The Amazon Petition

Glenda Wallace of Gautier, MS has posted a petition on change.org. The subject of the petition is Amazon’s refund policy, which allows people to return eBooks within seven days for a full refund, whether they have read the book or not.

Glenda frames the argument so:

“Customers know within a certain number of pages whether or not they wish to continue reading the book. Seven days is excessive. There are too many people admitting that they abuse the policy simply because Amazon allows it.”

I understand people getting rankled about that, especially if they’ve had a lot of books returned and suspect people may be abusing Amazon’s position on returns. I want to point out yet once again, that I am no Amazon fan-boy. I am deeply worried about their domination of the marketplace. But there are a couple of problems with this petition.

First, my spidey-senses tell me that the number of people currently abusing the system just to read free books is probably pretty small. At least, it’s probably small now. Once this issue picks up some publicity and more people realize they can return the books they’ve read without suffering any consequences, do you think that number will increase or decrease? I suspect it will increase. I fear that drawing attention to the issue will actually worsen the problem of abuse (stipulating it actually exists).

Second, returns have always been a problem for publishers. That’s just the way this crazy business works. Those lovely brick-and-mortar stores accept boxes of books from Random Penguin Solutions, et al, with the understanding they can return any unsold copies.

As independent authors, we are also the publishers of our books. I don’t think Amazon is screwing us over in this deal. I think they’re treating us like grown-up publishers. Maybe we should act like it. That’s my two cents. The petition is HERE if you feel differently and want to sign up.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

37 thoughts on “The Amazon Petition”

    1. Thanks, Massimo. Only 6 returns out of 4,000 books sold is great! I’m sure other authors have differing experiences with returns. I suppose it may be a hard to accept the idea that maybe people just don’t like your book, and a lot easier to cast about for some other explanation.

      1. Yes, often I read those many returns being attributed to jealous competing writers or cheap readers. Then you go and explore the “Look Inside” of the offended writer and understand… What do you say? “Err, humm, friend, have you ever had your manuscript edited, and proofread? And, did you ever consider to find a bunch of nasty beta-readers to help you?”

        1. Or “you know your cover & description don’t properly genre & describe your book” so people are buying a different book than what you give them. It’s in the wrong category – it’s in action & adventure but its a paranormal ghost story

          1. Tasha, that’s a great point. I recently had a woman submit an historical fiction adventure book which was categorized under non-fiction bibles. That can give readers the wrong impression.

  1. You are right about publicizing it, a bit like waving the red flag in front of the bull. There will always be returns in any retail business, we are no exception.

    1. I’m not exactly sure why they think Amazon will care how many authors sign that petition. Where is the leverage? If Amazon doesn’t change their policy will these authors pull their books from Amazon and go sell them elsewhere? Amazon is the biggest online bookstore in the world. Yanking your book from there is just cutting your own throat.

      1. Amazon is growing everyday. Regardless if we dislike some of their policies, they still remain our biggest outlet as writers. Lately, I have read the same kind of chatter on LinkedIn. The majority of authors out there don’t want a brawl. I know I don’t. If you stop to think about it what would it be like for us without Amazon? I see a blank board. I never return books, if it isn’t for me I pass it on to someone else.

  2. You know I’m aware of the policy but its never occurred to me to pick up a trad published ebook, read it, return it. I won’t buy their ebooks due to pricing & lack of lending. As I’m reading about the petition I had a fleeting though “I could finally read x” and dismissed it as its unethical behavior. Why did I only mention trad publishing? Well most indies are either/both in my price range/permit lending. I’ve returned one book because I hadn’t meant to buy it… Or did I keep it because what the heck it was only a couple dollars?

    I would think the number of people doing this is small. If lots of returns are happening to an author I’d take a look at editing, book description, categories. How do you know the book has been read? I wasn’t aware Amazon was sharing that info with publishers/authors.

