The two most important printers for self-publishing authors are Lightning Source (LS) and CreateSpace (CS). LS is part of Ingram Industries, which operates the largest book wholesaler in the world. CreateSpace is owned by mammoth bookseller Amazon.com. For the last few months, there have been many complaints (and many theories and few genuine explanations) about delays in Amazon's shipping books printed by LS. Paranoid conspiracy theorists (or realists) have suggested that this is an effort by Amazon to drive printing business to its own subsidiary.
Although I started with LS in 2008, I've used CS for several recent books. Despite its smaller publisher's profit margin, CS does have some important advantages over LS:
(1) It normally costs $70 and takes three or four business days to get a printed proof of a paperback from LS. A printed proof from CS arrives a little faster and costs about $15. I tend to go through multiple generations of proofs, so this is important to me.
(2) CS has a new program that allows me to approve a proof for distribution, without actually seeing it. If I am reasonably sure that the book will be good enough to not embarrass me, I tell CS that it's OK to distribute the book. In less than hour (maybe just a few minutes) the book will be available at Amazon (compared to several days for books printed by LS -- in the old days). I can order a book for second-day delivery with free shipping because I am a a member of "Amazon Prime." Alternatively, I can pay $2.99 for next-day shipping -- even for delivery on Saturday morning! Although I pay the retail price for the book, my cost is reduced by the publisher's profit I make on the book, and my purchase helps the book's sales ranking. Because I make a lot of purchases with Amazon/Chase credit cards (I have one, my wife has one, and my business has one), I accumulate lots of Amazon $25 gift certificates. If I use a certificate to buy my own book, and then earn the publisher's profit, the book costs me less than nothing. If I find major errors in the book I get from Amazon, I submit a revised file to CS, and the book quickly becomes unavailable on Amazon. This keeps people from buying a less-than-perfect book, but the book is still on Amazon and people can see it and order it for future delivery.
(3) CS has knowledgeable human beings readily available to answer questions.
(4) A few times I've received books with skewed covers from CS via Amazon. I was able to return them easily, with no cost for shipping.
(5) A few times I designed covers with live matter too close to the edge. I was notified of the problem in less than 24 hours and submitted a revised design to CS. With LS, I would not have learned about the design problem until I had waited four days and spent $70.
(6) CS is not perfect. I've had a few skewed covers and covers where the laminate peeled. OTOH, LS has also printed skewed covers, covers with a green tint, and once even wrapped my cover around another publisher's book pages.
(7) For newbies, CS is easier to work with than LS. Anyone can easily become a CS customer. The CS website is very user-friendly, and PDFs don't have to be converted into PostScript and then run through Acrobat Distiller before uploading.
(8) Although CS sometimes has its books printed by LS, it strangely has different standards for page bleeds than LS, and requires that a cover be designed with a different spine width than if I submit a book directly to LS. It would make sense for CS to accept covers designed for LS and to use the LS bleed standard.
(9) I have to pay LS a $12 annual "digital catalog fee" plus $75 to set up a book. With CS I pay just $39. (If I was stupid or a pessimist I could pay zero.)
(10) CS will provide a free ISBN if you want one.
(11) CS books are automatically set up for "Look Inside" and "Search Inside" on Amazon.
My newest book, STINKERS! America's Worst Self-Published Books was printed by CS, and available for sale on Amazon a few minutes after I approved the proof. It's important, informative, educational, troubling -- and funny.