Wednesday, July 2, 2014

For Writers: Createspace AND Lightning Source- What-what?

Recently, I switched my paperback distribution to go through Createspace for distribution to Amazon and Lightning Source for distribution everywhere else.  I didn't come up with this idea on my own.  As a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (Alli), I'd heard this was the recommended way to go, but to be honest, I didn't fully understand the benefits until I took the plunge. Now that I have, I'm getting lots of questions about the move. Here's what you should know.

First, this post applies to self-published authors who:

  1. Use their own ISBNs or want to use their own ISBNs
  2. Regularly sell paperbacks at venues other than Amazon
  3. Have a few hundred dollars in capital to invest in the move
  4. Don't change their paperbacks often

If these three things don't apply to you, stop reading and go directly to Createspace. Createspace is by far the cheapest and most user friendly way to deliver POD to your customers.

As the owner of Carpe Luna publishing, I started with using Createspace only but soon was selling enough via expanded distribution to notice the disparity in royalties between Createspace to Amazon and Createspace to all other channels.  To illustrate, let's take a book priced at $12.99, 340 pages, Black and white with Cream interior.  Here's the royalty breakdown at Createspace.

Now, the line I want you to focus on is "Expanded Distribution". This author is earning only a quarter for every sale ANYWHERE other than Amazon. And-- here's the part that really opened my eyes--when anyone orders a paperback through another retailer, like say Barnes and Noble, that order is going through Createspace to Lightning Source to be fulfilled. Plus, because I wanted my paperbacks published with my own ISBNs because I am my own publishing company, Createspace would limit my choices for expanded distribution. Eventually,  going directly through Lightning Source had more appeal to me.

Lightning Source distributes everywhere that is included in Creatspace expanded distribution. Let's see the royalty model for Lightning Source for the same book. Same specifications but LS gives you one additional benefit, you can change your discount. Here, I've calculated using the minimum discount of 20%, but you can select up to 55%.

So, we've gone from earning a quarter per book to $5 per book, or even at the full 55% discount 50 cents per book.  (When I switched over, I chose 35% which made my royalties about the same as selling on Amazon).

Publishing through Lightning Source isn't free.  It's $75 set-up cost per title and $30 if you order a physical proof. ( I'm comfortable using their digital proofer).  In addition, any time you make a change to the cover or interior, it's going to cost you $40, so make sure your books are in a semi-permenant state before publishing.  But here's an over-simplified break even:

(LS Profit) (Sales)  = $105
5(X) = $105
X= 21

At the minimum discount, you will break even if you sell around 21 books of each title (Or more or less depending on your price, discount, pages, and if you get a physical proof). After 23 books, your profits will have exceeded what you might have earned using Createspace during that period of time.  For me, thats doable, so this made sense. In addition, I don't plan to touch my interiors or covers for at least a year.

Why not just use LS?  Createspace is faster to Amazon and free.  It's a good way to go with newer titles that you know you are going to change.  Plus, you can use the same ISBN in both places as long as you have never used that ISBN before for expanded distribution.

When you upload to Createspace, simply do not select the expanded distribution channel.

Some things you should remember about Lightning Source:
  1. You must apply and be approved as a publisher
  2. You must purchase and use your own ISBNs
  3. Don't make mistakes because changing things will cost you
  4. The user interface isn't as easy to use as Createspace and so you may want to find a friend to help you through the first go round.
  5. The cover and interior requirements are slightly different, so I recommend using a professional designer and formatter if you go this direction. An LS format will work at Createspace but not necessarily the other way around. Color requirements on the covers are slightly different and LS paper is slightly thicker, so you will need a separate version of the cover from your artist.
  6. Make certain you select "Non returnable" during setup to create a true POD 
Again, not for everyone, but I'm glad I made the switch! 

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