Concerns with Amazon print-on-demand quality

by AA on 16 December 2011

Serendipitously, before I started ordering large numbers of my paperback, I first ordered a single copy directly from CreateSpace and another single copy through Amazon.com. It took almost eight days for me to get my proof copy ground-shipped from CreateSpace, but I overnighted the Amazon.com final copy, since I needed to get a copy of it to my illustrator before he left town for Christmas. CreateSpace’s fastest shipping option could not guarantee delivery until more than 10 business days after Amazon.com would guarantee it. Hence I ended up paying $13 plus overnight shipping for my own book, which would otherwise have cost me only $5.24 + ~$0.65 incremental shipping.

So, anyway, I get the book from Amazon in an amazingly fast 48-hour turnaround from the time I place the order. I’m very happy with that. What I wasn’t so pleased to discover, though, was a printing defect that had not existed in the proof copy I ordered directly from CreateSpace. The defect is a ridge of excess glue beneath the cover, between the first page and the inside of the cover, within millimeters of the spine. It seems like such a minor issue, but when you set this Amazon.com copy next to the CreateSpace copy, it becomes obvious that the binding on the CreateSpace copy is superior. If you run your fingers along the spine of the Amazon.com-printed copy, you can feel a protrusion of about 1-mm of glue, and looking at the book face-on, there’s sort of a bubbled-out effect of the cover near the spine. It’s not a huge cosmetic defect, but it’s particularly noticeable to the touch, and I imagine that after being pulled in and out of a bookshelf, this could cause the cover ink to wear away around the spine. The CreateSpace copy, by comparison, has a nice, neat, perfectly squared-off spine, with a nice regular ridge pre-folded into the cover to guide the cover crease when the book is opened for the first time.

So I called CreateSpace to tell them about the defect on the Amazon.com copy. I wasn’t upset about it, honestly, because the main thing was that I needed my illustrator to be able to read the book. He could rip off the cover, as far as I was concerned. What I really cared about was whether this quality issue would affect all of my books — obviously I’d rather have my readers receive the superior binding if at all possible.

What I learned from the (very nice) CreateSpace customer service rep was that my member orders placed directly with CreateSpace get printed in CreateSpace’s own South Carolina facility by CreateSpace’s own team. When I order from Amazon.com, in order to provide that superior shipping turnaround, Amazon sources the print-on-demand printing to other print-on-demand service providers. In the case of my slightly defective copy, this was a printer in Kentucky.

Knowing this now, I’m driving as many of my paperback sales through myself as possible, since I want my readers to get the prettiest book possible. This has other benefits, as well.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Keith Robinson September 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm

This post is quite old now but I just wanted to add that I agree 100% with everything you said. My Amazon copy arrived just now (from Kentucky) and it reminds me greatly of the copies I used to get directly from CreateSpace in Charleston — excessive ugly brown glue, rounded binding, poor cutting…

I moved over to Lightning Source for a year or so and had much better success with their in-house printing for my stock copies. I returned to CreateSpace recently to find that their in-house copies (at least judging by their proof and a few books I’d been sent by fellow authors) had improved. But that’s neither here nor there if people buy directly from Amazon and receive these ugly Kentucky copies.

You’d think this sort of thing would be fairly easy to get right, wouldn’t you? But it’s all about money. Basically, not enough readers care one way or another. Readers get what they’re given and some may think, “Ugh, what an ugly book,” and some others may even demand a replacement, but I betcha most don’t even notice anything wrong. So Amazon pretends not to either.

What bugs me the most is that all this reflects badly on the writer. If a writer was published by Random House, a reader receiving a poor copy might think, “Oh well, this is obviously the publisher’s fault, not the author’s,” but I think with self-publishing a reader would assume that the author is in control of everything and might think, “Wow, so THIS is the quality of self-published books? I think I’ll stick with professionally published books from now on…”

Sigh.

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