?

Log in

No account? Create an account

POD self-publishing options: Lulu vs. CreateSpace vs. Lightning Source

« previous entry | next entry »
Jun. 11th, 2009 | 09:36 pm

As an antidote to a really discouraging day struggling with InDesign, I've decided to put together a guide to the most popular print-on-demand services used by self-publishers. At least two of you folks here might be interested by this information. :)

(Those of you who are knowledgeable, please correct any mistakes I've made.)

Currently, the Big Three are Lulu, CreateSpace, and Lightning Source. All three services take care of printing and distributing books for self-publishers, for fees that range from moderate to zero. All three are recommended frequently enough to suggest that they're reasonably satisfactory services. I've only used Lulu myself, but I've hung out at forums where CreateSpace and Lightning Source self-publishers post.

LULU

Lulu's overview and Lulu's FAQ.

Types of services: Lulu is divided into three services: Basic Distribution (in which the books are distributed only at Lulu's Website; this service is free), Published By Lulu (in which the books are distributed at Amazon.com, with Lulu as the publisher on record), and Published By You (in which the books are distributed in a variety of places, with the self-publisher as the publisher on record). In most cases (though not all), CreateSpace offers better profits than Published By Lulu and Published By You. However, CreateSpace only distributes to Amazon.com, so Published By You is an option for self-publishers who want to be distributed widely but don't want to deal with Lightning Source.

The remainder of this entry is about Lulu Basic, the free Lulu plan that provides the most profits to the self-publisher.

Extent of distribution: Lulu e-store only. In other words, people are unlikely to stumble across your books while looking for something else; you will have to do more extensive marketing to readers than if you chose other services. (Lulu seems to be changing this at the moment by allowing its Basic books to be sold through Amazon Marketplace, but that information isn't yet available in their Help menu.)

Friendly to international customers? Yes and no. Lulu has several printers around the world, but anyone living outside those countries may need to pay hefty shipping fees.

Customer support: Primarily through Lulu's very active forums, though one-on-one support is available too.

Minimum level of technical expertise needed: Beginner. Lulu offers the option of cover templates and automated translation into PDF. On the other hand, if you're an expert, Lulu will let you do everything from scratch. Its publishing process is simple.

Fees: There is no set-up fee for the Basic plan. Lulu takes twenty percent of the profit from every book sold. Its printing fees are higher than that of the other services.

Profit per book: Moderate, under the Basic plan.

ISBN needed? Since the books are only sold at Lulu, an ISBN isn't needed, unless you're selling the books through another self-publishing service too. That lack of an ISBN can save you a lot of money, and you can still be listed at Lulu as the publisher on record.

Pros and cons: Everyone agrees that Lulu is the ideal service for very small distribution - say, if you're likely to sell your book to under a hundred readers. It's also great for creating review copies.

However, Lulu Basic won't get your book onto the sites of online booksellers (except, maybe, Amazon Marketplace, depending on how that experiment goes), and the other two Lulu distribution plans cost so much per book that you'll have to price your book uncompetitively high, in most cases. However, if you're not interested in big sales, or if you're a total neophyte and don't want to spend a lot of time learning how to publish, Lulu is a good choice.

CREATESPACE

CreateSpace's overview and CreateSpace's FAQ.

Types of services: CreateSpace (which is owned by Amazon) offers a free Standard service and a $39 Pro plan. You get higher profits through the Pro plan. The remainder of this entry is about CreateSpace's Pro plan.

Extent of distribution: Through CreateSpace's e-store. Optionally, you can be listed at Amazon.com. The option of being listed at international Amazon sites is not offered.

Friendly to international customers? No. Books are only printed in the U.S. That's fine if Americans are your target audience, but not so great if your customers are paying to get a book shipped to Australia.

Customer support: Primarily through CreateSpace's reasonably helpful forums. You can also e-mail CreateSpace's customer service, but I'm hearing nasty reports about how responsive they are.

Minimum level of technical expertise needed: Moderate. CreateSpace offers the option of cover templates, but offers no help on the layout of the text; it advises total neophytes to use BookSurge, which is Amazon's subsidy press. If you're an expert, CreateSpace will let you do everything from scratch. Its publishing process is simple.

