Good News! Amazon Changes Ebook Return Policy

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Remember The Book Thief by Markus Zusak? It was the story of a young German girl during World War II who steals books to comfort her during her family’s travails.

Unfortunately, about a year ago, a new breed of book thieves came on the scene when some slimy social media influencers promoted abuse of Amazon’s ebook return policy.

An ebook can be returned seven days after purchase in the US or 14 days after purchase in other countries, even after it’s been read.

When you read on a Kindle, Amazon knows exactly where you stopped and takes you to that same spot when you open your Kindle for a new session. When you switch from a Kindle to reading on a different device, it takes you directly to the correct location.

Amazon knows when you finish a book because you immediately receive a message asking you to rate it.

Amazon knows everything. Really.

Viral social media publicized this loophole. The practice of “buying” an ebook, reading it, and returning it for a full refund ran rampant.

Indie-published authors were quick to sound the alarm over sudden upticks in returns. That’s because Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) gives access to nearly-instant sales reports, whereas royalty reports from traditional publishers lag months behind.

Series authors reported that book 1 was purchased and returned a week later. Same happened with book 2. Then 3, 4, 5, 12, and 19. Obviously thieves had to read the entire series before they decided they didn’t like it.

Book thieves quickly learned Amazon could be used as a library, reading as many books as they could consume…FOR FREE! All they had to do was return them within seven days. Why pay a $10 monthly fee for a Kindle Unlimited subscription?

Clearly, Amazon could track this new trend but did nothing.

Incomes went down for many authors.

Another Amazon policy allows them to penalize authors if too many books are returned. They may even pull your books from being sold, citing poor quality as the reason for returns. What is poor quality? How many is too many? Who makes those decisions? Only the algorithm knows.

Book thieves may have justified their actions because they figured they were sticking it to Amazon.

Wrong! 

In reality, thieves were sticking it to authors who work hard to write quality books. Their work and investment in cover art, editing, proofreading, etc., were being stolen the same as if books were shoplifted from a store.

A petition protesting the policy gathered more than 70,000 signatures. The Authors Guild and the Society of Authors (UK) took evidence of abuses to Amazon.

Good news!

On September 22, 2022, the Authors Guild made this welcome announcement:

Amazon informed us of its plans to change its ebook return policy to restrict automatic returns to purchases where no more than 10 percent of the book has been read.

The planned change will go into effect by the end of the year. Any customer who wishes to return an ebook after reading more than 10 percent will need to send in a customer service request, which will be reviewed by a representative to ensure that the return request is genuine and complies with Amazon’s policies against abuse. This process will create a strong deterrent against buying, reading, and returning ebooks within seven days, and readers who attempt to abuse the return policy will be penalized under Amazon’s policies.

 

