Ingram Spark: A Flash of Lightning or A Bolt of Reality for Self-Publishers?

Something tells me that the word ‘Spark’ is going to be on the lips of many self-published authors over the coming  months and I’m sure there will be many articles, lines and comments written about a path yet to be taken by many indie publishers.
Working with Lightning Sourcedirectly has become a common path for many self-published authors over the past few years. After all, Lightning Source (LSI) is the print and distribution choice for many savvy authors not willing to engage the publishing services of assisted self-publishing companies using publishing packages and sometimes significant print mark-ups on books directly sold to authors. It’s one of the reasons why self-publishing platforms like CreateSpace and Lulu have dominated TIPM’sPublishing Index for several years. Savvy authors know the services they need and they have long migrated from using assisted publishing packages available from leading providers in the field, preferring to deal directly with freelance editors, designers, printers and marketing services, rather than dealing with middlemen taking a large cut from the sale of a book.
Lightning Source (LSI) is a digital print and fulfilment company owned by the largest US book wholesaler and distributor in the USA with global facilities and infrastructure used by many traditional publishers in the book publisher world. Over the past few years, LSI has also become something of a godsend for self-published authors with a block of ISBN’s, an imprint name, the smarts to deal with LSI’s clunky load-up mechanism and strict account requirements. LSI was never meant as a direct to trade publishing platform for self-published authors. That didn’t stop authors setting up publishing imprints, obtaining ISBN’s, loading print ready files to LSI and celebrating the fact that they could set their own retail price, bookseller discount and avail of a return facility for POD printed books. Going with most assisted publishing providers directly for these ‘perks’ would have run into thousands of dollars.
While LSI love the extra business the self-publishing community brings in, they aren’t happy, and neither is owner Ingram. Dealing with authors directly is no fun, especially if those authors are unfamiliar with how the publishing business works. Publishers and authors working with LSI have to sign complicated trade contracts, far more detailed than contracts from many assisted self-publishing providers. Unless you are familiar with the files publishers load directly to printers, the process and requirements can get tricky. LSI support, in all their facilities, has been dealing directly with this from authors for a number of years. It takes time and resources and LSI has done its best to provide tutorials and templates to deal with their publishing process.
Ingram has operated a content and fulfilment service for publishers needing print (offset) and e-book publication and distribution. This is an entirely separate operation and they have developed some pretty sophisticated software over time. Over the past year, Ingram has been working on many developments and integration programs, and the roll out of Ingram Spark is the one that will really make the self-publishing community sit up and take notice. The primary aims of Ingram Spark is to deal with the requirements of smaller publishers without a great deal of capital, offer a similar service that has been offered to larger publishers, and restore their print facilities in the USA, Europe and Australia to being print facilities—not author or small publisher avenues with all the support needed to provide that as an addition service.

On July 1st, IngramSpark will launch. This is still, even now, a provisional date and many of the full services intended to be provided by Spark will not roll out (including e-book) until August/September or later. This is still a project in development. Ingram demonstrated some of the Spark features at the recent Book Expo America (photo). Spark is not a replacement for LSI, but rather a reaction to how LSI has developed over the past few years. It is a service from Ingram intended for the small publisher, not for self-publishers. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about the arrival of Ingram Spark over the past few weeks, and many of them have spoken about it in the context of self-publishing.

Here is just some of the press covering the announcement of Ingram Spark:

“IngramSpark is for small, independent publishers. It is not for self-published authors,” said an Ingram spokesperson.

Elaborating on IngramSpark, Ouimet said that this platform should allow small publishers a “one stop shop” for getting digital distribution and print-on-demand for their titles. While Ouimet would not discuss the pricing structure—he said that information is not something the company is “not ready to roll out publicly”—he noted that there would be a “modest” and “competitive” setup fee. (Ouimet added that there would be a set discount off of retail, and publishers would have guaranteed compensation for any sales that happen through the program.) He noted that the program is geared at small publishers, not individual authors.

Author Jessica Bell I’m a bit confused about all this. I read somewhere that LS will migrate its users to IngramSpark. So this means Lightning Source will BECOME IngramSpark?

  • Lightning Source Jessica – this is incorrect. We are not planning to migrate LS publishers to IngramSpark. Spark is an additional platform that was developed to help smaller publishers get started with Ingram. For more information, you can sign up for updates at – they are planning communications prior to the launch to help clarify this new service. I hope this helps.


There is no official report or commentary I can find in writing that suggests Ingram Spark is intended for self-publishers—absolutely nowhere! However, that does not mean Ingram is hedging their bets on what Ingram Spark is or will become. This from a spokesman on their Facebook page (see above questions answered above and below):

“The definition of publisher can change daily. Ingram is in the business of serving our upstream (publishers) and downstream (retailers, library) partners to help them succeed – it’s not our job to distinguish and label publishers. If a self-publisher is savvy, and has the background/skills to meet our file requirements, IngramSpark could be a good choice.”

In light of this, I don’t see Ingram Spark as being the new Ingram answer to CreateSpace or Lulu, rather a more upmarket competitor with a better interface, but more sign-up restrictions. This is a publisher platform aimed at small publishers with less than ten titles, and like LSI, with some publishing savvy, but not with the chunkiness of LSI’s UI.

Here is what we do know:

  • Spark will be free to open an account, but will have a $49 fee if you want to publish e and p books ($25 for e only). That fee will be waived if you order more than 50 books.

  • Revenue will be 40% to the publisher for ebooks and 45% on print (Ingram have not disclosed whether this 45% is after print costs or not – could be a critical factor)

  • Publishers can set the retail price for different sales channels

  • Publishers can set a release date

  • Publish e and print in one load up

  • Book tracking and sales reports will be available with proper metrics

  • Data population will happen every 24 hours

  • There will be a fixed discount to retailers

I’ve heard conflicting stories on how file submission will be accepted, and also whether the software will convert from word docs or only PDF. This could be a critical area. Even Calibre software won’t convert properly from a word doc to epub or mobi without formatting issues. It will be worth seeing how advanced Ingram Spark’s system really is. That may prove whether Spark cuts it or not for independent publishers.
There is a lot still in the melting pot for potential new clients of Ingram’s Spark. If it is as good as the demonstrations at BEA suggest, then this might be another path for self-publishers with some real smarts, but not a general DIY rival to CreateSpace or Lulu.
Watch this space. Ingram Spark goes live on July 1st. I suspect we will be talking a great deal about it in the coming weeks. Ingram has also advised me that terms could change between now and the launch.
They have been very circumspect on real details and I suspect Ingram is watching closely to how this news is received, and just how they want to market Spark. You can follow any updates on the launch of Ingram Spark here.  

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