Lightning Source Distribution

There are two main book wholesalers: Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. If you have your book available in these two places, then it’ll be available virtually everywhere books are sold.

Baker & Taylor have a partnership program for small publishing houses. It’s costs around $300 to sign up for it; however, if you go through Lightning Source, your book will be available in both Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. So don’t do this unless you choose not to go with Lightning Source for printing and distribution.

Lightning Source (LSI) is the “distribution arm” of Ingrams, the largest book wholesaler in the nation. The cool thing about Lighting Source is that’s it’s more than a distributor. It’s a printer and distributor rolled into one, and it is the “self-publisher’s” (or micro/indie publisher’s) best friend.

After you have set up your business and gotten your ISBN #s, etc, you’ll want to set up a publisher’s account with Lightning Source. It costs less than $300.

Once you have your assigned LSI team, you can submit a new title, which costs about $125. Via LSI, you can download templates for your artist/cover designer to use for the exterior PDF files of your book. The cover template will include a barcode, so don’t buy one from Bowker. You can even choose whether or not to have the price coded into the barcode, and it’s all for free. Once these templates have been filled with your content, this is what you’ll upload to Lightning Source. $40 for each upload (part of the $125 set up fee, but it will cost $40 for each subsequent upload if you make changes to the interior or cover). Then order a proof ($30 paperback, $35 hardcover) to be send FedEx straight to your door. If everything looks good in the proof, you’re set!

Several times a year, LSI offers “Free Title Setup” promotions, where they waive the set up fees if you purchase at least 50 copies before a certain date. You can save even more money this way. Keep your eye out for these.
Choose to have your book available direct-to-publisher only, meaning that you can order them but they won’t be available online, or for just $12 a year, it will be in the Lightning Source distribution system. Then your book will be available wherever books are sold, because they’re now in both Ingrams & Baker & Taylor’s system. By choosing this option, your titles are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Independent Bookstores, etc.
Reality Check: Being available doesn’t mean bookstores like Barnes & Noble will carry your books on the shelf. That’s a whole different ballgame. Being available means that bookstores can type in the author’s name, ISBN #, and/or book title in their system, and it will be available to order for the inquiring customer. It’s still up to you to get the customers in the store asking for it.

However, via LSI’s distribution, your titles are automatically available from Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com online. More and more people are buying books online.

One of the other great things about Lightning Source is that they are a POD (Print On-Demand) printer, which means your book isn’t printed until it’s ordered. This is a HUGE thing in today’s market. I’m a lifelong environmentalist, so this makes perfect sense to me.

Even some Big Boys are in trouble because of the excessive book printing (100,000+ print runs) vs. bookstore returns. Not to mention warehouse space costs, etc. Ultimately, books get thrown away (not even recycled in many cases), so POD is a no-brainer for me.

With LSI, they’re printed and shipped as they’re ordered within 24 hours.

They’re never unavailable through Amazon or any other bookseller, which as I mentioned before happened to us with our first indie publisher. In the middle of a nationwide book tour, and our books were unavailable. Not good. Never again will I be in the middle of a huge promotional push and have my books unavailable. Although “selling out” looks really good in a press release, but what it really means is loss of potential sales.

People are impulse buyers. Only a small percentage will come back to buy something that wasn’t there when they wanted it. Make sure your book is always available for your potential readers.

As a micro/indie publisher, Lightning Source is the way to go.

Reality Check: Having your book available wherever books are sold is not the same thing as bookstores stocking your books. I know I just said this, but it is important enough to repeat.

Every major chain has their own submission process, but I’m going to focus on Barnes & Noble. It’s by far my favorite of the large chain stores, both as a consumer and as an author. They have been pretty great to us for signings, and they normally give you a free Starbucks during your author signing. Can’t beat a free mocha!
First thing you simply must do if you want ANY bookstore to carry your book is to make your book RETURNABLE.

This sucks. I know. But it’s currently part of the rules of this ridiculous game. Again, it’s part of the reason why even the Big Boys are in dire straights right now. Everything is returnable back to the publisher. Think if you had 100,000 copies printed and only 25,000 copies sold. Everything else was returned. That’s a lot of returns. That’s a lot of lost money.

