Is IngramSpark the right choice for YOU? Or should you stay with KDP-only paperback distribution?
IngramSpark is a Print-on-Demand printer and distributor that you can use alongside KDP Print (formerly CreateSpace) to maximize your paperback distribution reach and royalties.
The same copy of your paperback sold by Barnes & Noble on their website can earn you twelve times more if you print and distribute with IngramSpark, when compared to KDP Print Expanded Distribution.
Let’s use a 274-page paperback priced at $10.99 as an example to explain this difference.
You could earn $3.20 (29% of the $10.99 list price) per copy by distributing that paperback through IngramSpark, compared to a mere $0.26 (2% of the list price) you would earn through KDP Print Expanded Distribution.
When used alongside KDP Print, IngramSpark will not affect your Amazon distribution at all. Your KDP-distributed paperback sales for the same book on Amazon.com would still earn you $2.46 (22% of the list price).
Recent changes to IngramSpark charges and wholesale discounts
Starting August 31, 2023, you are no longer able to set up new books on IngramSpark with 30% wholesale discount for the US. We covered this change in a separate article. Additionally, IngramSpark increased their printing charges as well as waived their setup (and partially revision) fees, both of which are not yet reflected in the calculations in this article.
Neither the wholesale discount or printing charge changes affect the fact that IngramSpark is still much better option for distributing paperbacks and hardcovers outside Amazon than KDP's Expanded Distribution, but it significantly affects your profit from print book sales while using IngramSpark.
The way wholesale discounts work when it comes to print distribution is still accurate.
The larger royalties using IngramSpark as your print distributor come with a catch, though. Depending on what choices you make, there are direct and indirect upfront costs, ranging from $49 to $174 per book. To recoup these costs, you need to sell between 17 and 60 copies through IngramSpark. The actual number of sales you need to make to recoup those costs will be determined by the page count of your book and the list price that you set. More details are included in "Recouping IngramSpark-related costs" section.
What is your take on using IngramSpark at this point?
If that is something you are interested in and you see the benefits of a wide paperback distribution with good royalties, read on to dive deeper into all the details.
What if you don’t care much about paperback sales you could make outside Amazon? IngramSpark could still be very useful to you, even if you are focusing solely on Amazon print distribution.
- With Ingram, you can easily set up a paperback pre-order on Amazon and you can earn 30% more for each copy sold as a pre-order on Amazon.com (even if you use KDP Print for sales after the release date) than you would with KDP (which does not allow you to set up paperback pre-orders).
- You can earn more by allowing Ingram to continue to print copies sold on Amazon.com for all future orders.
- Since CreateSpace shutdown, you are no longer able to order advanced reader's copies printed by Amazon prior to making the book publicly available. IngramSpark is the most straightforward replacement for ordering those copies and you can take advantage of their option to add a personalized note to a selected copies to make even better impression on your early readers or reviewers.
- You can also use IngramSpark to publish reasonably-priced full-color book, hardcover edition, a book in 11x8.5" landscape format (a great choice for full-color illustrated children's books, also as a hardcover edition) and extremely long or short book (beyond what's possible with KDP Print).
If you don't find any of these benefits useful in your situation and want to proceed with KDP-only distribution for your paperback, read our ISBN article to be aware of how your ISBN-related choices (especially free ISBN assigned by KDP) impact your Amazon product page and future distribution options.
Major distribution channels for paperbacks
When it comes to print distribution, there are 2 categories of book sellers: Amazon and everyone else. "Everyone else" includes important retailers such as Barnes & Noble (US), Book Depository (worldwide), Waterstones (UK), Wordery (worldwide), Blackwell’s (UK), Booktopia (Australia), Fishpond (Australia and New Zealand) and Chapters/Indigo (Canada), as well as many smaller and specialized sellers, which will make your book available for sale on their websites and popular online marketplaces (including Amazon Marketplace). To make it simple, let’s refer to all those retailers, along with schools and libraries, as non-Amazon channels.
