Bob Spear is a long-time bokstore owner, book reviewer & packager, and self-published author. Bob has published 11 books of nonfiction and is working on five mysteries to be self-published soon. He currently blogs about his venture back into the world of self-publishing with his latest mystery, Quad Delta.
First—why did you pick Lightning Source over the others? Was it the price vs. service level, reputation, print quality, or something else? What publishers have you used in the past?
Lightning Source is a top quality digital printer and a distributor, not really a publisher. I have a great local source for digital printing, which is as cheap when taking into account that they deliver my books for free. I just used their services for my first 50 books. On the other hand, Lightning Source is wholly-owned by the world’s largest book distributor: Ingram. Normally Ingram will not distribute my titles because they require a publisher to offer at least 10 different ones. Because I’m going through Lightning Source, they now will distribute me regardless of how many titles I offer. That’s a huge advantage.
Nor is their service exclusive. They know I can also go local when I need something immediately, and that’s okay by them. A similar service exists from BookSurge, which is owned by Amazon.
What service level did you choose, why, and how much did it cost? Are you happy with what you get for the price?
Because of their distribution service, I have signed on for two levels of service:
The first service is to print any number I order and ship to me to sell as I can, and I pay for shipping. I pay their agreed-to printing price, which varies by page number and size and is spelled out in their downloadable materials.
The second service is for them to print onesies and send them to whatever retailer orders them direct from Ingram distributors. That costs me a standard distributor’s discount of 55% and nothing else for the printing. The retailer pays directly to Ingram for the shipping.
Rights: who retains them, and for how long? In whose name is the ISBN registered?
I supply my ISBN that I obtained on my own from Bowker. The rights are all mine. Remember, these guys are a printer/distributor, not a publisher or a vanity press, some of which (like Publish America) can tie up your rights for seven years or even forever. Caveat Emptor—let the buyer beware.
Self-sales: does the printer give author- or bulk-discounts if I want to purchase copies to distribute locally? Lightning Source is owned by Ingram, with its massive distribution channels. How heavily did that weigh in your choice?
It’s Ingram’s distribution system that is the primary reason I’m using Lightning Source for digital printing. Digital printing is best only for small quantities that may be needed quickly or to test a market or to send to reviewers in advance. Digital printing is too expensive per book to use as a primary source for day-to-day sales to the book industry, which may ask for 40 to 65% trade discounts to do business with retailers and two levels of distributors. For that, you’ll need to take the risk of printing lots of 500 to 1,000 or more via traditional offset printing. Paying more per book for the security of digital printing really isn’t viable over the long run. Lightning Source will be happy to bid on offset print runs—which they will job out—but so will any printer, under the right circumstances.
Quality: some people are saying self-publishing’s not publishing, just really, really, really good photocopying. Is that your experience? Are you pleased with the quality of what you pay for?
Self-publishing is not just printing. It’s doing everything from production to marketing yourself. Digital printing these days, on the other hand, looks as good as offset—with the exception of color printing, where offset printing uses inks that mix and blend, while digital uses either toner or wax in color layers, which usually comes out a little darker than the ink blends.
How do you like working with Lightning Source, personally? Do you find them pleasant and helpful, informative, really inspiring? Or simply business-like? Or does the service kind of suck, but worth it for what you get? Would you recommend others use them, and would you use them again yourselves?
I have been frustrated in that I haven’t been able to use their file-uploading system, for some weird reason. I had to send the files on a CD via US mail. They were nice enough, but insisted that the problem had to be at my end because of my server. This is after trying to use my Mac and my PC on Roadrunner cable from home and my PC laptop over ATT’s DSL system down at our bookstore, The Book Barn. That was frustrating, but I worked around it. Fortunately, I had that local source for digital printing that tided me over with an initial print run of 50 copies.
Remember, also, that I do true full-service publishing for myself. I don’t need iUniverse or Booklocker or Author House, et al, because I can do all the things they offer for cheaper and with total control.