Ingram Spark Global Print on Demand Agreement: my questions sort of answered.

man, papers, field

Ingram Spark is a division of Ingram Content Group, a subsidiary of Ingram Industries. Ingram Spark offers independent publishers like me an opportunity to get my books into bookstores globally, something Amazon can’t do. Many authors use both Ingram Spark and Amazon’s CreateSpace for print on demand, to cover all their bases. Without their service, many bookstores would not carry books from independent publishers.

I had questions about the Ingram Spark Global Print on Demand Agreement. Although I find contracts to be dull, I read the CreateSpace contract and its meaning was clear. Ingram Spark’s contract, on the other hand, is every bit as dull as that of CreateSpace, and ten times as opaque. My online searches didn’t yield much: the agreement itself and several articles about why I needed to make my books available via both CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. This answered a question I didn’t have. What I wanted was clarification on the contract wording.

I don’t like calling big companies.

After 30 minutes on hold (my Google searches had promised worse), I got Bob on the phone. (I’ve changed his initial to protect his job.) Jokingly, I said to Bob, “I hope you’ve got a minute because I’ve got some questions.”

“Nine minutes,” he snapped.

“What?”

“I’ve got nine minutes.”

Seriously. He is restricted to nine minutes per call. No wonder he was snappy.

I mentioned that I had waited for 30 minutes to speak to him, so I hoped he would be generous. He didn’t have much of a sense of humor, but OK, that’s not what I was calling about anyway.

skyscraper, London, man

If you’ve had experience with this contract, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. In case this can be of use to you, here are the clarifications I requested, along with Bob’s answers:

Page 3, item E., Returns:
“If Client (that’s me) has designated any title as returnable in the LIGHTNING SOURCE systems, it will not be considered returnable for purposes of Direct Distribution, EBM or GCP and no returns will be accepted by LIGHTNING SOURCE.”
At Lightning Source/Ingram Spark, you can choose what type of returns you’ll accept, and what you choose affects how much you make on each sale. If you agree to allow IS to destroy returned books, you’ll make more than if you require IS to return the books to you (you pay for the books as well as postage). I understood that, but wasn’t sure what was meant by “Direct Distribution” in this case. It turns out they mean that if I buy copies of my own books, they’re not returnable. Well, that was easy.

Page 5, item D., EBM Print Fees and item D., Publisher Compensation:
“Client agrees to pay the print fees as outlined in Print to Order/Channel Distribution Orders on the Pricing Schedule.”
It sounds like that means I pay some sort of extra fee when someone decides to get my book on an EBM machine. But it’s not extra. When a customer uses an EBM, he or she selects a book’s ISBN and prints the book, paying the retail price. EBM and Ingram Spark each get a percentage of a wholesale discount before I’m paid for the book. Seems reasonable.

Page 7, at the top (we’re under E., Assignment, from the previous page):
“…LIGHTNING SOURCE may assign or otherwise transfer this Agreement or any of its rights and obligations hereunder or any portion thereof to its parent, subsidiaries, affiliates or successors without Client’s consent or approval.”
Successors? Does this mean LS/IS could be sold to Exxon Mobil (ugh), or Disney (that could work) or (heaven forbid) Nestle, and I wouldn’t have a say in the matter?
Bob assured me I would be notified if such a thing were to happen, but I don’t see that in the contract. The saving grace is that back on page 2, under B., Termination, it says “Either party may terminate this Agreement by giving the other party forty-five (45) days (sic) written notice…” So I have that, if I don’t want some nasty corporation to wield my Titles.

Speaking of Titles, in the contract language, the capitalized word means individual books printed. It doesn’t mean the title of your book, which can’t be copyrighted anyway, and it doesn’t mean your book’s contents. You retain all rights to your intellectual property. In the Ingram Spark Global Print on Demand Agreement, the word “Title” refers to the object itself. I had to get that clarified, too.

Page 9 (apparently the even numbered pages are all clear to me), item 4:
“Any amount referred to in this agreement which is relevant in determining a payment to be made by one of the parties to the other is, unless indicated otherwise, a reference to that amount expressed on a tax exclusive basis.”
I asked Bob to just, please, give that to me in English. He said it meant that if there was a tax applicable for a particular transaction, then it would be added. For instance, if I order books, Ingram charges sales tax unless I have an exemption.
All that gook, language, wordage, verbiage, etc. for such a simple concept. Why didn’t they just say so?

