The advancement in self-publishing tools and technology is a lot to keep up with, so here’s a roundup of the news that I think mattered most to self-publishers in 2013 and will continue to shape the industry this year.
1. Ingram Spark Gives Amazon CreateSpace a Run for Its Money
Ingram Content Group finally launched Ingram Spark, the much-anticipated print-on-demand and e-book distribution service aimed at self-publishers. It’s a welcome alternative to their publisher services tool Lightning Source, and competes with Amazon’s CreateSpace. Spark offers one author dashboard to handle both e-book and print distribution, while Amazon forces authors to two different places (CreateSpace for POD, Kindle Direct Publishing for e-books). And, unlike CreateSpace, Spark also allows authors to set the 55% discount and returns programs that bookstores insist upon. Do note that Amazon, being the pushy gorilla it is, sometimes lists print books not produced by them as “Out of Stock.” So this author continues to use CreateSpace in conjunction with other services, just to make sure that doesn’t happen.
2. E-book Subscription Services Entice Readers to Buy in Bulk
Scribd launched an e-book subscription service for their readers at $8.95/month for unlimited access to books enrolled in the subscription program. I immediately enrolled my books and was pleased to see significantly higher royalties.
In December, Smashwords announced a global distribution agreement with Scribd to supply more than 200,000 indie e-books to Scribd’s e-book subscription service, and to sell Smashwords books in the Scribd store.
This “Netflix for books” model is believed to encourage readers to try unknown authors, which is a great opportunity for self-publishers, and you should do it now, whether direct with Scribd or via Smashwords.
3. Beautiful Interior Book Design Templates Done Dirt Cheap
Good news for you. Bad news for professional book designers. “The Book Designer” Joel Friedlander teamed up with author and technology aficionado Tracy R. Atkins to create templates in Microsoft Word that look just as good as books professionally designed in Adobe InDesign. Instead of paying $1,000 to $4,000 for a custom-designed interior book, you can now pay less than $40. Just download the Word template of your choice – there are over a dozen to choose from and more coming all the time – pour your text in, and create a PDF to upload to BookBaby, CreateSpace, Lulu, Lightning Source, or any printing company. Add an e-book template in the same style for another $10 or so, and upload it to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Apple iBooks, Smashwords, and others. (Or send it to PigeonLab to distribute it to iBooks, Kobo, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble managed from a single dashboard). All you need to know is how to apply styles in Word (a snap to learn), and how to copy/paste text, and how to type. Their instructions make the rest fairly easy. Want to customize your template? If you know basic Word styles, that’s simple. Or hire them to help you create PDFs, upgrade or modify templates and other tasks. Click here to visit Book Design Templates.
4. Vook Completes the Publishing Circle with POD Distribution
Vook formerly only provided short-run printing, but now adds POD distribution to their array of offerings, which makes them a one-stop-shop for self-publishers who need a bit of hand-holding with their ebooks and print books, and who only want to deal with one company. They can help design and edit your book, too. Also new in 2013 is a Bowker-Vook partnership offered from the Bowker site. When you buy your own ISBNs on Bowker’s MyIdentifiers.com you’ll have the opportunity to purchase Vook publishing services at a discount.
5. Bowker Embraces Web 2.0 Bowker reaches out to self-publishers
Bowker’s database of books in print is huge and their interface as cumbersome as the average government or medical website. We understand. As traditional publishing houses grew up with Bowker there were few complaints, as staff simply took the site’s quirks in stride. But once self-publishers, aka the general public, started buying ISBNs, there were complaints. I’ve seen Bowker slowly make their site more and more user-friendly, and by golly, I think they’ve finally succeeded. Still, one must plod through all the steps to register a title, but at least now there are explanatory comments that help educate the self-publisher as to what data is appropriate for each particular field in the form. You can also reliably save progress and come back to it later, something I found not to work well a few years ago. In addition, Bowker launched the Self-Published Author website, a rich and trustworthy source of information with gobs of data. (Disclosure: They often run my blog posts on their site.) As mentioned earlier in this post, Bowker partnered with Vook to provide self-publishing services at a discount.
These developments in 2013 are the five I believe are most significant for self-publishers. I’d be interested in hearing your opinions – what important self-publishing trends do you see emerging in 2014?Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published her adventure travel stories since 1994 on the internet and in print. She authored PBS MediaShift’s How to Self-Publish Your Book: A Practical Guide to Creating and Distributing Your Ebook or Print Book, which describes today’s self-publishing landscape. A great companion book is her step-by-step Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, found on SelfPubBootCamp.com.
Good list. I hadn’t heard about Ingramspark yet.
You kinda got the issues with Spark backwards.
You can set deep discounts and take returns through Spark. (But doing so on a POD budget remains risky — you could lose money — which is the likliest outcome with POD print prices.)
The issue with Spark is that, unlike LS, you can’t set short discounts. Short discounts still get you in online booksellers like B&N and Amazon while getting the author a good royalty per book. Many indy authors have no interest in getting in physical stores precisely because of returns.
Spark will let you set a standard industry discount and accept returns. (You get neither with CreateSpace’s EDC because they don’t pass enough of the 60% EDC discounts on to bookstores, the 60% discount drives your price up, and CS doesn’t accept returns.) The thing is, deep discounts and returns are very unwise for the small publisher and the future of physical chains isn’t something worth hitching your wagon to.
