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Is there a return problem for digital books?

In the past few months, the noise about returns has risen to a level that is hard to ignore. Led largely by self published authors, there is a growing group of people who are rattling for change at Amazon.  Amazon allows for return of a digital book purchase with 7 days, no questions asked from the Manage My Kindle page.

return refund

After seven days, the return for a refund disappears and you have to email customer service to request a refund. At that point, you have to provide a reason for your return.

At other retailers, returns aren’t as large of a problem because it is nearly impossible to return a digital purchase. I’ve found it fairly easy to request a refund at Apple for incorrectly purchased movies so long as I’ve done it quickly after the purchase but Barnes & Noble and Kobo will usually only respond with a replacement for a corrupted file.

The reason that returns have gained a lot of attention is that for the first time authors actually see the number of returns.

amazon returns

In this author’s Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard, you can see two of the books’ numbers for the past month. The author has a 4-5% return rate on both books, the one selling in smaller numbers having a slightly higher return rate.

Reportedly, some author’s return rates are around 15% and some are around 2%.  I’ve heard that the rate of return is higher for New Adult books (although the above example is a New Adult author) and lower for historicals. It’s easy to see why an author would balk at losing 15% of her possible income due to returns.

Returns, however, have always been part of the business of book selling even when books were sold solely in print.  While it is hard to assess the numbers of exact customer returns at the point of sale, most author’s royalty statements held a reserve against returns. Usually this is 15-25% of the royalty that is withheld against returns from the bookstore. One industry person shared that mass market returns are about 50%, trade is around 30-40% and hardcover is 40%. Meaning that the bookstore would place an order for 3-5 copies of a book. In the case of a hardcover or trade paperback, the bookstore could return the book. In the case of mass markets, the cover would be stripped and the book would be thrown away. In each case, the bookstore would receive a credit for each unsold book.

Obviously this is not the exact same thing as a book purchased by a consumer and then returned, but returns are allowed at most bookstores.  Barnes & Noble’s return policy for paper books reads as follows:

It’s easy to return an item if you’re not satisfied.

We will issue a refund to your original form of payment for items returned within 14 days.

Items must be returned in their original condition; shrink-wrapped products must be unopened.

It’s fourteen day policy is actually more liberal than the Amazon digital return policy. But Jane, you say, it says original condition!  If you don’t think a book, particularly a hardcover or trade, can be read without breaking the spine, you don’t know readers.

Regardless of the reasons readers may have for returning books (and they are numerous) authors who’ve signed a recent change.org petition treat returning books the same as piracy, using the same language. John Ruch calls people who return books “jerks”.

Lois W. writes that “this policy allows people basically to steal my work. They buy the book, read it, then return it.”

Shelly C agrees: “Returning an e-book (even if Amazon allows you to do so) after you’ve read it is the same thing as pirating, you’re just cheating the system instead. When you return the book, they deduct the amount from our pay. It’s stealing, any way you slice it.”

Kathleen H chimes in “I am an avid reader and aspiring author. I don’t believe it requires seven days to decide if you like a book or not.” Mary Lou agrees and suggests that the return time be truncated to two hours because those who use the return feature are book thieves. Book theives [sic] probably think this is funny. They don;t  [sic] realize that most authors are starving artists unless they have a day job. With the preview, two hours should be sufficient time for anyone who accidentally purchases an e-book to request a refund.

and

Sharon G believes she is being discriminated against. “I’m a writer, and I see no reason we should be discriminated against in the matter of e-books. No other Amazon e-product is subject to this condition.”

There is one goodreads user that has a shelf that says “read and returned”. Many authors have pointed this out as an example of the piracy that returners engage in.

Is there abuse of the system? No question. I’m sure that there are some serial returners but are most individuals reading and returning hundreds of books or are most individuals those who return the occasional book?

Authors assume that if a book is purchased one day and a return shows up a day later that they are from the same purchaser, yet Amazon doesn’t provide that granular of data to authors.  It’s simply a number. Why the Author assumes this, I’m not sure.

Amazon does monitor serial returners, as do many other retailers. Your ability to return can be cut off or you can be shut out of your Amazon account altogether if Amazon determines you are an abuser of the system.

But there are a whole host of reasons people return books. Sometimes the reasons are formatting. When I bought Susan Fanetti’s book (reviewed here), the formatting was double spaced. That was maddening and unreadable in my opinion. I downloaded the book to my computer and ran it through Calibre so that I could remove the ill conceived formatting.

susan fanetti's formatting

Another self published book I purchased had font changes nearly every paragraph.

format issues

I read Susan Fanetti’s book soon after I purchased it but not within two hours. I bought the book early in the day and read it that evening, well after the two hour time period had closed. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of books I’ve purchased at Amazon that I haven’t read yet and some I’ve purchased as far back as a couple of years ago.  If I came across one with horrendous formatting or egregious spelling errors, I’d probably ask for a return.

There are other reasons that people might return a book. The content might be offensive. For instance, I received this book for review but if I’d bought it I would’ve wanted to return it.  Another reason for returns is the failure to meet expectations. If the cover and blurb promise one thing and the book doesn’t deliver, then a reader might return the book. Yet another could be poor grammar.  In a recent book I enjoyed called Shooter by Dahlia West there were numerous grammatical errors that bugged the heck out of some editorial folks who read the book.  Some authors don’t think grammar is something that they should be concerned about. As a side note, there weren’t mere missing commas in Rule by Jay Crownover but missing words:

Rule Jay Crownover

Poor grammar, poor formatting, failure to meet expectations set up by the blurb and cover will lead to returns and more likely a higher rate of returns than books that are well edited, well written, and where the content matches the expectations set up by the blurb and cover.

One recently self published book had nothing to say about the religious aspects of the book, but thankfully that was all over the reviews. I’m not a big fan of religious books, my love for The Last Hour of Gann aside, and if I’d bought that book, I might have returned it. Thankfully I read the reviews and just avoided the novel altogether.

Another reason for returning books is length. Many readers have no idea what word count means and many authors fail to include word count. Authors have varying ideas on what constitutes a novel length book. I’ve seen many authors counsel that 50,000 words is a novel and 15,000 words is a novella. Readers don’t really know what word count means and if they start a book and then feel dissatisfied at the end, they might return a book.

Some authors include so much back matter than a book will end at 85% instead of 95% leading a reader to feel shorted.  More and more books are cliffhangers or parts of a series and if a reader doesn’t know that going in, then a return might happen.

Does returning a book for failure to meet expectations make the reader a jerk? Maybe. But maybe the author is a jerk for not being clear about what the reader is getting into or for not caring enough about grammar or formatting.  Or content.

While it might be helpful to provide authors with feedback about the return, reducing returns to a shorter time period or eliminating returns entirely will result in the something that the authors don’t want and that is a reduction of sales. If a reader isn’t allowed to return a digital book like she can a print one, then it’s like the reader’s willingness to make that impulse buy will be checked.

Returns are simply a cost of doing business and the reasons that returns happen are as plentiful as there are reasons that the book is purchased in the first place.  The one click buy button is there to encourage impulse shopping. Any barrier put in place that makes the reader think twice about purchasing a book will reduce the number of impulse buys and in my opinion that is  a far worse outcome than facing the return figure in the Amazon dashboard.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

103 Comments

  1. Alexandra
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 04:54:53

    I agree, Jane. I buy a lot more books on amazon because of the return policy. I wouldn’t try as many new authors if it were difficult to return the books.

    I think the seven day return policy helps the author. I’ve sometimes gone to return a book I’ve just gotten around to reading (and discovered I didn’t like), and found it was too late to return it. I often buy several books at a time. If I examined a book within two hours of buying it, knowing this was my only chance to return it, I might not be as forgiving of any signs that I might not like it. I would also only buy one book at a time and be less impulsive in my purchases.

    I bought six books yesterday and returned one. And no, I didn’t read the whole book or put the book on the internet. I returned it because I didn’t think it was very good. Not all books are, and I would much rather give my money to an author who writes books I enjoy.

