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Welcome to CreateSpaceSucks.com! Does CreateSpace Really Suck? Read On to Find Out …

To suck (slang, verb – intransitive): to be inadequate, lacking in some significant way, not entirely up to the task, falling short of the mark.

CreateSpace Review:
One Author's Personal Experience

Summary: CreateSpace has an excellent model but of the 105 copies of my book that I have received from the company to date, all 105 (100 percent) have been defectively manufactured and damaged in shipping as a result of improper packaging. Photographic documentation appears below.

Writing your book, it’s been said, is the easy part. The hard part is what follows.

As my book neared completion, I intensified my efforts to find the most appropriate publishing solution. I had previously had books published the traditional way, through mainstream publishers. I also had experience self-publishing, having 5,000 books printed at a time and then selling the inventory either directly to consumers through media appearances or through wholesalers (Baker & Taylor, Ingram and so on).

NOTE: For anyone who does not yet have a literary agent and is interested in going the traditional route, publishing through a traditional publishing company, I highly recommend Noah Lukeman’s How to Write a Great Query Letter and How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent. Both are available on his website – the first as a free download, the second (as a PDF) for a nominal fee of $3.99.

Publishing on demand (POD) is a methodology I first heard about years ago. For the uninitiated, this refers to printing only as many books at a time as there are orders to fill. If there is a single order, you produce a single book.

In its earliest incarnation, POD was intriguing but lacked appeal with regard to quality and cost. As CreateSpace (which took over from BookSurge in late 2009) began to be mentioned more frequently in cyberspace, I wondered whether things had changed. Was POD now ready for prime time? Was it the answer to the prayers of eager authors, most of whom have scant hope of making it past the publishing house gatekeepers and who lack the resources to print several thousand books at a time?

Of course, there are other significant advantages to POD, not the least of which is the ability to make changes as needed, on the fly: corrections, modifications, additions and so on. One of every author’s worst nightmares is an error enshrined in five or ten thousand printed copies.

Had technology, combined with other fortuitous developments, advanced to the point that POD had become a viable solution? This was the question foremost on my mind as I excitedly engaged in my “due diligence,” searching for objective CreateSpace reviews.

The hours I devoted to this task led me for the most part to comparisons of CreateSpace with what seemed to be its two major competitors, Lightning Source and Lulu. From what I read, Lightning Source is very strict about requiring all members to be incorporated.

If you’re making a lot of money, incorporation makes sense. If you’re not, it doesn’t. In fact, it can become quite burdensome. That’s the conclusion I reached as a result of my own experience with being incorporated for several years – a conclusion heartily endorsed by my accountant.

The main rap on Lulu, from what I encountered in my online research, is that the costs of the books it manufactures are too high to enable a book to be commercially viable. It may work well for people who give books away, for one reason or another, but not for authors interested in royalties.

For these and other reasons – from my perspective – it looked as if CreateSpace was essentially the only game in town, as far as POD is concerned. The question then became: (1) how good is the CreateSpace model and (2) how good a job is CreateSpace doing with regard to manufacturing books? How close, in other words, do they come to looking like the “real thing” (books that are printed on a press in large quantities, either through a traditional publisher or a printer engaged by a self-publisher)?

My purpose here is not to evaluate the CreateSpace model in detail. My main purpose here is to report my personal experience with the CreateSpace system, especially as it relates to production quality and shipping issues.

That being said, I think it’s appropriate to mention my basic take on the CreateSpace model. In a word, it strikes me as truly outstanding. From an author’s point of view, I would even go so far as to say that it is downright breathtaking.

The set-up process is a snap and it costs next-to-nothing (you can even get your ISBNs at no cost, although you can’t take them with you if you leave CreateSpace). Uploading your manuscript is easy and whenever you need help, it’s only a phone call away. You can call at any time of day or night – any day of the week – and immediately speak with someone about your question. How many companies do you know of that offer this kind of access to customer support?

The website has some excellent tools. For example, you can instantly calculate what your royalties would be under different pricing scenarios through different sales channels. In theory, at least, the economies of scale at CreateSpace are such that you can sell your book at a competitive price point and still earn a decent royalty.

And then there is the fact that CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon, offering easy entry into the Amazon website, both for print and digital editions, without paying any additional fees. I subsequently got the digital version of my book included there as an ebook, complete with free preview. The “trade paperback” version of my book on Amazon got its “Look Inside!” feature incorporated in just a couple of weeks.

Those are only some of the features that make the CreateSpace model so attractive.

This is not to say that I perceived no issues with this model. For example: Through CreateSpace’s “Expanded Distribution” program (a single flat fee of only $25), your title is added to the databases of wholesalers Baker & Taylor and Ingram. In theory, this makes it possible to get orders from bookstores. In practice, however, such orders are unlikely, due to the fact that CreateSpace has a no-returns policy and requires payment up front. Wholesalers, distributors and bookstores don’t work that way. They typically want to pay in 90-120 days or more and they want to reserve the right to return any books they order, even if they damage the books (which of course they won’t admit to doing).

After my uploaded manuscript was approved, which took only a few days, I had the option of ordering an author’s proof copy before making it available for sale. I promptly placed my order and looked forward with excitement to seeing my new book in print for the first time.

The first thing I noticed when the book arrived several days later was that the title and other information on the spine were not properly aligned. The verbiage was skewed toward the edge near the back cover, instead of being vertically centered within the space on the spine. The flaw was quite pronounced. No bookstore would place a book in that condition on its shelves. An individual mail-order buyer would probably not be happy with such a book, either.

There was another issue, which at the time I didn’t pay a lot of attention to, in part because it was overshadowed by the flaw just described. The book’s outer corners were noticeably bent, to the extent that it would no longer be considered in new, saleable condition. This clearly occurred because of the way the book had been packaged. It had not been wrapped or protected in any way, with bubble or shrink wrap preventing it from sliding around in its box. At the time, I attributed this to the fact that it was “just” an author’s proof copy, the only purpose of which was to check for flaws in manufacturing.

