"Hi Ksenia. I'm researching which way to go with self-publishing and am veering toward CreateSpace. [I heard] you use them with your books but that you are looking at Ingram for libraries and bookstores. I didn't realize that you could use both, but what I liked about Ingram is that they have access to the bookstores. Did you get your own ISBN #'s? I've read that is the way to go. I'd appreciate any guidance you can give me."
Thank you for reaching out, Mandy. I suppose it's time I summarize my experience with both channels. It's been two months since I have pulled Rosehead and Irkadura from CreateSpace's expanded distribution channels and posted them on IngramSpark (Ingram's indie distribution arm).
Many of you have told me that you have successfully ordered my books from bookstores and got them in the libraries, which means I did it right. It was not without a few hiccups, though, and I'm still learning the whole system, but I will outline what has happened when I did the change, and what I will do when I publish The Badlings and set it up to distribute via both channels from scratch.
At first I distributed my paperbacks via CreateSpace only (plus I distributed ebooks via other online channels like iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play etc.).
I got free CreateSpace ISBNs after reading Hugh Howey's encouraging blog post where he states that he did the same. I figured, it worked for him, it will work for me. It did. I have happily selected all 6 distribution channels, the 3 standard ones (Amazon.com, Amazon Europe, CreateSpace eStore) and the 3 Expanded Distribution ones (Bookstores and Online Retailers, Libraries and Academic Institutions, CreateSpace Direct). You guys told me you were able to order my books from bookstores and get them in the libraries. I thought, "Awesome! I'm done." Only I wasn't.
I got invited to do a reading at Spokane's Auntie's Bookstore, and the lovely staff there told me that they got a few of my books to stock but only because people demanded them. It was going to make them no profit if they sold them, they told me. I couldn't understand why. They said I needed to get my books on Ingram so that they could buy them at a 55% discount to make a profit. It was the first time I heard about Ingram. I set out to investigate.
Turns out, Ingram was used by all traditional publishers, and bookstores were used to the system. It made sense, business-wise. I mean, why buy merchandise for your store if you can't make a profit on it? I had my own startup for about 5 years, and I knew that if I didn't make at least a 50% profit on my product, I was toast. So the 55% discount made sense. After searching the wide sparkling internets about it, I found this and this blog posts by Giacomo Giammatteo on how he uses both CreateSpace and IngramSpark, and I set out to do the same.
I bought ISBNs via Bowker, canceled the Expanded Distribution on CreateSpace for Rosehead and Irkadura and set them up on IngramSpark. This resulted in a few hiccups. When setting up the books on IngramSpark, from the 3 distribution options they are offering (Print and Ebook, Print Only, Ebook Only) I have selected Print Only, which didn't compete with the Kindle ebook version distributed via CreateSpace, but it created another paperback version that showed up on Amazon.com as a competing title. I now have 2 versions of both Rosehead and Irkadura paperbacks on Amazon.com, the free CreateSpace's ISBN ones (with the cover images) and the paid Bowker' ISBN ones (without the cover images). I had to go into Amazon Author Central and upload the cover images by hand. Also, when someone buys my paperbacks on Amazon, they now see two paperback versions.
Go to Amazon.com and type in Irkadura. When you see the Kindle version of the book (it shows up by default), click on the paperback version. This is what you will see:
By default this is the Ingram version. It wins over the CreateSpace one. Why, I have no clue. See where is says "See all 3 formats and editions"? Click on that little arrow. You will get this:
Now click on the little arrow next to the word "Paperback." You will see the other paperback version below, the CreateSpace one:
Scroll down, and you'll see that the description in the editorial review points to the CreateSpace version also (as a description pulled from an alternative paperback edition):
Scroll back up and click on the CreateSpace edition. You will note that although before it said that the book might take an additional 1-2 days to process, it doesn't say so anymore. That's because printing at CreateSpace is faster (and Amazon prefers that, of course):
I have talked to customer service at both places on how to avoid this competition, and they both told me there is no way to avoid it unless I decide to choose only one or the other distribution company. Since my goal is to get into as many bookstores and libraries as possible, I can't not distribute via IngramSpark. I also can't distribute only via them and miss out on the CreateSpace distribution which gives me a cheaper and faster way to print my books so that I can sell them from my site to those who want an autographed copy.
Someone ordered my books for a bookstore via Ingram and informed me that the titles were duplicated: one said that it wasn't available (the one I canceled via CreateSpace), the other one was (the new one via IngramSpark). The only difference was the ISBNs. Both Rosehead and Irkadura have two ISBNs: free ones for standard CreateSpace distribution and paid ones for Ingram distribution. I don't know what will happen when I publish The Badlings from scratch in both places without canceling. We shall see.
If you want more information, I have written a detailed blog post on how I switched expanded distribution from CreateSpace to IngramSpark. And here is another useful blog post by Karen Myers on how to distribute your books via both channels (the only thing I did differently from what Karen suggests is, I didn't pull my titles before setting them up on Ingram, and I didn't delete the previous free ISBN versions, I kept both ISBNs, so it's a matter pf personal preference.)
Now that I've been through this hassle, here is what I will do with my books from now on (until something else changes or I learn something new).
I will set up The Badlings on CreateSpace with the CreateSpace free ISBN and select only the 3 Standard Distribution channels. Then I will set up The Badlings on Ingram with the paid Bowker ISBN and select Print Only distribution. I assume this will create the same cover image hiccup for the second paperback version, so I'll wait a few weeks for it to propagate, then I'll go and correct it if it doesn't.
I will continue setting up all my future books this way which will be more expensive (the ISBNs are pretty pricey) but will allow them to get into bookstores. It's worth it. For example, I was recently at a reading at University bookstore where I chatted with darling Mel Barnes who works there. She said she'll look into stocking up my books. This wouldn't have been possible if they weren't on IngramSpark.
I will continue updating you all on what I learn and what's the best way to go about distribution. So far this is it. If you have seen any other ways of doing it, please share them in the comments.
I hope this helps you with your decision, Mandy.