A Disturbing New Trend

There’s a disturbing new trend on social media that could bankrupt authors. I first learned about it on Facebook, but it’s since traveled throughout all social media.

Some readers feel it’s fine to buy a Kindle book on Amazon, read it, enjoy it, and then return it for a full refund. After all, who’s it hurting? Authors, that’s who.

Did you know if authors rack up too many returns Amazon can send them a bill? I didn’t realize this, either, but it’s happening as we speak. I’ve heard from more than a few Indie authors who, along with royalty payments they received a bill for returns. And these are professional authors who sell 200-500 books per week.

Before you dismiss this post because you think it doesn’t apply to you, this trend affects all authors regardless of how they choose to publish.

A massive influx of returns might result in a publishing house dropping the author. At the very least, they may be hesitant to buy the author’s next book. Why? Because too many returns give the impression that readers are not enjoying the series, when in fact these habitual returners do it to save money. For some reason they’re under the misguided impression that all authors are rolling in dough. They also don’t take into consideration how hard we work. Most authors I know work six days per week, sometimes seven if they fall behind.

Is it fair for these habitual returners to prevent us from earning a livable wage?

Look. I’m not sayin’ if the book sucks due to a lack of editing or poor formatting you shouldn’t be able to return it. That’s different. But to read the entire book and then return it is just plain wrong. Would you go to a theatre, watch the movie, and then ask for your money back because you didn’t like the ending? Of course not. So, why do habitual returners think the same rules don’t apply to ebooks?

Amazon makes it easy to return digital products within a seven-day period. Here’s the kicker. If these habitual returners continue to game the system, Amazon can stop them from buying more Kindle books for at least a year. Nowhere could I find the parameters of what’s considered abuse, but there’s at least one habitual returner who publicly apologized for her behavior after getting banned from Amazon.

Thankfully, I haven’t seen an increase in returns, but this new trend worries me. Some authors are even habitual returners — and they’re bragging about it on social media! I will never understand what goes through some people’s mind. Be reckless all you want with your own life, but don’t let your crazy loose on the rest of us.

I have never returned a Kindle book in my life, and I’ve slogged through more than my share of crappy reads. Now, I download the sample first. If I like it, I buy it. If I don’t, no harm done. That’s why Amazon has the sample feature.

The return feature is available for readers who one-click by mistake.

SUBSCRIPTION ALTERNATIVES THAT DON’T HARM AUTHORS

Join Kindle Unlimited

For $9.99 a month, you can read an unlimited number of Kindle books. You will only have access to books within the KU library, but for voracious readers it’s a good option. Amazon offers a free 30-day trial period or a two-month deal for $4.99.

FREE ALTERNATIVES THAT DON’T HARM AUTHORS

Prime Reading

Yes, you need a Prime account, but most households have one to save shipping costs. If you don’t, you will need a subscription ($99/yr.). Otherwise, a Prime account automatically gives you access to FREE Prime Reading books. I’ve found some amazing new-to-me authors this way. If I love the author’s writing, I usually buy all their books, but that’s me. You could stay within the Prime Reading lending library and never buy another ebook.

Local Libraries Offer FREE Ebooks Through Libby.

Download Libby from the App Store or Google Play. The welcome page will ask if you have a library card.

If you do, click YES.
Then click ADD LIBRARY.
Enter your zip code.
Select your local library from the list.
Enter your library card details.

If you don’t have a library card, click NOT YET.
Libby will walk you through requesting a library card through the app.

Once you’re inside Libby, you can browse through the books or search for a specific title, author, or genre. Libby adds new titles all the time.

If you read on a Kindle device, click READ ON KINDLE and Libby will open an Amazon account log-in window.
Enter Amazon username and password, and the ebook will automatically download to your Kindle.

Never worry about late fees. At the end of the loan period (time varies among local libraries), the book vanishes from your device.

Libby also provides audiobooks, as Jim mentioned in this post. If you live outside the U.S., you can access Libby through Overdrive.

Become a Reviewer on NetGalley

Use NetGalley for free to request, read, and recommend books before they are published — and provide essential reviews and feedback to publishers and other readers.

Contact Your Favorite Author

Tell the author how much you love their work and ask to join their ARC team. If you keep up your end of the bargain by posting honest reviews, the authors will continue to send you FREE ARCs. Plus, you’ll be the first to read new releases!