    Making it known to consumers might cut down on piracy. Here’s a way to read the books you want legally… Can you see new advertising campaigns “why pirate a book when you can buy, read, and return” – a New York Times full page ad πŸ˜€

    I think the cat got me up too early this morning.

  3. My first reaction was hostile, but I mellowed. It takes discipline to read a book and process the return within a week on a regular basis. I feel it won’t make too many inroads into net sales, and only a few cheapskates will be able to keep up the pace for long. After all, $2.99 a pop isn’t worth the sustained effort. Heavier-priced books might take a hit, though.

    And if someone genuinely doesn’t like my work, that’s fine – I probably won’t like theirs. Let them return it and use the money to buy someone else’s book,
    πŸ˜‰

  4. I agree with you, Stephen. Returns are part of any business. This is not the LL Bean return policy (you can return a product after any amount of time — http://www.llbean.com/customerService/aboutLLBean/guarantee.html). It’s seven days. It’s reasonable. Even movie theaters, you can get your money back if you walk out within the first half an hour.

    A certain segment of people are going to be so dissatisfied with a product they want their money back. Thankfully, for most products, it doesn’t happen that often. If it’s happening a lot, it may be a sign that the product is of poor quality and may need some revamping or a new manufacturer.

    Thanks again for mentioning this. I’d not heard of the petition.

    1. I do think if the author is experiencing a high rate of returns, something must be going on. I wonder if the return policy mollifies dissatisfied customers somewhat. Perhaps there would be a lot more 1 star reviews out there if people were stuck with a book they disliked that much.

  5. That return policy helps Amazon sell a lot of books to people that might not otherwise take a chance on ebooks. It helps writers find new readers who otherwise might be less willing to check out a new author.

    And yes, there are a few offenders. But they are very few because Amazon shuts off the accounts of serial ebook return offenders. They don’t want people abusing the return system any more than we do.

    Petitioning to remove the return system is directly against the best interest of writers and publishers.

  6. Returns may be part of the business, but those returns are usually from the middleman, i.e., the bookstore, whereas the returns on e-books are from the end customer, i.e., the reader. You expect the former as a part of doing business and getting your print books in front of people. The latter is, nine times out of ten, reprehensible conduct by thieves.

    I don’t sell that many books, but I think I’ve only had two months since I started self-publishing in December 2010 that I didn’t have more than one return, and only one month with no returns at all.

    I know a fellow author who had about 15 sales just this month and just had six returns: All six books in a series they wrote. That’s no mistake – that’s someone using the more desultory capabilities of Calibre or some other bit of software to rip the books and read them for free.

    It may not even be going that far; one has to remember that if you don’t sync your e-reader/e-reader software, you can read a book for eternity, and keep reading new ones for free with by side-loading and then “returning them”.

    Is Amazon going to care? Sure doesn’t seem like it … especially for authors pricing their works to sell.

    1. Rich, go buy a book from a brick and mortar B&N. Go back three days later and ask to return it. They WILL take it back, and give you full cash back.

      That’s not just a staple of the book industry. It’s standard in ALL retail. Heck, I once bought a new car and returned it 48hrs later because I decided I didn’t like the car. Best Buy has a 15 day return period on computers and such.

      If you are a “serial returner”, these companies WILL stop doing business with you, though. They will stop you cold. There was a kerfluffle on the internet a week or so ago about Amazon shutting down some German accounts for precisely that reason: abuse of the ebook return policy.

      A lot of folks just don’t bother reading samples, and return books they don’t like, or that aren’t their style.

      The best way to prevent returns? Make sure your cover and blurb VERY clearly tell what the book is about. And write a good book.

      You’ll still get a few (I’ve had around ten or so returns, out of over 5000 Amazon ebooks sold). But it won’t be a huge number. It is part of retail, and like it or not – if you are a publisher, you are inextricably linked to the retail business.

