IngramSpark: More Spark Than Shark!

Today Ingram Content Group officially went live with IngramSpark, a user-friendly online load and distribution tool for small publishers looking to publish books through print on demand and e-book. In a nutshell, this is a streamlined and sexy LSI (Lightning Source) redesigned, reinvented for the digital age and the small publisher and self-published author with smarts and business nous. The frustration of LSI’s chunkiness, wink-wink, nod-nod and countless hours of video tutorials is gone. This is plug ‘n’ play so long as you know the rules. 
Is it a rival to CreateSpace and Lulu?
Is it an option for the self-published author with an MS Word file, a casual understanding of the publishing business and a smile on their face this morning?
Is it an option for small publishers and self-published authors wanting flexibility?
Hmmm… yes and no.
The real power of IngramSpark is ease, time efficiency and go-to-market speed once all the full benefits of the platform are rolled out. IngramSpark is still a work in progress between now and August. I’ve stressed that in the recent reports and pieces I’ve written here and elsewhere on Spark.
Robin Cutler is Manager of Content Acquisition at Ingram, and she describes IngramSpark as an attempt to ‘marry the print on demand technology with our ebook distribution technology together and then streamline all of our processes related to setting up an account making that as easy as possible and then setting up titles as easy as possible for publishers.’ This is a one-stop-shop for publishers to access distribution, rather than designed as a one-stop-shop for self-published authors.
Cutler, in an interview with Joel Friedman from, is careful to underline the difference between IngramSpark and other one-stop-shop services. ‘So if we run across someone and we think they’re better served by CreateSpace or Author Solutions or whatever, you know we’re happy to refer them over that way…’
Yikes! The referral to CreateSpace might be a sound decision, but referral to an Author Solutions’ imprint is certainly a horse of a different colour! IngramSpark is no assisted author service provider by any means, and I think it should just stick to what it knows best.
Here is what we do know about IngramSpark today:
  • It is a one-stop-shop for small publishers or savvy self-publishers
  • File load up is in ePub and PDF
  • The main ebook retail channels like Kobo, Amazon and Nook won’t be online until August
  • Reporting metrics—print will be daily and ebook monthly
  • ISBNs required for accounts, but IngramSpark will become a Bowker agent
  • eBook conversion tool won’t be online until August (from PDF)
  • Print costs and print options mirror what LSI has
  • $49 cost to set up p and e books
  • $49 cost for p only set up
  • $25 cost for e only set up
  • $49 refunded if 50 copy run ordered by publisher within 60 days
  • $12 annual fee per title
  • No proof cost (if PDF)
  • $25 revision fee once in distro channels
  • 55% locked discount (on list price) to retailers—Spark might revise this following publisher feedback
  • 45% publisher revenue on list price, but only after deduction of manufacturing costs
The biggest trade-off for publishers using IngramSpark will come with the locked retail discount. I’ve been stressing for the past couple of months that this was happening at launch but it is not set in stone and Spark is open to feedback from publishers and prepared to consider flexibility further down the road of development if that is what publishers want.
So, in short, IngramSpark looks very promising, but there is a serious trade-off on retail discount. Beyond that, this is a real option for the small publisher or serious self-published author. I don’t see any nasty bites anywhere else, but for many self-published authors with one or two titles, the retail discount will be enough to put them off.
TIPM will have a full test and review of Spark over the coming weeks.



  1. newtbarrett said:

    Mick, the hardest parts of writing/publishing a book are writing/editing/design/file prep. Ingram Spark doesn’t help with any of that. You still have to prepare your book files in PDF/JPG/ePub format before submitting. That’s what you had to do with LSI. The LSI process might not be super easy, but it is a piece of cake compared to what needs to happen prior to file submission. Needless to say, you could set any discount you wanted from 20% to 55%.
    With Spark, you don’t get any extra distribution than you did with LSI. For ebooks, I use BookBaby–and, I’m sure there are other good conversion/distribution choices. It’s more expensive to start, but you keep 70% of ebook sales rather than 60% with Spark. Moreover, it’s very easy to use.
    But, the huge unanswered question is whether Spark publishers will get guaranteed ‘In-Stock’ status. If not, for most of us, CreateSpace, may sadly be the better choice for Amazon.
    Maybe, I’m a cynic, but this looks like a shiny new toy whose real purpose is to improve Ingram’s bottom line since they will get a much bigger slice of print and eBook sales. I just don’t see any net publisher benefit.

  2. Mick Rooney said:

    It is, absolutely. But IS isn’t a rival or answer to CS. I agree with all the comments on Spark. But I have to keep emphasising – Spark isn’t intended as a replacement for LSI, nor specifically orientated to self-publishers. I don’t know any savvy author who would concede 55% discount to retailers. It’s convenient… but comes at a high price on the long tail…

    The ‘in stock’ status with Amazon is just one of several questions still remaining with IS.

    But, again, IS isn’t a CS vs IS equation for authors. The answer is on the tin. That’s what has been missing from much of the debate over the past few weeks and what many reviewers of IS and its potential have not stated.

    Many reviewers of IngramSpark wrongly set the launch up as a ‘new CS’ after it demo’d at BEA. Too many authors ran with a ball they thought they had and fell flat on their face on July 1st. I’ve been arguing this point for weeks in a vacuum!

  3. newtbarrett said:

    Mick, I don’t know the meaning of your phrase ‘the answer is on the tin.’ Is that an Irish phrase?
    I’m a small publisher–3 books so far this year and 2 more by December. If I look at the cost/benefit of using Spark, I can’t see the bottom-line benefit. Yes, I can save a bit of money on set up, proofs, and revisions, but that’s nothing compared to the lost profit with a 55% discount.
    Suppose I am selling a $20 book via LSI, my net might be $13(after printing costs). Let’s say my LSI set up costs are $260. I have recovered that cost at 20 book sales.
    Using Spark and perhaps $60 in set up costs, it will take 10 books. Advantage Spark.
    One year out and 300 books sold:
    –LSI net profit = $3640
    –Spark net profit = $1740
    100+% advantage to LSI.
    I must be missing something obvious in terms of your ‘on the tin’ phrase.

  4. newtbarrett said:

    One more thing.
    This is supposed to be super user friendly, but, on the new Ingram Spark site, I can’t find a phone number to call. At LSI, you have multiple phone number, emails, and even Live Chat.

  5. Mick Rooney said:

    No. Not an Irish phrase.

    IngramSpark is aimed at publishers with more than 10 titles, intending to publish that amount per year and reach retailers looking for serious trade discount. Again, I emphasise, this is not a set up for very small publishers or self-publishers. It simply can’t work for them. They need they flexibility LSI offers on short discounting.

    IngramSpark will work for a growing publisher with ease of interface – set up to pre-prepared files – not very small publishers with an LSI account already familiar with their interface and have gotten over the chunkiness. The discount just isn’t going to work for small publishers 5-10 titles.

    That is where I do think IngramSpark has made the mistake, and I’m convinced it will change. Because I know it wasn’t set up to rival CreateSpace. You are missing nothing, NewBarrett. This is a work in progress.

    I think the discount limitations will get ditched before the end of the year. Hang in there, because I think that it when IngramSpark will come into its own. Stay with LSI, but Spark will become an option for you soon, once IngramSpark figures out that YOU are its real customer!

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