By using KDP for your Amazon distribution, your paperback will always be "In Stock" on Amazon websites and for every copy sold you will receive 60% of your list price (which is determined by you) less printing fee (which depends on the page count). It is free to set up and update your paperback on KDP Print and if you do not want to buy your own ISBN from Bowker (or your country ISBN agency, e.g., Nielsen in UK) and don't mind "Publisher: Independently published" listed on your product page as a result of having a free ISBN assigned to your paperback by KDP, you can sell the book on Amazon without any upfront printing or distribution charges. Make sure you are fully aware of long-term impact of the free paperback ISBN before using this option, though.
But what about all those non-Amazon channels? You may already be aware of "Expanded Distribution" offered by KDP Print (previously by CreateSpace). While it is one way of making your paperback available to a wider audience, it is by far the worst option when it comes to how much you will get paid for each copy sold to readers. This is where IngramSpark comes in.
To compare IngramSpark with Expanded Distribution, let's assume that your paperback has 274 pages, 6x9 trim size, black and white interior, is printed on white paper and you decided to set the list price at an affordable $9.99.
In this scenario, you get $1.86 in royalties for sales on Amazon.com and you are not able to use Expanded Distribution on KDP. The reason for this is that distribution through Expanded Distribution would result in a $0.14 loss on each copy sold, as the print charge ($4.13) is more than 40% of the book’s list price ($3.99) you would “receive” for each copy sold. To calculate your actual royalty, KDP needs to deduct their print charge from this $3.99. Understandably, they won't allow you to set a price that will result in them having to charge you for the sale of your own book.
On top of that, KDP will only allow you to set one list price for all distribution channels for a specific book – you can’t set a lower price for Amazon and a higher price for non-Amazon channels to counteract the lower royalty rate from the latter. This means that you either have to increase your list price for all channels (including Amazon), so that Expanded Distribution is not generating a loss, or you need to do away with Expanded Distribution on KDP altogether.
For the same 274-page paperback with a $9.99 list price, you will get exactly $1.50 (15% of the list price) for each copy sold through non-Amazon channels, if you use IngramSpark. That means that you can keep a low price for all your readers (including ones buying from Amazon) and sell your book through non-Amazon channels like Barnes & Noble.
But here comes the twist: you will earn this modest royalty only when you set the wholesale discount on IngramSpark to 40%, which is the same discount KDP applies arbitrarily to your paperback sales on Amazon. By changing the discount to 30% for US channels, which you can do with IngramSpark, your royalty automatically goes up to $2.5 (25% of the list price).
Yes, you read it correctly: by making one change in the distribution settings on IngramSpark, without changing the list price, your royalty goes up by over 60% ($1). That means that with those new settings, to achieve the same profit, you only need to make 60% of the sales you would need to make previously.
The next section explains how you can combine the wholesale discount settings with a slight price increase to make $3.20 profit on each copy sold through IngramSpark, as well as going into detail on how exactly wholesale discounts can make such a big difference to your bottom line.
Maximizing your royalties by changing wholesale discounts
This section contains a detailed explanation on how the list price and wholesale discount influence your earnings. You might want to skip it the first time through and go straight to “IngramSpark fees” and then read about acquiring your own ISBN. Once you decide IngramSpark is the right choice for you, come back to this section for details on maximizing your royalties.
One thing that IngramSpark allows you to do, which KDP doesn’t, is to set a wholesale discount rate. This rate will affect how much you earn, because it directly influences how much book retailers pay the distributor for each copy of your book.
We are still keeping with our example of a 274-page paperback with a $9.99 list price.
When KDP-forced wholesale 40% discount is used, the retailer pays the distributor $5.99 for each copy sold (60% of $9.99). From that amount, the printing cost is deducted. For our 274-page example, the printing cost charged by KDP is $4.13 and IngramSpark charges $4.49 for the same. You receive the rest, which is $1.86 from CreateSpace (but only for Amazon.com sales) and $1.50 from IngramSpark (for all non-Amazon retailers).
