Should I print through Lightning Source instead of KDP Print?

Lightning Source can be a good resource, although Jay has no experience with them at all and while I’ve looked into them I haven’t used them yet, so we can’t get into much in the way of specifics. I’m going to share an email I received from Jill after our last training webinar that shares most of the details:

Hi Blaine,

I mentioned Lightning Source in the chat box on Wednesday. They are a huge competitor of CS! In fact, these two are always with war with each other – and at the same time, they have to make deals with each other because both are so big. LS is owned by Ingrams, the largest distributor of books in the world, and also the largest distributor to libraries. Because of their database, any tiny or large bookstore can order even POD books from them if someone goes into the store and asks for it, and the minute there is an order, that book goes into the public global database, even if it’s POD. POD books sold exclusively through Amazon and CS don’t enjoy that benefit.

Many, many of my clients print with LS. Many also print with CS. In my experience, LS is a notch above CS in quality. CS is just fine for books that they don’t format. Their formatting services are terrible. I have had clients hire me for editing and then get a CS package for book layout and printing, and there are so many nightmares. One client had a proof sent to me to check (I only edited the book) and the first half of the book was actually someone else’s book, and the second half was my client’s. But that is one of the many stories I could tell.

BUT if the book design is done by a professional outside of the CS program, the stakes are much higher that you will have good results. So for the books being done in this course, with you doing the layout, or people doing their own, they should be fine.

CS has fewer paper options than LS. Neither has a very good reputation in printing and binding color books, but perhaps they will improve, because color is relatively new for both of them.

One more thing: In order to take advantage of both CS being owned by and LS being owned by Ingrams, many people sign up first with CS and use a unique ISBN for these publications because CS demands a unique ISBN. Then they go and create an account with LS and publish through them using a different ISBN. There is no trouble with this. It’s exactly the same book. It’s just working around the Amazon/CS bullying system. Then, even when orders are made through Amazon, Amazon has been known to order from LS as well as CS!

The drawback with LS is that you can’t make revisions as freely, because each time you upload a new version or a corrected version, they charge you $40, so it’s actually a good idea to go with CS first and get all the kinks out and then sign with LS.

Hope this helps you and everyone.

All the best,


Here is my response to Jill:

I haven’t heard of any problems with LS first and then CS; Amazon is generally happy to have the business. But, I haven’t used LS for much up to this point since the time I was looking into them was right before Amazon stopped treating them as favorably as they had been. If you are going to use your own ISBN anyway, then you can still go with CS first, but in that case I wouldn’t use a CS-assigned ISBN so that you can future-proof your book. (And, if you do have your own ISBN, it’s generally better to use it.)

KDP Print also has printers in the UK, although you can’t order directly from them. They’re used if somebody purchases a KDP Print through Amazon’s European properties. For those looking to make direct purchases, that could be a viable option; I hadn’t looked at the printing locations for LS before.

I will say again that we can’t really talk about the specifics of using Lightning Source, but you can learn a lot of information from their website and contacting their customer service, and if you do want to make use of them I’d recommend reading a book called POD For Profit by Aaron Shepherd. I don’t agree with everything in his book (and it is a bit dated, at least the version that I’ve read) but it does describe the process of using Lightning Source pretty well.

Just bear in mind that now that Amazon is comfortable with KDP Print they have definitely downgraded how they treat books provided from Lightning Source, so if you plan to sell through Amazon I’d also create the book through KDP Print. Most of your settings will still work but the bleeds and cover sizes do vary a bit so you will have to customize a little, and even if you are going with CreateSpace first you should still use your own ISBN if you plan to work with Lightning Source because you can not use your KDP Print-assigned ISBN with any other printers.

Note that Lightning Source has now created a sister company, Ingram Spark, which offers many of the same features but is slightly more user-friendly and does not require as large of a catalog of books to get started.