Notorious POD: A Battle of the Self-Publishing OG’s

Amazon and Ingram Throwdown, a "Mark's World" article


If you followed the East Coast-West Coast hip hop/rap rivalry of the 1990s, you already know it didn't end well. East Coast rapper, Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G) and West Coast rapper, Tupac Shakur, both ended up dead. As with the actual rap wars, the POD (print-on-demand) war between CreateSpace (a division of Amazon) and Ingram is one that most indie authors don't pay much attention to. But if you're self-publishing a book, you should.

As you may already know, Amazon (West Coast) is the OG of selling books online and Ingram (East Coast—well, Tennessee) is the OG of POD book printing. But when Amazon bought BookSurge in 2005 and turned it into CreateSpace, it came with some POD street cred, and soon Amazon declared it was OG of POD, too.

Just like in the rap wars of the 90s, when you put a bunch of OG's together, egos and bravado are going to cause problems. To be fair, this war isn't fought with guns. It's fought with data and book availability. If you're a self-published author, one of the main reasons you probably chose to print POD versus a larger print run was to ensure that your book would always be in-stock and available for immediate order on Amazon (and other retailers).

You, my friend, are a casualty of war and you might not even know.

It's not even one of those wars where you can point your finger at someone and say, "See… Look what he's doing!" It's a type of cyber warfare, but the subtle kind, where neither of the real combatants gets hurt; instead, it's the little guy—the self-published author who gets stuck in this invisible, yet very real, war zone.

The Availability Front

On the book availability battleground, Amazon, through proxy warrior CreateSpace, is crushing Ingram. For example, when an author uses IngramSpark and her manuscript is distributed (meaning that the title metadata is made available to all online and brick-and-mortar retailers with Ingram accounts), it can take up to two weeks to appear in-stock on Amazon. Or it can take just a few days. Depending on how quickly your book appears on Amazon, the situation can be frustrating. Guess what might is even more frustrating? Any of following:

  • Your book appears on Amazon, but as "out of stock";
  • Your book never appears on Amazon; or
  • Your book appears on Amazon, but without the cover image.

These availability issues didn't start becoming an issue for the authors of my self-publishing company until 2012, when about 10 to 15 percent of our authors started to complain about their POD titles often being listed as out of stock on Amazon.

There was no discernible pattern or reason—it was totally random. Ingram would tell us it was sending the data feeds correctly and that it was something on Amazon’s end. They were always "working" on it, but the problem was never resolved. I believe that Ingram has tried to work with Amazon. It has no reason not to want the books it prints and distributes to appear out of stock on Amazon. That makes sense.

But something doesn't smell Kosher, right? If a book is POD, it should always be "in stock" given that it's just a file. Yet, two media giants can't figure out how to sync up title data or whatever they're saying it is?

Publicly, the largest book retailer in the U.S. and the largest book distributor are frenemies. They can't openly be at war. That could upset the natural order of the publishing ecosystem. Like any good combatant, Amazon just waited out its frenemy. Sure, maybe they bro hug in public to keep up appearances, but escalation of publishers' and authors' frustration is causing some of them to POD with both the East and West Coast.

We do it now. It's kind of like picking between Biggie and Snoop. Why not get the best of rap that features a lot of jazz samples and rap that features a lot of funk samples?

The Pricing Front

Need to give it up to the West Coast OG on POD prices. CreateSpace crushes IngramSpark for comparable products. I've printed copies of my book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing with every print vendor we use, including CreateSpace, Ingram, and several offset printers.

Certainly, there's a slight difference in quality between offset printing and POD, but there's little difference between the copies of my book produced by CreateSpace and Lightning Source (assuming you provide press-ready, professionally designed files to both).

But the price per copy, well, that's another thing. To produce one copy of my book at CreateSpace, the price is $4.11. To produce the identical book at IngramSpark, my cost is $4.81 when it's printed for distribution to third-party retailers and wholesalers or if I want to wait five business days to have it printed and shipped. If I want IngramSpark to print and ship the book in two business days, it's $5.35 a copy.

And when it comes to POD printing, only one of the OG's is winning this part of the war. Snoop Dogg summed it up best in Gin and Juice: "With my mind on my money and my money on my mind."


Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

When it comes to POD, I keep hearing Amazon repeating, "Don't hate the player, hate the game.” Maybe that's what explains the randomness of many of Ingram's POD titles appearing as out of stock on Amazon for no reason. And as for printing costs, Amazon appears to be hooking us all up.


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