I don’t have a beef with Ingram Spark, or their terms. But could they have created a more cryptic contract? (Don’t answer that, they certainly could have.) It does seem that Ingram Spark was created by Lightning Source because someone told them they have to compete in the POD business, even though they don’t really want to, nor do they care about small publishers.

I haven’t looked into Ingram Spark’s Digital Services (ebook) Agreement yet. I came across one comment on one blog (wish I could remember where) that said it’s egregious, but one comment isn’t verification. I’ll have to research it if I want to use their ebook services. If.

Bob answered each of my questions quickly and succinctly. At 8 minutes and 22 seconds I could hear him begin to sweat, hoping I didn’t have another one.

 

#contract#CreateSpace#Ingram Spark#Lightning Source

Comments

  1. William Kendall - June 10, 2016 @ 12:44

    This is the first I’ve heard of them.

    • Petrea - June 10, 2016 @ 13:54

      They exist in the US, Australia and the UK. I don’t know what kind of business they do in Canada, but it’s worth a look.

  2. Jacob/Lowell - June 11, 2016 @ 05:25

    I’ve never heard of them, either. But good Lord, what a legalistic maze and so boring! Good luck!

    • Petrea - June 11, 2016 @ 09:57

      Entrepreneurship itself is a legalistic maze, I suppose. I want to be careful, most of all, to own my intellectual property and not sign it away to someone careless and uncaring. Ingram’s contract allows me those things, which isn’t true of many publishers.

  3. Petrea - June 11, 2016 @ 09:59

    And Ingram is not a publisher, but a distributor.

  4. Adriaan Brae - June 15, 2016 @ 10:34

    Thanks for this write-up Petrea. I’ve been with Ingram for a while, but I can’t say I fully understand all the contract language.

    • Petrea - June 16, 2016 @ 12:01

      Hi Adriaan, I’m not sure I understand it either, even after my conversation with Bob. But I haven’t found any complaints online, except about customer service.

      Has your experience with Ingram been good? Have they lived up to what you hoped for? I’d be interested to know.

  5. Petrea - June 15, 2016 @ 12:07

    Just in time! I got an email today from Ingram Spark, saying they have updated their terms and conditions. I get to do it all again. Maybe I’ll understand it better this time, after my conversation with “Bob.”

  6. Ann Erdman - June 17, 2016 @ 06:03

    Thank goodness you didn’t keep Bob on the line another 39 seconds. The guilt may have been impossible to live with.

    • Petrea - June 17, 2016 @ 07:34

      Hahahaha! Poor guy, I could practically hear his supervisor standing over him.

  7. W. M. Raebeck - June 19, 2016 @ 20:49

    I don’t hate IS, and actually feel kinda sorry for the customer service reps because I can’t even imagine the scope of questions they get in a day. Every indie author has about a zillion before even publishing their first book. Yeah, I know them by name now, and even have some black marks on my file for the times I’ve lost my temper with a few who will only answer their ten favorite questions.
    But I wanted to warn you about ebooks there…..they take 40% (or something like that). I published an ebook with them without being apprised of that. However…..my other ebook is at BookBaby, and my Ingram Spark ebook has sold more. So I have to research BB’s distribution range again before doing my next ebook. BB takes 0% after the set-up fee, and set-up is about the same as IS.

    • Petrea - June 20, 2016 @ 17:41

      Thanks for that, Wendy. I do feel sorry for CS reps everywhere, and I always thank them. It’s gotta be a tough job. I try to get my questions answered by web searches before making a call. I prefer doing things that way, and only call when I absolutely must.

      Thanks for the info about ebooks. I’ve heard it’s not worth doing it with Ingram. But you point out their are things to weight: distribution vs percentage being just a couple.

  8. fmichael smith - September 21, 2016 @ 14:50

    great info and very helpful. i had one book working with Mira as a manufacturer and for the second batch, am switching to ingram IS to save money on mfg and because it appears that they will include it in there catalogue. (free advertising). Wondering if i should switch to Spark ? the possibility of selling through bookstores sounds more than tempting unless we are losing money in the process. As for personal sales/distribution,
    this is a small run of 500 holiday themed table books which we will sell at specialty shops and open minded independant bookstores. your thoughts will be greatly appreciated.
    your advice is a beacon in the dark

    • Petrea - September 22, 2016 @ 08:37

      That’s nice of you to say, FMichael.

      I’ve found that most bookstores, independent or not, will not stock my books for free, though many have a program for indie publishers like myself. Through those programs we can pay a reasonable fee to stock our books, and we take responsibility for returns. Some stores, however, will only work through Ingram (again, it’s about returns). So I’m choosing to augment my online sales with Ingram for paperbacks only.