With all these free options, why return Kindle books? Unless you one-click by mistake or the book is riddled with typos or formatting errors, please, please, please stop returning ebooks to save money. Think about your favorite authors. Do we deserve to feed our family? Do we deserve a roof over our head? Do we deserve heat in the winter and cool air in the summer? Then let us earn a living. We’re not asking for donations. We’re simply asking habitual returners to stop stealing our work.

If you want to help prevent this trend from continuing, sign the Change.org petition.

TKZers, have you heard of this disturbing new trend? Have you been affected by it yet?

This entry was posted in #writers, #writerslife, #WritingCommunity, book sales and tagged , , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers") and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two psychological thriller series, Mayhem Series and Grafton County Series (Tirgearr Publishing) and is the true crime/narrative nonfiction author of PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND: True Stories of Violent Vixens and Murderous Matriarchs (Rowman & Littlefield Group). Currently on submission, her latest true crime project revolves around a grisly local homicide. For the spring 2022 semester, Sue will be teaching a virtual course about serial killers at EdAdvance in CT and a condensed version for the Central Virginia Chapter and National Sisters In Crime. Equally fun was when she appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

53 thoughts on “A Disturbing New Trend

  1. I have heard of this disturbing trend, Sue, and I’ve signed the petition. I just checked. Right now the petition has 33k signatures. We need more so Amazon will listen.

  2. Thanks, Sue. This is just plain wrong. My understanding — which may be incorrect — is that Amazon is able to discern how much of a book purchased for Kindle has been read by the purchasing reader. If this is true, it would seem that it would be easy enough for Amazon to adopt a no-return policy for eBooks that the purchaser has read more of than a certain percentage…perhaps 20%? Reading a book and then returning it is like ordering a meal, eating all of it, and then asking the restaurant to comp it because it wasn’t up to standard. In both cases, one knows whether it’s good or not within the first few bites.

  3. Sue, it seems like the easiest thing in the world for Amazon to ding abusive returners. It sounds like they’re doing that to serial returners. They should definitely not allow returns after the book is completed. Thus, the petition.

    As for dinging the authors, I haven’t heard of that. If you have any links or further info I’d love to follow up. There must be something deep in the TOS…

    • I had the same reaction, Jim. And yet, the trend continues. Not sure what Amazon considers “abusive.” My guess is, they’ll step up and stop it, but until then authors are in a tough spot.

      I was shocked, too, that Amazon’s charging authors for the full price of the ebook, but I’ve watched more than one video from authors in tears. I saw the videos in Instagram Reels. When I googled the trend, all I found were posts about how to return ebooks. I’m watching this trend, so if I come across a link to an article from Amazon I’ll send it to you.

  4. When I started writing, there was no Amazon, only individual publishers, and you had to buy ebooks via their own websites. Before you could check out, there was a huge warning. “NO REFUNDS.” But Amazon didn’t want ebooks to be handled differently than any other product, so they had the same return policy as for anything else they sold. (This was years ago, and told to me by Dan Slater of Amazon at a conference. Idon’t know what their policy is now.) At any rate, I’m glad I’m wide. Haven’t seen issues with returns anywhere else.
    Could be worse. Did you know ACX (Audible) was encouraging listeners to return audiobooks in exchange for a new one for up to a year? And then deducting royalties? Their claim: “It’s helping listeners find new authors/narrators, so it’s really helping them.” For more, Google Audiblegate.

    • Wow, Terry! That’s crazy (re: encouraging audiobook returns). Amazon allows seven days, which gives readers enough time to finish the ebook. I heard B&N also allows returns on ebooks, but I don’t know how long their return policy lasts. Some authors have experienced an increase at B&N, others have not.

  5. Sue, I haven’t heard of the trend. Unfortunately, creeps exist. I wonder whether authors at Kobo, B&N, et al are experiencing a similar problem.

    Terry, the fact that Amazon tracks page reads for KU doesn’t mean they track page reads for all Kindle ebooks bought from Amazon. Millions are not in KU.

    Joe, it seems to me they could expand page-read tracking to include all ebooks bought through Amazon. Such tracking could last for the duration of the return period and then expire. When a reader passes the 20% point (to use your example), the purchase could easily be flagged as “Non-Returnable” or something.

  6. Thanks for publicizing this thievery, Sue. The Authors Guild is talking to Amazon about it and they have some clout, along with Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi), and other professional author groups.