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What do you think of the Print On Demand (POD) printing model?
How do you see this differing from the POD (formerly known as Vanity) publishers?

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for the distribution tip, Christine! I was not familiar with them but am glad to know now!

  2. Christine says:

    Glad this series is helping, Christina! Thanks for the comments!

  3. Jodi says:

    Christine, what are your thoughts on Amazon’s new way of dealing with Lightening Source? I just read this article here that seems to indicate the Lightening Source party is over, at least with Amazon. http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2011/09/amazon-and-lightning-source-the-end-of-an-era/

    1. christinerose says:

      Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention! I’ve been away and rather out of it for most of the summer. This is very interesting indeed. I will have to look further into it. And, from what I understand, CreateSpace has ramped things up, too. Might be the way to go in the near future.

      1. muffymorrigan says:

        I think the ramping up of CreateSpace is going to give LS a run for it’s money, literally. Especially as (sadly) brick and mortar bookstores go down. I’ve been watching it all since a company called “first books” hit the waves back as an in between publishing and outright vanity… It leaves the micro/indie/small press in an interesting place. I have heard a few interesting rumblings about Ingram in general, which make me nervous

      2. christinerose says:

        Please share the rumblings about Ingrams! I’m quite interested in hearing about it.
        I think that CreateSpace will give LS a run for its money. I’m going to use CS for a title over the next month or so as an experiment. It might be the way to go for the emerging author moving forward. Up until now, I fully supported and recommended LSI, but things are changing so fast in all areas of publishing, it’s hard to keep up! Thank you for your comment, Muffy!

  4. I’ve liked dealing with Lightning Source for production and buying books for myself to sell, but find that the retailers feel they cannot make enough $$ to bother with them. They claim they don’t get the discount I have established (40%). I set the discount at 40% for a $25 retail price book. What does this 40% mean? Can’t the retailer buy the book wholesale at $15? If not, where does that $$ go?
    Thanks!
    M

    1. christinerose says:

      The industry standard discount is 55%. Retailers won’t buy books unless they’re at this 55% discount AND fully returnable to the publisher. Where does the $$ go? Good question. Part goes for the printing and part to the retailer’s overhead.

      If you have a $25 retail book, I certainly hope it’s a hard cover because $25 is way too much for any paperback. A hard cover, depending on length, can cost $6-8 to print for on demand printing (like LSI). You get the difference between the printing cost and the 55% discount ($11.25). So, for a $25 book, you’re getting $3.75-$5.75 — a HUGE “royalty” as the author-publisher. Remember, people published through NY Big Boys are LUCKY to see $0.25 per book.

      Retailers have to pay for electricity, leasing costs, and employees wages out of their cut, just to name a few. Then there’s shipping costs they have to cover for getting the books shipped to them. On top of all that, they have to make a profit.

      Mostly, though, it’s a century-old business model that isn’t kind to the publisher or the author.

      1. Hey! Thanks for responding to my query! I think what you are saying is that if our hardback-with-dustcover book costs $11 to print, we’ll need to sell it for more than $25 retail! Wow! Definitely hardback (but b&w text and pictures), and a lovely, colorful cover… So if it costs $11 to print, maybe it should cost $28? or $29?
        Thanks for your insight… The LS folks suggested 40% so of course we did not object!
        Cheers!
        MM

      2. christinerose says:

        I’m not saying raise the price if your book. Don’t try to get more than $2-3 per book “royalty,” as that’s a huge royalty. You’ll start pricing yourself out of the market.

        If you want bookstores to carry it, you’ll have to do the standard discount of 55%. However, bookstores aren’t the best outlet for indie authors. It’s *very* expensive with the returns, and bookstores generally don’t carry indie books unless you’re doing a signing there. Then it’s only for the signing and shortly thereafter.

        They’re mostly a venue for classics and NY big boys, who pay for space on the bookshelves and for prime placement.

        If you market your book well, you’ll sell mostly kindle versions. Few people will buy a $25-30 book from an unknown author unless they meet the author at an event.

        If you’re wanting to learn how to market your books and build your audience, I’ve written a book on that.

        Linked in the sidebar.

        Sent from my iPhone, please forgive typos!

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