CreateSpace/Amazon: Another experiment

NOTE: This post was not designed to be a tutorial or forum on self-publishing and PoD. Please see the new section at the end of the post.

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’ll know that I published Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change via–a publish-on-demand operation with no upfront costs and a coherent model.

If you go through some of the posts under the “C&I Books” category, and for that matter an essay in C&I, you’ll know that I’m happy with Lulu. They do what they say they do, they offer good help, and the book quality is first-rate, including an excellent cream book paper stock for the trade (6×9″) paperbacks I’m doing.

But that book is only available via Lulu and has no ISBN, for reasons I explained earlier.

CreateSpace has been around for a while as a publish-on-demand CD and DVD operation, with some upfront costs (typical of most PoD providers). I don’t know whether Amazon created it or purchased it, but it’s part of the Amazon group now.

Recently, CreateSpace added books to its repertoire–and eliminated the upfront. The book process involves assigning a CreateSpace ISBN as soon as you’ve established a book project (at no charge), and includes sales at (only the U.S. site) as well as your own e-store, unless you say you don’t want it available via Amazon.

Well, I thought, that’s intriguing. I went through the material as carefully as possible looking for gotchas. No gotcha on copyright or exclusivity–CreateSpace assumes I hold copyright and doesn’t require exclusivity. No apparent gotchas on hidden costs–I’m forced to buy a proof copy (at production cost), but I can’t imagine releasing a book for sale without a proof copy anyway.

Two semi-gotchas, but they’re both quite up front:

  1. The book paper is bright white (presumably 50 pound), not the lovely Lulu book stock. (Note that if you do get an ISBN for a Lulu book and offer it through Ingram, all copies not purchased at Lulu are also 50 pound white, not 60 pound cream.)
  2. CreateSpace takes more of the sale price than Lulu does–a little more for estore sales (unless it’s a thin book and you’re not expecting any profits), considerably more for sales. But the deal is still a whole lot better than Lulu’s Ingram/ISBN package.

And, you know, I can’t help but wonder whether availability on Amazon and having an ISBN might not yield some additional sales…

So I’m trying it out. Lulu will still be my primary outlet (I do love that cream paper, and I get the best per-copy proceeds for a given list price), but I’ve just submitted the Balanced Libraries PDFs (interior and cover) to CreateSpace. Once they’re approved, I’ll order the proof copy. If all goes well, I should be able to announce additional outlets (that is, for the book in early September–and if that happens, I’ll also publish future PoD books in both places.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update May 8, 2008: This post relates only to my own experiments in PoD self-publishing–not to the field in general or to extended discussions of CreateSpace or Lulu policies.

I’m closing comments on this post as of today for that reason. Anyone who’s interested in how the experiments are working out can click on appropriate categories–in particular “C&I Books”–to follow the story, albeit in reverse chronological order. Longer and more coherent discussions have appeared (and will appear) in Cites & Insights, in particular the essay beginning on page 23 of the April 2007 issue and the first two pages of the May 2008 issue..

It’s worth noting that I’m familiar with (specialized) traditional publishing, to the tune of twelve books. I believe in traditional publishing. I was (and am) trying something a little different here. I’m not happy with the tendency to conflate vanity publishing and self publishing, but that’s a whole different can of worms.

18 Responses to “CreateSpace/Amazon: Another experiment”

  1. Hi Walt,

    As a librarian who is currently working at Lulu, I wanted to take the moment to pick apart some of the key differences.

    First is the question of ISBNs. While Lulu does charge (a modest fee) for ISBNs, we offer two different kinds. The first, Published by Lulu is similar to what is offered by CreateSpace.

    However, the second, Published by You, offers some unique advantages. With Published by Lulu, Lulu is the publisher on file with Bowker and the ISBN includes the Lulu publisher code. With Published by You, an exclusive deal with Bowker, the creator is listed as the publisher and the ISBN has unique publisher code for that author. This offers an additional level of control to the author. For someone like yourself who plans to publish more books, this basically offers you the chance to have your own publishing house, Cites & Insights Books, complete with its own ISBNs.

    Once you purchase a Lulu ISBN and are listed with the distributor, it can be, and usually is, picked up by Amazon. However it can also be picked up by other booksellers, such as Barnes and Given the low price of the ISBN, in most cases it could quickly be earned back because, as you mentioned, Lulu gives the author a larger chunk of the sale price. For someone like you, who will sell most copies through Lulu, this would certainly be the case.

    A few other differences include that Lulu offers a number of additional formats beyond what is currently offered by CreateSpace. Also, a lot of people are creating books for themselves or a specific group and are not interested in an ISBN or distribution.