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  2. Noelle
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 05:10:30

    I don’t think Amazon should change its return policy unless they can figure out a way to stop read-and-returns without preventing honest readers from returning books for legitimate reasons. All of the reasons mentioned here (formatting, overly priced for length, bad editing, surprised by content, etc.) are fair, and I don’t think readers should be kept from returning for those reasons, or even just because they hate the book so much they can’t even finish it.

    I’ve been self-publishing on Amazon for more than a year now, and in November I had 32 titles in my KDP account. Based on that information, here’s what I can offer on returns.

    My return rate in November ranged from 1-8%, with most of the titles at 3-4%. I think this is an excellent return rate, compared to what I’ve seen in some months. Maybe Amazon is finally cracking down on the serial returners of my books. I’ve never seen a return rate of more than 10%.

    My books are all decently formatted, and they’re all priced fairly ($.99 for less than 50k words, $2.99 for 50-90k words, $3.99 for over 90k words) – so neither of those factors should substantially affect the rate of return. I’ve also found that the quality of editing and whether people like the book have absolutely no effect on my rate of returns. My most poorly edited book was the first version of Escorted. I got it edited several months ago, and the return rate remained exactly the same. The book of mine that readers like the most (based on ratings across the board) has exactly the same return rate as the book of mine that people like the least. My readers, at least, aren’t returning because of bad editing or because they don’t like it.

    There are three factors that I’ve found noticeably affect the rate of return: length, price, and overall number of sales.

    By far, length is the most significant factor affecting rate of return. Shorter books (fewer than 50k) are returned more than longer books (even though the short books are priced at just $.99). If a book can be read in a few hours, it will invariably have a higher rate of return.

    The other major factor is price, which has an impact on the longer books. My books at $3.99 are returned more than the books at $2.99. Nameless, at 17oK words, has a higher return rate than Missing, which is just over 50K. Now, I think it’s clear that Nameless has a better price per word, but the extra dollar seems to have an impact on returns.

    And, finally, the higher the number of sales, the lower the rate of returns. In every instance, when one of my titles has sold more than 7,000 copies in a month, the return rate is less than 2%. I assume this is because there are more honest readers to diminish the effect of the read-and-returners.

    Based on the fact that length and price are the factors with the highest impact on returns (in my experience only), I do think read-and-return is a genuine issue on Amazon, but it’s an issue authors will just have to accept as the price of doing business. I’ve gotten a lot more from Amazon’s platform than I’ve been hurt by their return policy, and I wouldn’t want to keep honest readers from being able to return books.

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  3. Mandy
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 05:11:32

    It doesn’t surprise me that self-published authors are leading the complaints about ebook returns. I have no doubt the higher return rate for that section of the market is deserved. While there are many good SPA’s there are also an overwhelming amount of appalling self-published books with little or no editing and terrible writing. These books deserve to be returned. It’s not a matter of taste but a matter of a basic standard of quality. You should be able to get your money back for a grossly inferior product.

    I buy hundreds of books every year and I’ve only returned about 3 so far. In fact I always forget books can be returned until I’m reminded by articles like this. I have a one-click account and often pick up books that I see on twitter or blogging sites that I read much later. Or I may buy a heap of books to read when I go on holidays. A seven day period between buying and reading is perfectly normal. Even longer is usual for me.

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  4. Kate Sherwood
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 06:19:58

    I’ve never returned a book to Amazon, but I frequently buy books that I don’t look at for days or even weeks after purchase. I think the “it doesn’t take seven days to know if you like a book” argument applies best to people who buy one book at a time, not those of us who binge-shop.

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  5. Teresa
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 06:36:43

    I sell used books on Amazon for my local Friends of the library. Amazon has a very generous return policy of 30 days on used books (and movies & music). I doubt people are abusing the system. I rarely get a return (maybe 1-2 a year) out of a 500+. Typically they are used textbooks and are returned by students who either bought the wrong edition or dropped a class.

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  6. JennyME
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 06:37:06

    @Mandy: I completely agree.

    It takes a glowing review from someone I trust completely to get me to buy self-published books these days. Some authors have delusions of grandeur and I hope Amazon sides with customers.

    News flash to the authors who are upset about this: a seven-day return policy is not what’s holding you back from fame and fortune.

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  7. Nikki Bee
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 07:05:16

    Well said Jane! I agree with everything you mentioned. If you were doing a reader poll as an avid reader who usually reads a book a day, I can attest that I have only ever used Amazon’s return feature once and only once. It was to return an unfinished book I read about 40 pages tops before it was so offensive I couldn’t read any further. In my opinion I consider that a reasonable reason to return. I’ve bought tons of books that I’ve read to the end and was disappointed overall, whether it was the authors writing style or just hating where the story went but I didn’t return those, I know that’s a hit I have to take. So I do not think a 7 day period is uncalled for and as you also mention I buy tons of books and don’t even read them until months later so that option is no longer available even if it was loaded with horrible grammar and font choices. I think self published authors should be ashamed of producing and selling crappy work for a quick buck. If you’re going to put your ‘craft’ out there, you should make a solid effort in polishing it to acceptable standards and not cry theft when you feel slighted due to returns for whatever reason. And lastly, I feel most readers are honest and won’t go out of there way to return a read book just to gain their money back. I mean come on, most thieves won’t bother buying ahead of time, they’ll just download a pirated copy. So the self published authors crying foul need to just suck it up and take the hit just as us readers do!

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  8. Victoria
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 07:39:12

    I was curious with the issue above because I’ve never had problems returning a book, usually I do it within the hour if it turns out to be a really bad one.
    For the example you featured above I think it’s because the second book was free. I tried this out just now, purchased a free kindle-ebook and the Return for refund was not there.

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  9. Naima
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 07:50:24

    @JennyME
    I completely agree with your comments. There are self published authors who seem to think they would be rich and famous if only people weren’t returning their books. Puleeeeze. People are only returning them because there is something they don’t like about them. The only times I’ve returned ebooks is because something about them really offended me (racism, child violence etc) and I had no prior warning from what the author posted about their book.

    Also one of the best parts of ebook buying is how spontaneous you can be; especially when reading the romance forum at amazon :) So often I will buy many books but not bother to look at them right away. This proposed “two hour return window” is at odds with how people read and buy ebooks.

    I wonder if these authors that complain about book thieves are the same crew that complains about readers being bullies.

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  10. D.R. Slaten
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 07:54:24

    I read. I write. I return.

    If Amazon changes their return policy, I will never again buy a book from an unknown to me author. Ever. In fact, please link to me the names of the authors who wish to penalize readers via the Amazon return policy so that I might avoid all of the current and future works.

    Amazon’s policy is good for the reader. That is the bottom line. Nothing anyone produces in goods, services and art is so great, so universally beloved that returns should never be allowed. In fact, in order to make books, ebooks, etc., more pleasant for the reader, returns MUST be allowed.

    Let me echo again a previous commenter, returns are not what’s keeping authors from fame and fortune. Trust me, the big name authors get returns as well. But you don’t see them crying about it or starting petitions or declaring they’ll march on DC.

    Jaysus, first we can’t leave negative reviews because people get all butt hurt cause I, or someone else, didn’t like your frickin’ “baby.” Now, I can’t return a book that atrocious because that makes you butt hurt as well? Seriously? If your skin is that thin, returns are gonna be the least of your problems.

    Keep the returns. Get rid of the complainers.

    Again. I read. I write. AND I return.

    And I return for a multitude of reasons. Formatting sucked. Book sucked– and the first chapter or sample didn’t evidence that suckitude and I was SURPRISED how sucky the book turned out to be even after I’ve read a sample. The book disappointed me- the author sold out, the book repeated a book the author had already written, the blurb didn’t adequately describe the book, etc. I realized I ALREADY bought the book before when I started to read it. The list goes on.

    Not one reason to return a book is because I want to screw the author. My decision to return a book, hell my reason for buying a book, isn’t about the author AT ALL. This song isn’t about YOU. Returns have always been about the book.