  9. W. M. Raebeck - September 22, 2016 @ 20:44

    I’m finally clear about the book store thing (though I don’t think any of the self-pub gurus want authors to know the sad truth about how it works)…. Basically, the only book stores that will buy books outright from authors are going to be your local shops (including sometimes gift shops or specialty stores where your book might fit in). You are important to them, and they’re pleased to do business with you—win-win. Otherwise, almost any book store doing substantial sales gets its ‘regular’ books from Ingram (or Baker & Taylor, and perhaps one other place) AND they’ll only order books that offer the ‘wholesale discount’ (aside from the consignment set-up some stores offer indies—where you PAY for the privilege of being in their store). Offering stores the wholesale discount might seem fair enough for indie authors except for one small problem: when you adjust your percentage (on your Ingram Spark dashboard) so all wholesalers/book stores get a discount, that includes Amazon, who is also a wholesaler. So, bam! you’re not only drastically lowering the amount you make per book through book stores, but also nearly all your on-line sales. (It’s heartbreaking.)

    This explains why there’s so much attention devoted to selling on line, and to ebooks, and why there’s little to no indie chatter about book stores. Unless they’ve got financial backing or tremendous faith in their books, most indies can’t stomach the thought of never making a profit (after all the publishing expenses), so they abandon the book store option.

    I’m currently offering the wholesale discount, to see if it’s worth anything… I recently got a book-signing at Barnes & Noble, and they insisted on the discount as part of the deal, so I switched over. The crazy thing is that, even though they ordered a bunch of all three of my books so I’d have them there to sign, their corporate office won’t allow the store to continue carrying my book after the signing! So it’s a bit of a wash. But I’ll hang in a while and exploring all options until I find what works best for me and my books. (I personally can’t deal with consignment, but for fmichael’s holiday books, it might be the best way to go. But start now because xmas is upon us!)

    • Petrea - September 22, 2016 @ 21:09

      Wendy, thank you for your very informative comment. I’ll be interested to know your BN experience, so please come back!

      I’ve had mixed success with consignment at my local stores. If you sell enough it’s worth it, if you don’t it’s not. I’ve kept my books in three out of four stores. In the fourth (the biggest, believe it or not), they just didn’t sell.

      Because most bookstores wouldn’t be caught dead ordering paperbacks through Amazon, I’m not worried about the wholesale discount with them. Have you used Ingram for ebooks?

    • Anonymous - September 23, 2016 @ 10:55

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We have had modest consignent success but mostly as a result of book signings. We would be in the dumps if not for them.

    • Fmichael smith - September 23, 2016 @ 10:58

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We have had modest consignent success but mostly as a result of book signings. We would be in the dumps if not for them.

  10. W. M. Raebeck - September 23, 2016 @ 10:09

    Hi Petrea, thx for visiting my website!

    Yes, this whole thing is INCREDIBLY confusing! Actually ‘rigged against authors’ might be a better description. But it’s nature’s way of separating the wheat from the chaff, I s’pose. The Dalai Lama says something to the effect of “Success is measured by what you had to give up to get it.” So my mantra continues to be, “Stay the course.”

    I did my BN signing two weeks ago and it went great….as far as ‘sounding good’ goes. Since I live in Hawai`i, I considered it a nice trip, plus it was basically a stop-over en route to my family in NY. But you can’t possibly make money at a BN signing because they buy a bunch of your books in advance (thus you’re signing books you’ve already technically sold for peanuts—to BN—, plus those that don’t sell at the signing will likely be returned to Ingram who will then subtract those sales from your measly paycheck). Fine, fine, all fine….I was willing. But I’d hoped maybe BN would stock my books in that store afterwards. But, although those nice folks would like to, they can’t due to corporate policy. I couldn’t even follow the convoluted explanation, but it was etched in granite.

    So it might be possible for indie authors to do BN signings, but a) there’s not a penny to be made, b) you have to offer the wholesale discount and make your books returnable [to all wholesalers, including Amazon], c) you have to be cleared through the BN corporate office in NY, d) you have to tie in to the community flavor of the BN you’re approaching, and e) I’d recommend trying to set it up way in advance. You also have to be confident you can sell books at the thing—they don’t want stiffs.

    Regarding what you said above about book stores never buying through Amazon: yes, right, never. But I’m not sure you got the deeper implications of my comment, where I say that Amazon is a wholesaler. That means when you offer the wholesale discount to book stores, AMAZON will also be paying you less from ITS sales! So your on-line book-sale profits will be sharply lowered, as well as [any] books you sell to stores. The only arena left wherein you can still personally control things and possibly make a little money would then be your private sales.

