Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing,  On Writing,  publishing

Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing… #5: Printers are Distributors

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

And the fifth myth to hit indie writers is this: Printers are Distributors.

Let me put this in a different light to be clear.

Indie Publishers believe there are basically only two places to take their books to be printed and distributed to bookstores. CreateSpace and LighteningSource.

This myth is logical because of how indie publishing came about with the ebook revolution and then slowly indie publishers (writers) started understanding that with a little extra work, they could do a paper book. But the myth that has indie writers believing they have to go to New York to get into bookstores has slowed the growth of this side of indie publishing.

Too bad.

Some basics on who is who.

LighteningSource is owned by Ingrams (and has such a bad terms of service, no one who actually reads terms of service would go with them.)

CreateSpace is owned by Amazon.

They are both what is commonly called POD printers. In other words, they have a printing structure that will print small quantities of your book for cheap as you need them. Print On Demand.

There are a lot of other POD service printers. But CreateSpace and LighteningSource get most of the press in this myth. Any Staples or Kinkos works as a POD printer as well, but prices are much higher in places like that.

You can Google and get all sorts of listings for POD printing prices and such, which vary all over the place. Wow. So caution. So far that I have found, CreateSpace is the cheapest by far for printing any perfect bound book unless you pay ahead or are up to using web presses (see below) at runs of ten thousand copies.

Some More Basics

— Printers print your books. Printers can be POD (copy machines), offset (high level color), or web press (newspaper and pulp paper). Publisher’s choice.

— Distributors distribute your book. A distributor can distribute your book in limited ways, or into the big trade publishing channels. That will depend totally on how you want your book distributed. As a publisher, you have control of that.

Printers charge by a per page or per copy price.

Distributors usually take a cut of any books sold. Often to get good placement, the publisher pays a distributor some fees as well. All depends on the contract the publisher (you) negotiated with the distributor. The more books you want them to distribute, the better your deal.

The Problem With This Myth

Printers such as CreateSpace, LighteningSource, and others, such as Lulu, have a part of their business where they will distribute the book into the trade channels. For writers who don’t understand there is a difference between a printer and a distributor, this seems like a logical connection.

In fact, most POD printers I saw will sell your book on their own web site and into basic channels such as Ingrams and Baker and Taylor, two of the major distributors.

And honestly, the distribution services offered by CreateSpace have been wonderful for the indie publishers to get paper books out into bookstores. (See early myth on this topic as to how easy that has become.)

But just lately, WMG Publishing was planning on doing some hardbacks on a few special projects. So we were going to go easy and go with LighteningSource until we read the terms of service and decided we didn’t want to give them copyrights to our books. So I shrugged and said that when we are ready, we’ll just use a binder in Portland, Oregon, or maybe one near Seattle. There are, to my knowledge, without really looking that hard, almost ten quality binders in the Portland/Seattle area.

And I found two that were cheaper than LighteningSource.

So it would work this way. We would have CreateSpace print the books, ship them directly to the bindery, and have a local hardback bindery bind the books into hard cases.

So besides selling them ourselves off our own web site or putting them on Amazon (which you can do), if we wanted to get these hardbacks we had bound locally into national distribution, what would we do?

Simple: We would go to a distributor and set up a deal to work with them to get the book into the trade book channels. (Meaning into the major distributors and to the major stores such as B&N and other stores.) And for those of you wondering, hardbacks are full copy returnable, and many distributors have no-returns programs you can get into.

(I can now hear the question… But where would we find a distributor? I didn’t even know they existed.)

For a start, and only a start, the Independent Book Publishers Association has a pretty good list of book distributors. (Bet most of you indie publishers out there didn’t even know the IBPA even existed, did you? (grin)) Now EXTREME caution with this organization and joining it because, to be honest, they haven’t moved into this century yet. If they do, it might be something worthwhile to join. So caution, eyes open, I am not recommending them at this point.

But they do have a good list of distributors. Go look at that at least.

Now I need to be very, very clear here. If you are not acting in your business completely like a publisher, this won’t work. And if you do not have a pretty good list of books and have a schedule ahead of upcoming books, chances are most of these distributors will not work with you. They might work with someone who calls themselves a self-published author, but it would be tougher. (But I expect everyone reading this to be acting like a publisher, have a publishing imprint on their books, and a growing book list.)

Why printer as distributor myth damages writers and indie publishers

Simple, really. This belief system that CreateSpace or LighteningSource or Lulu are the only way to print or distribute often forces writers and indie publishers into bad decisions. Granted, at the moment, it is a cheap and easy way to print and get into the system. But there are drawbacks to this cheap and easy system.

Running through an established distributor and into the trade system will get your books into better discount ranges to bookstores. You can get out of some of the lower level book catalogs on Ingrams and B&T. And often a good distributor will help in marketing and getting the word to their bookstore customers that they have a new book from you.

That might be worth it to some of you out there.

To work with these distribution people, you have to be doing a lot of things correctly, including pricing. And acting as a publisher as I said.

I understand that most reading this, including WMG Publishing, will be content to ride the horse we are on at the moment, which is CreateSpace.

But we know the options, we know that if something suddenly happened to CreateSpace, we would just continue right on publishing paper books and getting our books into stores.


Printers are very, very different from distributors. You have different printers in your own local town that can print books. Maybe not cheaply, but they can do it.

Distributors are companies that can get your printed books into the trade system (exactly the same as traditional publishers) and get your books to the same places.

CreateSpace and the other POD printers have a distribution arm. But here at WMG Publishing we often click off all distribution and just buy our books direct from CreateSpace. They are just a printer at that point. For example, we do that when we are doing a large order of ARCs.

Printers are not distributors. Some printers have a distribution side, but you do not have to use it.

So keep your mind open and the two forms of business apart in thinking and you, as an indie publisher, will make better decisions.