    I also buy books I don’t read for several days or even weeks. A 7 day return policy isn’t long enough for me, and for a lot of readers. 14 would be closer to the amount of time I need to get my real life crap done, take care of my family, work AND find the time to start a book to see if I want to actually read the book cover to cover. Seriously, 7 days is not a lot of time in the lives of a busy working mom.

    Amazon, keep your return policy. As a writer I want my readers to be satisfied. Sometimes, that means getting returns. I’m okay with that. Think how mad a reader would be if they knew you were holding their ebooks hostage cause you didn’t want to lose their money. That the author only saw their reading experience as dollar signs in your mind. I get that making money/a living/getting paid is the ultimate goal. But to get there, sometimes you gotta give a refund or two.

    Can you imagine if stores didn’t let you return goods? I shop Nordstrom BECAUSE of their return policy. I shop Amazon BECAUSE of their return policy. Get rid of it and you get rid of something intangible and valuable to the reader/consumer.

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  11. Lammie
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 07:59:14

    I am a voracious reader, and I never realized you could return e-books like this. I look at buying books like buying underwear I guess – it can only be returned for a really obvious manufacturing defect. I don’t think you should return a book just because you don’t like it, that just doesn’t seem fair to me. Do you ask for your money back after watching a bad movie? I think because the process is carried out electronically, it is probably far to easy to do returns this way. Do these people who return a lot also try to return mass market paperbacks to their local bookstore because they did not like them? Probably not, although they might sell them to a local used bookstore. Maybe it should be made possible to resell your electronic copy of a book – then their might not be as many returns.

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  12. Tabs
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 08:13:38

    I wonder how how sale prices affect return rates. If a book goes on sale in a given month, you’d figure that at least some of those returns are returns/repurchases, right? Returned and repurchased at a lower price is one of my main reasons for making a return at amazon (and for loving their return policy).

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  13. Victoria
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 08:13:55

    I’d also like to add that as a reader, that’s why I shop Amazon, the ease of return. There’s nothing I’d hate more than to have spent money on a book that I hated and couldn’t get past 20% especially if it’s priced 8.99. Sometimes though, even DNFs I’d just shrug and not return it.
    As an author, I don’t care if Amazon makes the return forever. If readers hate a book, they have the right to return it no matter what.

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  14. Carolyne
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 08:18:29

    If it were always possible to sell an eBook on or simply give it away, I’d only return one for the hugest of problems (formatting, misrepresentation of content, very offensive content). Being able to make a return is the only other recourse.

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  15. Melisse Aires
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 08:26:50

    I self pub and don’t really have a problem with the return policy. My return rate is under 3%. If it was higher I would investigate my formatting, blurb, categories etc.

    I was glad to hear recently that Amazon does crack down on serial book returners–I do write books that can easily be read in an evening!

    For some time I was in KDP select and my return rate and borrow rate were almost the same so I wondered if people returned and then borrowed instead?

    I also know I am pirated all over the place and getting that cleaned up is just a game of whack-a-mole. Who has the time? Amazon is less of a worry.

    I do think it is suspicious that NA has a higher return rate. Perhaps Amazon needs to turn their algorithm ‘eyes’ on that. Are serial episodes getting returned? Novellas?

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  16. library addict
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 09:20:05

    Am I the only one who never realized you could return print books? Back in Borders’ heydey there were a few books I would have liked to return for not meeting expectations or not being about what I thought they’d be about. But it never occurred to me that I could return a book. I always just stuck them in my donation pile. This was back in the days I could afford to buy many more books so if something caught my eye I bought it. I did discover years later before Borders closed that returns were possible, but at that point I was already buying less in print so it wasn’t an issue.

    Kobo has gotten better at allowing refunds for poorly formatted books. They used to say no, all sales are final so this is an improvement IMO. I have found that using the chat feature rather than emailing them gets the best (and quickest) results. Yes, 99% of the time they offer only a store credit which is not an actual refund, but I shop there so much that a store credit is fine by me. I only return books which are so poorly formatted I can’t fix them in Calibre or it would be very time consuming to do so. I’ve had the format changes every paragraph thing happen to me more than once. As well as missing chapters, books that are 40-50% backmatter, etc.

    Just FYI, I never (well not any more) buy Harlequin books published prior to July 2010 from Kobo as they used to strip out all of the formatting (no italics, chapter numbers all duplicated, spacing issues). Also, despite issuing store credits not one of the books I’ve reported as horribly formatted has been fixed. Kobo always says they will report the issues to the publishers, but who knows. Penguin certainly never cared when I used to email them directly given the stock reply I received every time I did so. Harlequin did fix some of the bad OCR’d Treasury titles I bought directly from them, but not nearly all of them and none of the ones I had purchased from Sony or Kobo.

    And for the record the poorly formatted books I would much rather be fixed so I could read them rather than getting a refund.

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  17. Mzcue
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 09:45:49

    Seems as if Amazon could assist authors by enhancing collection of “reason for return” data. If I were an author, information about formatting errors, misleading blurbs or editing failure would be invaluable. Also, it would seem that Amazon owes its sellers a more muscular degree of protection against serial returners. To do so should be possible with only a tiny increase of the price of a book.

    Perhaps reviewers could also help by noting editing quality among the aspects of books they write about? I’ve returned a couple books because missing words, rampant misspellings, tense shifts, and so on, rendered them unreadable. Usually you can catch that in the “Look Inside” feature that Amazon offers, but not always.

    It must be a harrowing process to get a book published on your own and then endure the tribulations of disappointing sales. It cannot be easy to compete with the promotional power of established publishing houses. Focusing on the irritation of book returns may be a path of least resistance for dealing with the frustration.

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  18. Marianne McA
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 09:52:54

    Before the internet I hadn’t realised you could return books either.

    In that they’re a product, I think it’s fair enough that the reader should be able to return them for the reasons that they can return any other product – if it’s unfit for purpose, or wasn’t described properly. I can’t see the argument that you should be allowed to return a book because you didn’t enjoy it – though I suppose you could mimic shops, and a credit note could be offered by the publisher to be put towards another of their books (at each publisher/author’s discretion).

    I don’t know if these count as returns, but I’ve had to hit the ‘purchased in error’ button a couple of times on my kindle. The only book I ever returned properly was Pratchett’s latest – and that wasn’t directed at the author – I didn’t feel the publishers should benefit from publishing something so clearly subpar. (I had read 4% .)

    Be interesting to know what the rates of return are for other things. (I always remember a knicker manufacturer telling me about the number of knickers they got back from one particular store that had a customer friendly return policy. The store would return them to the manufacturer as faulty, but they could tell that they’d been worn, then sabotaged to provide a pretext for the return. How much time do you have to have on your hands before you resort to simulating catastrophic knicker failure to reinvigorate your underwear drawer?)

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  19. Michele Mills
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 09:58:48

    @Lammie: I agree! I too, am a ridiculously voracious reader and I have never, ever, returned a book, it’s never occurred to me. I’ve always filed them away in my brain as being like movies and music. Do you know how many movies I’ve seen that absolutely sucked? Was I able to get my money back from Redbox? No. Believe me, I’ve seen all the formatting errors, the grammatical errors, books that were DNF, books that upset me and I threw across the room. Been there, done that. Not once have I returned. Wrote a respectful review warning others on Amazon or Goodreads? Yes. But never returned. Again, why would I? I’ve read it, it’s mine now. This is why I mitigate by using the library and rely heavily on reviews and word of mouth. Back in the day of print only, I wouldn’t have returned either, just bitched to my friends about the book, never bought anything else by that author, and sold it to a used book store. And come on, we all know that buying a self published book is still a bit of a gamble, the quality is all over the place. You know that going in, that’s the risk you’ve decided to take. Respectully complain online, tell the author RESPECTFULLY that you had to make it a DNF due to formatting. They need that feedback to improve. But still, not a reason to return. A real reason to return?- Uh oh, I bought the print version of Kresley Cole’s Lothaire for my sister. Darn it, I forgot she loves YA! I’ll EXCHANGE it for her new YA instead. My sister will love that!

