Last updated on May 13, 2017
Many of us grew up loving the experience of going into the bookstore or library, perusing all of the covers, and choosing just the right one. Many of us still do, and the thrill of possibly seeing our own covers on those same shelves is just too great to pass up. So, it’s no wonder expanded distribution is a hot topic among indie authors.
Expanded distribution is a self-publishing choice that gives you the chance to get your book into bookstores and libraries, places that are usually off limits to indie authors. Actually, extended distribution only makes your book available to these places. There is no guarantee. Each bookstore and library must decide on its own which books to include in its collection.
The two major players in print-on-demand publishing are Amazon’s CreateSpace and IngramSpark, a part of Ingram Content Group and a long-time major player in the book distribution game.
Expanded Distribution through CreateSpace
One author client of mine chose to publish his book through CreateSpace. Like many authors, he wanted expanded distribution, that is, until he learned the cost. CreateSpace is free to use, but once a book is put into CreateSpace’s expanded distribution program, the base price, or cost of producing and distributing the book, goes up. This leaves the author with a much lower royalty and/or a higher priced book. Higher prices often lead to fewer sales and, thus, less money earned.
For illustration purposes, I used CreateSpace’s Royalty Calculator (in the Royalties tab) to figure out the approximate royalties for a 200-page 6 × 9 book priced at $9.99. Here are the results:
I had to price the book at $9.99 to get any positive royalty at all through expanded distribution channels. At first, I thought this was ridiculous, but when I looked into IngramSpark’s program, I found much the same thing.
Expanded Distribution through IngramSpark
IngramSpark has a different way to approach the same situation. The company charges a setup fee of $49 to publish a print book, and all of its books go through expanded distribution.
Its books are made available to “just about anyone on the planet who sells (or is even thinking about selling) a book in any format.”
On the surface, this seems like a better deal. Just pay a setup fee and keep more of the royalties to yourself! However, because of discounts, this isn’t the case after all.
When I used IngramSpark’s Publisher Compensation Calculator (their version of a royalty calculator) for the same 200-page 6 × 9 book, these were the results:
The royalties, or publisher compensation, were 10 cents lower. Why? The answer comes in the form of discounts to retailers, wholesalers, and distributors.
Discounts and Pricing
According to Joel Friedlander, retailers such as your local bookstore generally demand at least a 40% discount on the list price of books. The wholesaler (such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor) take its cut, too, about 15%. Then, the distributor takes a chunk. In the end, “as a publisher you will have to give up 65-70% of the retail price to get the benefits of full distribution.”
Which Is Better?
In a curious twist, CreateSpace’s expanded distribution uses Ingram to distribute your books, and IngramSpark distributes through Amazon as well as other retailers.
The only difference that I found was the rumor that some brick-and-mortar stores refuse to order from Amazon, which they rightly view as competition. In addition, if your book is distributed through Ingram, it may show up as available from a “third-party seller” on Amazon.
In the end, it seems that you’re getting much the same service for a similar price, except for Ingram’s $49 setup fee. So, you have to ask yourself whether the $49 fee is worth forgoing certain retailers’ aversion to Amazon.
Some experts, such as Joanna Penn, advocate publishing “wide,” or using as many platforms as you can to publish your book. For example, you could publish your print book on CreateSpace without expanded distribution and earn a higher royalty through Amazon’s channels. At the same time, you could use IngramSpark to cover all of your other bases and make your book available to brick-and-mortar stores, libraries, and other retailers.
Other Options: Skipping Expanded Distribution
If you are an author wishing to keep your initial investment low, you may wish to forgo expanded distribution for your print book. You can start out by sticking to CreateSpace and grabbing your chunk of Amazon’s massive market share.
Alternatively, you might want to skip the print market altogether, at least as a beginning strategy. Ebooks are a massive part of the market. According to the “Top Ten Trends in Publishing Every Author Needs to Know in 2017,” “70% of adult fiction sales were digital” in 2016.
Once you’ve established yourself as an indie author and started to build a platform with plenty of positive reviews, you can explore your options with expanded distribution.
What options have worked best for you? What are your plans for publishing your print book?
Please note that the conclusions in this article have been drawn from my own research and experience. It is essential that you do your own research and draw your own conclusions because the publishing world is constantly changing and, to stay competitive as an indie author, you have to keep up.