What is CreateSpace and how does it work?
CreateSpace is a subsidiary company of Amazon which provides print on demand services for independent publishers. Simply sign up, upload your interior files/cover design, complete a few details and click publish. Your book is then listed on Amazon and available through selected bookshops. When someone makes an order, CreateSpace prints a copy and dispatches it to the customer. You don’t have to do anything,except sit back and wait for the royalty on each book sold.
In addition to listing your book on Amazon, CreateSpace also offers a limited form of expanded distribution. If you enable this, your book will be available to retailers, wholesalers and libraries, both off and online. It doesn’t guarantee any of them will order a copy. Bookshops are highly unlikely to stock a CreateSpace book on their shelves because being print on demand, they’d have to buy it outright rather than use their preferred Sale or Return system.
In theory, though, it does mean that a bookshop is able to order a copy, if a customer requests it. You may also find your book listed in some online stores. This method of distribution works relatively well within the US. CreateSpace supplies Ingram (the main US distributor) so your book will be available through shops such as Barnes & Noble (the largest retail bookseller in the US) and The Book Depository.
The situation in the UK isn’t quite so encouraging. It’s unlikely that Waterstones and WHSmith will list your book in their online stores or order it in, even on customer request. Both companies have the ability to order books from Ingram but they prefer to do so through the main UK distributors (Gardners/Bertrams) who don’t, currently, source books directly from CreateSpace.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a UK publisher enabling expanded distribution. After all, the US market is bigger than the UK one and you’ll hopefully make lots of sales there.
If it’s really important to you to access shops such as Waterstones and WHSmith but you still want to use print on demand, I suggest signing up to Ingram Spark. To use this service there’s a set-up fee of $49/£29, you need your own ISBN and to have removed your book from CreateSpace’s expanded distribution channels some weeks before.
You can still keep CreateSpace for Amazon sales which I’d recommend as Ingram Spark can’t match the royalties you receive for these. However, they do have a better expanded distribution reach, supplying both Gardners/Bertrams and through them, UK bookshops. Again, this won’t get your work onto bookshop shelves but should make it available for customers to order online or request a copy through a store.
What royalties can I expect from CreateSpace?
Using CreateSpace, you have a real opportunity to make a profit whilst still listing at a competitive price.
Royalties are based on a percentage of the cover price minus a per page fee and a standalone fixed charge. Trim size isn’t taken into account, unless you choose a nonstandard one. The exact money you receive depends on whether your book is sold through Amazon, CreateSpace’s own estore or a bookshop (via expanded distribution). Below are the royalties for a 110 – 828 page book (with a black and white interior) when sold through each of the following channels:
No-one ever uses CreateSpace’s estore and expanded distribution isn’t without its complications so, for the moment, let’s focus on Amazon sales. If you sell a 300-page book on Amazon.co.uk with a cover price of £7.99, the royalties work out as follows:
If you don’t think £1.09 sounds like much, bear in mind that CreateSpace deals with and pays for, printing, postage and packing out of their share. Receiving 14% of the cover price in these circumstances is pretty good and certainly comparable to what a traditionally published author could hope to obtain.
It’s also good news for the customer. Providing they take advantage of Prime or Super Saver delivery, they’ll pay just £7.99, including delivery. They may even pay less if Amazon discounts your book.
I’ve seen many a self-published author have something akin to an apoplectic fit when they see their book’s price has been reduced so let me make this very clear: discounts do not affect your royalty. You always get a percentage of the original cover price; the discount comes out of CreateSpace’s share. If Amazon chooses to reduce your price by 10%, it’s brilliant news: they’ve just made your book more appealing to potential buyers without affecting your royalty in any way.
The above calculations are for books between 110 and 828 pages with black and white interiors. The royalties for shorter books are calculated slightly differently and full colour ones come with a heftier per page charge of 4.5p. You’ll find a complete run down of royalties here. Additionally, CreateSpace provides an easy-to-use royalty calculator so you can check exactly how much you’ll get based on your book’s specifications. To use this, select the Royalties tab on this page.
Your royalties will be paid at the end of the month after your book sells. So, if you sell a book in March, CreateSpace transfers the money to your bank account at the end of April. You’ll receive up to three separate payments in different currencies – US dollars, Euros and Pound sterling, depending on where your book sold. These will automatically be converted to your regional currency, either by CreateSpace or your bank.
What quality of product can I expect?
The short answer to this is OK: not brilliant and not terrible either.
The internal pages are marginally thinner than a well-produced book from a traditional printer, leaving the finished product about 15% slimmer with a tendency to very mild undulation. The cream colour of the interior is slightly more garish than the subtle off-white shade I, personally, prefer. However, the pages aren’t tracing paper-thin. They feel quite robust, with a nice texture and certainly don’t tear easily.
The cover board used is also on the thin size, making it prone to gape open once the book’s been read. Additionally, the corners aren’t quite as robust as one would like, meaning the lamination has a greater tendency to peel off.
All of these are minor details. Overall, providing you select the matte finish and have a decent cover design, CreateSpace produces a professional-looking book, good enough that the average customer will simply regard it as normal and think no more about it. For commercial purposes, this is all you need.
What are CreateSpace like as a company? I can only speak from personal experience but I’ve found them to be highly organised, professional and helpful, despite ostensibly being a DIY (get on with it yourself) service. I’ve had occasion to ask several questions, using the Contact Us link at the bottom of all their pages and they’ve invariably got back to me, within 24 hours, with clear, helpful answers.