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  20. carly m.
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 10:08:07

    This discussion is fascinating to me. I’ve only ever returned e-books for one reason: accidental purchase! It is so easy on the Kindle screen to accidentally one-click buy something instead of getting the sample like I intended or when I’m scrolling to reviews. If a book is bad, the book is bad. I like the bad movie example above: I don’t go back to the box office halfway through a movie and ask for my money back. I simply walk out and stop wasting my time on something I don’t enjoy. Same with books.

    I’d be curious if big publishers have return rate data for e-books and whether it’s comparable to the return rate for self-published authors.

    As for the piracy argument, those authors are painting with really broad strokes. Because they don’t receive any data on why a book was returned, they can assume all they want but books can be returned for so many reasons! Amazon is definitely keeping the data — on how long a person spends reading a particular book, whether they reach the end of the book, etc. — so I think asking for a reason for return (even in the no questions asked 7 day window) is not out of bounds.

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  21. Sarah M.
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 10:36:20

    I think I have returned 2 digital books (of the hundreds that I’ve purchased) and those were because of inexcusable grammatical/editing errors. In both cases, I never made it past the first 5 pages. I don’t think that you should be able to return a book that you read in entirety. If you didn’t like it, that is your experience with the book. You purchased a product, used the product, and have an opinion on the product. On the other hand, I can’t say that I’ve ever returned a print book. It isn’t convenient for me, so I give the book away to a friend or donate to the Friends of my local library. Removing the return feature would make me even more reticent to try a new, untested author (especially self-published). I agree with some comments above – I’ve stumbled on some fantastic books that were self-published but I’ve also come across some books for which those authors should have been ashamed to collect payment.

    Because I wouldn’t return a hard copy, I can see the logic in revising/eliminating the return policy. It would be interesting to see if negative reviews increase.

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  22. mharvey816
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 10:56:23

    I love this post so much and I’m so happy that you pointed out all the reasons why someone would return an ebook and why 7 days might actually not be enough time for those of us with the indecently large TBR lists.

    It’s insulting to readers to assume that a return was made only after the book was consumed in its entirety. The majority of readers are not thieves and don’t appreciate being considered as such.

    I return for nearly all the reasons listed here already: I bought it by mistake (I already own it!), the book isn’t what I thought it was going to be (secret inspirationals make me ragey), the formatting/grammar/spelling is beyond atrocious, etc. I rely on Amazon reviewers to warn me about such things, and I am grateful for the ones that save me money on a book I would likely hate. But lately the main reason has been “the damn price went down significantly after I paid full price” and that has been the most frustrating reason of all. When the book price goes from $5.99 to 99 cents 2 weeks later, that’s when I put that author on my “auto-wait” list. (It’s not a list you want to be on.) When a book is $7.99 at 10am and $4.75 at 2pm, I should be able to return and repurchase, and I am grateful to Amazon for allowing buyers to do that when this happens.

    I’ll admit that I’m an outlier in ebook purchasing, in that I buy hundreds of books a year, and frequently don’t get around to reading them until months later. But like someone else already said, Amazon has that impulse one-click for a reason. You don’t want to convince readers that it’s in their best interest not to click that button on your book.

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  23. Devyn Quinn
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 11:24:00

    I just purchased my first Kindle for Christmas, and my first eBook. I had no idea you could return an eBook, so this is good information for me as a newbie buyer. While I would never return a book because “I didn’t like it”, I would return a book for poor formatting, grammar and other problems such as an excessive typos.

    Now, on the flip side, I am also an author and many of my NY and indie titles are in eBook format. I can’t control the ones the major publishers put out, but my Indie pubs have always had the policy that if a reader finds formatting or other errors (even 1 typo) their copy will be immediately replaced with a corrected file, asap. Corrected files are also loaded into the proper venues, so that the most current versions are for sale. Don’t get me wrong. People are human, mistakes get made no matter how hard you try and perfect the files before uploading.

    However, I do get the idea that some people will be “serial return-ers” and return a book for refund after reading it. That’s not fair, and it’s not right. There should be a place where reasons must be listed (ie; poor formatting, excessive typos) before a refund is granted. Returning a book because you “don’t like it,” isn’t right or fair. Picking a book is a crap-shoot, just like picking a movie. Sometimes you get a great one, sometimes a stinker. Do your research before purchase. I read the reviews and make my decision based on what the subject is, what the rating is, and who the author is/isn’t.

    And FWIW, if a book is returned for poor formatting, etc… it should be pulled from sale or flagged until the corrections made.

    My 2 cents.

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  24. Susan Reader
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 11:40:17

    I’ve occasionally returned ebooks to Amazon. I am frustrated sometimes because I can’t explain WHY I’m returning them. “Accidental purchase” (especially at 3am!) is straightforward, but sometimes I’d like to be able to explain “Defective content”. Unedited? Random font changes? Mystery marks instead of punctuation? Formatting so each word has its own page? and so on.

    I once returned a book because the writing was terrible, but mostly because I felt I’d been tricked into buying it. The sample Amazon gives, the first chapter or so, was well written and edited, but after that things went rapidly downhill.

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  25. Elizabeth McCoy
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 11:59:01

    A prior comment, evaluating what gets returned is interesting. (For one, I’m not sure if it matches my numbers, and that’s always an interesting thing.)

    In my experience (poking at my spreadsheet confirms this, though not as much as I’d thought), my returns are definitely a percent of my sales. The more sales, the more chance of returns. (There is an outlier; out of 19 sales to “non-US regions via the Amazon.com site” in November 2012, 9 of them got returned. Ouch.) On the other hand, there also seems to be a minimum number of returns — I can apparently expect 1-3, minimum, a month, per book title. The 99-cent short stories don’t sell nearly as well, but oddly, are much less prone to returns. I guess a niche market means the people who aren’t interested… don’t buy, and the ones who buy are satisfied.

    Percent of returns looks to be — excluding outliers above 9% because they’re “sold so few that month, a single returns skews things” — around 4% to 1%. There are some months, it’s zero, but those are generally poorly-selling overall. (Though, ha, not always; somehow, 103 copies of 3.99 book, one month, with no returns! Few returns overall, actually… Whatever was in the water last December, I hope it’s in the water this year, too.)

    I notice little to no difference in returns between the $3.99 books (around 100K words) and the $4.99 duology (each over 120K words).

    I’ll admit, there are some patterns of purchase-and-return that sure look like someone is getting, copying, and returning… (Something I know can happen easily; if I were a jerk, I could certainly do it.) I can only hope Amazon keeps enough track to notice when pirates-in-bulk do it with fake accounts. From this end, I’m really not sure how they could distinguish between a new account that’s going to be used to snaffle in stuff, versus someone who… just didn’t like the book. And personally, I’d far rather they returned it painlessly in that case, rather than write a “wasted my money” review!

    Actually, if I were going to change a policy of Amazon’s, I’d say that it should be possible to make a link in the Kindle app (or in one’s account) that allows one to scroll through one’s wish-list and sample, right there. Open onto a sample-page with the cover, the cover blurb, and jump right into the 30% or whatever that Amazon permits normally. At the end of the Sample section, two buttons: BUY and REMOVE FROM WISH LIST. Losing samples when I don’t get around to reading them is… irksome. I imagine some people might tend to buy “what looks interesting” when they’re low on time to sample, and then return when it’s not to their tastes, when reading the sample would have given them the data to not-buy in the first place.

    Though that’s possibly not in Amazon’s best interests, since people who buy and don’t get around to reading for a few weeks may be less likely to return things — and Amazon doesn’t want returns, either. (On the other hand, people who are becoming wary of new authors might be more likely to buy, if they could hold onto a sample the way they’d normally hold onto a purchased book…)

    Another change I’d love to see would be to expand the percent of the sample — I’d give 50%, sure! By the time someone is halfway into the book… Well, it’s still possible the ending might be throw-across-the-room awful, but the odds still go up for someone knowing if they like where it’s going or not. (Heck, I might experiment with a 75% sample, though in that case would people be annoyed to be paying for “a quarter of the book” when the majority of it was free?)

