When searching for book publishing companies, there is often confusion with what we’re actually hoping to find. Mostly, we need someone to design and format our cover and manuscript and then make it available for sale wherever readers buy books. So let’s start with the basics.
What is the difference between book publishing companies, publishing platforms, and print distribution companies?
Book publishing companies can be either traditional publishing houses, small presses, book printing companies, or self-publishing companies. Most are dedicated to preparing your manuscript for publication (like editing, formatting, and cover design). While some of these publishers have in-house virtual book shops, most rely on large-scale book distribution companies to get their books into physical and virtual retail stores throughout the world where readers can purchase books. Some cater to the academic market and libraries, as well specialty markets, like comic books.
A print book distribution company stores and distributes books to retailers, libraries, and academic institutions and handles print-on-demand functions for the publishing companies. The world of ebook distribution is an ecosystem parallel to, but separate from, the print book distribution system. There are a variety of print book distributors throughout the world, some of which are directly accessible to self-published authors.
Fortunately, for a typical indie author, you don’t need to pour through this list and go through the arduous process of placing your book in all relevant markets. The two most popular publishing platforms have direct links to the major distributors. The publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is an Amazon company and uses the power of the Amazon worldwide network to reach millions of readers. The IngramSpark (IS) platform uses the vast Ingram distribution network to reach bookstores, academic institutions, and libraries around the globe. While both companies use each other’s distribution system in addition to their own, it makes sense to explore each on their own merits.
How to choose the publishing platform for your book
Because using different publishing platforms take time and sometimes money, it is worth the effort to explore why you would choose to publish to one or both. It is what I consider “going wide or going easy.” Going easy is solely publishing through KDP. Going wide uses both networks. I’ll explore the details of each platform shortly.
First, like so many other parts of the book writing and publishing process, the choice to go wide or go easy depends on your goals as an author. If this is your first and only book and you don’t anticipate spending a lot of time and money on marketing, publishing to Kindle Direct Publishing only might be your best choice.
If instead, you are starting a career as a writer or author, you anticipate marketing your book in a significant way, your book is relevant to markets outside of the US, or would be attractive to libraries or academic institutions, publishing on both platforms will help you meet your goals better and faster.
Another thing to consider when choosing your distribution is the quality of your book—the story or contents, editing, formatting or layout, and cover design, plus a powerful description. Those elements are essential to increasing readership and book sales. No amount of distribution will overcome a lesser quality book.
You also want to consider the popularity of your genre. For example, romance and mystery are big markets, while cookbooks and children’s stories are less so. Limiting distribution on a book in a popular genre leaves money on the table and negates opportunities for growth as an author.
Other considerations include the increased cost of ISBNs and barcodes, a reduced royalty share in some markets, and the cost of returns. Time considerations are also a factor. It will require additional time for uploading and keeping track of different formats, including any changes in the manuscript, cover, or pricing, along with international pricing.
Here is an overview of the most prominent book publishing companies and their print book distribution networks.
Kindle Direct Publishing vs. IngramSpark
Let’s start with the biggest names in helping you distribute your book and putting it in front of millions of readers. Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark are the current leaders in the space, with other options becoming available year after year to take advantage of the growing self-publishing market.
Kindle Direct Publishing
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is an Amazon company and leader in the world of print and ebook distribution to Amazon. With its user-friendly interface, it creates few barriers to publishing. They accept familiar document types like Word documents and PDFs (among others) for your formatted manuscript for print and ebook. While they don’t offer help with formatting or an auto-manuscript generator, their specs aren’t as stringent as with other platforms. Best of all, the service is free.
With its direct ties to Amazon, publishing books through KDP offers the highest royalty structure for all books sold through Amazon.com and Amazon affiliates worldwide. KDP offers Expanded Distribution to outlets like Barnes and Noble, bookstores, and academic institutions, but with their small discount combined with a no return policy, most retailers in the Expanded Distribution network will turn to other book distributors for their books. Amazon has recently pulled back from library distribution citing the ability of libraries to pay once and distribute books for free, albeit at a higher initial price. The Expanded Distribution network includes distributors like Ingram, as discussed below.
While they offer a Cover Creator program to generate a cover for your book, a better option is to have one designed professionally if your goal is to sell your book to a wide audience. They offer a free ISBN to be used only with KDP. If you want to distribute on other platforms, your best bet is to purchase an ISBN and barcode (for print books) through Bowker.com. While authors can take advantage of their pre-order service for ebooks, it is currently not available for print books. Proof copies are available at the small cost of an author copy to view before you publish but display a prominent “proof” label across the cover.