But what if you changed the wholesale discount to the lowest possible for US channels, which is 30% when using IngramSpark? In this case, the retailer pays the distributor (IngramSpark) $6.99 for each copy of your book (70% of $9.99). Because of this simple change, your royalty automatically goes up $1, because the printing cost is always the same, no matter what the list price is. That means that you get $2.50 for all non-Amazon sales through IngramSpark as opposed to the $0.14 you would theoretically lose from KDP Expanded Distribution sales of the same copy.
To compare the actual royalties paid by each distributor, as opposed to theoretical, let's say you set a $10.99 list price, so that you can actually use Expanded Distribution, if you decided it was right for you.
With a $10.99 list price and the same 274-page paperback, this is how much you would earn:
- Amazon.com sales of KDP-printed copies: $2.46*
- Non-Amazon sales, through KDP Expanded Distribution: $0.26
- Non-Amazon sales, through IngramSpark, with the wholesale discount set to 30%: $3.20
So, for this example, by choosing to use IngramSpark and leveraging the option of a lower wholesale discount, you are earning $2.94 more per copy sold than you would with CreateSpace Expanded Distribution. To put things in perspective, this is over 12 times more money in your pocket for a single sale.
In other words, by increasing the list price by $1 and wisely choosing to use the wholesale discount on IngramSpark, you are increasing your earnings for copies sold on Barnes & Noble and other major US channels from a hypothetical $0.14 loss to a $3.20 profit. Or, by keeping the list price at $9.99, you turn a hypothetical $0.14 loss (and actual loss of distribution through non-Amazon channels) into a $2.50 profit. Whether the list price is $9.99 or $10.99, you still receive $1.86 or $2.46 respectively from KDP for Amazon.com sales even if you don’t use IngramSpark at all.
One great thing about KDP Print (and previously CreateSpace) is that book setup and file changes are always free. So is getting an ISBN, if you don't mind "Publisher: Independently published" being listed on your Amazon product page as well as the fact that it can only be used with them.
IngramSpark is different. Its parent company, Ingram Content Group, is one of the world's largest book distributors. Historically, they have mainly worked with publishers, not indie authors, and their pricing is structured differently.
The most important thing is that they charge a one-time $49 fee for setting up a book in their system.
Secondly, they charge a $25 file revision fee. That means that if you decide to update your interior file after submitting it for Ingram's processing for the first time, they are going to charge you $25. If you decide to update your cover file, they will charge you another $25. Updates to metadata, pricing, availability and wholesale discount settings are free.
Periodically, IngramSpark uses book-related events, such as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), book fairs or online-only events for authors, and waives the setup or file revision fees for a limited time. While considering the cost of using the distributor, you can’t rely on promotional offers that may or may not be available in the future, even though it's not likely you will need to pay the full fees listed above if you are willing to wait a little for a new promotion (as evidenced below). Another option to “avoid” IngramSpark fees is their on-going offer of a $49 refund of the setup fee, if you place an order of at least 50 “author copies” (for which you will pay printing and shipping costs, usually higher than those you would pay for the copies ordered from KDP Print) within 60 days of setting your book up with them.
IngramSpark discount codes
NaNoWriMo-related code is back for 2020/2021. It's the same one as back in 2018/2019: NANO. It waives title set up fee for any book (it doesn't matter whether it was written as part of NaNoWriMo or not), and it also waives the revision fee for books which used this code for initial titile set up (but likely it will also work for ANY book), until March 31, 2021.
This year, there is also a second free title set up code, FREE2020, which allows you to set up a new title (or a previously published title in a new format, e.g. a hardback).