My initial thought about the misaligned text on the spine was that it might have been the result of miscalculation on the part of the graphic designer. CreateSpace provides a mathematical formula for calculating the width of the spine based on the number of pages and the type of paper used. If the formula is not followed exactly, the dimensions will not be correct. After checking with the designer, however, it seemed clear that he had correctly and conscientiously followed the formula.

I then emailed CreateSpace with a summary of the situation and a photograph of the spine (which also illustrates how the book got crushed at the bottom of the spine in shipping):

misalignedtext

A support person at CreateSpace eventually replied, to acknowledge receipt of my communication, promising to investigate. A couple of days later, I received an apology for what was referred to as a production error on the part of CreateSpace. I was promised a replacement copy at no additional charge.

Several days later, the replacement copy arrived, with no visible manufacturing defects. Again, the book’s corners were noticeably bent, due to improper packaging. Again, I attributed this to the fact that it was “just” an author’s proof copy, the only purpose of which was to check for flaws in manufacturing. With a sigh of relief, I presumed that we were now ready to go to market and gave the appropriate permissions at the CreateSpace website.

I then ordered 25 copies of my book, for distribution to reviewers. Approximately two weeks later (I had opted not to pay for expedited shipping), the books arrived in two boxes: one containing three books, the other 22. This was the message I was prompted to send to CreateSpace customer support on July 16 (2012) after opening the boxes and examining the contents:

I just received the shipment of my order (ID #27325292) for 25 copies of my book. All 25 are both defectively manufactured and also slightly damaged (two are severely damaged). I am horrified.

I had intended to send these to reviewers but they will almost certainly pick up on the manufacturing defect, so I'm afraid that would be counterproductive.

As you're aware, reviewers expect to receive review copies promptly upon publication. If there is too much of a delay, the book may not be reviewed, when it otherwise might have been.

Let me be specific about the damages and the manufacturing defect.

Most of the damages are conspicuously bent corners. The books were packaged in such a way that this was inevitable. These volumes cannot qualify as new. They are definitely damaged goods, right out of the box. A couple of the books were thrown into the box so carelessly that they were severely damaged, mangled actually [see photo below].

With regard to the manufacturing defect, this is primarily the glue on the spine, which is excessive, rough, uneven and ugly, bleeding primarily from the top. The first couple of books I received did not have this issue. The [colorless] glue was evenly applied and neatly trimmed.

I am sure that CreateSpace cares about the quality of manufacturing and proper packaging, so that new books arrive in new condition.

Please forward this message to the appropriate person, to discuss with me: (1) how this shipment can be replaced and (2) what might be done so that this does not happen in the future, not just with regard to copies purchased by the author but even more importantly with regard to copies purchased by other parties.

Here is a photo of one of the mangled books, which I later returned to CreateSpace:

colorvariance

This is the message I received in response later that day:

Thank you for contacting CreateSpace in regard to your recent order.

I apologize that your books had excessive glue and were damaged in shipping. These manufacturing errors are not typical, and we do everything we can to produce the highest quality products. Our production team will be notified of the issue to prevent this from happening in the future.

I created order #28200273 to replace your defective copies of "The Newest Story of O." This package will ship to the following address [redacted] and is expected to be delivered by July 20.

Again, I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us again.

I responded to this message from CreateSpace customer support this way:

Thank you very much for your prompt and positive response.

The excessive glue is indeed a production issue, so thank you for notifying the production team about that.

The damage to the books sustained in shipping, however, is a packaging issue. Is there any way that a different approach to packaging could be adopted?

The way that the books are currently being packaged for shipment - insufficiently protected - is such that damage en route is virtually inevitable. Could this please be passed along to the appropriate department?

I would really prefer not to impose upon CreateSpace with another replacement request.

The next day, on July 17, I received this response from CreateSpace:

Thank you for contacting us with your concerns. I am happy to assist you.

Thank you very much for your feedback. I have passed this information along for review. We appreciate your comments, and we look forward to continuing to improve our offerings in order to better serve you.

I hope that this information is helpful. Should you require any further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.

Later the same day, I received the following message from a senior support specialist:

My name is [redacted], Senior Support Specialist with CreateSpace.

I wanted to follow up to a recent inquiry regarding shipping damages on your most recent order #27325292. I would like to gather more details regarding this concern.

Please let me know when would be a good time for you and I to connect. Please respond with a preferred time and the best number to reach you at. I will do my best to accommodate your schedule.

I look forward to receiving your response.

This was followed by an extended telephone conversation with the senior support specialist, a very pleasant young woman who asked me various questions and listened well to my answers. She asked me to give her precise measurements relating to excess glue, for example, and the extent of the cover curl (another issue, which she elicited from me in conversation). She also asked me to describe for her how the books had been packaged. When she asked me how I thought the books should be packaged in order to avoid being damaged en route, I said that all the books I have ever purchased from Amazon over the years have been well packaged and never arrived damaged. I suggested that CreateSpace could simply adopt the same packaging practices as those implemented by its parent company, Amazon.

We also discussed the issue of “color variance,” after the senior support specialist requested that I give her a complete list of all the issues relating to my order. My book’s cover design, as it happens, is rather simple, utilizing only one color, known as Shamrock Green. Some of the books I received came out in a rather different shade of green, more of a dark Forest Green. The support specialist said that she would send me a pre-paid envelope that I could use to send her two copies of the book, illustrating the color variance, which I said I would be happy to do.

Here is a side-by-side photo of books printed in different shades of green:

colorvariance

If I saw these side-by-side on a bookstore shelf, I would think that they were two different editions. This particular issue, however, is the least of my concerns with regard to book production problems at CreateSpace. The color variance issue is the least serious, in my opinion, because a book with color variance will not appear flawed as long as it is evaluated individually.

This is the email I sent to the senior support specialist, acknowledging receipt of the pre-paid UPS mailer:

Thank you for speaking with me last Thursday at some length concerning manufacturing and packaging issues. I am eager to do what I can on my part to help CreateSpace achieve success for all parties concerned.