    I know people who buy an outfit, wear it for a specific occasion, then return it for their money back.

    It’s as dishonest as Joe’s restaurant example but, sadly, the prevailing attitude seems to be “can I get away with it?”

    • Exactly, Debbie. I heard ALLi and Authors Guild are fighting the good fight, and they have lawyers on board. Hope it ends soon. We have enough pirates and hackers stealing our work. We don’t need habitual returners, too. Ugh.

  7. I had no idea this was even a thing. It would never even occur to me to return an ebook. The only circumstance I can imagine returning one would be if the formatting was so bad it interfered with the reading. But I haven’t seen that happen. Yes, there is the occasional download where the formatting is slightly off kilter, but not to the point of impeding the read.

    Besides which, I have a set budget and price-point that I do not go beyond when shopping for books, and being a persnickety reader, I choose very carefully before I buy. That doesn’t mean I don’t get an occasional dud, but I just shrug it off and move on with my life, not return it.

    With all the data collection today, you’d think it would be easy to put measures in place that filter out improper returns and confine them to legit, bonafide reasons for a return only.

    It’s like those boxes of assorted chocolates we used to get–all kinds of fillings and flavors. If you accidentally picked out one of those orange-filled chocolates, it was disgusting. But you just went on to find the caramel filled or peanut-butter filled, etc. You didn’t return the box of chocolates because you accidentally bit into the orange one–knowing you bought a box of ASSORTED chocolates.

    I never cease to be amazed by the strange behavior of people.

    • Buying a duplicate is a “reasonable” reason to return. I know Nook will tell me “You bought this book on such-and-such a date” so I don’t make that mistake. I’ve never had reason to return one, so I don’t know details of their policy, but this disclaimer is on the author sales dashboard: Note: Recent Sales are your pending orders from today and yesterday. These orders are unaudited and may differ slightly from monthly royalty reports to account for any potential returns. Hence, Today and Yesterday’s sales are not included in any other sales reports or graphs.
      Which makes me think there’s a 2 day return window.

      • Yes, Terry, I agree. The return feature is for when you one-click by mistake or already own the ebook. That’s a legit reason.

    • Haha. Love the chocolates example, Brenda! Transported me right back to my childhood.

      Yes, I agree. It’s a disgraceful practice, and the authors who do it are even worse, IMO. Why, people, why?

  8. Thanks, Sue, for letting us know about this. I had not heard.

    I never cease to be amazed at what some people deem acceptable behavior. I have never returned a Kindle eBook, although there have been many I haven’t finished reading. I just shake my head in disbelief.

    I signed the petition. It’s up to 34,000 at this point.

    Thanks for an important post!

    • Thanks for signing, Steve! Crazy, right? There’s too many self-centered people out there aka “The Entitled.” 😉 I’m praying my next royalty statement doesn’t show an influx of returns, but sadly, none of us are safe from this trend.

      • Sue, you can go to your Amazon sales dashboard and click the “Month to Date” option and see returns without having to wait for your statement.

        • Yes, but as far as I can tell, there is no other tab/place on the KDP dashboard [for Indies] to see ALL your returns/”refunds”. Month-to-Date is extremely limited. Or is it somewhere else???

          • I’m using the old KDP dashboard, but returns are listed on the new one for each month. I think you can choose the month as current and previous. There’s a column for “Units Refunded” and that’s where returns (I assume) are showing up. There are columns for Ordered, Refunded, and Net.Are you looking for life to date? Is that what you meant by limited?

  9. Sue, I have heard of this situation. It was discussed in “Wide for the Win,” one of the Facebook author groups I’m in. I’ve also had author friends who have at ongoing problems with serial returners. I’ve had a handful of my ebooks returned in the past five years on Amazon, never on B&N.

    I agree with all the comments above about limiting returns to books that have not been finished–20% seems reasonable, 30% would still be fair. What I hadn’t heard was authors getting dinged for the full price of the book.

    Certainly being in KU would be one way to avoid this issue, but I prefer to be wide.

    BTW, your explanation of how to set up and borrow Kindle books via Libby was excellent. I could have used it on a print-out when I worked in library land 🙂

    Thanks for posting about this today.

    • Aww, thank you, Dale. Means a lot, coming from a former librarian. 🙂

      Reading 30ish% would be okay with me, too. Once they read past that point, Amazon should mark the ebook as non-refundable. And that’s generous, considering most readers know by the three-chapter sample if they’ll enjoy the book.