INGRAMSPARK2020 is valid for free title setup and revisions until the end of May 2020. Predictably, IngramSpark once again allows for free title setup until the end of March 2020 with a promo code NANO2020. This code can be used not only for novels written during this NaNoWriMo, but for all books, including non-fiction, as long as they are submitted for Ingram's review by the end of March. If you would like to publish a high-quality book while this code is still active, you can reserve a spot on our team's schedule for early 2020. We also confirmed that NANO2020 also waives revision fees, if entered on checkout after submitting the new file(s), whether or not it was used with the initial setup. Based on 2017 and 2018 promotions, a NaNoWriMo-related code should become available shorthly (by the end of November) and be valid until the end of March 2020. Subscribe to be notified when it becomes active or a different promotion appears. SELFPUB code for free title set up is again active. There is no reliable information available about its expiration date. We confirmed this code works on May 24th, 2019 and then again in early July. We also discovered, on July 18th, that books set up with this code are not subject to a revision fee (though this may not be the case indefinitely). IngramSpark waived revision fees for all books until the end of June, 2019 (no code required). NANO code is valid until March 31, 2019. Make sure to enter the code ALL UPPERCASE, otherwise, it won’t work. If you will need to update interior or cover files after submitting them for the first time, this code can also be used to waive revision fee. You will need to enter it again on “checkout” after $25 (or $50, if you are updating both files) fee is presented to you. SPARK5 code is valid for July 2018. SELFPUB code is valid through the end of June 2018. IngramSpark waived revision fees for all books until May 31st, 2018 (no code required). NANO17 code is valid through the end of March 2018. Unlike with earlier codes, you need to enter NANO17 code again on “checkout” when you see revision fee(s) listed. SPARK17 code is valid through the end of December 2017. INDIEFRINGE17 code is valid through the end of November 2017. Even though the company promotes these codes with a “waive set up fees” slogan, we have used them on several books and discovered that INDIEFRINGE17 code allowed for free file revision in mid-September 2017, while SPARK17 allowed for the same in mid-October 2017. They also used to charge a $12 yearly “market access fee”, but they do not charge it right now. Hopefully, they have dropped this $12 yearly fee altogether, but there is a possibility they will resume charging it at some point in the future. IngramSpark re-introduced their yearly $12 “market access fee” in mid-2017. Since they might waive it once again, and it is charged periodically instead of being a one-time fee, calculations in this article do not consider this fee. In our example, this small fee increases the number of books you need to sell to break-even using IngramSpark by 4 copies per year, except in the first year when it is not charged (though, in the first year, you will spend a similar amount to get a physical proof copy from Ingram).
Getting your own ISBN
In order to use IngramSpark, there is also the indirect cost of getting your own ISBN, which is not tied to any distributor.
As of June 2020, IngramSpark allows authors in the U.S. to assign a "free" ISBN to their book published through them. The associated publisher/imprint name is "Indy Pub". This allows you to save on buying an ISBN to publish with IngramSpark, but getting your own is still required if you want to publish the same edition through both Ingram and KDP and avoid duplicate listings on Amazon and other retailers (which is a side effect of using different ISBNs for the same edition). There are also a couple of catches (including the fact that the actual savings come down to $36): you can learn more here.
Whether you print and distribute a single edition of the paperback through one, two or more Print-on-Demand providers, you need only 1 ISBN for that paperback. You do not need to have a separate ISBN for each distributor. In fact, using multiple ISBNs for the same paperback edition might result in your book listing being duplicated on the Amazon website, because Amazon won't know that your KDP-distributed copy is the same edition of the same book as your IngramSpark-distributed copy. Duplicated listings might also confuse your readers, because they won’t know what the difference is between the two versions and might end up not buying either of them. To summarize: only use one ISBN for your paperback, regardless of how many distributors you are going to use.
We have a separate article on how to acquire ISBN for your self-published book, which we recommend reading to learn about cheap offers by ISBN resellers which come with long-term consequences, the least expensive way to buy an ISBN in the US from an official ISBN agency and to avoid needless expenses like barcodes from Bowker.