I just received the envelope you sent by UPS. As agreed, I will be sending you two copies of books I recently received from CS, one with a shamrock green cover color and the other that came out in forest green. I think you will agree that the color variance is quite pronounced.

Taken individually, there is nothing wrong with the forest green color. If all orders were fulfilled individually, this would not present a problem. For bookstores, however, this does present a problem. It reflects on the quality of production and potential buyers are likely to wonder whether different editions are involved.

The two sample books I am sending you illustrate some other issues. You will note how the cover of the shamrock green book has been bent, how the inside of the front cover has black marks, how the first two pages have been folded and creased, how there are conspicuous creases running vertically along the front and back covers near the spine, how there is damage to the corners and how there is excess glue on the spine, with white threads contrasting conspicuously with the dark-colored glue.

The forest green copy of the book illustrates the excess glue and threads issue, damage to corners and vertical creases on the front and back covers near the spine. You will also see some glue stuck to the bottom of the first page of the Expanded Table of Contents and if you hold the book so that light is reflected off the front cover, you will see extensive blemishes [on] and damage to the laminate.

Yet another issue that we didn't get into during our conversation is black ink fingerprints that appear both within the pages of some of the books, as well as on the edges of some of the books.

It is hard not to get the feeling that whoever is producing and packaging these books does not like books or is deliberately trying to sabotage the operation - or maybe both.

Of the 52 … books I have received from CS to date, not a single one of them would be accepted for sale in a bookstore, in the condition in which I received them. Such a 100 percent failure rate is disturbing enough but even more disturbing to me is the fact that I have no way of knowing what is going out to buyers who are purchasing directly from the CS estore, Amazon and B&N.

It is not my nature to be a troublemaker or a nuisance. Far from it. I think any reasonable person would agree that in order to be sold as new, books must be in new condition, without [significant]  flaws [or defects].

Thank you so much for helping me resolve these issues, for the benefit of everyone concerned. I am delighted that someone at CreateSpace is listening and working with me on this.

P.S. I will also include in the UPS envelope a sample of the brown [kraft] paper that was included in the last two shipments of 25 copies of books. The books were not actually wrapped in this paper. Rather, sheets of this paper were wadded up and placed on top of the books, doing nothing to prevent them from shifting around in the boxes, hitting against each other and against the sides of the boxes, two of which were torn open when they were delivered. There was no bubble wrap or any other genuinely protective material included in the boxes.

This is the message I received in response, on July 24:

Thank you for writing back with confirmation that you received the pre-paid mailer that I sent out.

I have noted your additional concern regarding ink fingerprints on the books during manufacturing and have passed this along to the appropriate team to be reviewed.

Once we receive this mailer with the two copies, I will connect with our Technical Services department to further assist in this investigation.

If you do have any outstanding questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

This is the message I received two days later, after the package was received:

Thank you for returning the two copies of your title, "The Newest Story of O," and an example of the packaging materials.

I have connected with our Technical Services department to look into the color variance concern further. We will contact you within two business [days] with any updates to this investigation.

Additionally, I received your message included in the mailer regarding the quality and have taken your feedback regarding this.

I appreciate your patience as we look into this. Please feel free to contact us with any questions in the meantime.

Several days later, on July 29, I received this follow-up:

I apologize that the investigation into variance took longer than anticipated.

I have connected with our Technical Services department to review the copies you sent in. They have determined that the darker copy is within variance, however, the lighter copy that was printed was right on the edge of our acceptable variance. I have taken your feedback as something that you would like to see improved in the future.

In regard to the timeline for your replacement order, I have placed order #28604559 for 25 copies of "The Newest Story of O." This order will ship with expedited shipping to: [address redacted]

The estimated delivery date is August 3 as I have placed an additional quality check on this order to ensure proper packaging.

This is the message I wrote after receiving the replacement of the replacement of the replacement shipment of 25 books, on August 1:

I received the replacement order of books today, in two separate boxes.

All books have damaged corners. Some also have damage to the top and bottom horizontal edges. A couple of small pieces of cardboard were inserted in the large box, with 22 books. The pieces were not large enough to protect the books in any significant way. Otherwise, nothing different was done in terms of packaging, relative to the previous shipments.

All books also have issues with excess glue. In roughly 75 percent of them, the white [fibers] stand out prominently in the excess glue, as was the case with at least one of the samples I sent you. In about half of the books, there is not just excess glue at the edge running parallel with the spine but also running perpendicular to the spine, mostly toward the front and back of the book but sometimes along pages in the middle.

The other major issue is that the books are all bowed or "rippled." By that I mean that if you place the book on a hard flat surface such as a tabletop, it does not lie flat but in a kind of "wave" formation.

At this point, I feel like crying.

If this is how the books will be produced, I suppose they could sell individually through Amazon and the estore. Buyers would be primarily interested in the information. They would tend to assume that they just happened to get a flawed copy and wouldn't want to go through the trouble to return it. But books in this condition effectively rules out sales in stores, through book clubs and any other channel or mode than individual direct-to-consumer sales. From the author's point of view, that is very disappointing, to say the least.

Of the copies I got today, I would feel OK about giving away a third of them for free, as defective copies. As for the rest of them, the unsightliness of the excess glue with white [fibers embedded on the upper edge] is such that it would not be appropriate to even give them away. Certainly, none of them can be sold.

I realize that you for your part are doing the best you can to help me and I very much appreciate your time and efforts. I'm truly sorry to deliver this kind of bad news. Do you have any ideas at this point? Is there any hope for resolving these issues in the foreseeable future?

I should mention at this point that this shipment was actually the replacement of the replacement of the original order of 25 books. I’ve been unable to locate the correspondence relating to the replacement of the original order but the issues have been virtually identical all three times. Just for the record, the dates and order numbers are as follows: Order ID 27325292 dated July 3, Order ID 28200273 dated July 16 and Order ID 28604559 dated July 29. The order currently in the works – Order ID 28777973 dated August 1 – is the replacement of the replacement of the replacement of the original order of 25 books.

