Lightning Source is the Print on Demand arm of Ingram Distribution. Ingram is one of the largest distributors of books in the world. Going through Lightning Source has a number of benefits which we'll talk about here.
-Distribution. With Lightning Source, you get full access to be distributed through Ingram. That means any bookstore, web site, library, etc. can order copies of your book. It's listed in their catalogue, which is printed several times a year. It also means that you don't have to keep track of sales at stores or anywhere else. They take care of everything, and show it to you in a neat report. You know exactly how much you will make, and how many copies you've sold.
-Print on Demand. With print on demand, there are no minimum orders. You can order one copy, or one hundred. Bookstores can place their orders for whatever quantities they want, as well. The more copies you order, the cheaper each copy becomes. So, if you are doing an event or something where you can sell your own copies, you have some control over the price. The total cost can be cheaper than Create Space or other companies.
-Instant Listing. Amazon is the largest book store in the world. Setting up your book on there using Create Space is easy, but going through Ingram is even better. Once you're book is live on Ingram's site, it gets a listing on all the major book sites (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc). You don't have to add it yourself. You can also set a release date, so you can get preorders.
-Returnable Books. Most bookstores will only order books they can return if sales are slow. That way, they aren't taking a huge risk by ordering your novel. With Lightning Source, you can choose to list your book as returnable. You also have the option to have the stores physically return the book (which costs you money) or have them destroy the copies (which doesn't cost you.) It's a big tool in getting stores to order your book.
-Set Up: Getting your book set up on their site is a bit tricky, to be sure. It's not as user friendly as I expected. There are little steps that can trip you up, and their customer service is a bit slower to respond than smaller companies. It's not so bad that it would stop me from using them. I hope that they eventually make the process easier.
-Set Up Fees: Like 360, and most other companies, there are setup fees for Lightning Source. It's around $150, too. There are other options you can pay for, if you wish. I'm not sure that they are worth it, but at least they are optional.
The decision to print copies of a book is an important one for self published authors. For most people, I believe Create Space would probably be the best solution. It's free, and easy to get started. For those wanting more control, Lightning Source is the best option. It costs a bit more, but I believe it's worth it. I have sold more physical copies than ebooks, which is an oddity (according to my research). I'm glad that I found Lightning Source, because it takes away all the hassle of dealing with the business side of the process.
Good luck with your writing endeavors, and leave a comment about your experiences in print copies below!