An early important weakness of Amazon’s CreateSpace was that the only major outlet for its books was Amazon.com. CreateSpace has now remedied much of this deficit with its Expanded Distribution Channel, offering self publishers the capability of selling to other booksellers, schools, and libraries throughout the U.S. and beyond.
But few CreateSpace publishers have a good idea of exactly how this Rube Goldberg system works or what they can expect from it—and even the CreateSpace support staff often seems ignorant of its details. So, let’s take a look.
The EDC is actually a collection of three sales “outlets,” and you can sign up for any combination of them. The primary feature common to all is that access requires a 60% discount to CreateSpace. In other words, CreateSpace subtracts 60% of your book’s list price—in addition to printing cost—before paying you. But note that this discount is taken only for copies sold through the EDC. For copies of the same book sold to Amazon, the discount taken would still be 40%.
The first outlet is CreateSpace Direct, a program for verified retailers. These retailers can purchase your book at the CreateSpace eStore, with a discount reportedly of 25% to 35%—a figure that would vary by the size of the order.
Since the eStore is not a standard supplier for most retailers, and since paperwork is required for their registration, and since the discount is below standard anyway, you’re not likely to sell much or any books this way. But this outlet might prove useful if you have one or more local or specialty retailers who will put themselves out to carry your book.
The second outlet is labeled “Bookstores and Online Retailers.” Surprisingly, this is a tie‑in to CreateSpace’s biggest competitor, Lightning Source. That’s right: Just a few years after trying to grind Lightning into the dust, Amazon adopted Lightning as a pillar of CreateSpace distribution.
The way it works is that your book first has to meet the physical requirements of a Lightning book—trim size, page count, and so on. CreateSpace converts your book to files that meet Lightning specs and sends them to Lightning with your metadata. Lightning then prints your book on demand and distributes it through its network of wholesale and retail “partners.”
In the U.S., these partners include Ingram Book Company—the largest U.S. book wholesaler and a sister company to Lightning—and Barnes & Noble (online and off). Since Lightning’s reach is international, it will also make your book available overseas—including on Amazon in Canada, which the consumer division of CreateSpace cannot yet supply itself!
Though the Lightning connection is very nice for CreateSpace publishers, it’s not all that they sometimes expect. I’m willing to bet that most believe their 60% discount for this outlet gives their books a fighting chance to be stocked in bookstores. Sorry, no. The only business that gets the full 60% discount is CreateSpace, which apparently passes along about 45% to Lightning, and thereby to Ingram and other Lightning partners. And then, of course, Ingram takes its own cut. So, when bookstores check the book at Ingram, they find they’re offered a discount of only 25%—not enough of a profit margin to justify stocking the book.
And then there’s the matter of returnability, which bookstores require with books they stock, but which CreateSpace sensibly denies. The upshot is that bookstores will special order the book on customer request, but they definitely will not stock it.
The Lightning Source connection also comes with its own set of complications. For instance, it can take much longer to get a change made at Lightning through CreateSpace than it would if you were working with Lightning directly or through IngramSpark. So, you could easily have a space of weeks in which CreateSpace and Lightning were each selling your book with a different list price, or even in a different version.
Another complication can arise when a publisher outgrows the EDC and decides to supplement CreateSpace by setting up with Lightning either directly or through IngramSpark. This may happen as a publisher gains more experience and books and focuses on profitability—after all, why give a hefty percentage to an intermediary if you don’t have to? (My book POD for Profit gives tips for the move and explains in detail how to work with Lightning directly.) But if your book has been distributed by Lightning through the EDC, Lightning already has the book identified by ISBN in a CreateSpace account.
Though I know one publisher who was able to work this out, it cost her several weeks or more of lost sales. So, even if you own the original ISBN, it’s probably wisest to give your book a new one when moving it.
The final EDC outlet is “Libraries and Academic Institutions.” This is a tie‑in to Baker & Taylor, the second-largest U.S. book wholesaler. Now, the truth is, B&T sells to bookstores as well as to schools and libraries, just as Ingram sells to schools and libraries as well as to bookstores. But each wholesaler has its area of primary strength, and CreateSpace has chosen to simplify its outlet names to reflect this.
The arrangement with B&T works much differently than the arrangement with Lightning. B&T does have its own (ineffectual) POD division called TextStream, but your book doesn’t go through that. Instead, B&T acts strictly as a wholesaler, buying and selling copies provided by CreateSpace itself. That’s why there are no special physical requirements for this outlet, and why you can only sell through it with a CreateSpace ISBN, which for B&T associates the book with CreateSpace’s account.
With B&T likely getting the same discount as Lightning and Ingram, your book will be short-discounted there too, which will again make it unattractive to retailers. And actually, they’re not likely to see it anyway, since B&T normally doesn’t include a book in the listings it sends to retailers unless B&T has it in stock. But since this outlet is mostly offered to you for selling to schools and libraries rather than to those retailers, these are not big concerns.
I hope this helps you navigate CreateSpace’s convoluted Expanded Distribution Channel!
Note: While the discounts offered to retailers by Ingram are viewable both at Ingram’s ipage and at BookManager, some discounts mentioned in this article are extrapolations, best guesses, and hearsay, so they may not be exact.