Three POD Comparisons (Lightning Source/DriveThru, CreateSpace, PubGraphics)

I’m always on the lookout for good publishing resources. To date, I thought I had two choices, really, for POD, and these were what I leveraged for Dungeon Grappling.

The first was DriveThruRPG. It was my go-to for Kickstarter fulfillment, not least reason of which because they had a really nice shipping calculator for “Rest of World” type movements, and they could print in the UK which was both less expensive, and really got past the cross-border US–>everywhere else fees that make international shipping the joy that it is. They gave excellent help during my Kickstarter (Meredith was fantastic; my new rep not so much, and that would be revised to “meh” at this point) and convinced me to do print at all. Meredith took an active hand in helping me prep my files for total ink coverage, which was a problem in the first round.

The only downside there was price: my 52-page book costs $7.70 per copy through DriveThruRPG. Further investigation shows that going direct to LightningSource/Ingram Spark I could drop $1.00 to $1.50 from that, at $6.00-$6.50. Still, that means if I sell my $15 book (well, now $15, was $19 when it launched) to retail for $9, my profit margin is approaching a buck a book.

That led me to CreateSpace, whose $4.50 cost to print the same book was (and is) very attractive.

However. However however.

Dealing with CreateSpace’s upload and proofing algorithms is 100% annoying. Their tolerancing methods preclude anything looking like live text from appearing at a much farther distance from the trim lines than DriveThru. I was staring a 50 DriveThru copies of DG on my desk while CreateSpace was telling me “we can’t print that.”

I wound up having to adjust the layout myself for CS, squeezing the borders in from the edges, and making some font size changes, to make it work. As a result, and to ensure all my customers get the same book regardless of print source, I wound up re-submitting that new file back to DriveThru. Naturally it went through first time. If it works for CS, it’ll work for DriveThru has been my experience.

Then I ordered copies. My first CreateSpace proof, way back when, came by with ink flaking off all of the dark images – there were white dots all over the images from where the ink didn’t take. The second time I ordered repeats, I ordered 25, and all of them had crappy binding, and 8 of 25 the covers were mis-cut.

Then I got my first retail order! Six copies to a store in North Dakota. Those copies came in flawed as well, with black text offset from red text in a shadow-looking thing.

So basically, quality control sucked, and I have no faith in them. You get what you pay for.

Enter PubGraphics

My contacts at the Indy Game Designer’s Network stepped up on request – what POD houses did they use? One recommended PubGraphics. I checked them out.

They have a handy instant quote generator, which is nice – it lets you run permutations of things and see how the price stacks up. For the Dungeon Grappling book, it came through at $5.40 for single copies. That’s a buck more (ish) than CreateSpace, but over $2 less than DriveThru. Hmm.

I ordered one, and was simply blown away by the quality you get. The paper is good stuff: 70# matte white, and the paper for the cover stock is the same 10pt stock. So the basic materials are equal or better than DriveThru deluxe color print.

Then it came to the results. While photos may or may not tell the full tale, the comparisons are noteworthy.

Photo Finish


The front cover was the first thing that stood out. Relative to the CS and DriveThru offerings, there’s no other way to say it. The PubGraphics entry is just VIVID.

The way to really tell, if you can’t, is to look at the color of the title text. Flip your eyes back and forth. Now look at, well, the wizard’d cleavage? The two books on the left her skin tone is warmer. The one on the right, which I believe is CreateSpace, is simply faded-looking by comparison.

This carries over onto the back side.

DriveThru is on the left, PubGraphics in the middle, and CreateSpace is on the right. My photo skills with the phone aside, the middle one simply has more color depth.

In a Bind

Recall that a lot of my running about looking for alternates came from binding issues. I wasn’t really wild about DriveThru’s binding quality either, but I hadn’t had quite the disaster that I got with CreateSpace. Not great, but not horrid, either.

Then I got the PubGraphics proof. Look at that binding. Just look at it.

Drive Thru is on top (they have a unique bar code that replaces my own); CS is on the bottom. See that perfectly linear binding that’s made with razor precision? No space like you see in the DriveThru binding (lower right corner of the top image) or the CreateSpace one (detached cover gaps on the very bottom).

This is how it’s done, boys and girls.


Now, I figure text is text, right?


This one’s a bit harder to see, but the text on the right (not PubGraphics) is bulky and thick compared to the PubGraphics on the left. The text is crisper, uses less ink, and sharper in appearance. It’s just easier to read, and it makes the distinction between my bold text and the unbolded text more clear.

I have some additional pix of interior art, but because of variable lighting, the impact of the lighting (me) will overwhelm the impact of the printing (them), which isn’t a good data point. I can say that the interior vivid carries over to the inner art as well, though.

Ballistic’s Report

No surprises here. If I can take delivery to my own home of inventory, in the future I’ll be doing it from PubGraphics unless someone with PubGraphic’s quality and CreateSpace’s price comes along. Offset print would be even cheaper and I can spec out a 12-point cover and 105# paper, a truly deluxe book, should I wish to shell out $2,000 for 500 copies. That’s a darn good price, for a book of that quality, but it’s still more books in one go than I’ve sold at all, to date.

(Note: If the upcoming Lost Hall of Tyr Kickstarter does ridiculously well, I’ll do it anyway, as the final stretch goal for the project, so all who pledge and get the Dungeon Grappling add-on will get the improved offset book. We’ll have to do really well to get there, though, like 1,000 backers well. So I’m not holding my breath on this one.)

Back to the print on demand, though.

CreateSpace has proved more trouble than it’s worth, from start to finish. While it’s nice to be able to have a file that’s universally accepted because they have the loosest quality control and thus the most restrictive tolerances (if your file will make it through the CS filter, it will probably be accepted anywhere). DriveThru is a reasonable quality position, and is attached to the biggest RPG store for online sales. But their high cost to print means that you get lower royalties, and is in fact a less-good proposition than the existing 65% they quote.

Consider. My book sells for $15. They say it’s $7.70 to print. So my royalty is 65% of the difference: 0.65 x (15-7.7) = $4.75 per copy, or just shy of 32% of the cover price. Now, DriveThru probably gets their books from LSI/Ingram Spark at the price you can see online. So the true cost of making the book is closer to $6 or $6.50, not $7.70. So of that $15, LSI gets $6.25, DriveThru gets $1.50 from their cut of print costs, and 35% of the profit, for about $4. I get the balance of $4.75. The actual royalty less costs is closer to 54% rather than 65%. Also note: net royalties for CreateSpace are $4.50 through, and $7.50 through the eStore. Since I’ve sold maybe 1-2 copies for all that work to get it there, well, that’s not worth it either.

The true net of it is for my own personal copies to sell through my web store, and even for Kickstarter fulfillment, PubGraphics is the obvious winner here. Quality is the best of all three, price is closer to CS than DriveThru or even LSI/Ingram Spark. and fulfillment is fast enough, so long as you plan for it (proof approval to shipping was a week, I expect to get the books in 3-5 business days, so basically two-week turnaround).

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