A big thank you to CEO Mary Rasenberger and the conscientious staff of the Authors Guild for protecting authors’ interests and income.

~~~

TKZers: Do you believe you were targeted by book thieves? Did you experience an uptick in ebook returns?

This entry was posted in #amwriting, Amazon, e-books, Writing and tagged , , by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the Zebulon Award. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, Dead Man's Bluff, Crowded Hearts, Flight to Forever, and Until Proven Guilty. Debbie's articles have won journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

34 thoughts on “Good News! Amazon Changes Ebook Return Policy

  1. Well, I’ve been living in the dark because I did not know returning ebooks after reading them was a thing. A couple of years ago, one of my ebook sales disappeared from my dashboard a week later, but that’s the only return I’ve noticed.

    When I was a child, three types of items could never be returned after purchasing, even for store credit: shoes, bathing suits, and books.

  2. My publisher sent a notice about this to our group. Great news if Amazon follows through. I was under the impression that this rule, along with a 48 hour return period, was still being discussed. I’m lucky. My fiction publisher covers the costs of returns rather than deducting royalties, so I haven’t been affected at all. Nonetheless, it’s a disgraceful practice that needs to end.

  3. Everyone on the author side of things is celebrating this policy change. Now, if they would do it for audiobooks, where Audible was even “suggesting” to authors that they return audiobooks they’ve finished and use the credit for a new one. Their excuse? “We’re trying to have listeners find new authors.” Audiblegate is still a thing, and there are lawsuits pending.

  4. Both Amazon and the Author’s Guild are to be commended here. This TikTok-driven swindle really took off only about three months ago (and, not surprisingly, was driven by Gen Z readers, thus affecting mostly fantasy and paranormal authors). The Guild and Amazon got into good faith discussions about it, and Amazon has moved fast to remedy the situation.

    Kudos to both Mary Rasenberger and David Naggar, Amazon’s vice-president of books and Kindle content.

    • I thought the practice had been going on longer than that but I defer to your knowledge, Jim.

      Glad for the change. Once again, I got my money’s worth from paying AG dues.

      • Their consumer-friendly return policy was in place, but only became a real issue after the TikTok swindle went viral. The “800 pound gorilla” didn’t have to do a thing….but they did.

  5. Good morning, Kay, I mean Debbie. When I saw that you were posting this morning, I thought I had gone to sleep Sunday night and woke up Tuesday morning, and that I was Rip Van Hoowinkle. I checked the log of posts and saw that you had traded. So, it’s good to see you on a Monday morning.

    Thanks for updating us on Amazon policies and the story behind it. I switched from KDP Select to going wide because of the return policy, plus some other policies that made it more difficult to get readers to actually buy an ebook. I don’t actually know how much the return policy affected my sales, since I don’t follow the KDP sales page. But, I’m happy to see that Amazon has listened to the complaints.

    Thanks for the report. Have a wonderful week!

    • Steve, Kay and I traded for the next couple of posts. We wanted to see if you were paying attention 😉

      I also didn’t want all my eggs in one basket and went wide. My sales weren’t affected b/c, as Jim mentioned, the abusers focused on fantasy and paranormal. But if it affects one group of authors, it can spread to others.

  6. For changing their predictably ruinous policy after only three months, I hereby award Amazon the Doy-of-the-Week Trophy. It’s too bad these returns can’t be nullified.

  7. Good morning, Debbie. I was ecstatic when I read about Amazon changing their policies on returns. Kudos to the Author’s Guild and the Society of Authors for their efforts, it paid off. Needing a customer service rep to sign off on ebook returns after the 10% mark (until 99%) adds, I think, considerable “stiction” to the process.

    I’ve had a just handful of returns in the five and a half years I’ve been self-publishing. However, I know other author friends who have really been victimized by this practice, especially in urban fantasy and paranormal, having entire series they’ve published “read and returned” in this fashion.

    Have a wonderful week!

  8. It astonishes me that people would even do this–that it would even OCCUR to them to do this. I’m glad that Amazon will limit it to books read not beyond the 10% mark. What viable reason could there be for submitting a request if they’ve gone beyond 10%? To me it just makes sense to have a hard and fast 10% rule.

    Most books are reasonably priced. When I buy a book and find I don’t like it, I suck it up and deal with it and move on. The good, bad and ugly of books is what reviews are for. And if I want a book that I don’t want to pay for or don’t want to pay as much for, there’s the library, AbeBooks (I usually search there for non-fic titles I need), and plenty of other sources rather than cheating people out of a living.

    It’s too bad they don’t step back and ask themselves “Would I want to be treated like this if I were the writer?”

    • “Would I want to be treated like this if I were the writer?”

      BK, that’s absolutely the right question. There are plenty of free sources like the library if someone really can’t afford to buy books. I suspect this is less about money and more about getting away with it.

  9. Good insights, Debbie.

    Pardon me while I bloviate.

    Welcome to cheapskate America.

    This phenomenon extends far beyond e-books. Bargain stores are popping up all over reselling returns that get sent back to Amazon, Home Despot, Loews, Wallyworld and all the other big box stores. There’s one ten blocks from here. The stores and Amazon sell the returns by the ton to the resellers.

    It is said that the return rate on merch is 21 per cent and climbing. It’s easier for the merchants to wholesale the stuff and avoid the cost of checking and restocking and paying the people who have to be paid to do such work.
    https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/10/how-amazon-plans-to-fix-its-massive-returns-problem.html

    They’ve outsourced their returns problem onto the rest of us.

    There’s a pervasive culture of dishonesty afoot in all this, and I’m not talking about legitimate returns of the “doesn’t fit, doesn’t work” kind.

    I recollect in my law school days one of my profs talked about the certainty/severity ratio between severity of punishment and the likelihood of being punished.

    Nobody’s being held accountable

    It is awfully close to theft of the kind that retailers have dealt with in their brick and mortar stores. One guy here was caught printing bar codes for cheap items onto sticky labels and pasting them over more expensive things like GPS receivers and I’ll just bet he thought he was the first person ever to think of this dodge. Likewise the guy who worked in the Reagan white house doing the leather jacket label switcheroo at Target stores.

    And these are the people who are likely to kvetch the loudest when their ox gets gored, with one star reviews and yelp inspired “reviews”.

    The answer to it is, I dunno. Sooner or later though, they all get too big for their britches and get caught. Hard to explain that on a background check.

    When I was a prosecutor I always observed that the great undoing of criminals large and small is that they all think they’re smarter than they really are.

    • Robert, thanks for your additional perspective from the legal POV.

      “Nobody’s being held accountable” Too true.

      If there are no consequences to bad acts, why not join in? This ranges across the social/economic spectrum, from violent criminal behavior to ignoring traffic rules to stealing a $.99 book. And everyone pays the price.

  10. Thanks so much, Debbie. As the drug store employee used to say to the kids who sat in the magazine section and read comic books, “This ain’t the library!”

  11. Thank you, Debbie, for trading days with me for a couple of posts!

    I’ve heard you sing the praises of the Authors Guild for a while, so I joined it recently. One of the first articles I read was about the return policy for books on Amazon. I didn’t even know someone could return a book they had read! So proud of AG for taking up the fight and getting to a fair resolution.

    Amazon should take better care of its algorithms.

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