Kathleen Jones: finding out what happens when you upload your book to Ingram Spark

A couple of months ago I blogged here about my experience of signing up with 'aggregator' Ingram Spark, recommended by the Alliance of Independent Authors. Then, a few weeks ago I received an invitation to a presentation at Ingram headquarters in Milton Keynes and a tour of their printing works at Lightning Source.  Always curious to know the path from my uploaded manuscript to the printed page I happily accepted, even though it meant a 5am start from the Lake District.  Neil, as the Book Mill editor, came with me to investigate the techie side of things.

We weren’t disappointed.  Andy Bromley, their ‘front man’ for indie authors, gave a fascinating presentation into Ingram’s history and its plans for the future.

Ingram was established in 1964 by John Ingram as a private company.  They started out in logistics, moved into digital content and publishing and are now going into Robotic technology.   In 1997 they acquired Lightning Source as a Print On Demand company even though digital printing was very poor at the time - they could see the potential.  They moved into Publisher Services, providing distribution, printing and e-technology for the mainstream publishing industry in 2005, making it available to Indie authors a few years ago.

The figures speak for themselves.  In 1995 100% of their profit was from traditional publishing sources – now more than 56% comes from their new channels.  ‘Traditional publishing and wholesaling,’ Andy remarked, ‘is a declining business model.’  Interesting thoughts for Indie authors.

The advantages for signing up as an Indie author are obvious. They have a global marketplace, which includes POD facilities in a lot of different countries; so the book you sell in Asia might be printed in the Philippines and shipped from there, rather than the USA, so distribution costs are lower.

They are also planning more expansion into new territories, which will make them more attractive. Ingram Spark is also non-exclusive, so you can have your book with Amazon (both KDP and Create Space) as well, so long as you haven’t ticked the ‘expanded distribution’ box on Amazon.  I use Ingram to market my book as an e-pub and POD book and also on the i-Books platform.

They are better than Amazon (and cheaper) across the Americas and Canada.  Bookshops can order from the iPage catalogue - a service that will be available in the UK and Australia from next year. It’s a good alternative to Gardners and Bertrams, who drag their feet where Indie authors are concerned.

For those writing non-fiction books with an educational element, Ingram has Vital Source, which provides online books for students.  This was pioneered with Plymouth University, who uploaded all their texts for particular courses onto a platform for their students so that they didn’t have to go out and buy books.  It’s also proving useful for Business courses and distance learning. With academic publishing becoming prohibitively expensive, this could be a good opportunity for writers of text books.

They also have Core Source - which was set up to offer e-publicity for the big publishers and which is now being offered to Indies.  They have recently also acquired Perseus Distribution, which will increase their reach.

Before lunch we went on a tour of the printing works which operates 24/7 and prints 20,000 books a day.  They have a massive server that stores all the books as digital content.  Each cover and separate manuscript you upload is given a barcode (separate from the sales barcode) and the machines match up the barcodes to make sure that the right cover goes on the right book.
Interiors waiting to be perfect bound
We were impressed by the massive stacks of paper in the print works - all from either Germany or Sweden.  Apparently the paper making industry in the UK is defunct.  Their paper is responsibly sourced and they use two suppliers in case one goes bankrupt so that their supplies won’t be disrupted.

They have both ink jets and laser printers which cost over 1.7 million each.  If you choose to have your novel printed on creme paper it will be printed by a laser and they use white paper for the ink jets.

We spent a long time watching covers being pasted onto trimmed interiors by a very clever machine.  With hardbacks (which Ingram will do for you) part of the process is still done by hand.
The folding machine
The whole tour was fascinating.  I now know exactly what happens to my book when I load it onto the Ingram site and order a copy and I can imagine it belting through the printers at 120 sheets a minute, being folded, chopped and trimmed, glued and compressed and whizzing out the other end looking slick and dressed for the bookshelf of some lucky customer!

Enthused by the visit, I’ve finally got round to loading up a print copy of my most recent novel, The Centauress, to both Amazon and Ingram.  You can actually get both print editions from Amazon - the Ingram sourced ones come up as ‘5 new’ (no idea how Amazon determines the number!) underneath the Amazon price and the relative prices may differ. Book Depository seem to be the cheapest at the moment. Also gratified to find that Ingram supply all the info and metadata for the Nielsen’s website. One satisfied customer here anyway.

Kathleen Jones publishes fiction, poetry and biography as both a traditionally published and independently published author.  You can find her here at www.kathleenjones.co.uk.
She blogs regularly at A Writer's Life, Tweets as @kathyferber and is also on Facebook wearing dark glasses!


Dennis Hamley said…
Kathleen, this is really interesting. I have to admit that I knew virtually nothing abut Ingram Spark, though when I had old books uploaded with the Solidus Press back in the Noughties, they used Lightning Source for printing and I was hugely impressed by the quality of the product. I'm wedded at the moment to Createspace but it's good to see that you can use both together. And the distribution facility seems tailor-made for the indie author. Yes, I must think about this very carefully. Thank you.
Kathleen Jones said…
Yes, I'm very impressed by their business model Dennis and they seem to work quite happily alongside Amazon.
Bill Kirton said…
Many thanks for this, Kathleen. I checked them out after your previous blog and, typically, didn't follow up on it, but I really must this time. They seem to be plugging a huge gap that Amazon and CreateSpace do little to help with.
Kathleen Jones said…
They are also very helpful, Bill. There's a human being you can talk to when things don't go right.
That's interesting, Kathleen, thank you. I have just pressed publish on my first POD title with Createspace but didn't realize it's possible to have your cake and eat it... i.e. publish with both CS and Ingram! (I can't with this title since I ticked the CS expanded distribution, but it might well be something to investigate in future.)

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