    By the way, Published by You is currently only $50 if you change you mind. 🙂

  2. walt says:


    I don’t think I’m claiming that CreateSpace is identical to Lulu or offers all the same services. I am saying that, for some kinds of books, now that they’ve expanded to books and dropped the setup fee, it’s an interesting and nonexclusive alternative, one that I think is worth trying.

    Unquestionably, Lulu offers many other possibilities–hardcover books, color books more than 60 pages long, 7×7 books. The Lulu site is more helpful to the newbie (once you go through a LOT of FAQs). Lulu trade paperbacks use a really nice paper–but only for copies purchased from Lulu.

    And as you say, a lot of people are creating books for themselves or a special group; for them, Lulu is (I believe) a better choice.

    It may be for me as well–and note that I expect my forthcoming books to appear first at Lulu, and to point to my Lulu bookstore from C&I and my personal website. I’m trying out CreateSpace to see how it goes…

    Your “nominal fee” for an ISBN is just under $100–and until your “limited time only” deal, the Published by You was $125 or $150. And Published by You yields single-book ISBNs, which is not really the same as having my own publishing house. $0 is considerably more attractive than $100, and CreateSpace doesn’t impose a fee for making changes.

    Here’s the rub: Yield to producer. Lulu may also be tweaking its deal with Ingram–but here’s how it looked to me, assuming for simplicity a 300-page 6×9 trade paperback priced at $30:

    * Copies sold through Lulu: Net return is $15.58
    * Copies sold through CreateSpace estore: Net return is $14.49
    * Copies sold through Amazon: Net return is $11.49
    * Lulu Ingram agreement copies sold through Amazon, B&N, or wherever: Net return is $4.50.

    There’s the rub. There’s a big gap between $4.50 and $11.49. If I was keeping Balanced Libraries at $21.50, it would be ridiculous to offer it via the Lulu Ingram deal. (How ridiculous? $1.40 ridiculous.)

    CreateSpace doesn’t replace Lulu. I’m not saying it does. I am saying that, for me at this point, it strikes me as a better way to find out whether Amazon availability will add significant impact, without making my net return absurdly low relative to list price.

    You work for Lulu. I understand that you need to promote their superiority. If you’re right–if virtually all my sales will actually come through Lulu, since that’s what I’ll primarily promote–then Lulu wins. And a little competition is good for everyone, I think.

  3. Walt,

    I agree whole-heartedly that competition is good for everyone. I look forward to seeing the results of your test.


  4. Eddie says:

    So how did you like the quality of the Createspace book? Was it as good at Lulu’s?

  5. walt says:

    Eddie: Search for “CreateSpace” and read my later blog entries, specifically this one.

    Briefly, the CreateSpace covers aren’t quite as vivid and sharp (in both cases). The text is as crisply printed, and some people may prefer the bright-white paper to Lulu’s book-cream paper. The bindings seem good in all cases.

  6. Chan Johnson says:

    I have been considering self pubs for more years than I care to admit
    even to myself. I have been involved in music for most of my life and now that my end of the biz is quickly drying up; meaning little or no work for jazz artists. My greatest love is story telling. Tried Screen Writing and discovered it ismost difficult to break into that game. My particular Excitement is Science Phantasy and Scifi stories told from an alien viewpoint; ie, whimsically. .
    I got enough info from your bloggs to get started, with a renewal of some self-confidence, anyway. Thanks for making your information available. Now I am off to do some more research. I had been infoed in the past by authors who read my short stories, that they would have limited appeal . So now I know the answer.

  7. gb says:

    I’ve had one book self-published through iUniverse (didn’t really know about anything else at the time) and I am now looking at CreateSpace. I’m not concerned about the financial end really… hard to complain TOO much when they don’t charge anything except for the proof copy. I guess my question is how difficult is it to prepare the book ‘ready to print’ and whether or not CreateSpace throws any ringers at you after you submit it. Did you have to make many corrections or did it print okay the first time around?

  8. walt says:

    CreateSpace’s terms have gotten worse since this post appeared (there’s now either an annual charge or a much higher per-copy charge). I regard Lulu as a better bet, although you don’t get the free ISBN or Amazon distribution (but the ISBN isn’t very expensive).

    CreateSpace gives you no help at all–at least last time I tried them–where Lulu is quite helpful. In both cases, though, you absolutely need to be able to create finished PDFs, with *all* typefaces included–which requires a little messing with PDF settings, as they normally don’t incorporate the typefaces everybody has.

    If a PDF passes muster with Lulu, it should also pass muster with CreateSpace.

    Covers are a different matter: CreateSpace always requires a fixed-size full wraparound cover, where Lulu provides some easier options. Once you understand what CreateSpace needs, it’s not particularly difficult to create.

