Print on Demand (POD) (versus short-run print jobs) is the typical method used initially by indie authors, and the two big providers are Createspace (owned by Amazon) and Ingram, either via Ingram LSI (Lightning Source) or IngramSpark.
[UPDATE: 2018 — Amazon KDP has now fully digested Createspace but nothing else has changed. In all other ways, the remarks on Createspace apply to its replacement, Amazon KDP.]
The merits of Createspace vs Ingram is a common discussion topic among indie authors who produce paperback editions. This post is an update of this analysis and focuses on what your books look like to booksellers placing orders with Ingram.
The recommended practice these days is to use both vendors for print, if you can: Createspace (without their expanded distribution option) for Amazon, for inexpensive orders for inventory, for an online store, and for direct shipping; and Ingram for everything else. (The recent news about availability of print from Amazon KDP seems to signal that access to Createspace directly might change.)
(UPDATE – 2018. Createspace no longer has an online store. Amazon is their only print outlet.)
Some authors create a separate Library edition, just to use that part of Createspace's expanded distribution with a Createspace ISBN.
If you don't want to go to the bother (and the expense) of getting your own ISBN (a whole separate discussion) Createspace will supply you with an ISBN owned by Createspace for you to use, for free. (If you have an ISBN, you can use your own.)
Since the common progression for indies seems to be to start with Createspace only, and Createspace has an expanded distribution option and a free ISBN that gets your books into Ingram (“Booksellers and Online Retailers”), the question often comes up: why bother going to Ingram directly?
Why go to Ingram directly, in addition to Createspace?
The manufactured products are slightly different (quality issues with a small and debatable preference given to Ingram), and unlike Createspace, the Ingram edition costs money: a title setup fee (circa $49), an annual market fee (to stay listed in Ingram's database) ($12), and a revision fee for any change in cover or content ($40 each). The fee details vary a bit between Ingram LSI (mostly for traditional publishers) and IngramSpark (mostly for indies) and coupons/discounts are not infrequently available.
And you need your own ISBN, a not-inconsiderable expense in the US.
But there are other concerns.
A bookstore with good credit and broad needs may use Ingram as its main supplier. Other bookstores use smaller, more targeted suppliers who get their list of offerings from Ingram (and charge a fee).
Ingram allows you to set the same standard discount that traditional publishers use: 55%. Createspace's maximum is 40%.
Here's what that means. Ingram takes 15% of that discount for its services. It subtracts that from the books you list directly with Ingram, but it also subtracts that from the books it lists that were given to it by Createspace via expanded distribution.
So at 55% (Ingram's standard), minus Ingram's 15%, there remains 40%. Some of that may go to an intermediate distributor. Whatever's left over is the bookseller's potential profit, which he may discount to push sales.
At 40% (Createspace's max), once you subtract Ingram's fee of 15%, all that's left is 25% for the intermediate distributor(s) and bookseller to share. That is unattractive to many booksellers. Some won't even order books to fulfill customer requests at that small a profit to themselves.
2) Free ISBN / Publisher name
Createspace offers its own ISBN, if you don't have or want to use one of your own.
The general rule is: whoever owns the ISBN is the Publisher, from the perspective of forms and databases. Some recent forms have separated the two things, so that the owner of the ISBN and the “Publisher of record” and the provider of the data feed on a form can be different things, but that is far from general.
For a while, the Createspace data downstream showed Publisher = Createspace, even if you used your own ISBN. Now that only happens if you use a Createspace ISBN. And even so, what shows on a form depends on what the form uses for data sources: if it shows ISBN and looks up the ISBN, then it would get the ISBN owner. If it simply assumes the supplier of the data feed (Createspace) is the owner, then it shows Createspace as the publisher. That's how audiobooks often show up as Publisher = AudiobookFeedProvider even when the ISBN belongs to the Publisher.
How booksellers see a traditionally published book when they order from Ingram