Fees: There is a $39 set-up fee. CreateSpace takes twenty percent of the profit from every book sold at its e-store and forty percent of the profit from every book sold at Amazon. Its printing fees are slightly better than those of Lightning Source, but at Lightning Source, you can give the wholesaler half of what you're forced to give to CreateSpace (20% versus 40%).

Profit per book: Moderate.

ISBN needed? Yes, if you want to be listed as the publisher on record. If you're willing to let CreateSpace be listed as the publisher, they'll supply you with their own ISBN for free.

Pros and cons: The biggest controversy over CreateSpace is that Amazon used strong-arm tactics to get it going; Amazon now refuses to distribute books from subsidy presses that don't use CreateSpace's printer. This has led some commentators to suggest that Amazon is trying to establish a monopoly so that it can take a high cut of the profit from self-publishers' books. Also, there've been reports in the past (before Amazon bought the printer that CreateSpace uses) of poorly made books, but I haven't heard enough of those complaints to be able to tell whether the problem continues.

At any rate, at the moment, CreateSpace's fees for the Pro plan are moderately good. You won't get as much profit as at Lightning Source, but CreateSpace is specifically designed for self-publishers, while Lightning Source (though it does work with self-publishers) is designed for traditional publishers. In addition, CreateSpace requires a bit less technical expertise than Lightning Source to use, though more than at Lulu.

If you're aiming mainly for Amazon sales, and if you're not quite ready to tackle Lightning Source, CreateSpace's Pro plan is a good stepping stone. Its free Standard plan is great if you want your book on Amazon and can't afford to pay a set-up fee (though see the news above about Lulu's Amazon Marketplace option).

LIGHTNING SOURCE (LSI)

Lightning Source's overview and Lightning Source's FAQ (go to the top and click on "site map").

Types of services: Only one, fee-based. Lulu uses Lightning Source as its printer for its Published By You plan - but if you go with Lulu, you're paying Lightning Source and the middleman, Lulu. Lightning Source is a sister company to Ingram, the largest wholesaler in the U.S. (A wholesaler gets your books to booksellers.)

Extent of distribution: Worldwide, thanks to Ingram. Let's be realistic: Most self-published books aren't going to get into brick-and-mortar bookstores, though Lightning Source permits that. What's more important is that Lightning Source gets you into more online bookstores than CreateSpace does. Depending on how many of your customers come from outside Amazon.com, this may or may not affect your sales a lot.

Friendly to international customers? Yes. Books are printed in the U.S. and (optionally) the U.K. and are available in other countries through various online bookellers.

Customer support: You're assigned a customer representative; reports are that they're usually helpful. There are no official forums, but the e-mail lists POD Publishers and Self-Publishing both have lots of Lightning Source customers, some of whom are very knowledgeable on printing matters. So you get as much support there as you would from the forums at Lulu and CreateSpace.

Minimum level of technical expertise needed: Advanced. It's not quite as bad as it looks initially; a lot of the information that Lightning Source throws at you is intended to keep you from screwing up in preparing your PDF. And Lightning Source has recently revamped its site to provide easy-to-follow instructions. Even so, dealing with Lightning Source is a learning curve, if you're new to publishing. It's not a service designed for beginners. Its publishing process is relatively simple, but once you place your book into wider distribution than Amazon, you have to leap through a few hoops outside of Lightning Source to make sure that your book shows up properly at various sites.

Fees: $75 for the set-up fee. The printing charges are comparable to CreateSpace. However, whereas CreateSpace automatically takes a 40% cut, you can set the cut for distribution to be anywhere from 20% up. Since Amazon will list books that have a 20% distribution cut, this means that you can potentially make a greater profit at Lightning Source than at CreateSpace (even leaving aside the fact that Ingram distributes more places than CreateSpace does). However, unlike at Lulu Basic and CreateSpace, Lightning Source charges a hefty fee ($40 each for the cover and interior) for revisions.

Profit per book: High (at least as far as POD books are concerned).

ISBN needed? Yes. And unfortunately, ISBNs are expensive in the U.S.

Pros and cons: Lightning Source is complicated to learn, a bit more pricey than CreateSpace, and not designed specifically for the self-publisher. On the other hand, there are lots of people and books out there that will help you, if you want to train yourself to use Lightning Source. This is the service used by most of the self-publishers who are making high profits from POD books, and it's also used by a lot of small presses.