    That’s why I like to sell to my local stores and, best of all, to individuals…. (And why I won’t do consignment.) But all this is small potatoes. I figure if I want to expand, I might have to bite it, continue offering the wholesale discount, and make a lot less per book across the boards in the hopes of making it up in volume over time. Ya dig?

    I’ve actually written a little 25-page treatise about all this because I’ve found it sorely missing from the indie dialogue, and it needs explaining… The reality of it all is plain shocking. Not sure I want to put it out there though, it’s a bit daunting!!

    Re: ebooks through IS, see my June 19 comment above. Since then, I’ve submitted my next ebook (“Expedition Costa Rica”) to BookBaby (print book to IS). But, like I said June 19, I’ve gotten more ebook sales through IS than BB so far. I still consider myself a newbie at all this, though, still feeling my way….

    • Petrea - September 23, 2016 @ 10:40

      My local BN (which, sadly, is no more) told me they could not stock local authors or do events because of some corporate decision. And really, these events in any store have to sell a lot of books in order for the author to make money. I think they’re good for PR, maybe not so much for sales. Still worth it, though, as long as you’re not actually losing money. And at one store, I have made money.

      I hadn’t realized that if I offer a wholesale discount through IS that Amazon would change its price as well, but that makes sense. They do it with ebooks. They won’t be undersold. I’ve had the majority of my ebook sales through Amazon, and print is about half Amazon and half hand-selling. Neither is a get-rick-quick proposition!

  11. Sally Stone - November 27, 2016 @ 19:12

    Petrea, thank you for wading through the contract with [the somewhat reluctant] Bob and taking the time to share your findings. As I waded through the IS contract this evening, I scratched my head a lot at the confusing language, too. Then I searched for some abbreviations that were new to me and stumbled on your helpful article. The comment feed is also enlightening.

    I have two books and an eBook published through CreateSpace and available on Amazon, but am trying to figure out how to publish using Ingram for two reasons. One, I want to do a color book in 2017 and Ingram prints color better than CS according to every author I know. Have you printed color books with IS and, if so, is this your experience? Two, I used my own ISBN with Createspace so I can’t distribute to bookstores, libraries, and academic institutions through them. It seemed useful to gain access to those channels, and I could do that through IS. However, according to everything I’ve read here, it looks like distributing to bookstores may be a bust for so many reasons, not the least of which is that selling wholesale cuts into my Amazon royalties. I sell at speaking events, but I do well online, too. Anyway, it’s good to find a community of Indie authors talking shop. There’s always something new to learn to improve workflow and business opportunities.

    • Petrea - November 27, 2016 @ 20:02

      Hi Sally!
      I haven’t done color books, though I’ve heard Ingram does them better than CS. But I’m no expert on any of this. I didn’t realize I couldn’t distribute to bookstores with my own ISBN. Are you sure? I’ve uploaded my books to Smashwords using my own ISBNs, and through them my books are distributed to all those places, IF those places ask for them.
      I’m no longer trying hard to get my books into stores, and I never pursued publishing on Ingram (they don’t make it easy!). The vast majority of my sales are ebooks, and like you, events are a good place, too.
      Thanks for your comments!

    • fmichael smith - November 28, 2016 @ 13:32

      Sally,
      congratulations on your creative ventures. we recently used Ingram Lightning source and were very happy with reproduction of watercolor illustrations and the quick return when we finally supplied them with contractual stuff. they are also more flexible with discount for online purveyors but inflexible with bookstores discount. (55%). at that rate we would end up losing 3 bucks on each book sold. we are considering going international for reproduction to make book affordable. if it is a second printing with changes in form or content or title,
      i believe you need a different isbn. good luck!

      • Petrea - November 28, 2016 @ 16:06

        Thanks, fmichael smith. Very informative.

  12. Matthias Fiedler - March 22, 2017 @ 09:57

    Hi Petrea, I have written and translated a nonfiction book in 90 languages. Do you know in how many and which languages I can publish these translated books with IngramSpark as a Print Book (Paperback) and E-Book.

    Thank you very much in advance.

    Kind regards
    Matthias

    • Petrea - March 22, 2017 @ 12:07

      Hi Matthias, I wish I knew the answer! You can contact Ingram Spark (look at the upper right corner of their website for the “contact” button) and they should be able to walk you through it. I imagine you can publish in any language, but I don’t know if they distribute to all the countries you’ve translated for.

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