Quality control at CreateSpace

Posted on January 14, 2010 (Subscribe to Blog)

I've been pulling my hair out with frustration at the poor quality of books received recently from CreateSpace. Don't get me wrong – I have a load of perfectly good ones in stock in case you're thinking of buying one. :-)

A while back I ordered 48 copies (a box load). The order went missing, which I suppose, in the absence of any other evidence, we can blame on the postal service. CreateSpace sent me a replacement box once 15 working days had elapsed. This replacement batch was pretty shoddy, to be honest. Many copies had wonky spine text where the cover hadn't been aligned correctly; the spines weren't as square as they should be; many had damages due to bad handling; some had severe scraping on the backside; and ALL of them were covered in dust. Obviously dust wipes off, but still... dust? Aren't these printing facilities supposed to be dust-free environments? Or is it just the packaging department that needs a spring clean?

I wasn't going to stand for shoddy workmanship so I contacted CreateSpace and complained with a detailed list of faults. CreateSpace hardly batted an eyelid; they sent me their standard apology and immediately dispatched 25 replacement books (those that I had decided were unsellable at the standard price).

These replacements arrived less than a week later. Unfortunately it was more of the same: covered in dust, wonky and rounded spines, slight damages...

Fed up with what I saw as CreateSpace's declining production quality, I complained again – loudly. I had already posted on their forums about this, and I posted again. I also wrote to CreateSpace and told them I would not be buying any more books from them. Somehow I got through, and received an email from somebody in "Executive Customer Relations." I can't make out if this title suggests I'm an executive customer or if they're the executives, but in any case I'm certainly not related to them.

Anyway, the point is, this email was overflowing with apologies plus a request to send photos of the books. I did so earlier today, showing close-ups of many of the problems. I made sure to take the pictures in sunlight so that every particle of dust showed up bright and clear. I could post the photos here, but I don't want to frighten anyone.

A little while ago I received a further email from my kind relations at CreateSpace. They're dispatching another 15 copies of each book (that makes 30 total, if my math is correct) AND they're refunding my original cost. Most importantly, they've said that the books will be reviewed before they're dispatched.

Now I could jump up and down and be happy about all the free books I'm getting, but to be honest the only thing that matters to me is that future orders are problem-free. It takes time to complain, and even more time to wait for replacements, and yet more time to complain again and wait for replacements for my replacements. What I want is a box of high quality books delivered FIRST TIME. I even suggested to CreateSpace that I'd be happy to pay more per book if there was such a thing as a "premium quality" service, for those who perhaps have higher standards (ie, fussy people like me). CreateSpace's book production prices are unbeatable, but the books are almost worthless if I can't sell them.

I'm more hopeful now though. Maybe I've finally broken through the "standard apology" barrier. I'm not the only one to complain about this kind of thing, but it doesn't help that there are plenty of CreateSpace customers who say their books look fantastic, so either those people got lucky or they have low standards. I think they just got lucky. When I compare my latest batches of books to earlier ones, there's a big, big difference, so it looks like recent production quality has been slipping.

Despite all this, and as I said earlier, I have plenty of perfectly decent copies to keep me going for now. I might shift the rejects in a dimly lit subway somewhere...

Comment by STEPHEN ISABIRYE on Friday, January 15, 2010...

You may want to try the publisher of my book, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage, Infinity Publishing (www.bbotw.com) for your next book. The quality of the book was almost near-perfect i.e. the pages were very clean, the margins well-set and above-all the cover of the book was fantastic, that is beyond my imagination. The front and back covers are glossy (it looks as if it has been shoe-shined) and look far better, if one is looking and holding it, physically, than in the computer photos of it in the publisher's website, Amazon or any other computerized print of its front cover .

Comment by SHALLA DEGUZMAN on Thursday, January 21, 2010...

I myself had just sent CS an email:


I'm looking at the proof copy of my Blank Canvas pocket-edition and some text are darker than others.

It's mostly pages and pages in mid gray then there's about 4 lines that's dark gray. People who have purchased my book have been asking me about this. Is there a way CS can fix this?


Good luck with your books, I like CS for their prices and how they're selling my books all over the world... if only they can fix these minor problems and have quality control.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, January 22, 2010...

There are plenty of options out there, but as you say, Shalla, the prices at CreateSpace are hard to pass up. But I'd gladly pay a little extra if the quality was just a little more consistent. But I refuse to fork out thousands of dollars, as some authors do, for the services of a subsidy press.

I received a replacement order (actually a replacement of my replacement of my replacement!) and these are definitely better — much cleaner and cut with a sharp blade. Back to the way they should be. I assume their quality control officer has been booted up the rear end, or fired.

I've never had a problem with the interior though (at least not that I know of) and the cover picture has always been very good.

Comment by JACQUELYN WHEELER on Saturday, March 20, 2010...

I've had mixed results with CreateSpace, too. But setting up my book at Lightning Source was such a nightmare that I ended up just going with CreateSpace again. However, I'm still unclear on whether using their expanded distribution channel will get my book onto Barnesandnoble.com, Amazon UK, and other international sites the way it does through Lightning Source. I called CreateSpace, and they couldn't answer directly. Have you had experience with your book getting on international sites through the CS expanded distribution channel?

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Saturday, March 20, 2010...

Jacquelyn, did you manage to get books printed at Lightning Source in the end? If so, how was the quality? I'm in the process of setting up my books there, and the setup is a little more difficult for sure, but I'm nearly ready. Hopefully it will pay off.

With regards to CreateSpace's expanded distribution, I gave up on it. After a few weeks my books were showing on Barnes & Noble's website and in the Ingram's database, as well as in all the Amazons... but not "properly." Amazon UK refused to list my book as "in stock" so was available only via dodgy third party sellers who were offering the books at more than double the price. According to a bookshop owner, my listing showed in Ingram's but many details were missing. Besides that, I found out that Barnes & Noble still won't stock self-published books unless you jump through hoops first. Even when someone walks into a shop and orders it, B&N will only deliver it straight to the buyer's home. Basically, they don't want to touch it.

So I abandoned the EDC. I sell my books through my website anyway, with just a few extra Amazon.com sales, so it doesn't seem to make much difference to me whether I use Expended Distribution or not. The fact that Lightning Source has distribution channels doesn't really matter much to me now; it's a bonus I guess.

Comment by JACQUELYN WHEELER on Friday, April 30, 2010...

Hi Keith,

I did end up using Lightning Source again, and now both Rising Shadow and Merger are showing up on the European Amazon sites (although it says on the French site that it takes 3 to 5 weeks to ship...argh!) and Barnesandnoble.com. The front cover is of higher quality from Lightning Source, but interestingly the back cover looks better on the CreateSpace version. Since I have no intention of becoming a millionaire from writing fiction, and I am primarily interested in getting my books out there to whoever wants to read them, I'm going to continue using both CreateSpace and Lightning Source just so I'm maximizing availability.

I'm sorry to hear you didn't make it to the ABNA quarterfinals—it sounded like you had a really good shot at it. For one heart-stopping moment, I thought Rising Shadow had made it, but it was another author named Wheeler who was listed. I didn't care much about winning the whole thing, but I was really hoping to make it to the quarterfinals to get the PW review. In the end, I'm just happy to have made it to the semi-finals and enjoyed getting reviews of my excerpt. I think it's important to celebrate whatever successes we can in this business. :)

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