All in all, because Amazon captures about 50% of retail book sales (and a whopping 75% of the ebook market), wise authors choose KDP for at least the distribution to Amazon. If you are only going to publish to one platform for the reasons cited earlier, many choose KDP.
Where KDP falters in its non-Amazon distribution, IngramSpark (IS) thrives. IS is backed by its powerful distribution system used by major publishers worldwide. Bookstores and libraries turn to IS for their more attractive discount and returnability. When you publish with IS, you can adjust the discount retailers receive. You can also determine when your book can be returned. But any adjustment to the recommended 55% discount and ability to return books may lessen your chances of being picked up.
With its roots in the Lightning Source company, a book distributor for traditional publishing houses, the user interface and requirements are less user-friendly than those of KDP. Until recently, the requirement to purchase an ISBN along with the more rigid specs, lower royalties on Amazon, and a setup fee kept some authors from taking advantage of the powerful print book distribution offered. Fortunately, they are slowly shifting to keep up with the competition. They also offer books in hardcover with or without a dust jacket, and books in various landscape orientations, features lacking with KDP. They also offer a free ISBN. As with the KDP free ISBN, it cannot be used with another company.
If you are an author serious about distributing your book to the widest audience possible, it is worth the extra money and effort to also publish through IngramSpark. Your ability to offer your print book for pre-order sales and be recognized by retailers, libraries, and academic institutions make this an easy choice for the career author. However, the extra expense and effort may or may not be the best option for the casual author looking to sell to friends and family or who is unlikely to invest in marketing their book.
Other book publishing platforms
There are options other than the big two mentioned. The caveat is that publishing through these systems adds another company into the equation. They are companies that want to get paid out of your total royalty. Some will give you more options or better services, but they will come at a price.
D2D Print is a new program in the popular ebook Draft2Digital system. It is currently in beta. With high customer satisfaction in their ebook distribution model, opening the print side is likely to be a welcome entrant into the print market. They use the Amazon and Ingram distribution systems, among others.
BookBaby (BB) offers design assistance for paperback, hardcover, and ebook versions of your book, or you can upload your own fully designed files. Your book is automatically available in their online store, BookShop, with higher than average royalties. The downside is readers tend to shop on their preferred online or physical store locations. You pay an additional fee for distribution to Amazon and other networks. Their cost per book is not as competitive as KDP or IS resulting in higher book prices to your readers or lower royalties for you. But BB offers a wide range of book types and sizes as well as printing services if you intend to sell your books locally and want to forego distribution. Their distribution system includes Ingram, Baker & Taylor, NACSCORP (college stores), Christian Book Distributors, Bookazine, Diamond Comics, BPDI Corp (Midwest).
Lulu offers a variety of formats, including coil bound and saddle stitch books, hardcover with or without a dust jacket, photo books, comic books, and magazines. Like many of the major players, they offer a free ISBN. When you publish through Lulu, it may take up to 8 weeks to appear in the various distribution systems. Like BookBaby, royalties and author copy pricing are not as competitive as KDP and IS.
Blurb publishes a variety of book types, including photo books and trade books. They also distribute through the Ingram network. The payment threshold for royalties is $25 before you get paid. This company might be a good option if you are publishing a high-end photo book. Similar to Lulu, author copies and royalties are less competitive.
Print only (no book distribution)
Print-only options are attractive if you plan to do bulk printing of your book for things like mailing books to potential clients or selling at the back of the room after a speaking gig. Bulk purchases may net you a lower price per copy at the expense of a world of readers. Unless you know you have an audience for your book or you have a specialty book, print on demand is a better overall choice for most authors. Print-only publishers include players like DiggyPod, 48-Hour Books, and Vervante, among others.
What do self-publishing services companies, hybrid and vanity publishers do?
With exception, the print book publishing platforms listed above use your created manuscript and cover files to package and distribute your book. To get your manuscript and cover files formatted and designed, writers turn to self-publishing services companies (there are many), hybrid and vanity publishers, and freelancers. The difference in your choices lies in who has control. Many self-publishing services companies will design and publish through platforms like KDP and IngramSpark on your behalf, giving you control of your royalties and earning potential. In contrast, many hybrid and vanity presses have earned poor reputations for service, quality, and deceiving practices. Freelancers can design your files but may or may not usher you through the myriad of questions that arise during publication. Always read your contract and ask questions to ensure you know what you are getting.
With all of your choices, it’s a solid bet to publish your book through Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark to gain the widest distribution and the best royalties whether you design and upload the files yourself or enlist the help of a self-publishing services company.
If you’ve got more questions about the publishing process or want to be in control of your publishing journey, get your FREE Quickstart Publishing Guide here.
This post contains affiliate links. When you purchase from some of the vendors, I receive a few dollars. I thought you should know.