  9. gb says:

    I would think the Amazon listing would be a big consideration. Not that it’s any magic wand when it comes to sales, but it’s so easy to incorporate into any online promotion and for people to order from. Even when talking to people, being able to just give the person the title and say “it’s on Amazon” is simple and easy to remember.

    I have to admit though I’m not terribly computer literate. I know enough to get by and that’s about it. I was reading the submission guidelines for CreateSpace and Lulu and I might as well have been reading Japanese. My latest book is saved on Word. Would I have to find a computer whiz to get it from there to a “finished PDF?”

    Thanks for the info.

  10. walt says:

    gb: I’d say that if you have trouble with Lulu’s submission guidelines, you may want to find someone who can help (locally, presumably–I can’t offer free consulting). CreateSpace is somewhat more opaque…

    You don’t need a computer whiz. You do need someone who will understand what embedding all typefaces means. And if your book isn’t already designed as a book, that’s another issue.

    That’s probably all the help I can really offer…I know it isn’t much.

  11. gb says:

    Thought I’d drop in again to say my book has been published through CreateSpace and I’m very pleased. Total cost- $10.23. And most of that was shipping.

    I bumbled and fumbled my way through it. As I said, I’m not very good at this sort of thing. The cover turned out to be the hardest part. CreateSpace kept telling me the pics I chose wouldn’t print well because they were 72 dpi instead of the suggested 300. Well, I ordered the proof anyway and it looks great. I can’t imagine it looking better, really. So that was kind of weird.

    It should be on Amazon in the next week or so. All things considered, it’s a hell of a deal. Up to this point, I am very satisfied.

  12. Keby Boyer says:

    Hi Walt —

    I’m curious how you’re book at CreateSpace is doing, and your feelings about their services so far. I heard a rumor that they aren’t paying their authors and they’re being sued. Just curious if you’ve run up against anything like that.

  13. walt says:


    You should read the current Cites & Insights.

    CreateSpace has consistently transferred royalties a few days before the end of the month after which they’re earned, just as they say they will–a week or so later than Lulu, but a whole lot faster than most traditional publishers. (Of course, the money I get from Lulu isn’t royalties, since I don’t use Lulu ISBNs: it’s simply net proceeds.)

    CreateSpace has changed their terms in ways that are slightly less favorable. On the other hand, the Amazon connection works: CreateSpace editions have significantly outsold Lulu editions since I made them available, at a roughly two-to-one ratio. But that’s my specific case.

  14. Keby Boyer says:

    Hi Walt —

    Thanks so much for your prompt reply. I’ll definitely check out Cites and Insights. Continuing my research on CreateSpace, I ran across the whole Amazon/BookSurge/Lightning Source “print with BookSurge (Amazon) or we’ll turn off your “buy” button” controversy. Hmmm….makes a person think twice, doesn’t it?

    Thanks again for your reply and your help.


  15. Steve says:

    Hi Walt,

    Do you know if you use createspace, can you have a color cover on a b&w book? Does that change the printing charge of the book?

    Also do you know how to have an image appear on your createspace book page, instead of this image NoProductImage.gif


  16. walt says:

    Both Lulu and CreateSpace use full-color covers on all paperbacks; that’s part of the standard production charge. For CreateSpace, last time I checked, you have to design your own cover in its entirety (CreateSpace blocks out the ISBN spot on the back). Lulu gives you some predesigned options, but I’ve always done my own covers–it’s not that hard. (Actually, a grayscale cover might be quite striking, but full color is the norm.)

    I don’t remember whether I had to ask to have the cover appear on my book pages or whether it was automatic–but delayed a little. In any case, CreateSpace would take the front portion of your cover image to use as that image.

  17. Michael S says:

    After reading all the entries here I haven’t heard anyone say anything about buybacks. Most book distributors (like B&N) require a guarantee that the books that do not sell can be sent back to the publisher and a refund will be issued. In many cases, this is a cost absorbed by the author. There are some publishers that offer a program where the author is covered in such cases, but it usually runs around $500 to $700 annually. How do these two publishers compare? (CreateSpace and Lulu)

  18. walt says:

    Michael: You’d have to investigate on your own. I use Lulu and CreateSpace as pure-play fulfillment operations: Books aren’t produced until they’re sold. I’m not aware of distributors handling these books, and if they did, it would presumably be on an order-forward basis.

    Remember: This is not a disquisition on self-publishing and its various issues. This is just a note about my own experiments, which are in an odd corner of self-publishing, the publish-on-demand/one-book-at-a-time option.

    Updated: This is the final comment on this post, as the comment stream seems to have diverged considerably from the very specific content of the post.