If you want your book to be priced competitively, and you want to have it sold at booksellers other than Amazon.com, Lightning Source is your best choice.

So basically, it's very easy to see the differences between the services.

Lulu Basic: Little distribution, moderate profits if you overcome that "little distribution" problem, and designed for beginners.

CreateSpace Pro: Moderate distribution, moderate profits, and moderate expertise needed.

Lightning Source: Wide distribution, high profits, and advanced expertise needed.

The three services do have some things in common. They're all relatively cheap, they all do their best to make things as simple as possible for the people who work with them, and they all offer services that are in reasonable relation to how much money the self-publisher is likely to make from using their service.

So basically, they're all good plans, in their own way; it's just a matter of figuring out which one fits your needs best.

RUNNING THE NUMBERS

Here's how much you'll pay for each service (as of June 2009), and how much money you'll get back. As my example, I'll use a 300-page, 6 x 9 paperback that has a list price of $15.99.

Lulu Basic:

Distributor's cut: 20%.

Print charge: $4.50 (cover) + (300 pages x 2 cents per page) = $10.50.

$15.99 (list price) - 20% (distributor's cut) - $10.50 (print charge) = $5.49 cents profit per book.

Other fees: Optional proof copy ($10.50 [the price for the book to be printed] + mailing charges).

CreateSpace Pro:

Distributor's cut: 20% (e-store only) or $40 (Amazon distribution). I'll use 40% as my example.

Print charge: 85 cents (cover) + (300 pages x 1.2 cents per page) = $4.45.

$15.99 (list price) - 40% (distributor's cut) - $4.45 (print charge) = $5.14 profit per book.

Other fees: Set-up fee ($39), optional ISBN (currently $275 for a block of ten ISBNs in the U.S.; you pay this fee to the U.S. ISBN agency, not CreateSpace), annual catalog fee ($5), and mandatory proof copy ($4.45 [the price for the book to be printed] + mailing charges).

Lightning Source:

Print charge: 90 cents (cover) + (300 pages x 1.3 cents per page) = $4.80.

Distributor's cut: 20-55%. (The self-publisher sets the fee. I'll use 20% as my example; that will get you onto Amazon and other online booksellers.)

$15.99 (list price) - 20% (distributor's cut) - $4.80 (print charge) = $7.20 profit per book.

Other fees: Set-up fee ($75), mandatory ISBN (currently $275 for a block of ten ISBNs in the U.S.; you pay this fee to the U.S. ISBN agency, not Lightning Source), annual catalog fee ($12), mandatory proof copy ($30, which is inclusive of mailing charges within the U.S.), and revision fee if you have revisions ($40-80).

FURTHER READING

Michael R. Hicks's blog has a series comparing POD options. So does this site.

Mel Keegan gives a blow-by-blow account about working with CreateSpace. (Accounts like this about working with Lulu abound on the Web; just do a Web search.)

Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon is a very useful guide to the steps that Lightning Source customers need to take before and after their books are printed, especially if their target market is Amazon. He's working on another book that will describe how to work with Lightning Source.

Pete Masterson's Book Design and Production - written by a Lightning Source customer who has worked as a printer - is helpful for figuring out the fundamentals of print-on-demand layout. Although the book looks overpriced, it isn't; it's a 300-page book whose pages are much larger than that of a trade paperback: 8-1/2 x 11. The glossary alone is 100 pages long.

Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style is (as its title suggests) the Strunk & White of the book design world, the text that nearly everyone refers to. It can be a bit difficult for the neophyte (though the glossary helps a lot), but it does such a good job of describing the time-honored traditions of book design that it's worth perusing. Besides, you really don't want to miss passages like this:

"An increasing number of persons and institutions, from e.e. commings to WordPerfect, now come to the typographer in search of special treatment. In earlier days it was kings and deities whose agents demanded that their names be written in a larger size or set in a specially ornate typeface; now it is business firms and mass-market products demanding an extra helping of capitals, or a proprietary face, and poets pleading, by contrast, to be left entirely in the vernacular lower case. But type is visible speech, in which gods and men, saints and sinners, poets and business executives are treated fundamentally alike. Logotypes push typography in the direction of hieroglyphics, which tend to be looked at rather than read. They also push it toward the realm of candy and drugs, which tend to provoke dependent responses, and away from the realm of food, which tends to promote autonomous being. Good typography is like bread: ready to be admired, appraised and dissected before it is consumed."