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  26. Lynn M
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 12:01:36

    I think this problem could be easily solved if Amazon and other e-book sellers would do a better job at managing their sample feature. If all e-books included a free sample that could be downloaded and that would give readers a very good indication about the book – including formatting, grammar, etc. – they could determine fairly easily if the book would not work for them. If they read the sample immediately after download or three years later, it wouldn’t matter. And if they liked the sample, they could move forward and buy the book with the understanding that there would be no return option. Or they could just delete the sample from their device and move on.

    But the key to this is good use of samples. All e-book samples should include, IMO, the first three chapters of a book regardless of how many pages that represents. Within three chapters, a person should have a pretty good idea about whether or not they want to pay money for the book. But I can’t tell you how many books I’ve sampled that only offer 15 pages or even up to 50 or more, only to find that every single sample page is filled with nonsense like table of contents, publishing information, dedication pages, inside title sheets, etc. By the time I get to any real story, there is maybe one or two pages of it. Makes me absolutely nuts, such that I wouldn’t buy the book no matter what. A sample should be just that – a true sample of the book, not the first X number of irrelevant pages.

    If a person buys a book that has technical errors that they can easily prove, there should be no barrier to return.

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  27. Brianna (The Book Vixen)
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 12:06:47

    I can only recall returning a Kindle book once and that was because I accidentally click on the one-click buy button. I returned the book right away.

    I am the kind of reader who buys a book and doesn’t read it right away, most of the time. Most of the time I don’t read the books I buy until months after the purchase.

    Reasons I would return a Kindle book: errors and formatting. But I wouldn’t return a book after reading it in its entirety. If there are errors and/or the formatting is horrible, I’m not going to finish reading the book.

    Amazon can tell how far into a book a reader has read through so I wonder why that’s not a guideline for their return policy.

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  28. KT Grant
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 12:15:09

    If say a self published author can’t invest in an editor or formatter, and it’s noticeable, and they have a high number of returns for that possible reason, then they really shouldn’t be upset if their books are being returned. What defense are they going to use for sloppy work? They really expect people to buy something shoddy and not return it? If a person buys a shirt and finds out it’s soiled or ripped, they can return it in a certain time allotted by the store.

    Does B&N still have a 2 week turn around for returns at their stores? I know they would record those who returned books as a way to track the amount of returns in a month.

    Perhaps Amazon should think about having a monthly return limit for returns.

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  29. Ros
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 12:17:16

    I think that, in general, the return policy is an excellent thing for authors. It encourages readers to try books by new authors, safe in the knowledge that if it’s not up to scratch, they don’t lose out. In the absence of bookstore browsing, I think it’s essential.

    But I admit, I was shocked by this lengthy comment from a serial returner, explaining why she was blocked by Amazon and feels unjustly done by. She returned up to 60% of the books she bought and thinks that is what the return policy both encourages and permits. I don’t think there are many people who think and behave like that, and I’m glad to see that Amazon took steps to stop it from continuing.

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  30. Ros
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 12:19:37

    @Mandy: It’s also because only self-published authors have access to the figures. Publishers don’t generally pass ebook return information on to authors.

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  31. P. J. Dean
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 13:26:15

    I am an author at a medium-sized ebook publisher. It seems the returned book trouble is with self-published authors. I’m kind of bowled over by their sheer number nowadays. Variety is the spice of life BUT not all the product is good. Seems a lot of it is plain ratchet. If a reader is not happy with the formatting, errors, etc. the reader should be able to return it. BUT folks! Don’t take months and years to do it. Look over your purchase. I think the problem may be that people are buying tons, scads or whatever of books at one time just because the books are .99 cents or free. Well, you know what? You get what you pay for. I’m not saying .99 cent or free books are of low quality. I’m saying that the reader went for PRICE and didn’t care about possible quality. I’ve gotten reviews from readers who were surprised that, little ole me, an unknown writer had written a decent book. And how did the reader find this out? The reader took a chance and bought it based on the correctly written blurb or the sample not because it was FREE NINETY-NINE! So, next time you’re itching to click that button for a free or .99 cent ebook from an unknown just becuase of the price, think. Maybe you should buy the work of an unknown writer because the blurb or sample is gripping AND correctly writtenand not just cheaply priced.

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  32. Renda
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 13:53:26

    It would have never occurred to me I could return a book, hard or e format.

    I can only think of one book I have ever paid for that I would return. It has been a couple of years now so I couldn’t return it. And I deleted it from my account. It was horrible, nasty, disgusting, and a waste of cloud space.

    Anyway, I appreciate this post. I probably won’t think “return” when a book is not to my liking. But I also have stopped buying new-to-me SPAs without a lot of research. Samples are meaningless. It is like they get that part edited and then don’t have the rest of it edited.
    I am one of those that complains in reviews about missing spellings, wrong homophones, egregious grammar issues. I do look for those complaints in reviews. If there are ANY, I don’t buy the book. Simple as that.

    But I am happy to know that I can return if I need to. I do know at Audible you can return books, and I have only done that once. The book was painful. Lots of others I have listened to since then and just gone “meh,” but I didn’t feel it was “meh” enough to take back a royalty.

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  33. Linda B
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 14:05:59

    I absolutely think you SHOULD NOT be able to return a book (e-book or print) for any reason other than you already own it – and, really, you should be paying attention to what you already own. No other “excuse” is valid. You take your chances when you buy a book, for better or worse. If you want the ability to return a book, get it from the library. I know a number of people that consistently return books using the excuse that it wasn’t what they thought it would be, they didn’t like it or the formatting/editing was poorly done. The reality is they read the new book and returned just so they could get a new book. That’s stealing. And unethical.

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  34. DS
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 14:16:21

    I’ve picked up free books that I wanted to return, just to let Amazon know how horrible they were. However, I generally enjoy take my ire out in a review. I don’t think I’ve ever returned a 99 cent book.

    I think it odd that anyone would think a reader should be stuck with a defective book no matter how long it takes the reader to get around to looking at it. I think requiring an email with an explanation as Amazon does after 7 days is fair. At least the ebook isn’t soiled or worn like too many returned physical books are.

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  35. angela parrish
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 14:28:11

    I think amazon should track the number of returns per account and limit returns to something like 1 a month. similar to what walmart does for purchases without a receipt.

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  36. Karen E.
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 14:31:01

    I haven’t returned an ebook, but I do buy from Amazon because of the ability to do so. But I think it can be difficult to always know which books you own or read. I know that titles and covers get changed over time and that makes it hard to determine if you’ve read the book before. I almost purchased a novella, only to discover that I already owned is as part of an anthology. Sometimes that information is included in the description, but not always. I also have issues with books that are sequels or part of a series with no indication of that in the description. And I have not returned a book for this reason, but I have been very disappointed by books that pad the word count by adding samples for other books at the end. So I think that if authors and publishers give readers as much information as possible, fewer people will return the book.

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  37. Charming Euphemism
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 14:32:35

    Given that Amazon bans people who egregiously abuse the rerun policy, my view is that the return policy is good for readers and writers alike. I don’t return much, but knowing that I can return makes me braver in what I read.

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  38. mharvey816
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 14:35:39

    I strongly reject the premise that buying an ebook should be a crap-shoot. A reader can flip through a print book at the bookstore to see if there are any obvious issues with formatting or spelling or anything that would make the book unworthy of their money. But an ebook reader does not have that luxury and should not be penalized for trusting that the person who put the book up for sale actually cared enough to provide a product worth buying.

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  39. Claire
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 15:13:16

    I subscribe to a lot of authors’ newsletters and book listings, and as a reader based outside the US, I get infuriated when I have to pay for a book which is offered free to download in the US.
    I really don’t care who (author? publisher?) decides why non-US based readers should pay, or how this sort of discrimination is justified at a commercial level. I simply do not accept that I should subsidise readers in the US and I have no compunction in returning the book for a refund once I have read it.

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  40. Renda
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 15:19:34

    @Linda B:

    This presupposes a number of things, including libraries having every book ever written in any format ever made.