Within 24 hours of my August 1 email, I received this message from the senior support person with whom I had been in contact:

I am so sorry that the replacement order that I created arrived with similar damage as your previous orders.

I am connecting with the appropriate team to address this concern further. This may take a few business days to investigate this issue; as soon as I have updates on the progress I will be happy to connect with you.

If you would like to discuss this ongoing issue further, please let me know the best time to reach you. Again, I sincerely apologize that this order did not arrive as expected.

This same support person subsequently called me and left a voice mail, requesting that I call her back, which I did. During this conversation, she told me that in consideration of all the inconvenience to me, she had reversed the charge on my credit card for the original order. She said CreateSpace would be sending me a replacement of the replacement of the replacement of the original order of 25 books, which had been consistently defective and damaged. Of her own initiative, she refunded the original charge to my credit card.

She asked me whether there were any other issues with the books that I had not mentioned. I told here that there were some small marks on the front covers, black and green, in the upper right-hand quadrant. I had previously not reported these, I said, because they were relatively minor and I did not want to overwhelm her with too many issues.

When I asked her whether the most recent shipment had actually been inspected for manufacturing defects and packaging before being sent out to me, as had originally been promised, I did not get a direct answer. What she seemed to be saying was: There is a limit to what I am allowed to reveal to you. My position is not a high-level one, so please make allowances. I did not press her for any additional information in that regard.

The support person pointed out to me that what had originally appeared to me to be pieces of white thread in the dark excess glue were actually just embedded fibers that could be removed. Indeed, by digging into the glue with my fingernails (or with a tweezers, which I did not have at hand when the support person asked me to try to remove the fibers), I could eventually extract most of the fibers. But this created a result that was even uglier than the original. Equally important, extracting the fibers did nothing to change the dark, excess glue.

One other thing I mentioned to her was the existence in the most recent package of 22 books of two small pieces of thin corrugated cardboard. These pieces were not large enough to cover anything but a very small area of the books (maybe 10 percent) but they were conspicuous simply by the fact that they were there – present in the box, without serving any functional purpose. My best guess as to why they were there was that they were intended to send a message: Yes, we got your complaint about improper packaging but – guess what? – we’re not going to do anything about it. We will continue to package your books the same way and you will continue to receive them in damaged condition, along with the manufacturing flaws.

When the support person told me that a replacement to the replacement to the replacement of the original order of 25 books would be sent out to me, I asked her whether there would be any changes made in terms of packaging. If nothing but the brown kraft paper is used in the same way, how could we expect a different outcome? What came to mind but I did not articulate was the saying attributed to Einstein that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Her response to this was a very carefully worded statement to the effect that no change in packaging materials has been authorized. Amazon is the parent company but functions as a different entity. The packaging materials available to Amazon are as yet not available to CreateSpace.

Would it be possible to use kraft paper as the only packaging material and have the books arrive in California from South Carolina undamaged? I can’t say this would be impossible but it certainly does seem unlikely, especially if other changes are not made. The books would have to actually be wrapped in the paper, for example, rather than just stuffing a few crumpled sheets at the top of the package.

The packages would need to be made up of smaller numbers of books, as heavy packages will sustain more damage when tossed around in the delivery process. The books would also have to fit more snugly in the packages, so that they don’t shift in transit. They would need to be protected not only from the edges of the box but from hitting against themselves. It was obvious that some of the tears in the upper corners of spines in previous shipments were a result of this dynamic (see photos in UPDATES section below).

As stated on websites – such as that of Uline.com – that sell packing and shipping supplies, kraft paper (also known as wrapping paper and butcher paper) is intended only to protect against scratches, when the item being shipping is actually wrapped in the paper. It is not intended to cushion or protect items against any other damage.

CreateSpace Central hosts a lively user forum (“community”), where there are numerous threads relating to manufacturing and packaging issues, in addition to other things. One of these is named “Shipping damage on every order” and it extends from early March 2012 until the time of this writing (August 2012). Here are some posts from this thread, in reverse chronological order (with highlights and bolding added by me, for emphasis):

talentnextdoor on August 5, 2012: “you will find many many [complaints] from me. most of their shipping is damaged, smears on colour pages from unclean rollers, poor colour well beyond acceptable, terrible packaging, way to long shipping, failed tracking, i have threads with video, and photos. I video opening every shipment i get they are so bad. One order took 5 tries to get it right. Sad”

lipmag on July 22, 2012: “My last damaged order was from Feb 2009 (stains and paper rippling from water damage to 10 out of 96 of copies in the order -- the box showed no stains or other signs of water damage, which led me to conclude they were placed on a wet surface sometime between printing and packing). I don't have photos, but I did lodge a complaint and those copies were replaced free of charge + free international shipping (about $100 in total value) ….

I don't have any[thing more recent to report] because I don't order inventory from CS anymore. I moved all my printing to Lightning Source and local printers.

Wolfpause on July 11, 2012: “as reported by numerous members on your fourms- my book arrived with a dent in one corner from the poor packaging for mailing. As this was only a test proof  I don't need a replacement for it, but I wanted to register my dissatisfaction with your packaging/shipping methods which are substandard. Had this $35 book been ordered for a buyer, it would have been returned for a replacement due to the damage. According to what I read on your forums, NUMEROUS members are reporting damage on almost EVERY shipment! I thought maybe this was just a few people with this problem, but now on my very FIRST order the book comes damaged.”

AliviaAnders on July 11, 2012: “When I ordered my first 20 copies of my book, I nearly jumped out of my skin with joy. But when my box showed up and I opened it, the horror, the horror. Kraft brown paper, just like you said, lining the sides, but my books were spine-side facing the sides of the box. And yes, some of them were a little worse for wear. Since it was my first order, and I didn't know better, I shrugged and moved on, kept the scuffed ones for myself and said, ‘Eh, no big.’

“Happened three more times before I decided either I was going to have to figure out how much to buy to ship them in plastic wrap or risk more dented books.