      1. Actually, one time someone gave me a paperback as a gift – I already owned it. She’d purchased it at WalMart, so I went there to return it. Clearly, the book had not been read – the spine had not been cracked. I was told that, due to copyright laws, I could not return that book because there was the chance I’d already read it. So… I guess it depends on where you buy the book.

      2. It’s far easier to return an ebook; returning a DTB takes far more time and energy, not to mention gas for the car, to accomplish. I think making returns a little less accessible could only be a good things.

  7. HELLO Stephen,
    You make an excellent point – those who abuse Amazon’s 7 Days return policy of e-books is in all probability miniscule . . . people should keep in mind those who read your work may refer others, and be too embarrassed to admit their abuse, thus you may benefit from those who actually go to Amazon and BUY your e-book.

  8. I had my ebook at $7.99 for a long while and found every month I had one or at the most 2 returns. It irritated me because on amazon you are able to read the first 15 or more pages before you even buy it. If you don’t like that sample, which is there to provide you with confidence in your purchase then don’t buy it. If the sample wasn’t there to get a taste of the authors writing style and content then I would agree with the return policy. I was angered myself at the return policy – I too even contacted Amazon regarding it. Once I lowered my book price to $2.99 they all stopped. I think folks abused it for the higher priced ebooks.

    With that said, I do not think a return policy should be allowed. As noted before, there is a sample of the book that is generous enough to get the flavor of the book. If it were a textbook, where a mistake could be made in buying the wrong edition, I would rally for the return policy, but we are talking about pleasure reading.

    I agree with this post that most people don’t know that the material can be returned. This will highlight the policy thus educating the purchasers about what I consider to be a loophole. However, I would like to see the policy changed. It’s frustrating.

    1. Susan, I understand your point. I guess I feel there just isn’t enough information at hand to justify taking up pitchforks and storming the Bastille over this.

      I am concerned that the cure could be worse than the disease. If people felt they could not return the books if they were dissatisfied with them, what effect might that have on their willingness to buy in the first place? I think it is possible a lot of people are willing to take a chance on an unknown author because of this safety net effect.Maybe it is a bigger help to us than we can understand.

      However, I respect that others may disagree, and that’s why I put the link up there so people could go sign the petition if they want. πŸ™‚

  9. I’ve had a few returns, but not a ton. I agree with whoever said upthread that if you’re getting a boatload of returns, the problem is likely not piracy — instead, it might be that your book is poorly edited and/or is listed in the wrong category and/or has a misleading blurb.

    And I’m heartened to hear that Amazon cracks down on serial ebook returners. Thanks for that info, Kevin. πŸ™‚

  10. Do bookstores allow returns? I don’t see why someone would want to return a book. That’s like demanding a refund for a movie after you’ve sat through the whole thing, or (as I’ve experienced as a waitress) eaten the majority of a steak and then demanding the whole meal be free because ‘it wasn’t cooked right’.
    If it wasn’t cooked right, then why did you eat the whole thing?
    I’ve been disappointed by books before, but never did it occur to me to return the thing to the store and complain (loudly) that the author is a hack. I just don’t buy the next book the author puts out.
    The most someone will pay for an e-book is $3-$5. I understand not liking a book, but Jesus H.G. Wells, state your opinion on a review, not thrusting the book at a salesperson and demanding your money back.

    1. I think most of the stores do allow refunds or exchanges. Maybe somebody bought you a book you already had, or got your favorite author’s name wrong.

      Rather than listening to every explanation, I think they just accept the return. They’d rather have a happy customer.

      I don’t know if an author is really better off dealing with rejection in the form of returns or in the form of numerous 1-star scathing reviews.

      After all, those reviews may impact future sales of other titles.

  11. It’s my understanding that users who make a habit of returns get their account deleted. I don’t think hurts anybody’s sales. And if you do have a couple of books read and returned, I’d recommend looking at them as having been “free downloads” of the kind you go after with free days on KDP.

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