    The kind of policy you are advocating only hurts the unknown writer.
    If I see a book that gets buzz online, like here at Dear Author or see tweets about it from people who have similar taste to mine, I immediately go to Amazon and see what it costs, what its reviews say, and then wander over to Goodreads and check out those reviews. I “know” enough reviewers that I can tell if my tastes are similar.
    I have never returned an e book (I have even kept some I purchased by mistake), but I also haven’t bought a number of $2.99 books because 99 cents is my max for authors that I don’t know.
    Now knowing that Amazon will take a book back, I am probably going to be adventurous with the new-to-me sector.

    There are some freebie books I have downloaded that I would PAY Amazon 99 cents just to read my ranting review on just how awful they are. Now, that could be a cash cow.

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  41. Claire
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 15:29:06

    @Linda B: There are no ebook-lending libraries in the country where I live, so that argument is invalid for me.
    My local Amazon does not offer a “look inside” option on ebooks. I might want know what sort of measures a recipe book offers: cups or ounces…? If I want to “look inside” to find out, I need to find the same ebook on Amazon.com rather than on my local Amazon.
    Also, in many instances when I have downloaded a preview of an ebook prior to a purchase, I have found that the pages made available were pages of acknowledgements and thanks rather than pages of the actual plot or story… Hardly an incentive to purchase but definitely an argument for the option to return.

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  42. Linda B
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:07:21

    Some of you have given valid reasons for returning a book but not liking the book is notone them. Do you return your meal at a restaurant if you order something and don’t like it? Of course not! Exact same thing. I really did like the idea of having a fixed price limit. I don’t do that because, if I like an author, I am going to buy their books at any price. I do keep track of what books I have because I purchased books that I already owned and it really annoyed me (at myself).

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  43. Crista McHugh
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:07:23

    Perhaps this is a bit off topic, but I think it’s odd that Amazon allows for returns of ebooks but not MP3s. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally bought the wrong version of a song (like the long version instead of the radio edit) and couldn’t return it.

    As for ebooks, I don’t own a kindle, so I have no experience with buying from Amazon. But I know accidents happen, and I’ve been burned by several books in the past where I wish I could’ve gotten my money (and my time) back. Now I usually only buy books after hearing what others have to say. But discoverability remains a big issue, and I hear from more and more readers that they would never try a new author without the return policy and freebies.

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  44. Emi
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:26:51

    @Linda B:

    >_> If I ordered something from a restaurant and it was terrible, I’ve been known to call over the manager and tell him, cordially, “Look, this is not what I had in mind” and every time I’ve had my meal comped or another dish made for me.

    With that said, as a self-published author, I fully endorse returns. If I get an egregious amount of returns, then I need to look closely at the products I am offering and figure out what is wrong on my side. As a reader, there are times when I don’t get to a book for days after I buy it, so sometimes I think the 7 day return policy might even be too strict.

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  45. Mzcue
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:29:37

    @ Claire

    I subscribe to a lot of authors’ newsletters and book listings, and as a reader based outside the US, I get infuriated when I have to pay for a book which is offered free to download in the US.
    I really don’t care who (author? publisher?) decides why non-US based readers should pay, or how this sort of discrimination is justified at a commercial level. I simply do not accept that I should subsidise readers in the US and I have no compunction in returning the book for a refund once I have read it.

    I think you are taking out your ire by punishing the wrong person. Authors have no control over the international policies of their distributors. Your stance reminds me of people who express their dislike of the custom of tipping restaurant waitstaff by stiffing their server. You hurt those least able to do anything about the situation.

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  46. Linda B
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:43:43

    Claire – I certainly consider it stealing to return books because you don’t agree with a publisher’s policy. The author is the one ultimately harmed in that scenario. I think you would be better served with an organized protest aimed at the publishers and one we should all be backing because it is a ridiculous and unfair policy.

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  47. hapax
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:48:00

    @Linda B

    . Do you return your meal at a restaurant if you order something and don’t like it?

    If I order a medium rare steak and get a lump of raw hamburger?
    Or just the bones?
    Or the steak is beneath a glass lid glued to the plate?
    Or a bowl of delicious gumbo (except that I wanted steak, not gumbo)?
    Or I take the last bite and discover the chef has inserted a raw jalapeno?

    D* mn skippy I return it and ask for my money back. And I’ve returned books (print and digital) for the analogous reasons.

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  48. Mzcue
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:53:58

    @ Linda B

    Some of you have given valid reasons for returning a book but not liking the book is notone them. Do you return your meal at a restaurant if you order something and don’t like it? Of course not! Exact same thing.

    I’ve seen that analogy used to complain about book returns before, but I don’t think it holds up.

    A restaurant meal is something you consume (or don’t, as the case may be). As a rule, I reread my ebooks. They are goods that I expect to last. If I buy a garment online, and the purveyor’s sense of clothing size is too far off from my expectation, I send it back. If it’s missing a sleeve, it’s returned. If a book is unreadable, I don’t think I should pay for it. Of course, I would never make the decision that it was unreadable AFTER having read the whole thing. That does seem like cheating to me.

    Also, I have asked to have a dish replaced at restaurants when I thought that there was something wrong with it—dirt in the lettuce, undercooked poultry or some such problem. Once I can remember that the food was so bad that I didn’t want to take the chance of a replacement meal. That time I just left and counted myself lucky when I didn’t get sick.

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  49. hapax
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 16:55:49

    I certainly consider it stealing to return books because you don’t agree with a publisher’s policy.

    I disagree with this assessment. The reader — the purchaser of the book — has no responsibility to discern where in the supply chain the insult happened. If one considers it fair to return a self-published book because the author offers a price drop after purchase (a position that I don’t personally agree with, but many others in this comment thread have endorsed), it’s certainly fair to return the book because the commercial publisher offers a price drop to some customers but not others.

    This isn’t at all like “stiffing the waiter of a tip because I didn’t like the meal.” If I wanted to go with the restaurant metaphor, a better analogy would be “not caring if it hurt the chef when I sent my meal back because I saw the waiter spitting in the food.”

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  50. Gayle63
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 17:07:31

    @P. J. Dean: I would bet, for sure, that digital publishers get plenty of returns too, but authors don’t see it in their statements, so they’re blissfully unaware. Self-published authors can go on Amazon KDP and see the numbers for themselves, which authors who go through a publisher can’t do. I think Amazon’s policy is pretty fair. As long as it is handled in a sane manner, like giving people a window of time for returns while keeping an eye on serial returners, then I think returns are just part of the process.

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  51. Andrea K
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 17:37:16

    The returns policy does more good then harm, and I’d hate to see it go away. (I’ve never returned a book, but I like to have the option.)

    I do think Amazon needs to look into clear serial abusers like the one cited above a little more closely. Returning nearly 200 books a year (after you’ve read them) is not likely to be only about typos. And the one example self-publishers cite as clearly problematic is when each book in a series is bought, and then returned, over a number of days. One self-publisher cited this happening for a series of over 15 books.

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  52. Naima
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 17:44:42

    For the mp3 comparison to work, perhaps authors should have their books available for readers to read on the internet before purchase. Before I buy music, I’ve already listened to it online (for example youtube) or the radio, so I am not surprised by music once I’ve purchased it. I can’t imagine these authors who are upset about people returning books being complacent with the suggestion that readers be able to read their whole book before purchase! The mp3 comparison just doesn’t work.

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  53. Pete Morin
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 17:46:52

    If some of the authors cited above had their way, we not be permitted to return a book, or review it negatively; and we would be obliged to provide the author (confidentially, of course) with extensive editing notes to help them improve their writing.

    (I never looked at my return rate until this post – now I’ve checked. It’ under 1%. Heh.)

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  54. Angela
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 18:09:31

    I have no doubt I would sell fewer books if readers didn’t have the option for a return. I’m an unknown and readers are taking a chance by spending money on my books. Usually, those readers feel they’ve spent wisely. Sometimes, they don’t. Personally, I’m grateful for the return policy because I view it as one reason for my success.

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  55. cleo
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 18:24:08

    The analogy that works the best for me is clothing. I think it’s fine to return clothes you bought on-line if the color or fit is wrong etc, but I think it is wrong to return clothes after you’ve worn them once.

