The Ugly Truth about Distribution and IngramSpark

Independent Book Writers have been trusting the Print on Demand companies like IngramSpark for around 15 years to tell them the truth about distributing books. But are they telling you everything? Let’s find out.

Ingram Group (IngramSpark) claim that your book listing goes to 40,000 distribution points. Print on Demand lets an author distribute without housing stock of books, in return for a royalty of 35-55%. (Most set it at 50 or 55% and still have okay royalties).

So, I built an author-publishers’ support business and own indie imprint based on these fundamentals. Little did I know that we are all pushing sh#t uphill to get any sales at High Street bookstores.

I couldn’t even get ‘The Nile’ or ‘Fishpond’ online retailers to list my books or make them a bit easier to find, if in fact they did. Booktopia charged exorbitant prices onwards for my colour book, but it is a bit better now that Melbourne Lightning Source printery have started printing colour books again.

Most of us have read about how Trad. Publishers don’t want to take on any more new authors’ books or take anything but a ‘formulaic’ approach. But we thought Print on Demand would be different – as we call the pricing and production shots.

opened copybooks placed on school bench
Photo by Katerina Holmes on

A-ha, but one blogger told about an experiment. Her friend tried to buy her self-published book and looking at the booksellers’ screen, it said: 5% commission, not the 25% that it should have said. (She set her royalty at 40% of RRP, then expected them to take a portion for retailer and shipping). The difference was taken by Ingram’s book distribution arm.

RRP = Recommended Retail Price.

Low book sales report – AUD

($10.78 appears to be the retail price made up by whoever the retailer was – no information to that regard).

Just Like a Bulk Bookstore Distributor Agreement

It is almost similar to if you opted to print 500-1,000 books and get a Booktopia Publishing System agreement. In other words, not using print on demand at all. They will want 70% of book RRP and this goes towards shipping/returns, distributor markup and retail markup. You get to wear the cost of printing the bulk books and the subtraction of revenues for any books returned, unsold. What a great deal, not!

The Actual Game of Book Distribution

But if the system does not enable the author to deliver it for a genuine retail markup, we now know why self-published authors have suffered poor sales and practically no take-up of stocking in store.

And that is why when you go into a Big W, a Dymocks or a Target, you will see the traditional publishing houses front-running books. You will see the odd Lisa Messenger book, as she turned into a small book publisher with sales clout, but little else.

We still can sell through library suppliers though, and through our online web-stores with some creative marketing practices. As well, we can sell through KDP (eBooks) and upload to KDP for Print if nicely designed. Then the profitability is all taken care of, because you are not going to lose through returns or poor consignments.

The only thing is, you may need to advertise on Amazon (AMS) and you will want a nice and high click-to-conversion rate to profit wisely.

Below is the Royalty screen for a US $2.99 eBook on Amazon KDP. At least this method is crystal clear and the royalty is either $1.05 or $2.04 USD.

Jennifer Lancaster, author of five marketing or money books and author mentor, has created a members portal to help Australian/NZ/US authors learn successful self-publishing and help market their books. It’s called Book Creation Success program. Learn more DIY and insider secrets in the program!

TitlePage, ISBNs and MetaData

When you enter the book publishing world as a tiny pebble called an indie author, you cannot fathom the magnitude of the industry. Through experience, one finds that retail Book Distribution deals in Australia go to publishers with a consistency of mass market titles – e.g. 5 a year. (This is sort of by way of osmosis rather than anyone ‘saying’ it).

People like my past client The Simple Doctor (indie author) end up getting rorted. In 2019, a large ‘indie’ book distributor went out of business and all his 2017 book stock was trashed or lost in the process.

Lightning Source’s website say that it deals with 30+ titles publishers, and IngramSpark deal with publishers who have less than 30. (Many have one or two books).

What is TitlePage?

