To print or not to print, that is an indie’s question.

Back in the “olden” days, the choices for authors were limited, and you weren’t the one who got to make them. Now, the world is an indie’s oyster, and the number of choices are daunting. I want to focus on just one choice today: print books, or not?

To me, print books were a no brainer. With CreateSpace and LightningSource, the only real cost to print is a modified version of your ebook cover and the time or nominal cost to reformat the book for paperback. Cost of the edited cover? $100-200 dollars. Cost of reformatting? $50-$100. Peanuts.

With CreateSpace, for no additional fees, your print books are available at a very competitive price print-on-demand for you, and for Amazon customers. For $25, they’ll make your book available for expanded distribution to other book sellers and libraries. Note that they don’t market it for you. They simply make it available. You’ll have to make it attractive in order to move it.

(CreateSpace offers whole suites of manuscript consult, editing, cover at, formatting, and marketing services at additional cost, if you so desire — all of these are ESSENTIAL elements of indie publishing. It is just a matter of who you want to perform them for you, and at what cost. Check it out.)

Now, if you really want to get traction with booksellers other than Amazon, you should also consider simltaneously utilizing Lightning Source for paperbacks. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE OWNED BY INGRAM. Don’t know who Ingram is? Well, let’s just say that Ingram is the 800-pound gorilla in the room for print book distribution. All (or most) roads lead through Ingram before they result in a brick-and-mortar store placing an order for your books to sell in their store, unless you go the consignment route yourself. *We are having a lot of success with consignment but it is a labor intensive process and not for the timid.*

While CreateSpace makes your books available via expanded distribution to Ingram, might it happen faster if they were affiliated with the company, say, like they are with Amazon? Hmmmm, like Lightning Source is with Ingram. And something else: with Lightning Source, you can, if you want, assume the risk of refunding books shipped back by sellers, if they fail to sell. While this means you have to be smart and not spend all your royalty money on a wild trip to Vegas with Prince Harry, it does provide much more incentive for booksellers to order your books.  At this point in time, I am recommending you consider simultaneously working with Lightning Source and CreateSpace. I’m sure considering it for my next book.

And, really, why not? You’ve already paid for the cover and the formatting, so re-use it. Lightning Source’s fees are really nominal ($75/book set up fee and $12 per year to be in the system), and about the same scale as CreateSpace for print costs per book. However, if you use Lighning Source, you would probably not want to do expanded distribution with CreateSpace, as that would mostly be a duplication of cost for the same thing in two places. And — listen up, this important — Barnes & Noble purchases from Ingram. So if you want to get in their stores fast and easy, indie authors, Lightning Source is calling your name.

My personal experience to date (three months) is that I have sold twice as many print books as ebooks. Possibly this is because I have had such successful book signings. Possibly it is because my partner/husband does such a fantastic job of getting my books into stores on consignment. But additionally, humans are buying the paperback versions of my books online through multiple sources. For some folks, ebooks aren’t a substitute for something they can hold, sniff, flip through, and read safely in the bathtub. And more power to those folks. I make more money on print books than ebooks, per book sold.

Paperbacks have a life beyond their initial “read,” too. People can pass them along and spread your name and reputation. You can’t exactly leave an ebook in the seatpocket on an airplane for the next passenger like you can a paperback. (And, really, how awesome is that when you discover a literary gift from the gods when you’re languishing in the electronicless hell between doors closing and 10,000 feet?)

Yes, it is lowest cost to publish to ebook only. But the conversion to print is the smallest part of our expenses, and to miss print is to miss a huge opportunity. Maybe someday ebooks will completely replace print books, but it hasn’t happend yet. The market is so huge that even a dwindling market is still immense. Make sure you claim your piece of it. It’s your oyster, after all.


3 thoughts on “To print or not to print, that is an indie’s question.

  1. Eric Hutchins

    What I want to say to this is “WHAT SHE SAID”. I believe so much in the message of this blog, I think that you are missing out on such a huge marketing opportunity if you do not do a print version. AND, there just is something about holding that book in your hand, something permanent. And yes, maybe that is old school but, frankly I think that old school notion is going to be around a long time. In the long run, I have no doubt that the majority of our individual sales are going to be electronic, however I will never discount the value of the brick-and-mortar bookstore and those beautiful printed books.

    1. Pamela

      Some of the FB discussion on this has been great. So I’ll repeat. CreateSpace has fabulous customer service…overall…but it’s taken Eric 7 weeks of repeat attempts to get one of the five books correctly listed with Ingram. The other 4 were up within a month of paying the $25 fee for each. But one just languished. It got fixed TODAY. And I have a friend who owns a small press who said there is no one month lag with Ingram-Lightning Source.

  2. Eric Hutchins

    I want to clarify also because my note was kinda strong, Createspace’s customer service is the best, bar-non, I have ever experienced with a large corporation. They clearly have a lot of people there that care about doing a good job.

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