Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lightning Source versus CreateSpace for POD (Print-on-Demand) Service Reviewed Yet Again

I have spent the last two days studying my print-on-demand sales figures for the last four years. While the numbers are not terrible, the last year has seen a decrease in total paperback copies of my books sold. 

The good news is the same titles total sales have increased dramatically due to Kindle sales with some sales from the BN Nook thrown in.

The problem, or challenge, is the net profit PER sale for a Kindle book is lower than the net profit PER sale for the same book in POD paperback. How can I address this financial issue?

I am hardly about to stop releasing new titles in paperback but every new title will now come out in Kindle no matter what. I also released a total of nine short non-fiction books, samples really of longer established books, in Kindle format only.

It makes financial sense to consider ways to improve, or at least halt the decline, of my POD paperback sales. After some thought about the matter I came up with several possible solutions:
  • Change covers - costs money and for some of the books the POD sales are just not worth it - yet the same book with the same cover sells OK as a Kindle book.
  • Figure out how to improve my marketing efforts -always an ongoing struggle.
  • Revisit using Lightning Source (LSI) for more of my titles and not rely almost completely on CreateSpace (CS) for my POD printing.
For those of you who have been using POD for several years, I am fairly certain you followed, and felt financially, the issue two years ago when Amazon changed how it listed POD paperbacks available only from LSI. The sudden plummet in sales was disheartening and it took nearly a year for my best selling paperback to recover.

POD expert Aaron Shepard advocated what he came to call Plan B, a solution and for many authors who self-publish via POD, a workable plan to recover lost sales.

For many authors, it made the decision to use CreateSpace instead of LSI easier, despite the lack of control over the wholesale discount required. LSI allows the author to set the discount within a given range, a high of 55% and a low of 20%. CS requires 40% discount for books sold on Amazon and even higher, approximately 65% for books sold via its expanded distribution program to competitors such as BN. In fact, Plan B required the use of both POD companies.

It would appear the industry, or perhaps Amazon, has changed again. Briefly, the Plan B approach required using CS for books sold on Amazon and LSI for all other sales. The author had to set a list price at CS that would be lowered to the actual desired price when Amazon matched the discount of the same book on BN. The book listed on BN was printed by LSI. The entire approach would require some experimentation to get the discounts by the two online retailers matched and the prices down the target list price after discount.

Confused yet?

Today I made a quick visit to Mr. Shepard's site and discovered there is now a Plan C! It would appear trouble has once again reared its ugly head in paradise and Plan B is no longer really viable. Mr. Shepard tracks carefully a wide range of information about Amazon's discount matching and pricing. I will take his word for it, I have enough trouble keeping up with my own books.

Amazon it would appear no longer matches exactly the discount given by BN, who has stopped discounting as deeply for many books as it once did.

Also, the real issue for many POD paperback titles is not Amazon's dealings with LSI, but rather the ever increasing popularity of ebooks, particularly Kindle books. 

Still, the possibility of releasing new books in both POD and ebook formats using LSI instead of CS, an approach that would allow me to once again use the short discount model of 20% made me sit down with paper and pencil and once again compare and contrast the two companies.

With my copy of Shepard's essential book, POD for Profit, in hand to help me work my way through the maze that is signing up a new book with LSI, I once again came to the same conclusion I had before.

The advantage of controlling the setting of the discount is just not worth what I will have to go through to use LSI instead of CS.  While every author can have areas that are problematic using LSI (please note, I do have titles with LSI and have nothing but positives to say about their customer service, print quality, etc.) mine are all centered around two issues:
  • The difficulty of setting up the book files. LSI is so much more difficult to use in this regard than CS.
  • The other issue is making changes of any kind to the book or the book's metadata. Sales of the book have to come to a halt in order to make the changes.
And so it is that I will once again re-examine my marketing efforts and continue to try to learn more about marketing my books more effectively and all future books will also be released in Kindle and POD paperback.


  1. So are you using CreateSpace's Extended Distribution, or just selling through Amazon? I am working toward a POD version of my ebook, and I'm trying to figure out whether LSI is worth the effort.

    Aaron's advice is confusing to me, because he says to start with CS and then add in LSI if the sales warrant it. But you can't add LSI if you've been in Extended Distribution, can you?

  2. If this is your first POD book, I would use CreateSpace. The entire process of getting your book ready to print is so much easier with CS than Lightning.

    If you followed Aaron's Plan B, you used CreateSpace for all sales through Amazon and DID NOT use the expanded distribution for sales elsewhere (i.e, Barnes and Noble). LSI is used to service the sales that would otherwise have been serviced by CS.

    Like I said, confused?

    If you read Aaron's Plan C, which is linked to in the post, the method Amazon used for discounting books has changed making Plan B obsolete.

    While I have some titles with LSI, I long ago made the decision to use CS for everything. When I revisit that decision, as mentioned in the post, I still stick to it. LSI is a great company but as a one man shop, CS is too easy to use and the difference in discount, which means more money in my pocket, would come at the price of valuable time and energy dealing with getting the titles set up with LSI.

    I view the money lost to the discount demanded by CS as a business cost - my time.

    Hope this makes sense.

    If not, let me know and I'll try again to clarify the part of my statement that seems confusing. I am sure you're not the only individual confused.

  3. LSI is a great company but as a one man shop, CS is too easy to use and the difference in discount, which means more money in my pocket, would come at the price of valuable time and energy dealing with getting the titles set up with LSI. I view the money lost to the discount demanded by CS as a business cost - my time.

    Yes, this is pretty much what I was thinking. I'm on my first book, but I have several more in the works at various stages. But I'd rather spend my limited free time getting the next ones ready to go than fighting with the LSI learning curve.

    Also, I tend to be a tinkerer. Even though I tell myself that once I upload the file, I will quit thinking about that book, I know better. I will always find little things I want to add or change....