Lightning Source vs. CreateSpace: What I Would Do Differently

Updated February 28, 2015

Lightning Source Inc. (part of Ingram Content Group) and Create Space (part of Amazon) are the two most prominent options for print-on-demand in the United States. They are each enormous and come with their own pros and cons, making it difficult for self-publishers to choose between them.*

lightningsource vs.


For my book, I went through Lightning Source because the print and binding quality are said to be better, you can set your discount rates, you are automatically listed with Ingram’s distribution (good if you want to be in bookstores), and further, I am not a fan of Amazon’s business practices.

But I was asked recently, if I were to choose a print-on-demand option for my book today, would I do anything different from just a year ago when Perfect Bound went to the printer. I had to answer yes, yes, I would.

Things did not go as smoothly at Lightning Source as I had expected given its reputation. It took three proofs before we were satisfied with the interior print quality. Perfect Bound includes some screens (i.e., shaded boxes), and the screens were uneven or blotchy. Apparently our proof was the last book off the press before they changed the ink (seriously). I was not impressed.

The cover printing, the binding, and the paper were all very good, however. Once the interior print quality issues were resolved, we were happy to continue with Lightning Source.

Over Christmas 2014, new information caused us to reconsider our choices. That’s when we learned that Amazon was taking longer and longer to get our books to customers. One customer reported having to wait three weeks! I had heard this might happen; because CreateSpace and Lightning Source are direct competitors, Amazon has incentive to make Lightning Source books difficult to get. To make matters worse, Amazon started saying our book was out of stock. We feared that might cost us sales. Who wants to take a chance on a book that’s out of stock?

After much discussion, we finally decided it was in our best interest to work with CreateSpace. I wasn’t thrilled with that because, if Lightning Source has print quality issues, what is CreateSpace going to do? Most people order from Amazon and therefore the books would be coming from CreateSpace. I didn’t want my readers getting crummy-looking books. But, I felt I was over a barrel, so I signed up with CreateSpace.

An example of the blotchy printing in our first proof from Lightning Source
An example of the blotchy printing in our first proof from Lightning Source

Turns out the print quality at CreateSpace was better than at Lightning Source, and we had nothing to worry about there. It is clear to someone who is really looking closely that the binding is not as good, and the color match on the cover isn’t exact, but only we would notice that. The paper is a little creamier than I would have wanted, but I prefer it to the stark white that is the other option from CreateSpace. Lightning Source’s paper is a very pleasant light cream; CreateSpace’s is a little darker but still OK. Also, CreateSpace charges less per book, by about 50 cents in our case. When you’re selling a high volume of books, that makes a difference.

Right now I plan to keep both accounts — one with Lightning Source and the other with CreateSpace — but I do wish I hadn’t waited so long to sign up with CreateSpace. I despise that Amazon controls so much and that the company leveraged its size and reach to coerce me into working with it. That is a huge drawback. But with the quality of printing I saw and the cheaper per unit price, I came to terms with it.

Depending on the type of book you are publishing, I would definitely consider using CreateSpace. Lightning Source still offers better binding, better paper, and ways to get into bookstores.  But with CreateSpace you can sign up for free and get a proof for about $4 (plus shipping). If you hate it, you can move on to Lightning Source or Ingram Spark. Or do as we did and sign up with both. (As an aside, if you do go with CreateSpace, consider getting a matte finish on your cover. I find the glossy from CreateSpace to be too shiny.)

So there you  have it. I never thought I would endorse CreateSpace, but it turns out there are benefits to this behemoth.

UPDATE: Wednesday, February 25, the Independent Book Publishers Association held a webinar with representatives from Lightning Source. One attendee asked about the “out of stock” message and how to correct it. The official response from LSI was to get an account with CreateSpace without signing up for expanded distribution. Why the reciprocation? It seems LSI does some printing for CreateSpace. See this article from Aaron Shepard for more.

* IngramSpark is another print-on-demand company from Ingram Content Group that caters to micro-publishers. Given its close relationship with Lightning Source, the drawbacks I mention here would likely be the same for IngramSpark.

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing,, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other retailers


5 thoughts on “Lightning Source vs. CreateSpace: What I Would Do Differently

  1. Gary Bargatze February 17, 2015 / 12:09 PM

    Katherine, this will be really helpful for self and independent publishers.

  2. moonbridgebooks March 1, 2015 / 1:36 PM

    Thank you, Katherine, for helping to inform authors about this issue which has been going on for quite a few years now. Aaron’s article is interesting – I have bad eyesight but don’t have a problem reading the print in your LSI book or another LSI/Spark recently-published book I have.

  3. Ozaru Books (@OzaruBooks) April 15, 2015 / 9:55 AM

    A recent development you may not be aware of: Lightning Source are shifting to inkjet instead of toner, throughout the world, meaning that text and monochrome images are greyer (rather ‘washed out’, q.v., and images show some banding too. The advantage from their perspective is that they will be able to do full colour on all presses, and produce books more quickly – but as far as we’re concerned (not doing colour books), it simply means lower quality, so reluctantly we’re going to have to reexamine CreateSpace, Lulu and the like (which we rejected before because of print/cover/binding quality, poor global distribution setup, and so on).

    • Katherine Pickett April 15, 2015 / 10:32 AM

      Thanks for the comment, Ozaru Books. I did not know about this change. I wonder what the long-term results will be, once the full transition is made. For example, will LSI use paper that is more compatible with inkjet technology and alleviate the streakiness? Or if there are enough complaints, will they return to a hybrid system of one set of printers for color and the another for black and white printing? I will be watching this.

      • Ozaru Books (@OzaruBooks) April 15, 2015 / 9:47 PM

        They already use different paper for the inkjets. If you look very carefully in good light, it appears (to me) to be a little creamier/yellower, and possibly minutely thinner (one of our authors said it looked too thin – they could ‘see the text from the other side of the page’ – although I don’t find that, and it seems counter-intuitive given that the ink itself appears thinner). The conclusion I draw is that no, it doesn’t help with the streakiness issue. And as for a possible return to hybrid printing, my contact said no – everything is heading towards inkjet/colour only, by the end of this year in US/UK (a little later in Australia), period. As an analogy, if someone offered you a really high-resolution but monochrome PC screen, would you buy it? Only for really specialized purposes, I imagine, not mass market.

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