TitlePage is the Australian book industry’s online price data and availability service. Information that is entered into Thorpe’s MyIdentifiers shows up in the TitlePage database, which is then accessed by 3000+ booksellers, suppliers or library buyers a week.

Naturally, book buyers who see the completed and fleshed out listings on there (from TP members) will take more notice and the book has a better a chance of getting ordered.

Bricks and mortar Booksellers always advise Indie self-publishing authors and micro-publishers that if their titles are not on TitlePage their books won’t sell. Whilst not completely accurate, it is none the less sound advice since TitlePage is the preferred service by Resellers to look-up titles for price and availability.

— Australian Publishing Association

To ‘enhance’ your books’ metadata in listings in TitlePage, if you DON’T have a distributor, your indie publishing outfit needs to first join the Australian Publisher Association. This will set you back about $88 – $220 inclusive for a micro publisher, depending on royalty revenue. Then you can register on TitlePage. But wait, there’s more.

Say you have found the wondrous thing of an Indie Distributor. For a Distributor to ‘batch list’ your titles on TitlePage, they need to purchase a minimum listing of 10 for $330. They will pass that cost on to you at whatever rate the distributor decides is fair. (There will be administrative burdens as well).

As micro publisher or self-publisher, you must earn less than $100,000/annum from gross publishing revenue for your distributor to access batch listings on TitlePage. There are some benefits as you can then access sales force help and promotional activities through a distributor–which is why you want one.

This doesn’t get you banner advertising. That is an extra $210 or so.

What’s the Secret to Making Wealth from Book Publishing?

This is the question I really want to see on Quora and which I will attempt to answer. But what I really see are questions from a smaller mindset, like:

  • If I get my book edited, how do I prevent it being leaked or stolen? (paranoia)
  • How long does it take to get a book deal?
  • How do I write a book and publish it?

It seems nobody asks the real question: what’s the key to making wealth from publishing? When, if they started from that place, I think it would work out better. But why?

We all seem to be conditioned to think of wealth as a grand place for celebrities who ride around in their fast cars, drink champagne from super-yachts, and laze by the pool in their mansions.

The truth for most millionaire publishers couldn’t be more different. Most high net worth individuals become that way by being disciplined, working on a core activity, and smartly investing their savings (their gap). Any old fool can spend more than they earn; it takes grit to say “no” or “maybe later” to yourself when you do have the money to spend.

When we apply this theory to publishing, it still works. Dale Beaumont (Australian) some years ago built a prolific, successful book publishing business by not writing a word. Instead, he and his team compiled interviews from different groups of entrepreneurs or business owners, in a 16-book series: “Secrets of Success Exposed”. 

Each book has the same model of questions but with all different insights. The interviewee tells their stories and the business book publisher masterminds the whole production and marketing system.

Dale had three million-dollar businesses by 30, and now 39, is worth $38 million (while living a balanced lifestyle). He told the Daily Mail UK: “One of those is a publishing company which saw me write and publish 15 books within the space of three years and which helped me to make my first $1 million.” (He also ran 1,260 events for business people and sold business coaching).

So, being prolific and taking massive action without fear lies at the heart of his success. But you can tell from these tips on dealing with rejection, that he has overcome the mental demons we all face, with grace.

How to Create a Publishing Business!

To make a lot of money in book publishing for a niche market, then you will need to understand how to reach people with online publishing too. If you are a known personality, great—build on that, but if you are building a name-brand business or charity, then your brand is your business.

For instance, have you ever heard of a little business called Niche Media?  Well, as an Australian niche magazine publisher, their brands include MacWorld, Marketing magazine, Idea, Inside (interior design), Architectural Review (AR), Mezzanine and Desktop. They have 10 million views on their sites and send 100,000 EDMs a week. They are a large publisher, but most of us start as an indie or micro publisher. What is the difference?

An indie publisher publishes only their own books, whereas a micro publisher might publish a few different authors. For a while, Power of Words was a micro publisher (as a sole proprietor, so with a dose of risk).

