Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Print on Demand, Indie Publishing, and Europe

I've been writing about how to create ebooks for the past two years, but I am well aware that ebooks, even in the United States where they are most popular, only account for some 20% of the market, and in many places, much less. For a small publisher to get a foothold, it's really important to offer print versions as well.

The answer for many indie publishers has been print on demand. For the last ten years or so, Lightning Source, a subsidiary of Ingram (a major book distributor in the US and in Europe), has let publishers upload books to their system and then print them as orders come in. They used to distribute them equally well to Amazon, to Barnes & Noble, to Baker & Taylor, and indeed to any bookstore who wanted one.

Last year, thanks to the information gleaned from Aaron Shepard's POD for Profit, and the Publishing-Update email list that he hosts, I opened an account with Lightning Source and began publishing my first print books: Barcelona, Catalonia: A View from the Inside by Matthew Tree, What Catalans Want by Toni Strubell and Lluís Brunet, and then some books of my own, Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks and From InDesign CS 5.5 to EPUB and Kindle.

At first, everything went as promised. In my tests in March, I ordered Matthew's book from Amazon and it was printed and delivered with 48 hours.

But some time during the summer, Amazon changed the way it handled Lightning Source books, in favor of its own POD service, CreateSpace. Aaron and his community were the first to notice that Lightning Source books were suddenly not "in stock" on Amazon, but instead would ship in 1-3 weeks. This, of course, is a killer for any book. Part of Amazon's strength is its reliance on impulse buying, and 1-3 week delivery does not inspire anyone to buy a book right away. At the same time, CreateSpace books were always in stock.

Aaron developed a system called "Plan B" for dealing with this issue, which involved publishing books through both CreateSpace (to get the best availability on Amazon) and Lightning Source (so that books would also be available to Barnes & Noble, Baker & Taylor, and independent bookstores. I heartily recommend going through it carefully.

I have followed the Plan B system with my own books with success, but was still frustrated at the inavailability of Lightning Source books on Amazon outside the US. I sell a full 50% of my electronic versions of my books outside the US and I'm sure that print books would also sell abroad if I could only get them there. The deteriorating relationship between Lightning Source and Amazon meant that my books were available through Lightning Source's impressive list of distributors, but had 1-3 week shipping times from Amazon UK, Spain, France, Germany, and Italy.

It was really frustrating.

So, I was really excited to hear that Amazon's Print on Demand service, CreateSpace, is now available in Europe. If you already have your book available on Amazon CreateSpace in the US, you just have to go CreateSpace and activate your European markets. It's quite simple. And your book will be guaranteed in stock throughout Europe.

So, now you can buy Read Aloud EPUB and From InDesign CS 5.5 to EPUB and Kindle in print from Amazon all over Europe (in English and Spanish!), as well as my books about Catalonia.

In Stock

Instock france


  1. I have a question that is sort of the converse of this situation: I've bought several ebooks recently from established publishers that came out after their (recently published) paper versions, and I've been dumfounded by the lack of quality control. I have one book that has multiple typos on every page (there are only about 3 pages in the entire book that have no typos at all) as well as many serious formatting errors (unreadable tables, etc.), and another ebook that's not as bad but still has dozens of obvious typos and formatting errors. I can't understand how such typos could be introduced, since presumably the ebook would have been made from the original electronic file of the hardcopy book, and I've checked out the hardcopies: no typos. Are publishers using OCR to generate their ebooks from even recently published books, which presumably were laid out electronically in the first place? Or are they hiring cheap typists to retype the manuscripts and then not proofreading them? It's very strange, and very frustrating.

    1. speaking of typos, that would be "dumbfounded." :-)

  2. Thanks so much for the news about Createspace Europe. I'm in the UK, and wondered about the issues of self publishing via amazon and reaching UK markets, and even about the tax implications on income.
    I appreciate the bigger problem you have highlighted with Amazon not playing nicely with others... Sometimes I feel the BIG companies are simply too greedy, and turn into Bullies.

  3. Thanks for the great write-up, Liz.

    For the record, the poor availability of Lightning Source books in Europe is really a separate issue. Distribution to Amazon in the US used to be excellent because Amazon had a drop-ship arrangement with Lightning's sister company Ingram, which could supply Lightning books overnight. But Amazon in the UK and Europe has never had such an arrangement for Lightning books, instead relying on third-party wholesalers, which themselves usually had to wait for delivery of a book before sending it on to Amazon.

    But whatever the reason, CreateSpace's expansion into Europe certainly is a welcome solution to that problem.


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