Before I became a writer, I had already self published six books. Kind of a strange things to say, I know. I ran a software company, and a big part of what that company did was provide educational materials to stocks and futures traders. Those resources almost always took the form of a book. So back then, the way I would do it was to have a bunch of copies printed up and shipped over. The more you order, the cheaper each item is, so to get reasonable pricing on a per book basis usually meant ordering hundreds of them. So I’d have these huge trucks pull up in front of the house, and some guy would deliver a pallet full of books right into the driveway. Insurance wouldn’t let them actually come into the garage, so they’d mostly just dump them there and take off, and I’d spend the next hour or so hauling and stacking books. It was actually fun. Very old-school small business stuff.
Anyway, those books were always perfect from a quality perspective. They came out exactly as I wanted, everything looked amazing about them, and they were just as good (and sometimes better) than any book I’d compare against at the bookstore. Nowadays, things are different. Amazon has become a behemoth, and if you’re going to play in their sandbox, you really need to play by their rules. That means print on demand.
Print on demand (POD) is a very different sort of thing than what I’m used to. All the files are uploaded to a server, and then the book is only ever printed when someone places an order. Unlike what I’m used to, the per-copy price is fixed, and stays the same even if I only order one. That’s right! I can order ONE BOOK. That might not be news to everyone, but for someone just stepping into this world from an older model, that’s huge.
Anyway, last week I received two proof copies of Killing Adam, my science fiction novel which is due to be released January 1. (Woo hoo!) One copy is from IngramSpark (the largest book distributor in the world), and the other is from Amazon’s Kindle Direct program. Basically, Amazon is going to handle all the domestic printing, and Ingram is going to handle everything internationally (and for bookstores). I saw POD books years ago, and let me just say I was *not* impressed with the quality at the time, and that experience made be apprehensive as I waited for these two proofs to show up. I’m glad to say the technology has come a long way, and POD is pretty amazing.
If you check out the picture I posted (you have to go back to the blog page listing), you’ll see the two versions of my book that I’m looking at. The one to the left is from Amazon (the “not for resale” stripe shows it’s a proof copy), and the one on top and to the right is from Ingram. It’s probably hard to tell the difference, but here’s what I’ve noticed:
- Matte covers are better than glossy ones. I ordered matte from Amazon and glossy from Ingram, just to compare. The glossy one shows scratches, and has weird glue spider webs artifacts all over it. I had to sit there and peel that glue off the covers on review samples I’ve sent out, and that was annoying. Matte is definitely more professional looking, and makes the cover pop in a little different way. I’d only go glossy if it was some sort of non-fiction book. For fiction, matte is the way.
- Amazon’s book is about 5-10% thicker than Ingram’s. It’s noticeable. They’re the same page count, so this must come down to paper choice. Given that Killing Adam only has 224 pages in it (that’s what happens when you don’t have any boring parts!), I prefer the slightly thicker book since it feels better in my hands. Quality-wise, I can’t fault either. Amazon is just a tad thicker. I think with a really large book, this would make a big difference.
- Ingram can’t reproduce pictures very well on the inside. I’ve got an author photo, as well as a picture of the Pointe Patrol book at the back. The Amazon copy looks great. Ingram is fuzzy. The author photo in particular looks pretty spotty. It’s bad enough where I’m considering getting rid of it for that version. Points off, Ingram.
- Ingram shipped the books to me very well, and each one was perfect when it arrived. Amazon followed their usual practice and just threw it inside an envelope, so the corners were trashed. Nothing serious, but the book certainly didn’t arrive in mint condition. I used Amazon for fulfillment for the last few years to deliver those old books from the software company, and had so much damage to my products that I had to fire them. I really wish they could figure out how to pack stuff properly to that it wouldn’t get damaged in the mail (or in their warehouses!). My suspicion is that they ran the numbers and figured that if they could save one or two cents on each shipment, they’d make millions over the course of a year, and so decided to cut all sorts of corners on packaging materials. It’s a shame, and I wish they’d focus more on quality and less on quantity with that stuff. Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here… End rant. 🙂
- Amazon adds their own barcode to the back, and they cover up whatever else you might have there. In my case, part of my price got chopped off. It’s not a big deal, but it isn’t nearly as clean looking as the barcode on Ingram, which was put in place by my cover designer, and looks perfect.
Aside from those differences, both of them are high quality, and if I received either after placing an order for a book, I would be happy with my purchase. But, when comparing against each other, I think I have to give the win to Amazon, even though they aren’t perfect. For me, the poor pictures on the inside of the Ingram editions was worse than the barcode and clutzy shipping on Amazon’s side. I’m honestly surprised to say that, given some of the reviews about CreateSpace (Amazon’s original POD processor) that I read on the internet from years gone by. I can officially say that with the new Kindle Direct program, their quality is really good. Unless you already have a huge order for thousands of books to fill at once, I don’t see any reason to go with the old model. POD has really impressed me, and not having to deal with thousands of books stashed in all corners of the garage is going to be a huge relief.