      Writing might be our passion, but it’s also our career. Why some readers can’t grasp that simple truth is mind-boggling. *facepalm*

  10. Great information, Sue. I signed the petition.

    I remember hearing about Audiblegate a while back — Amazon/Audible was allowing customers to return an audiobook up to a *year* after they purchased it! The author was billed for royalties on returned audiobooks. But I didn’t know about ebooks.

    As a former software developer, I used to rail about people who pirate software. Apparently, if it’s easy to do, people convince themselves that it isn’t stealing.

    • Exactly, Kay. The endless comments from serial returners continue to baffle me. Many feel we shouldn’t complain about this new trend, that we’re being babies about it. These entitled little darlings view writing as a passion. Thus, not a career. Crazy. I wonder if they think actors, singers, dancers, and artists should also work for free.

  11. Sadly, too many indie authors have cheapened their own work with 99-cent pricing, constant giveaways, etc. This attracts what I call low-quality readers. They’ll never be fans of your work, just people looking for a generic mystery or whatever genre for cheap or free. Also, this trend is yet another ding in being exclusive to Amazon. They’ll deplatform authors at the drop of a hat but scamming customers can do now wrong.

    • Philip, Indies aren’t the only ones who incentivize with 99c price points. During a sale, my publisher will lower one of my novels to 99c for a limited time. Many promotional sites, like BookBub or ENT, insist on a 99c sale.

      Perhaps you meant freebies and the 99c boxed sets. Then yes, they often will attract the wrong type of reader.

  12. I had to go back to the top of the article to see if this wasn’t an accidental reprint. This has been going on for YEARS with small publishers and self-pubs. YEARS AGO, Amazon pinkie swore that it would be fixed. It never was so a lot of self-pubs stopped trusting Amazon with their total bottom line and spread their book distribution to places like Kobo, etc. Amazon has now made it worse by going after the “real” publishers and authors so hard even they are beginning to notice.

    And other authors think I’m a loon when I warn them that Amazon is not, nor have they ever been their friend. Sigh.

    • Agreed, Marilynn. This has been a problem for years. But now, it’s trendy to return ebooks. Thanks to social media, this trend is picking up speed at an alarming rate. When young people start these trends, they can reach millions of followers with one 30-second video. They have a power that wasn’t available years ago, and many don’t care about the fallout.

  13. Just read about this on Facebook this week. The crassness of human beings is constantly finding new lower levels. Everybody expects something for nothing. Thanks for the petition link.

    • The main rule that Bezos and Amazon has had since the beginning is that it’s all about the buyer, not the seller, or the content creator. He’s never changed that rule even though creators are being screwed. Bezos and his Amazon team don’t care if writers can’t produce cookie-cutter Oreos faster and cheaper like a corporation or a factory, or they can’t produce their novels from Third World countries through slave labor.

  14. Amazon absolutely knows who’s returning books and how much they read, even if the customer isn’t in KU. The Kindle reports everything, from the time at which you did your reading, the pages read, your average reading speed, what IP address you used to connect (so they are pretty much tracking your location). That’s why I never purchased a Kindle and went with a Kobo reader instead. I refused to participate in Amazon’s collection of private information.

    Amazon has huge issues fighting fraud, and it also has been slapped with some large fines when it didn’t meet government requirements to prevent problems. Believe me, they have the necessary tracking tools and employees already in place to flag customers doing too many returns. The issue is probably more one of setting the return quota too high or the return window too long before a customer gets banned for the behavior. I know this because I worked on creating a training project for their fraud agents.

  15. The trend originated with TikTok’s Booktok- apparently, there’s a video that explains how to get free books on Amazon. AArrggg.
    Amazon charges the author the delivery fee (which amounts to 6c a book for me) and some authors were in the negative due to the delivery fee charges as they had so many refunds. I’ve seen no changes in my returns cause I’m a small fry in the world, lol.

  16. I signed the petition. I heard that some people buy a generator, go camping, then return it when they get back. Wish people would apply their ingenuity to worthwhile things.

  17. When I signed the petition it was almost to 36,000 signatures. An author friend and I were talking about this yesterday. It made me mad then and now it’s made me mad again. There have always been those who want something for nothing, but it seems that the trend is growing by leaps and bounds! Sad. Thanks for the link–I’ve sent it to several authors I know.

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