Translation: Don't get too fancy.

Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {19}

lee_rowan

(no subject)

from: lee_rowan
date: Jun. 12th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
Link

Hi--GREAT post. I'm setting up an info exchange list for people shifting their books from Samhain; do you mind if I link to this?

Reply | Thread

Dusk Peterson

(no subject)

from: duskpeterson
date: Jun. 12th, 2009 04:26 am (UTC)
Link

Oh, most certainly. No need for you to ask in the future; when I put something on the Web, I assume that someone will link to it. If I'm lucky. :)

Reply | Parent | Thread

lee_rowan

(no subject)

from: lee_rowan
date: Jun. 12th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
Link

thanks!

Reply | Parent | Thread

Dusk Peterson

(no subject)

from: duskpeterson
date: Jun. 12th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
Link

"Do you mind if I link to this?" "Oh, most certainly."

Um, I mean I most certainly don't mind. Gosh, those "do you mind" questions can be slippery to answer. :)

Reply | Parent | Thread

b_sheridan

(no subject)

from: b_sheridan
date: Jun. 12th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
Link

Thank you so much for this info!

Reply | Thread

so shife

(no subject)

from: soshife
date: Jun. 13th, 2009 06:28 am (UTC)
Link

great post for writers looking into to publishing

Reply | Thread

(no subject)

from: ext_5330
date: Jun. 16th, 2009 07:12 am (UTC)
Link

Currently published by Lulu (which gets you an ISBN and distribution) is free, at least when I last checked it was (it used to be about $99).

I live in Finland and here ISBNs are free. :->

Reply | Parent | Thread

Dusk Peterson

(no subject)

from: duskpeterson
date: Jul. 12th, 2009 05:51 am (UTC)
Link

"I live in Finland and here ISBNs are free."

You lucky. :)

Reply | Parent | Thread

storm_grant

(no subject)

from: gina_stormgrant
date: Jun. 17th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
Link

Thanks for this great post. I've been wondering about these things.

Reply | Thread

Jaye Valentine

(no subject)

from: jaye_valentine
date: Jul. 1st, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Link

This is a great resource, thanks for putting it together. :-)

I do have one slight but important clarification for your CreateSpace information: Fees: There is a $39 set-up fee.

The $39.00 fee per book is what they call the "Pro Plan" and it's completely optional.

You can publish a book using CreateSpace for no cost other than your discounted price for a proof copy. The $39.00 Pro Plan allows you to keep more from each sale and pay less for copies you purchase yourself. To keep a book in the Pro Plan program beyond one year there is an annual $5.00 renewal fee. You receive an ISBN-10 and an ISBN-13 number regardless of whether or not you go with the Pro Plan.

My experience with CreateSpace:
I've published two trade paperback books through CreateSpace and am about to publish a third, and I've been thrilled with the quality of the books, as have my readers. As a matter of fact, one reader wrote to me and said she had a mishap and dropped a stack of books she had just purchased from Amazon, and two of the trade paperback books from major publishers came detached from their bindings, whereas my CreateSpace book was undamaged.

The glossy coverstock they use is gorgeous, and it should be kept in mind when designing cover art that it is glossy.

Overall, CreateSpace trade paperbacks are as good or better quality than any trade I've ever purchased. As for the process, after we did the first one and were familiar with the format, the second book was a breeze to create. Having your books automatically available on Amazon is a plus, and because Amazon owns CreateSpace, you don't have to do anything special (like send them a print book) to have your book included in the "What's Inside" program. That, too, is automatic. CreateSpace books on Amazon are also eligible for Super-Saver Shipping and One-Day Shipping. I'm very happy with them so far.

Reply | Thread

Dusk Peterson

(no subject)

from: duskpeterson
date: Jul. 12th, 2009 05:50 am (UTC)
Link

"I do have one slight but important clarification for your CreateSpace information"

I think you missed what I wrote earlier in that post. :) Namely:

"CreateSpace (which is owned by Amazon) offers a free Standard service and a $39 Pro plan. You get higher profits through the Pro plan. The remainder of this entry is about CreateSpace's Pro plan."