In short, the least expensive option to acquire a single ISBN in the US is by buying it directly from Bowker during IngramSpark set up process for $85, instead of the usual $125. Unlike ISBN from resellers and $10 "Custom ISBN" offered by CreateSpace until mid-June 2016, this $85 ISBN is bought directly from Bowker, with Ingram discount applied, so you have full control of it and can use it with any distributor, including KDP and Ingram. If you plan to publish more books, you can buy a pack of 10 ISBNs from Bowker or your country's ISBN agency.
Recouping IngramSpark-related costs
You can avoid paying IngramSpark title set up fee by using current discount code.
IngramSpark set up fees are always charged in US dollars and all calculations in this section focus on earnings from US-based sales. If your sales are made in the UK, other European countries or internationally, be aware that your earnings will vary based on book production costs in each market, available wholesale discount options and currency fluctuations. For simplicity, we used the cost of an ISBN relevant to US authors, so if you are in another country, convert the cost of acquiring an ISBN to US dollars to get a clearer picture of how quickly you can recoup IngramSpark-related costs.
A good way to decide whether the benefits of using IngramSpark outweigh the costs associated with it is to calculate how many copies of your paperback you need to sell through IngramSpark, compared to KDP Expanded Distribution to recoup the related costs. (*) In other words, we are going to show you how many copies you need to sell in order for a difference in royalty between two two distributors to cover the upfront costs you paid for the ISBN and setting up your IngramSpark book.
Coming back to our 274-page paperback example, let’s say you decided to set the list price at $10.99 and use a 30% discount on IngramSpark.
In this case, the earnings from IngramSpark ($3.20 per copy) exceed the KDP Expanded Distribution earnings ($0.26) by $2.94.
So, to recover the IngramSpark $49 setup fee, you need to sell 17 copies through them to break even, because $49 divided by the $2.94 difference is almost 17. From this point onward, you make a profit of $2.94 per copy sold, compared to a KDP-printed Expanded Distribution sale of the same copy. It sounds great, but this is only true if you were going to buy your own ISBN for a KDP-distributed paperback anyway.
If you had planned to use a free KDP-assigned ISBN to publish just one paperback, then your cost goes up by at least the $85 you need to spend on the discounted ISBN purchased through your IngramSpark account. To recoup the total cost of $134 for this ISBN ($85) and IngramSpark set up fee ($49), you need to sell 46 copies. If $85 ISBN wouldn't be available in the future, you would need to recoup the extra $40 (the difference between $125 ISBN and $85 ISBN) by selling extra 14 copies (60 copies in total).
But there is a good chance you are a prolific writer and you plan to publish 4 or more books in the near future and you do not mind spending $295 upfront for a bulk of 10 ISBNs from Bowker. In this case, assuming that you will publish 10 books eventually, the cost of an ISBN for one book is $29.50. When you add the $49 IngramSpark book set up fee to that, the total cost per book is $78.50, which means you need to sell 27 copies to break even.
To summarize: depending on your choices regarding ISBNs, you can recoup the costs of using IngramSpark by selling between 17 and 60 copies of your book. Keep in mind, that this is just an example to illustrate how many copies, more or less, you need to sell to make IngramSpark a viable option for you. The exact numbers for your book will differ, depending on the page count and list price you set for your book, as well as any potential future increases or decreases in printing fees.
In fact, since we first published this article, IngramSpark has already changed its printing fees. The new rates took effect for all orders from June 5th 2017. For most books printed in the US, the printing charge is about 10% lower now. For our 274-page example this means almost $0.50 more being paid to you by IngramSpark for each copy sold. We have updated calculations in this article to reflect this positive change.
Starting April 1, 2019, IngramSpark increased printing charge for all books printed in the US, UK and Europe by 2%. This change affects both the retail distribution (described in this article) and direct orders by the author. As this results in a small $0.10 difference for our example ($4.59 printing charge instead of $4.49), the calculations in this article still use the previous print charge. You should calculate the actual profit you will make from selling each copy of your book yourself based on its final page count: if you are using our book formatting services, we can do this for you when we prepare a layout sample for the interior of your book.