“I actually just got off the phone with a CS rep because my newest case of books had a whole goodie galore of printing issues in them. Halftoning, pages horribly miss-aligned, the kind of stuff I can't just shrug and move on from. I'm keeping my fingers crossed these next set they're sending out won't have it any more, as I received an email from an inquiry I had saying it was a one-time oops and future copies will be safe.

“Hmph. We shall see.”

lipmag on July 16, 2012: “this issue [of shipping damage] is not just spanning a few months. It is an ongoing concern and while CS Support staff address the problem by mailing out replacements, nothing appears to be being implemented by management to improve internal processes to reduce the problem. And despite numerous (thousands?) complaints and threads like this one, no one from CS is publicly coming forward to tell us they are addressing the problem. They seem to be quite satisfied with their bandaid approach.

It is this that is sending authors in droves to CS's competition. I for one certainly don't have my books printed here anymore.

OneDay on July 9, 2012: “After receiving an order of replacement copies that was damaged equally if not worse than the originals that had been sent, I contacted CreateSpace with the following e-mail:

Every order I've ever received has had damaged books. Every order. The reason for this is that you package books using brown paper as insulation. Amazon shrink wraps books to a piece of cardboard so that they cannot move around in the box. Other companies use bubble wrap, I use this as well when shipping out products. 

“You simply need to change your shipping practices. I understand that commercial printers, everywhere, not just CreateSpace, will on occasion print a damaged book.  It might be missing a page or the color might be off slightly, this is an acceptable loss in the publishing industry.  It is unacceptable to print books [that are regularly] damaged during transit [as a result of improper packaging].

“’Please, look into your shipping practices. There are several messages on the forum detailing this.’”

DenverSky5280 on July 10, 2012: “I just received an order of 20 books. The packing was so poor (brown paper only), it was scary. The postman could hear the contents rattling around. I was shocked that only 1 book was damaged (1 bent corner). I’m trying to press it flat under a big stack of hard covers. I’ll see how that goes, but regardless, I’m sending an email to CS about their poor packaging.”

Wolfpause on July 6, 2012: “That they continue doing the same lousy packing over and over prooves the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and no one is looking at the expense books to see  and say: ‘WHOA! we had to ship out 2,000 replacement books due to damage this year, out of 40,000 shipped, WHY so much damage, lets take a look at the packing dept!’”

OneDay on July 6, 2012: “It is unbelievable that Creatspace hasn't changed their shipping practices.  I received a replacement order today. It was packaged the exact same way as before, wrapped loosely in brown paper. Out of the seven that were sent, four were tolerable, the other three had torn edges on the cover.”

cocteau3 on July 6, 2012: “To the best of my knowledge and experience shipping, UPS requires a minimum of 2 [inches] of padding, foam, bubble wrap, etc. around all objects contained in a box in order to insure the contents. I have brought this up numerous times to CS - no payouts from UPS unless the box is provided and the packing is to their rules.

“Neither of these events apply to any of the shipments they sent to me.

“That is why I find it unbelievable they would prefer to keep shipping replacements instead of packing correctly.”

OneDay on June 29, 2012: “I've never had a problem with books ordered from amazon. They usually shrink wrap the products to a piece of carboard before putting them in the box so they can't slide around at all.

It's just ludicrous to me that so many people have complained and CreateSpace hasn't changed their shipping practices. One would think that they would take comments from their authors to heart.”

DrJP80 on June 29, 2012: “Same thing happened to me today. I just got off the phone with them. spine torn and back cover has partial printing of material. colors way off …. every shipment [has] damaged books.”

walton on June 29, 2012: “The irony is that Amazon [CreateSpace’s parent company] generally packages books well. I think the only thing we can do is complain--we have the guarantee [URL redacted] --it's the only way CS can know what's getting out and delivered.”

OneDay on June 29, 2012: “Every order I receive from CreateSpace containts damaged items.  I really wouldn't care that much if they were for my personal library. Actually, I prefer books to look worn and used.However, when I am sending out copies to publishers, agents, reviewers, bloggers, etc. I can't accept low quality books.

“As has been mentioned, the books are packaged WITHOUT bubble wrap of any kind, with just plain brown paper. This allows the books in the box to jostle around at their will.

CreateSpace needs to fix this problem. It is inconceivable to me that it has gone on for so long.”

cocteau3 on April 3, 2012: “When running on a tight margin, it is then considered imperative to practice good business methods. Thus, I feel Createspace is failing the amazon goal of providing retail quality books. IF it isn't shipping, it is one of 10 other technical problems that crop up on orders. Currently, I ordered 10 books, five of which were acceptable by sheer luck. Replacing the other 5 has now gone upwards of 27 copies being sent - yes, to replace the five - because of new, additional problems that crop up, and in four cases, because the replacements were packed just like the originals and incurred [similar] shipping damage.

“Now that is NOT good business.

“Conversations on the phone: I get the same excuses about [recurring issues] ‘being part of the process’. [Recurring] Defects are NOT a part of the process of printing an acceptable product.

“Soon it is time to summarize these experiences and send them to the amazon office for opening a dialogue about this kind of business philosophy. I would reccommend others to do the same.

cocteau3 on March 5, 2012: “Well, personally, I feel it isn't at all about training and supervision, etc. The ‘supervisor’ who responded finally via one customer service person who agreed the problem is inexcusable, told me that the shipping is adequate and standard and just fine. What a ridiculous supervisor!

The problem is people and the problem is laziness and the problem is the manufacturing process they keep so ‘secret’ and the annoying insistence that shipping books without proper padding is just okay.

“Any beginning employee, or the guy down the street from me who asks for change all day, can figure out this elementary, common sense problem. There is no excuse or defense for CS on this issue. Maybe if they lose enough money doing replacements, then they won't have so many to do! The problem persists because when I/we complain, they do NOTHING about it. Not even a beginning business could afford to persist in shipping damaged goods like this.

“Awful.”

DrJP80 on March 5, 2012: “I have experienced the same thing in the last two months. the quality of shipping is horrible. the quality control is even worse.”