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  56. Liana Mir
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 19:12:46

    @Renda: That is my one gripe with Smashwords in fact: as a reader, they REFUSED to allow me to delete a book from my library that I did. not. want. Ever. I haven’t bought another Smashwords book again yet, though I prefer them for the multiple formats.

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  57. nasanta
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 20:06:08

    @DS: @DS: I’ve picked up free books that I wanted to return, just to let Amazon know how horrible they were.

    heh. I thought I was the only one to want to do something as silly as being able to return a freebie to let Amazon know how awful they were. :)

    Out of the hundreds of e-books I’ve purchased over the years, I’ve only initiated one return. I often don’t get around to reading a purchased e-book until months or years after I have purchased it, and I am not generally in the habit of returning items unless they are displeasingly defective. Still, I appreciate Amazon’s return policy because while I like Kobo’s discount codes, I am less likely to purchase at Kobo partly because of their lack of a customer-friendly return policy.

    In my experience with Audible and Amazon CS, they both seem to freely offer refunds/returns, especially if you contact them about an issue. Given that they seem to keep track of customer returns, I wonder whether these CS-offered returns are noted properly so that customers are not penalized for them i.e. those types of returns are not counted with their total user-initiated returns.

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  58. Elizabeth McCoy
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 20:14:46

    @Claire: In the case of an independent author, this may not be their choice. Even if someone has made a book “perma-free” on Amazon by making it free elsewhere, Amazon often does not propagate this beyond the US store.

    If you see something that’s free on Amazon-US, but not Amazon-elsewhere, check Smashwords.com and Kobo. It may well be free on one or both of those spots as well, and won’t count towards the Amazon Secret Returns Cut-off.

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  59. Harper Kingsley
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 20:15:47

    Amazon doesn’t let you choose what is going to be in your sample. They just take the first however much percent of the book and that’s the sample made available. At least Smashwords lets you choose–you can even make 100% available–and they offer all the different formats and there’s a higher royalty than a lot of distributors.

    That said, there are some shady authors and presses that try to scam the system. They hire a sample doctor because they know that readers can only see a certain percentage of their book before buying on Amazon. So they get someone to rewrite their sample and blurb into something people will want to read and it’s cheap because they only pay to get those few pages edited. That’s why a book might have a great sample, but the rest of the story is completely different.

    I bought this one book that had a great blurb and the sample blew my mind, then I started reading and the writing style seemed completely different and all these errors started popping up. She even started misspelling her own main character’s name :/ I felt so cheated.

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  60. Elizabeth McCoy
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 20:30:32

    @Harper Kingsley: Amazon Premium ought to offer another 25% or so of sample-size, to avoid “doctored 30%”! (That would, actually, be a nice little bennie, if they could adjust the programming. I suppose they might figure that it’s “the same thing” to borrow books instead.)

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  61. Harper Kingsley
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 21:01:00

    @Elizabeth McCoy: Or they have the random page thing for paperback books. You get the sample, plus you can view a couple of other pages. I don’t know why they don’t have that available for ebooks.

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  62. Roni Loren
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 21:28:05

    I’m okay with the return policy as long as they monitor people who abuse it. As an author, I, of course, don’t want people reading entire books and returning them on a regular basis. Amazon is not a library. However, as a consumer, I think it’s only fair that some return option is available because things do come up that warrant a return–formatting, misinformation, accidental click, etc. Though, I’m not a fan of returning a book when someone read it fully and just didn’t enjoy it. If you go to the movies and didn’t like the movie, they don’t give you your money back. Entertainment money holds some degree of risk. A play, a movie, a book, a concert–sometimes you’re not going to like what you see/get and you don’t get a refund.

    However, I’ve returned books to Amazon and like having that option available. Most were children’s books that I realized quickly didn’t work well on my Kindle Fire. The print in the kid’s books is often too small. I also tried to return a book that I pre-ordered for the full 9.99 price and then went on sale for 1.99 a week later. But alas, it was day 8 and I couldn’t return it. So I’m not anti-return, but I think if someone is a chronic returner, flagging the account is a good idea.

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  63. Linda B
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 21:43:43

    Roni Loren – I agree totally with your statements.

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  64. Kaetrin
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 23:57:00

    I’m kind of crying at all these readers who open their books within a week of purchase. I have more than 1500 book on Mt. TBR. And I keep buying more. I am incorrigible.

    I’ve personally returned ebooks only when I accidentally one-clicked and realised I already had the book. I have nearly 4000 so it’s an easy mistake to make. If a book was unreadable due to formatting, I’d probably return it but I’ve been lucky so far with purchased books.

    I don’t know if it’s the same in the US, but here in Australia, if you leave a movie within a certain time (maybe it’s 20 minutes? I’m not sure, as I’ve never done it and the cinemas don’t exactlyl advertise it) you can get a refund – so if you start watching and it’s awful or too violent or whatever, you can get a refund but you don’t get to watch the whole movie. On the other hand, if you don’t like the DVD you bought, I think you’re stuck with it and can only return it if it’s faulty. So maybe a better analogy than a movie would be a DVD purchase?

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  65. Virginia Llorca
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 00:13:16

    I am very small potatoes, so my stats don’t count, but have had in three years very few returns, (3?) And heard some nice things so don’t care. But last week a weird thing occurred one day. 3 US sales, 2 returns, two UK sales, one return. No recent promo by me so I figured I ticked someone off on twitter or my blog. And I don’t get the money,(negligible) but I still got the sales spike. Actually, two or three years ago, someone returned a freebie. I decided that had to be for religious reasons though my blurbs don’t mislead. And I am available on all the pirate sites, and I forget what they call those free p to p sites the free intellectual property mavens love.

    This is still the new game in town, guys.

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  66. CaroleDee
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 01:03:16

    In all of the years I’ve been reading ebooks I’ve only recently returned one.
    For some reason the author thought it would be okay to cut out 5,000 words, change the names of the characters and then re-release it with another title and under a pen name. I thought I was psychic for about 5 chapters until I realized what was going on.
    Even though I felt like I had a dang good reason to return it I still felt guilty as hell :(

    Buying books, reading them and then returning them just to save a buck is downright thievery. Those people should be ashamed.

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  67. Elizabeth McCoy
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 05:47:22

    @Harper Kingsley: Oh, good point! I had forgotten the random-page-look. While I could see that being an issue for some of the shorter stories, I would think that Amazon would easily be able to designate a random page or three; they’ve got the entire text of the book, after all! I wonder why they don’t apply that functionality to ebooks as well as physical ones. Unless the “random” page is actually publisher-selected? (In which case, it wouldn’t necessarily help avoid the Doctored Sample, Hidden Errors syndrome.)

    @CaroleDee: That might not’ve been the author doing that name-change-and-cut-words thing. It might’ve been someone deciding that plagiarism is the sincerest form of making money off someone else’s good story.

    (Or, in this case, possibly not. But if it’s not marked as a “previously published as…” — and especially if the original story is still available — then I think it’s fair to leave a low review saying, “This appears to be the same story as X, by Y, with name-changes. Stealth pen name or plagiarism?” About the only context where I’d be sympathetic to changing/removing such a review would be the “would get really bad attention (from job/family) if there were any link to the prior story.” And even there, “this book was previously published under another name” would be fair warning.)

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  68. Junne
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 06:57:24

    I think like some of the commenters above that the option is necessary and shouldn’t be removed, however Amazon should put an “acceptable” percentage of returns. For example, if you return 50% of your books, the option should disappear for your account. That’ll probably deter people who download books for nefarious reasons ( most likely copying it to put it on a pirate site afterwards). That way, legitimate readers don’t get hurt and abuse is punished.