Ordering your own books
Another feature of CreateSpace is the ability to order copies of your own book. Once you’ve created a listing (more on this in future posts), select My Account -> Member Dashboard
You’ll see a list of your published works with a link to Order Copies by each one.
CreateSpace offers author copies at a very reasonable price, particularly for smaller orders. A 300-page, black and white interior volume will cost you $4.45 (approximately £3.50). The price remains the same per copy, no matter how many you order.
The bad news, for UK writers, is that author copies are exclusively printed in the US. This is despite the existence of printing facilities in the UK which supply retail copies to Amazon.co.uk. Postage from the US is eye-watering, particularly if you need your book(s) in a hurry. Shipping costs for one copy are:
Standard (31 business days) $4.88
Expedited (8 business days) $7.99
Priority (2 business days) $14.38!
If you need just one or two books within a reasonable time-frame, you’re actually better off ordering directly from Amazon.co.uk, like any other customer. After pocketing the royalty, this will see you paying £5.90 per copy (based on our sample 300-page book selling at £7.99).
For larger quantities, the postage evens out somewhat and makes the per copy price more acceptable. For example, on 25 copies, the expedited (8 business days) postage cost is $49.74. This works out as $1.99 per book which, added to the printing costs, means your per unit price will be $6.44 (approximately £5).
It’s just possible to break even if you use CreateSpace like a traditional printer and order books from them to supply local bookshops:
(The above printing/postage costs are estimates only, based on current exchange rates)
However, I really wouldn’t recommend using CreateSpace in this way. If you want a rapid, secure and cost-effective supply route to stock bookshops, you’re better off using a traditional printer based in the UK, such as Clays or Biddles. If you order 50 – 100 books, using one of these services, the per-copy price drops right down to the £2 – £3 level. You’ll also get a marginally better quality product. For 20 – 50 books, I’d recommend Book Printing UK. For this quantity, you’ll pay around £3 per copy. I discuss these printers in more detail here.
Small digital print runs, from printers such as Clays and Biddles, are an invaluable resource, even if you’re not planning to sell via bookshops. They’re by far the most economical way to source a small stock of promotional, review and personal copies to give/sell to friends and family.
CreateSpace’s real strength lies in selling your book on Amazon in an economically viable way, not in supplying author copies, at least not for those outside the US.
Doesn’t Lulu do exactly the same thing?
Yes, they do, more or less. However, for most books, CreateSpace provides a better deal, particularly when selling on Amazon.
In its online store, Lulu charges 20% commission, offering a seemingly attractive 80% royalty to its authors. However, this is 80% of the cover price after production costs have been deducted. These costs, are, in my opinion, inflated.
It’s possible to get a reasonably priced, lower quality value book from Lulu which costs £4.45 (for an average 300-page book with a black and white interior). However, value books are only offered in two sizes: Digest (13.97cm x 21.59cm) and US Letter (21.59cm x 27.94cm). Mysteriously, of these two sizes, only US Letter is available for retail distribution. Digest-sized books can only be sold directly though Lulu’s own store, which has a very limited reach.
US letter is far too big for all but the occasional textbook. If you’re selling a standard novel-sized book, you’ll need to choose a different trim size, possible A5 (14.81 x 20.99cm) or Royal (15.59 x 23.39cm). For these sizes, you’re forced to pick a premium paperback which comes at the premium cost of £5.95 – £6.05 (depending on the exact trim size chosen).
If you sell your book directly via Lulu’s estore, the economics work out like this:
This compares to the approximately £2.80 you’d receive on a book of the same price and size selling directly through CreateSpace’s estore. The only way to get that sort of royalty with Lulu is by utilising their value range. You would then need to create two books: the Digest-sized value one for Lulu’s estore and an A5 or Royal one for sale everywhere else. This seems an unnecessarily complicated way of going about things.
However, very few customers buy directly from either Lulu or CreateSpace. The real test is how the royalties compare on Amazon. Here, it’s not possible to sell a 300-page book using Lulu for our example price of £7.99. Lulu’s costs are so high that there’s not enough money earned to cover them. In order to break even, you’d need to up the price of your book to around £9, a trifle high for the average paperback. Even then, you receive a mere 28p royalty on each copy sold:
Selling the same book for £9 through CreateSpace, you receive the following, much healthier, royalties:
You may have noticed a slight discrepancy in Lulu’s production costs. These are £5.95 for a book sold through Lulu’s estore and £4.15 for one sold on Amazon. This is because Lulu uses other printers to produce books sold elsewhere, printers who, presumably, don’t artificially inflate their costs to the same extent. In fact, many of the books Lulu sells through Amazon and other bookshops are actually printed by CreateSpace.
The only area where Lulu outperforms CreateSpace is expanded distribution, that is, selling to bookshops that are willing to order through them. Here, you earn fractionally more with Lulu. The royalty on our 300-page, black and white interior book, selling at £9, is as follows:
As previously discussed, your chances of selling in large volumes through these channels (particularly in the UK) are small. If you find otherwise, it might be worth considering Lulu’s services for that extra few pence per copy, although, personally, I’d opt for Ingram Spark for their greater distribution reach.
I have absolutely nothing against Lulu, except maybe their inflated production charges. They’re an established company and their costs are clearly laid out online. I would encourage every author to investigate their services and compare projected royalties for their individual book specifications. However, I believe, for most books, CreateSpace offers a better alternative.