Lighthouse24 on March 5, 2012: “same problems for about four months now. I can't help but think of this and wonder if the people who manufacture and package our books are getting a similar kind of job training and supervision, and are therefore similarly overwhelmed when we start ordering lots of books (plus lots of replacement books).”

cocteau3 on March 5, 2012 (first post in thread): “I get damaged corners and spines on each and every Createspace order. This has been going on now for 3 months. The routine is this:

“I order books, personal copies. This can be one copy, or 15 copies, it doesn't matter. Each time, the books are packaged in a box which is packed with brown kraft paper on two edges, and the other two edges are bare against the books. Or, I should say, the books are bare against the edge of the carton. Ridiculous mentality! Each time the packages are dented, and the corners of the books as well. I photograph the evidence, send in the pictures, get ‘replacements."

“Certainly, I appreciate the cooperative attitude about replacements. I get the apologies, and the ‘I'll share this with the people in that department’ or ‘we're sorry for the inconvenience’, etc. etc. The usual apologies, but NO ACTION TAKEN TO AVOID REPEATING THE SAME MISTAKES."

“I got once a ridiculous response from a customer service character who actually suggested that the ‘shipping method is normal and sufficient."

“Like heck it is! If that were true at all, I wouldn't receive damaged books, now would I?"

“Even after tech-level contact and personal promises from individuals who claim to work directly with ‘Senior Support Staff’, I have received nothing but the same disrespectful shipping. The same idiotic packingtechnique, and the same excuses."

“With Createspace, the suggestion is that problems get taken care of in time, or after repeated problems, something is changed."

“I say, that is not the case. Instead of giving excuses and replacements that will have even yet, other problems added to shipping eg. cutting mark damage, color problems, spine off-center . . . it's ridiculous to expect replacements and then have to order replacements for the replacements for the replacements...."

Here are a dozen examples of related threads on the CreateSpace Central discussion forum:

There is also a thread entitled, “How Badly Do You Think CreateSpace Sucks[?]” You can find and read through each thread by going to this URL and then entering the name of the thread in the search box.

With all this in mind, we return to the question posed at the top of the page: Does CreateSpace suck (i.e., is it inadequate, lacking in some significant way, falling short of the mark)? The discussion here has presented the good, the bad and the ugly, in the context of my own individual experience. I will leave the answer to you.

For my part, I continue to be attracted to the CreateSpace model and hope that individuals with sufficient authority at CreateSpace and Amazon will eventually be motivated to take appropriate action to implement needed improvements, to make CreateSpace the smashing success that it could be and that I believe it deserves to be.

Update 1 (August 6, 2012). I received a message from the very pleasant senior support specialist at CreateSpace with whom I have been in touch, stating in part: “In regard to the spine glue thickness, our production team has notified me that this will vary from copy to copy.”

This is a kind of non-answer, a dodge of responsibility – a cop-out – for what is clearly a problem, as documented by the photographic evidence above and below. For the production team to respond to this ongoing problem simply by saying that “spine glue thickness … will vary from copy to copy” is to avoid acknowledging the reality that most of the books I have received from CreateSpace have excessive glue that is dark in color, uneven and made more conspicuous and unsightly by white fibers lodged in the dark glue. Yes, the fibers could be removed with a tweezers but the end result of creating depressions (“pits”) in the glue is something even more unsightly.

This is like dodging the color variance issue by saying that color may vary from book to book. Yes, it may but if it varies to the point that the difference in color (see photographic evidence) would lead the average consumer to think that they may be two different editions, then the variance is not acceptable. No bookstore would find this acceptable, just as no bookstore would find excessive, unsightly dark glue accentuated with white fibers acceptable and no bookstore would consider as being in new and saleable condition books that arrive with bent corners, torn spines and other damage or defects.

The refusal to acknowledge that randomly crumpled pieces of brown kraft paper do not adequately protect boxes of loosely packaged books shipped cross-country is disheartening, to say the least, as is the refusal to acknowledge other realities.

I can’t help but think of a joke in the form of a riddle that is often said to have been one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorites.

Q: How many legs does a (normal) dog have if you call a tail a leg?

A: Four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg.

Calling substantial color variance, excessive glue and inadequate packaging standard and acceptable does not make them so.

From today’s perspective, I would have to admit that had I been aware of all the problems I would be facing with CreateSpace, I would not have become involved with the company at this time. As much as the business model appeals to me at a theoretical level, all the pitfalls I have encountered in practice will propel me in a different direction with my next book – or even, perhaps, with the next edition of my current one. Unless, of course, the problems are corrected.

Update 2 (August 8, 2012). I sent the following message to my contact at CreateSpace:

I realize and fully appreciate the fact that a lot of valuable resources on the part of CreateSpace go into replacement orders. Apart from the cost of producing and shipping the books, which in itself is considerable, there is also the value of your time and the time that is taken in discussions with other individuals at CreateSpace.

For this reason, I feel that I owe it to you to document the manufacturing flaws and the damages sustained in shipping with clear photographic evidence. With this in mind, I submit the following photos and commentary:

bowedpages

(1) bowed_pages_bent_corners

Most of the books I have received from CS would not lie flat on a hard surface and all have arrived with bent corners to one extent or another.

colorvariance

(2) color_variance

I realize your production team responded to the two samples I sent you previously by saying that color will vary and the variation evidenced in my case is within acceptable range, albeit borderline, but I wanted to create a photographic record of the variance. What I would submit as far as what would be considered acceptable is this threshold question: Would the average consumer at a bookstore, upon seeing these two books, be likely to think they may be two different editions? Would bookstore managers and buyers accept this level of color variance?

curledover

(3) curled_cover_bent_corner

Only a minority of the books I have received have cover curling to this degree upon receipt but nearly 100 percent of them have bent corners.

damagedboxes

(4) damaged_boxes

Upon opening this box, it seemed clear that the reason for the hole was that the boxes were sliding around inside, making it difficult to assign blame to handling by UPS.

