8.11
    Amazon – $5.12
    Expanded Distribution – $2.13

Optional services:

  • editing — $0.012/word (75,000 words = $900)
  • cover design
    • support          $  99 (to make file meet submission requirements)
    • custom           $399
    • premier          $599
  • interior design
    • support          $149 (to make file meet submission requirements)
    • simple            $199
    • custom          $349
  • Kindle file conversion
    • basic              $  79
    • complex         $139
    • kids’ book      $149

(Note: prices as of January 2016; Price Calculator.)


ingramspark_logo2xIngramSpark (Lightning Source lite)

 With IngramSpark, you are the publisher. You own all the rights, you keep 100% of the profit. IngramSpark (spinoff of Lightning Source) is owned by Ingram Book Company, the powerhouse book wholesaler/distributor, and the book is immediately available to retailers worldwide. (Lightning Source also offers offset printing for large orders, which can reduce printing costs.) Compared to CreateSpace, IngramSpark offers much less hand-holding and customer service has longer response times.


  • You are the publisher (IS is a book printing service, not a book publisher).
  • Offers two hardback options: case laminate and cloth with dust jacket.
  • Will print title on the spine of books with as few as 80 pages.
  • Wide range of trim sizes and format options.
  • Author may buy copies of book for the cost of printing.
  • Distribution through industry powerhouse Ingram to retailers and libraries.
  • Discounts for bulk purchases.
  • Does not charge sales tax if author/publisher has a resale certificate.
  • Author may include book in Ingram catalog ($60 fee).
  • Allows returns (one of the requirements of bookstores to stock a book), but will assess a hefty penalty/fee for returned books. The author/publisher has the option of accepting returns and have the book destroyed, in which case the return fee will not be assessed, but the author/publisher still pays for the cost of printing the book.


  • Set-up fees (and revision fees).
  • Annual fee.
  • Author must provide print-ready cover and interior layouts (PDF files).
  • Author must provide ISBN.
  • Does not offer editing or design services, although it does have “Friends” that it will refer authors to upon request.
  • Distribution through Ingram, inserting a middleman that takes an additional 15% off the top (standard industry discount of 55%; you can choose a smaller discount, but bookstores are unlikely to stock it because it reduces the profit margin).
  • Shipping costs are markedly higher than CreateSpace.
  • Customer service lackluster at best, and can be frustrating.
  • Pays author/publisher 90 days after sale (CreateSpace pays after 60 days).

 Fees and printing charges:

  • Setup:             $49 (for each edition, softcover/hardcover;
    revisions $25 per interior or cover file)
  • Annual:         $12

 Fixed Charges (base price, quantity discounts available)

  • Paperback book (6×9)             $0.99 per book, plus ~$0.0144/page
    Total, 250 pages                       $4.60 per book (discount for large orders)
  • Casebound  (6×9)                     $6.60 per book, plus ~$0.0122 per page
    Total, 250 pages                       $9.65 per book (discount for bulk purchases)
  • Cloth bound w/dust jacket (6×9) $8.31 per book, plus ~$0.0115 per page
    Total, 250 pages                       $11.19 per book (discount for large orders)

Sales revenue (publisher compensation) = 100% of net receipts (55% wholesale discount to distributor):

  • Trade paperback (6×9), $14.95 retail price
    You get:                             $2.13
  • Casebound (6×9), $24.95 retail price
    You get:                             $1.58
  • Cloth cover w/dust jacket (6×9), $28.95 retail price
    You get:                             $1.84

IngramSpark periodically has a special offer: free setup w/order of 50 or more books.

Optional services:     Ebook conversion        contact for pricing

(Note: prices as of February 2016; Publisher Compensation Calculator quotes a slightly lower printing cost than the published Products & Services Pricing.)

ROI comparison, Create Space versus IngramSpark

This comparison assumes the project is DIY (do it yourself) for a 250-page trade paperback book, trim size 6×9, retail price: $14.95:

Books sold by Amazon (likely to be 90% or more of your retail sales)

Setup Fee      Annual Fee    Cost/Bk         You get (profit)

Create Space     $00                $00              $3.85              $5.12
IngramSpark     $49               $12               $4.60              $2.13 (minus % of fees)

Books sold on the open market (bookstores)

Setup Fee      Annual Fee    Cost/Bk         You get (profit)

Create Space    $0.00             $0.00            $3.85             $2.13
IngramSpark     $49                $12                $4.60             $2.13  (minus % of fees)

Advantages of CreateSpace

  • Distribution directly to Amazon at 40% off list price.
  • No set-up fee (if you provide your own interior and cover layouts).
  • No annual fee.
  • Printing and shipping costs lower than IngramSpark.
  • Significantly higher sales revenue for books sold through Amazon.
  • Customer service markedly better than IngramSpark.

Advantages of IngramSpark

  • Distribution through Ingram; opens market to virtually all bookstores and libraries.
  • Printing quality may be better than Amazon (subjective judgment).
  • Offers hardcover books (CS does not).
  • Offers more trim (physical size) options than CS.
  • Direct access to Espresso Book Machine (being installed by Barnes & Noble).

Bottom Line

For the newbie book publisher, begin with CreateSpace and use the Extended Distribution option. If you want a hardback edition or better broad-market distribution, add IngramSpark. You can use both of them simultaneously, same ISBN for paperback, separate ISBN for hardback. I do not recommend any other POD publishing service, other than Mill City Press.

Additional Resources

To learn more, or for a cost estimate on preparing/managing your book for publication, contact:

Larry Edwards

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 -- -- --
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4 Responses to CreateSpace Or IngramSpark? POD Pros & Cons + Cost Comparison

  1. Pingback: Printing at Lightning Source vs. Create Space—the differences are remarkable | Polishing Your Prose

  2. Reblogged this on San Diego Writers/Editors Guild and commented:
    SDW/EG member, author, editor, and publisher, Larry Edwards, compares CreateSpace and IngramSpark.

  3. Clark Shelton says:

    Hi! Found this post. Does Ingram Spark still charge $12 per year or have they dropped that? It’s hard to get a straight answer out of them. Thank you!

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