Which service is better for self-published authors?

Yesterday on the blog I shared my feelings about the two biggest players. Amazon won in the first two of five categories, ease of use and speed to publication. Let’s see how the companies stack up in three other categories.

3) Quality of finished copy: IngramSpark

IngramSpark has been in the business of printing books through its Lightning Source International parent company for many, many years. They are terrific at this. Colors are crisp; the paper is of good quality; and the finished product looks very professional.

Amazon’s not quite there yet. I have had a couple of unfortunate experiences, most recently this past weekend at a book signing, when I realized that I was about to sell a customer a defective copy of the book.

I’ve ordered over 500 copies so far to sell at events, and have found problems with only six of them, so it’s not a huge issue. However, authors who are very concerned about how their cover will look, or who have books that are design-heavy, should be careful to inspect every single copy that comes from Amazon.

Here’s a photograph of a defective book from Amazon; in this case, the cover didn’t align correctly so you see some yellow-and-green banding at the top.

 

So far Amazon has sent me six defective copies out of about 500.

So far Amazon has sent me six defective copies out of about 500. (Author photo)

Yesterday I went to Amazon’s customer service to report the problems. They are sending me six replacement books for delivery by Friday, no questions asked. I don’t even have to return the defective merchandise to prove to them that I am telling the truth! That’s L.L. Bean-quality service.

Which brings me to my next point . . .

4) Customer service: Amazon

This one isn’t even a contest. Amazon’s customer service is far and away beyond what IngramSpark seems capable of to date.

I found it next to impossible to go through the IngramSpark website or phone service to get an actual answer to a question. At one point, I left a detailed voicemail in a customer service in-box that I was directed through the company’s auto-directory. More than a week later, someone called me back. A week!

Amazon, I kid you not, called me back within five seconds when I told its website that I had a question. The customer service representative was knowledgeable, helpful, and efficient. I had the same experience yesterday when I had to report my six defective copies for replacement. The entire problem was resolved within nine minutes from the time I logged onto the website until I hung up the phone with the customer service rep.

Amazon's CreateSpace has you enter your phone number for a rep to call you back with rapid-fire speed.

Amazon’s CreateSpace has you enter your phone number for a rep to call you back with rapid-fire speed. (screen shot)

5) Payments and shipping: Amazon

I haven’t had a payment from IngramSpark yet, because Ingram takes 90 days (!) to get authors in the system.

Amazon pays me at the end of each month for the previous month sales, so at the end of January, I was paid for my sales in December. These payments appear directly in my checking account, and I receive emailed reports to explain the sales.

One thing I like about this system is that Amazon gives me separate transactions and reports for each sales channel, including various international accounts. It’s not all bunched together. So if I sell a couple of copies in Japan in addition to the copies I might sell here in the US, I know about it at a glance.

Amazon also charges me less for each author copy I buy to resell, and ships those copies to me for a lower cost than IngramSpark. Here’s a breakdown of the costs for my particular book:

I spend about a dollar less per copy ordering my author copies through CreateSpace instead of IngramSpark.

I spend about a dollar less per copy ordering my author copies through CreateSpace instead of IngramSpark. (author illustration)

As you can see, I spend about a dollar less for each author copy I buy through Amazon’s CreateSpace as opposed to IngramSpark. That difference can really add up for self-published authors on a budget.

To sum up: Amazon’s CreateSpace wins for me in four out of five categories: ease of set up and use, time lag to publication, customer service, and payments/shipping. IngramSpark topped just one category, the quality of its finished product.

But with Amazon paying such serious attention to what customers – in this case, authors — want, I’d be surprised if Amazon doesn’t catch up quickly in this one area of deficiency.

If I were Ingram I’d be quaking in my Tennessee boots.

5 Comments

  1. Jana, we are always looking for feedback on our IngramSpark offer, we get a lot of it from current and potential customers. In fact, as we developed our self-publishing platform we worked hand-in-hand with authors and publishers as we built our solution. We’re sorry that right now IngramSpark does not meet your expectations in certain areas. Since the launch of IngramSpark last year, our platform has been enhanced considerably in many areas through customer feedback like you’ve provided. We actually will be enhancing the ways IngramSpark customers can interact and ask questions of us in April with the addition of telephone support. Thanks again for your helpful feedback – we encourage you to give our solution another try!

    • Jana Riess

      This is the best customer service I have had from IngramSpark so far. I am glad to hear about the telephone support, which is sorely needed. If you are serious about discussing this, send me an email through my website. In two weeks I will be doing a solo session on self-publishing at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and much of what I said in this blog post will be part of that presentation. If there are changes afoot at IngramSpark I would like to relay that to the attendees.

  2. Kathryn Guare

    Jana, I found your post because I’ve been looking online for some kind of “Disappointed IngramSpark Clients Unite” bandwagon, and I was floored that IngramSpark took the time to respond to this blog, but cannot seem to mobilize itself to respond to customer inquiries. I am also baffled by why they are so staggeringly awful at customer service. Since every aspect of the technical book production and distribution continues to operate through Lightning Source, the sole mission of IngramSpark would seem to be to exist as a user/customer interface. If IngramSpark were a restaurant, it would be a prime candidate for Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares – if it can’t put a decent meal on the table, why does it exist?

  3. I’m publishing my first novel this summer. I have three children’s picture books out already. I’m trying to decide between Amazon and Ingram spark. I want to be accepted in stores which is hard when you are published with Amazon.
    I’ve used subsidy publishers for my first two children’s books and it was a disaster. Create Space was so much better and their customer service is top notch. It’s a tough decision. Each has benefits and you need to choose which is better for you.

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