excessglue

(5) excess_glue_2

This photo illustrates the difference between what I think most people would consider an optimal amount of glue (the second book from the left) and excess glue in the other three volumes, which is 2-3 times the thickness/width of the optimal amount. The photo also illustrates the white fibers in the glue. These could be removed with tweezers but such removal creates impressions in the glue, which is equally problematic. Also, and I think this is importrant, you will notice that the glue has made its way vertically onto the tops of pages within the books. This is mostly at the front and back but also various pages in between (as illustrated by the second book from the left). If you look carefully, you can also see some shredding of the outside cover material on the corners of the spine and the roughly trimmed cover edge (as in the book on the far right).

improperlypackaged

(6) improperly_packaged_book_071612

This illustrates what happens to some books when they slide around loose in the package, getting mangled by other books pushing into them.

uneventorn

(7) uneven_torn_dented_tops_2

Viewing the spines of the books in an upright position, it is evident that just about all of them have not been cut horizontally, relative to the vertical plane of the spine. Instead, they angle upward (unevenly), from left to right. The bottoms are also angled and uneven, though the angles are not as pronounced as they are on top. The photo also illustrates tears and dents. The second book from the right shows an example of vertically misaligned text, with the three subject categories (Personal Finance, Self-Help and Reference) skewed visibly toward the left.

uneventorncolor

(8) uneven_torn_color-variant_bottoms_2

Here you can see how the issue described for the top end of the spines/books is repeated at the bottom end, although not as pronounced.

I hope this photographic documentation and associated comments will be helpful to you and your colleagues at CreateSpace.

P.S. The latest shipment arrived today. I will send a report [at the earliest opportunity]. The photos here are from previously shipped books.

This report received the following response:

Thank you for following up and providing the images of the eight concerns you have had with your most recent orders.

I have passed this along to the Manufacturing team to be reviewed. I appreciate you providing detailed information so this team can have a better idea of the recent order concerns that you have had.

Please thoroughly check order #28777973 and let me know the condition at your earliest convenience.

I look forward to hearing from you soon in regard to this.

Update 3 (August 10, 2012). My message to my contact at CreateSpace, concerning the replacement of the replacement of the replacement of my original order for 25 books, is copied below:

With regard to order ID #28777973, received on August 8: the approach to packaging was greatly improved, resulting in less damage to books and the amount of excess glue on the spines was significantly reduced, relative to the sets of books previously received. I will describe the various issues one by one below, organized by the photos I have taken for documentation:

curledover

1_new_packing_method

Padding the sides of the package, with only one “tower” of books in the center, makes good sense.

curledover

2_packing_causing_bent_corners

The main problem I saw with the packaging is that the outer corners of the books got bent, by virtue of the fact that they were getting pressed up against diagonal edges of cardboard, as illustrated in this photo.

curledover

3_close-up_of_packing_bending_corner

The close-up shows what was happening in greater detail. You can see how the corner of the book on top has been bent by pressing up against the cardboard border or “ring.” The cardboard edge pressing diagonally against the square corner makes bending inevitable.

curledover

4_three_bent_corners

Now removed from the box, here are bent corners of three books, fit into a single shot. This shows how the outer corners in different locations (front, back, top, lower) all get bent in the process.

curledover

5_damaged_upper_spine

This shows how some of the spines are still getting crushed and also how the laminate is peeling off on one (see right side).

curledover

6_cover_blemishes_1

You can see one small green inkspot on the top book just above the capital letter O in the word Online. The same small green inkspot appears above the letter m in the word Information on the middle book. On the lower book, you can see a black mark (kind of a splotch) above the word STORY on the spine. None of these marks could be wiped off.

curledover

7_cover_blemishes_2

On these two books, you can see two small yellow-orange circles, one on each book cover. These, too, could not be wiped off.

curledover

8_bowed_books_on_flat_surface

This illustrates how the books do not lie flat on a hard surface but rather bow in a kind of “wave” formation.

curledover

9_bowed_books_birds-eye

This is a bird’s eye view of the same phenomenon. A couple of the books are relatively straight. The six books are being pressed together by a tall set of bookends.

curledover

10_angled_torn_upper_spines

This photo illustrates: (1) how the tops of the books are angled upward to the right, rather than level/flat/horizontal, relative to the vertical spine, (2) the misalignment of the text on the spine, with the green that is supposed to be on the back cover shifting over onto the spine to varying degrees in the first three books on the left and (3) slight “saw” tears in the spines at the upper edge.

curledover

11_angled_bottom_spines

This mainly illustrates the angled cut and ragged top edges of the bottom spine area on the five books that were used for this photo. It also shows some of the color variance.

>curledover

12_back_cover_text_not_squared

The back cover text/artwork on several of the books was not squared but rather tipped either toward the left or the right. Admittedly, I didn’t do the best job of making the issue conspicuous in the photo here but it can be seen upon careful inspection.

curledover

13_frayed_cover_edges

This mainly illustrates the lack of a clean cut on many of the books’ upper and lower cover edges, which appear frayed right out of the box.

curledover

14_frayed_and_bent_cover_edges_2

In addition to the frayed edge of the book on top, this photo shows the damage to the upper edge of the book at bottom.

curledover

15_misaligned_text_on_spine

This close-up clearly shows how the text on the spine is misaligned. Several of the books in the most recent shipment were in this condition. It also shows how the cut at the top is not level. Makes me think of SpongeBob, cocking his head, or maybe Gumby.

curledover

16_glue_issues

This line-up shows (1) the torn spine on the first book on the left, (2) the existing excess glue conditions and (3) how the glue gets onto the tops of the pages of the books, mostly front and back but also in some pages in the middle (see second book from left), perpendicular to the spine. Most of the books in the shipment have this “migrating” glue condition, to one extent or another.

curledover

17_spine_glue_close-up

Close-up of the first three books on the left shows the tearing and glue issue in greater detail. Removing the white fibers in the glue with tweezers creates “pits” in the excess glue. Tweezers is the only way I can think of to extract the fibers, other than digging them out with fingernails.

curledover

18_lumpy_crease_front

The creases running parallel with the spine in front tend to be a bit lumpy (from excess glue, perhaps?).

curledover

19_lumpy_crease_back

The same is true of the creases on the back cover.