Traditional magazines need two things to happen:  good workers (staff/freelance writers) and high-paying advertisers (the money).

But online, you can build your own online publishing business. First, you have your books. Awesome! What a great start. Do they look like they are in a series? It’s something I wish I had done. Certainly, 10 years can be a long time and it’s easier to get every book cover planned designed as a template and write them later.

No Books Yet?

Even if you don’t have your own books yet, you can get started in the book publishing business and add other products to complement. Because you can actually joint venture with other writers to do an anthology.

Or, you could choose to be the publisher of other author’s books in a selected niche. One publisher I found collated books on marine life and shipwrecks and sold them through dive shops.

You could also choose to have a niche online magazine. It’s far too easy to start—it’s the continuing and optimising that’s the hard part.  This can be in WordPress, like ours, or as an Issu digital magazine.

It helps also to have a bit of money aside for sprucing up the design once you have website traffic.

What not to do!

Remember, you don’t spend $3,000 on web development in hopes of getting an audience. You can bootstrap and DIY your way to an audience, then spend some money on brand, helpers, and really great products. This way, you really find out through comments, social media mentions, and enquiries, what your audience wants to know. So turn the comments on!

With only books, your reader feedback will be inside reviews on Amazon and Goodreads that you can’t take off. You won’t be able to respond to many of them. And only a handful of people review books out of their own goodness.

On your own book website, blog or forum, you can respond straight away.

Micro Publisher Tips

There are other ways to make money in the online publishing business:

  • More products, e.g. magazines, designer journals, workbooks and unique products (take a look at Etsy for inspiration)
  • Referrals to awesome affiliate products – these can make a lot of money
  • Sponsored posts  (once you have traffic)

Mostly, you’ll need to intimately know your audience, and so it helps if you are just like them! Moms/mums relate to other mum bloggers, and lady entrepreneurs. There is even an inspiring book all about their successes.

They talk a lot about reaching their audience on the social platform where mostly they hang out, e.g. Pinterest, Instagram.

Here is a (James Schramko) case study of a man who went from just ebooks with affiliates to a recurring membership model, in the area of health.

Being a Whizz at Analysis

You need to understand the Analytics of your site, because it tells you what your visitors like. This means either installing a Google Analytics plugin or going into the full Google Analytics around once a month. 

What do you do when you know what visitors like?  You write more along those lines! Also notice what they type in to find you (the popular keywords).

Get their Email Address

Work on converting your online visitors to either subscribers to email or to buy something. Sometimes it’s better to do the slow burn and get the email address when you blog, rather than turn them off with a full-on advertisement.

It should be the most prominent thing, so a pop-up with a good, visual offer 10-30 seconds in works wonders. SumoMe or OptinMonster do the same things, offering mega numbers of opt-ins. Hello Bar is simple and also free. They all connect with email marketing systems and if not, Zapier usually does the adding of email to database once set up.

You can’t tempt people with boredom, so make sure your offers and your blog or membership site is alive with enthusiasm and free stuff.

online publishersSome Cool Tools for Online Publishers – free keyword research tool by Neil Patel – free research tool, perfect for finding questions for blog posts

MixPanel – user analytics, helps to optimise the lifetime value of customers (relevant for growing publishers)

Outbrain Publisher/Engage – helps to make money from your audience, with professional-level advertising for online publishers. (Far better than Adsense).

tools for book publishers
Photo by Lisa Fotios on

Some Cool Tools for Book Publishers

Adobe InDesign (from $28 pm) has a hidden extra at premium level for nil extra: Adobe Spark (make promo videos with their templates)

Kindlepreneur’s Kindle sales rank calculator – to determine the number of Amazon sales of particular books

Canva is one of Kindlepreneur’s Book Cover Design tricks – all you need to know for bestselling covers. Canva is also useful for Instagram and Pinterest posts, especially book quotes.


Other Helpful Posts at

We talk about book quality here:

Examine your ROI on publishing here:

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