With POD, you’re better off focusing on online retailers (who will accept discounts as low as 20% and no returns) and ordering copies for yourself at a bulk rate through Ingram or an offset run to sell on consignment. If you want physical chains to carry you, you’re better off with an offset run printed in China or South Korea and a fulfillment partner who will warehouse and list your books. Getting into physical chains costs money but you could lose your shirt if you succeed in getting a POD book into physical chains due to lack of margin, uncompetitive pricing needed to cover higher print costs, and high returns.
It’s best to view POD as a gateway to Barnesandnoble.com, NOT Barnes & Noble.
Is there a link to Joel Friedlander’s templates? Great article. I knew about Bowkers but not the changes in the rest.
Found ’em here: http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/
Thanks Cindy. And sorry about the missing link – it’s now linked to ther bottom of the paragraph.
Hi Carla, Carrie here from Scribd. I run all things community. I was SUPER excited to read that Scribd is getting you more sales! That’s about the best thing I can imagine.
If there’s ever anything I can do for you or help you with, please don’t hesitate to reach out at carrie(at)scribd(dot)com. Promoting indie authors’ work is very important to us. We can’t wait to go live with the Smashwords books in 2014!
Thanks much Carrie, emailing your now :-)
Great article. You passed along some things I didn’t hear about.
Neat about Vook, but I think Ingram still has better distribution.
I can’t wait to get our books on Scribd as well.
Thanks William, you’re very right in pointing that out. You can use Ingram’s Spark or Lightning Source to get your book absolutely everywhere, but it takes more work on your part versus doing less work to hit the major markets by hiring Vook, So it’s a tradeoff. Another deciding factor is that Spark’s returns program/55% discount makes it essential for authors who want to get in brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Also a note about Scribd. BookBaby, in addition to Smashwords, also distributes to Scribd. I’m trying to find out what happens if you already have your book on Scribd and currently distribute with either of those services. Stay tuned!
Another great post, Carla, and thanks for the link. For even more news on Ingram Spark, their discount policies are changing as of tomorrow, giving indie authors even more flexibility.
Just read your post on that, Joel, that’s great news!
Carla King, ALWAYS on the cutting edge! Thank you, I’m following up on several of these leads!
Thanks Mary, I know you’ve tested these things out with your books, so I look forward to hearing back from you on all the new stuff you try!
Good post and Thanks for mentioning IngramSpark – never heard of them…
There are so many drawbacks to Ingram Spark (you mention one pretty significant one), that to claim it’s giving CreateSpace a run for its money is significantly overstating the situation. Ingram Spark is too little, too late to that party. That said, Lightning Source itself does have some genuine advantages over CreateSpace (none of which get mentioned here).
And to suggest that any Word template will ever be “just as good as books professionally designed in InDesign” displays a pretty profound ignorance of both book design and the capabilities of either piece of software. I’m not even a designer and I can attest to that much…
I must respectfully disagree on both counts.
For sure IngramSpark is new but their reach is undeniable. They are steering self-publishers away from Lightning Source – in fact, Spark uses the LSI engine – and though the system is imperfect now, it is growing better each day. Ingram is, simply, the biggest player in the distribution market. In my opinion they cannot fail, even though they’re late.
Regarding the book templates, I’d urge you to try one out. Joel Friedlander is a longtime book designer who was committed to InDesign over Word, and when he saw Tracy’s samples he was blown away. They worked together to create the templates and they’re really amazing. I’m a longtime user of InDesign, so I’m not coming from a place of ignorance on this point.
Sure, I’ll continue to use InDesign for highly formatted books, but for your average trade paperback, this is a huge breakthrough in ease-of-use and professionalism.
I hope you’ll take a look.
I second what Joe Procopio said. “Dirt cheap” and “templates” are both red flags for me, and when you combine MS Word with it, that compounds the potential for problems. Good cover design does not come out of software or templates, it comes from imagination, knowledge of color, knowledge of design techniques and fonts, etc. CreateSpace offers cover templates for free, but what do we see? A lot of ho-hum designs that look a lot alike and amateurish.
As for IngramSpark competing with CreateSpace, the jury has not even begun deliberating yet let alone come out with a verdict. Unless Ingram begins selling directly to consumers, it will never compete on the same level as CS/Amazon, which eliminates the middle man and gives the indie publisher a greater share of the revenue. In addition, Lightning Source/Ingram has a history of crappy customer service, so unless things improve greatly, CS will have a huge edge there as well.
The reality for indie publishers is that most of their sales will be online or in person, not at brick-and-mortar bookstores, and most of those sales will be at Amazon. So the best starting point, in my experience and that of many others, is CreateSpace/KDP and get the higher return from Amazon.
Don’t get me wrong, I have published a fair number of books using Lightning Source/Ingram services because they offer options CS/Amazon do not, and Ingram provides access and distribution to the broader market. But for those just getting started in this biz, I advise them to begin at CS/Amazon, not Ingram.
Ah, technology. It’s great, even allowing for the words “dirt cheap” and “templates” in the same sentence. I stand by that.
Yes, you should hire out good cover design.
And Amazon CreateSpace is a great first step for self-publishers doing POD. But IngramSpark has broad reach and is a natural second step.
I like the idea of having a POD distro channel to the brick-and-mortar chain as well a channel to Amazon that does not show the book as “out of stock.”
Question for those of you with more experience: If I wanted to setup POD with Spark and separately with CreateSpace, does Ingram or Amazon forbid that? Or if not, are there other reasons to avoid doing so? Thanks.
Also, Carla, Spark does allow a shorter discount now.
Excellent roundup and more proof that this is the best time ever to be a writer.