 

Update 4 (September 15, 2012). Since my previous update was posted, I received two or three more replacement shipments from CreateSpace, which to its credit made successively greater efforts to improve the way the books were packaged.

Most recently, the books were individually boxed and then placed in cartons that were padded above and below, as well as on all four sides. Within the individually packaged boxes, the books were wrapped, so they would not slide around.

In the final replacement shipment, the damage incurred in the process of shipping appears to have been virtually eliminated. I say “appears” because I only opened one packaged book. With all the replacement shipments I have received (at least half a dozen: I actually lost track), I’ve run out of space to sort and stack additional copies.

In my correspondence with the senior support specialist, I made a point of commending CreateSpace for its efforts with regard to improved packaging. The problem, alas, is that packaging has been only one of two major aspects of issues with copies of my book that I have received from CreateSpace.

The second aspect, as described above, is in the realm of manufacturing. It would be wonderful to receive books that have not been damaged in the process of shipping. If the books come off the machines with obvious production flaws, however, can they honestly be presented as being in saleable condition, regardless of how well they survived delivery?

My lengthy correspondence with the senior support specialist concluded with three key questions:

1. With regard to the characteristics documented in photos I provided (see above and below), I asked whether it is CreateSpace’s position that these characteristics are acceptable.

After a number of days, the support specialist obtained for me an official response: These characteristics are “inherent in the process” (of printing on demand, at least as practiced at CreateSpace) and “within allowable tolerance.”

This led to the next two questions:

2. Does CreateSpace disclose anywhere in its agreement with members that production flaws are inherent in its production process and if so where? In other words, in the agreement that I approved, where does it say that certain deviations from the way books are printed in a non-POD context are part of the POD process? “I would like to reference this information,” I wrote, “which I must have missed.”

The official answer from the senior support specialist was a NON-ANSWER if there ever was one: “The CreateSpace Member Agreement is a legally binding contract. If you have any questions about or do not understand the Agreement, you may consult with a legal professional.” In other words, they dodged my question. The obvious implication of dodging this question is that the answer is in fact no. It had not been disclosed to me that flaws were inherent in the production process.

Finally, I asked:

3. Is it CreateSpace’s position that these deviations — such as angled tops (and bottoms), excess glue and fibers lodged within the glue — are acceptable to the majority of bookstores and other channels through which books are sold, such as book clubs and catalogs?

CreateSpace, through its support specialist, responded with another NON-ANSWER, effectively dodging the question by saying: “We cannot speak for what is acceptable for other companies or retailers.”

It was stated that, “The following are within our allowable production tolerance: Angled tops and bottoms, glue thickness variations and small chips in the spine. Additionally, the fibers within the glue are not considered variance as they will likely appear on each copy produced.”

So there we have it. CreateSpace takes the position that various deviations from books printed in quantity — angled spines, bowed pages, curled covers, peeling laminate, uneven cuts, frayed edges, color variance from book to book and excessive glue (made more unsightly by pits inside and white paper chips sprouting from the dark glue, which seeps forward onto the tops of pages), among other things — are a non-issue.

What is the problem here? The problem here is this: CreateSpace has every right to set its own policies, procedures and production standards. At the same time, the company has a definite obligation to clearly DISCLOSE in advance to customers whatever would not be obvious to them or whatever they are likely to presume would be otherwise.

Furthermore, by describing and offering (for an additional fee) an Expanded Distribution option through which books can be sold to stores, libraries and so on, the clear — albeit misleading — implication is that the books produced by CreateSpace meet the standards generally required by bookstores, book clubs and so on. This is not true, however, of the books I have received, as documented by the photos on this page.

To the overwhelming number of bookstores, book clubs, catalogues and libraries, books with angled spines, bowed pages, uneven cuts and so on are NOT considered acceptable.

CreateSpace’s disclosure should offer a link to photos where prospective customers could see examples of the flaws mentioned here. Such an approach would be honest and transparent. Customers would not then be entitled to feel surprised with the quality of the books they get — and when CreateSpace received any complaints in this regard, it could simply refer customers to the disclosures that they have signed off on.

As the situation now stands, with no such disclosures in place, a customer who receives flawed books has every right to feel misled and even defrauded.

Is your objective as an author mainly a low-cost kind of vanity press solution, allowing you to give away a limited number of purchased copies to family and friends? Or maybe as a lead generation device, involving free distribution to prospective customers? If so, CreateSpace may meet your needs quite well. People who are given free copies of books are generally not going to complain about the book’s production quality. After all, they got the book for free.

You may also be able to sell your book directly to consumers, primarily through Amazon.com, by means of media appearances (mainly radio talk shows). Listeners who purchase online this way will be less likely to care about flaws in manufacturing, as long as the actual content of the book is not affected.

If, on the other hand, you aspire to getting your publication onto bookstore shelves — or market your book through other channels where the type of flaws exposed here would not be acceptable — then you may want to think very carefully before you get involved with CreateSpace.

At the very least, you now have access to more detailed information and visual evidence in this regard than I did when I was at the exploratory stage. And if that is indeed true, then this online review will have served its purpose.

Update 5 (November 1, 2014). In October 2014, I updated my book, which called for ordering a proof copy. Sadly, upon opening the package, I observed that most of the issues that had been present more than two years ago (as illustrated in the images above) were evident in this copy. These issues include: misaligned spine cover, badly bent upper-right front corner, angled back cover text (not squared), top of book cut at an angle and "bowed" pages (book does not lie flat). To all the people who have written to me since I put this review up two years ago, asking me whether CreateSpace has since improved its quality of manufacturing, there’s your answer.

While I’m at it, I would also like to offer an update with regard to the option to have one’s book reviewed by Kirkus, for a rather hefty fee. The promotional offer is quite seductive, in terms of presenting the possibility of a big breakthrough that such a review might bring. What I found in reality is that the quality of the treatment that followed declined dramatically after payment was rendered. In my experience, this so-called review opportunity amounted to nothing more than squandering several hundred dollars that could have been much better spent. Beware!

spine glue with pits, shreds, etc.