The reason I didn't go into the detail about the CreateSpace's Standard plan is that you get bigger profits from Lulu's Basic Distribution plan and CreateSpace's Pro plan than from CreateSpace's Standard plan, so the latter seems to me to be an unhappy compromise in most cases. On the other hand, if one wants to get one's book on Amazon and can't afford to pay CreateSpace's Pro fees, CreateSpace's Standard plan is an excellent option.

"You receive an ISBN-10 and an ISBN-13 number regardless of whether or not you go with the Pro Plan."

Yes, but note that the ISBN is not transferrable, since it's registered in CreateSpace's name. This makes CreateSpace the publisher on record, and the book entry will show that. (By contrast, with Lulu's Basic Distribution plan, the self-publisher is the publisher on record.) This may not matter to some self-publishers, but it does matter if one is seeking reviews, because reviewers often won't books published under the names of self-publishing services.

This only applies if the self-publisher doesn't provide their own ISBN to CreateSpace. But if they can afford an ISBN, they can probably afford CreateSpace's Pro plan. (Unless, of course, they're from a country where the ISBN is free.)

"As a matter of fact, one reader wrote to me and said she had a mishap and dropped a stack of books she had just purchased from Amazon, and two of the trade paperback books from major publishers came detached from their bindings, whereas my CreateSpace book was undamaged."

:)

"Overall, CreateSpace trade paperbacks are as good or better quality than any trade I've ever purchased."

Marvellous. And I agree that their tie with Amazon is very convenient. It's why I gave them serious consideration. I'm glad that your own experience with them has worked out so well.

Reply | Parent | Thread

deannaroy

Great post

from: deannaroy
date: Jul. 26th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
Link

John J sent me this as I just started a micro-publisher myself. Excellent information. I am very glad to have made the choice to jump through a few extra hoops and go with Lightning Source, although I did look closely at Lulu and CreateSpace. I plan to set my discount at 55% initially, as I have a small but real possibility of having bookstore interest (I'll make a go at drumming it up) but should that not work, Lightning Source will let me reset my discount to 20% and just go into Amazon.

Thanks for writing all this up!

Reply | Parent | Thread

Dusk Peterson

Re: Great post

from: duskpeterson
date: Aug. 16th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
Link

Hey, that's great. I hope you'll write up how you do.

Reply | Parent | Thread

very helpful

from: anonymous
date: Sep. 19th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
Link

Hi... Thanks for weighing out these options for us in a thorough way and adding the links for extra info.

As someone who works hard on my own service website, I appreciate the work that can go into this kind of piece, so I just wanted to let you know that yes, it's helpful!

Reply | Thread

Dusk Peterson

Re: very helpful

from: duskpeterson
date: Sep. 26th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
Link

You're welcome. :)

Reply | Parent | Thread

(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 22nd, 2012 05:19 pm (UTC)
Link

A friend with 3 books under her belt read my Romantic mystery and advised I go with Createspace (she used Smashwords)..Editing the novel has proved beyond me so I am paying CS for editing...they are editing beyond just basic grammar which I didn't even sign up for... their fees are much less than many -book publisher's who charge 3 cents a word. or a private reader who charge by the page....If only for the editing it's well worth it...
they are extremely helpful whenever I contact them with a question, either on line or by phone...
I had my own ideas for cover design witch they followed thru with additonal concepts on the same theme...this was inclluded in the basic service...and using my idea they came up with a really cool cover ..A pro artist would have also charged upteenth bucks...

.My masterpiece will be on Amazon and Kindle; but I'm under no illusions...I know that only the most famous authors get read..but what the hell...!!!.

Reply | Thread

Dusk Peterson

(no subject)

from: duskpeterson
date: Jun. 27th, 2012 06:59 am (UTC)
Link

Glad it worked out for you! Thanks for letting me and the others here know about your experience; I'm always curious as to how the distributors work out for other writers.

Reply | Parent | Thread

(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Jul. 28th, 2012 11:44 pm (UTC)
Link

This has been very helpful. I use Lightning Source and keep check out other places, but it seems to fit my needs. Thanks!!

Reply | Thread

Dusk Peterson

(no subject)

from: duskpeterson
date: Jul. 29th, 2012 12:00 am (UTC)
Link

Glad you found it helpful.

Reply | Parent | Thread