A good rule of thumb is this: by decreasing your page count and increasing the list price, the volume of sales needed to recoup your costs associated with IngramSpark gets lower. Each $1 added to the list price increases your royalty by $0.70. The opposite, of course, is also true: the higher the page count and the lower the list price, you will need to sell more copies to make IngramSpark a viable option for you. If you want to break even faster, and then make more profit going forward, you can consider using IngramSpark for Amazon.com distribution as well: with our example, this gives you $0.74 more for each copy sold than by using KDP.
The good news is that you are in control of both these values that affect your earnings. You might think that you have no control over the page count of your paperback, since your word count is what it is and can’t be changed. One thing which is easy to miss is that while word count is indeed an important factor affecting the length of a printed book, it is not the only thing in play. For example, you can choose to use 6”x9” trim size instead of 5”x8” trim size, which can make your book considerably shorter. And your print designer can adjust the font size, font family, leading and other values to make the text more compact, while still creating an interior layout that looks great and is enjoyable for readers. Seemingly small changes in print charges can make a significant impact on your total earnings, as all savings go directly towards your royalty and then add up with each copy sold. Also, if your book's page count will be 600+ pages with optimal interior design choices, you can consider splitting it into two volumes, so each one will be more affordable to your readers, while generating more profit for you at the same time.
It's your choice
So there you have it. With all that information, you can decide what is the best path for you.
If the idea of using 2 print distributors sounds too complex, all those calculations make your eyes glaze or you just want to distribute your paperback exclusively through Amazon (and you don’t care about paperback pre-orders or the extra income you could make on those Amazon.com sales), go ahead and use KDP Print on its own. In that case, choose the ISBN option based on what “Publisher” name you want to show to your potential readers on Amazon product pages and consider the long-term implications of that choice.
On the other hand, if the idea of wide distribution and higher royalties from sales on major retailers (including Amazon.com) sounds good and you believe that using IngramSpark will benefit you long-term, then use it alongside KDP Print for a balanced distribution solution.
We know it is a lot to think about. If you still have any questions or doubts about using IngramSpark alongside, or instead of, KDP Print, for your print edition, feel free to contact us and we will be happy to clear things up for you.
2020 updates: November 1st, June 10th, April 10th
2019 updates: November 11th, April 1st
2018 updates: November 6th, April 17th, January 1st
2017 updates: December 1st, October 25th, August 9th, June 5th
You can use IngramSpark alongside KDP Print (formerly CreateSpace) to maximize your Print-on-Demand distribution reach and profit from each sale. This article covers the reasoning behind that strategy and the financial details required to make an informed decision about your print distribution.
This always up-to-date, in-depth article includes current IngramSpark promotions available to all authors, which you can use to save on IngramSpark fees whenever possible. Subscribe to receive an email with new IngramSpark discount codes, and their expiration dates, as soon as they are available.
We know that you are busy working on your book and you might not have the time to read everything right away. To make sure you don’t miss any crucial time-saving and money-making advice while planning your book release, we have included links to crucial, actionable information under “Key Information” below, so you can know about essentials now, act on them and come back for more later.
In a related article, we explore how easy it is to set up paperback pre-orders on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Book Depository and other online retailers in the US and worldwide with IngramSpark. You can also learn how IngramSpark can benefit your print distribution even if you choose to focus your marketing efforts solely on Amazon by reading our article about Amazon-exclusive print edition with IngramSpark.
- Major distribution channels for paperbacks
- Maximizing your royalties by changing wholesale discounts
- IngramSpark fees
- Getting your own ISBN
- Recouping IngramSpark-related costs
- It's your choice
You can learn more about IngramSpark and print distribution by reading these articles:
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