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  69. Eric Welch
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 08:33:21

    Ironically, the authors’ concerns would never have surfaced if Amazon did not have such an information rich environment where authors are provided with much, much more information than they would ever get from a legacy publisher. Returns have been a staple of the book business forever. I’m a reader who buys a lot of books, 100% ebooks now.) I have returned only a smattering and *only* if I discover it was a mistake, i.e. wrong author, already owned the book in another form (audiobook, etc.), or, and I hate this, is a reissue under a new title, and always within 24 hours of purchase. It does seem to me that seven days is very liberal, although I doubt of any of the authors have any real data to show that piracy is occurring. Much more likely is that the returners simply didn’t like their work, but in my experience SPA authors especially have a very high regard for their own work. A compromise might be 3 days, perhaps. B&N’s policy of no returns for Nook books is too harsh. I was dismayed to discover I could not return the biography of Sotomayor when I ordered it for my wife instead of the autobiography she wanted. Well, not dismayed since I’ll eventually read both, but it did continue my move to purchase entirely from Amazon. There will always be cheaters. I know of someone who “bought” a wedding dress only to return it after the wedding, but policy should never be created in response to outliers.

    Then again, perhaps those authors who object and worry about returns being “stealing” should be given the option of making their books non-returnable. Then they could enjoy watching the downward slope of their sales graph.

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  70. It's Me
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 09:22:35

    I wish Amazon would update the return reasons section. Because the main reason for me to return an ebook is because I bought it for $3 or more dollars and then within the next day or so the price has gone down, so I will return the book and repurchase it at the lower price. I think they need that feedback. Also, poorly edited content. It feels like since self pubs have started the quality of books has gone downhill big time and I’m supposed to just be ok with that.

    I think I’ve only returned 2 books because they were just god awful. Do the authors receive the reason’s why the book was returned?

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  71. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 12:03:08

    @Linda B: “Do you return your meal at a restaurant if you order something and don’t like it? Of course not!”

    If I order a meal in a restaurant and the food is bad/not to my taste, I complain to the manager. This usually results in my not being charged for the substandard meal. I rarely ever find a meal so awful that I will complain in this manner (it has to be essentially inedible), but I’ve certainly done it.

    So why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with books?

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  72. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 12:05:19

    @It’s Me: “Do the authors receive the reason’s why the book was returned?”

    No. Publishers see only the column in their dashboard that shows the number of returns. Amazon does not provide us with any reporting on the reason for returns.

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  73. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 12:13:09

    I may be playing devil’s advocate here, but I actually have no problem with readers who are both heavy buyers and heavy returners. Yes, I know Amazon provides a sampling feature, and I certainly take advantage of it, but as has been pointed out by others in the thread, it isn’t uncommon for the chapters that appear in the sample to be well-edited and written while the rest of the book isn’t.

    Beyond that, however, as an author, I’d much prefer that readers actually BUY my book and then return it if it’s not to their taste than to sample it and either forget to read the sample or get to the end of the sample and decide not to click to buy because, for whatever reason, the sample isn’t ENOUGH to entice them. I’d rather readers pick up 20 books at a time and return ten of them than that they sample 20 and only buy one or two. Because realistically, I think the latter is much more likely to happen when readers sample instead of simply buying what looks interesting to them with the knowledge that they can return if the book doesn’t pan out. If Amazon clamps down on the return policy, readers will become pickier and choosier about which books they buy, and that cannot be good for me as an author.

    The only readers I think Amazon should clamp down on when it comes to returns are those who return all or nearly all the books they buy. That reader who bought 200 books a year and returned half of them, I actually have no problem with.

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  74. Linda B
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 12:55:21

    When I order a meal that is new to me at a restaurant and don’t like it – that is the chance I take. I have tried something new, didn’t like, I won’t order it again. It is not the restaurant’s fault I didn’t like it. It is my personal preference. If I order a meal that I have had before and know what to expect, I have no problem sending it back or asking for a replacement. The issue here is: Just like a movie (mentioned earlier)I don’t like and do not get my money back, just because I don’t like a book is not a reason to return it. It is the most ludicrous reason to return a book.. As also said earlier – that’s part of taking your chances on something that is entertainment. Reading a book and returning it just so you can buy another one? Totally out of line. No excuses.

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  75. The Rodent
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 13:33:00

    The only real problem with digital returns, which makes them different from physical returns, is that there’s no way to actually monitor the legitimacy of the return. That is, whether the buyer made another copy before “returning” it for a refund. And unfortunately, instant karma doesn’t always cause people to be struck by lightning when they do things like that.

    As for taste: most books one can find for sale are reviewed somewhere by someone, and if you as a reader are sensitive and concerned with whether it potentially contains offensive content, it may be worth at least peeking at some reviews before buying, to make sure it’s not hiding some trigger that isn’t called out in the blurb.

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  76. Sirius
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 13:51:41

    Linda B if by not liking a book you mean reading the whole book and not liking it and then returning it – sure I agree with you and most people I talk to do not think it is appropriate to use amazon as a library, but as I mentioned recently in another thread here devoted to this issue my recent return was after I read extra four pages in the book. And when I say extra I mean in addition to the sample. There were no reviews about this book – I would have no idea that this book would offend me so in those pages. You really think that the review where trust me I would not have hold back would have been a better deal for the author, really? Well I never do DNF reviews but if amazon changes their policy I would sure start doing that. And as much as I never ever returned the book I read in full ( heck my return rate as I also mentioned before is maybe maybe one book every few months or even less), I think the authors who are not stupid should stop and think what is better for them – some readers who will return their books after reading ( I do not do that) or many unhappy customers who will just never try their books if they do not have their insurance option of returning the book if they see a crappy formatting, something blurb did not warn them about which would be a trigger or whatever. Many people mention that they do not open their books within first few weeks because they buy in bulk. I do too , but boy I learned – any book from self published author I do not know or any author I do not know gets opened within first few days. Is it a pain for me? Sure it is – a pain, but I check if format is ok and try to read extra few pages so I can return if I hate how those extra pages are written – not included in sample. You know what happened though? I drastically reduced buying authors I do not know because I do not have time to do it often and if return option disappears – that means by bye self published authors I do not know. If they think it is a better option for them than amazon allowing seven days returns, ok then. I have around 3000 books on my kindle – at least half are not read, I am pretty sure I will be entertained by those books and books from the authors I trust for a very long time to come.

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  77. Expy
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 15:22:11

    @Linda B: “I have tried something new, didn’t like, I won’t order it again. It is not the restaurant’s fault I didn’t like it. It is my personal preference.”

    It would be the restaurant’s fault in the examples Hapax provided above in comment #47.

    And to use your movie analogy, it would be the movie theater’s fault if you thought you bought tickets to a family-friendly movie for your family and it turned out not to be family-friendly at all.

    This isn’t about returning things whimsically on personal preference. Stop this straw man fallacy. This is about consumer fraud.

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  78. Linda B
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 15:58:40

    Sirius – I do mean returning a book because you got 1/3 of the way into it or finished it completely or somewhere in-between and didn’t like it. I understand you take much more of a chance not liking a book when you are talking about ebooks because you can’t really peruse the book before purchase. I am extremely careful with new-to-me authors, especially if self-published. I check all the reviews and review sites possible. I have even asked different review sites to check it out. And I have still gotten burned. Though, I have been burned at the movies many more times! A book that is so poorly edited as to be unreadable should be returned – and replaced with a better edition. I, too, am pretty careful with my book dollars and I especially appreciate new-to-me authors that put the first one or two of the books in their series on sale so I can try them – free is even better!

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  79. Elizabeth McCoy
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 15:59:21

    I don’t mind someone returning one of my books because they didn’t like it. (If someone can’t get a “well, it wasn’t an awful way to spend an afternoon” out of it, then yeah, well.)

    I might get dubious if that person goes on to get one of my other books (e.g., in a different genre/series), and returns that one; it’s less of a “I am trying a new thing” and more of a “I know this restaurant is heavy on the pepper.” Especially if they do so quickly.

    (I would mind if someone then went on to read-and-return all my other stuff, because by that time, dear stars, they should know that I’m not to their tastes! Just go to a different restaurant already!)

    But that’s still just me, and my own minor annoyances. Someone who’s returning half of what they buy, or more… Even if they don’t try-and-return more than one book from any one writer, it’s a bigger pain for Amazon, and I don’t know what the credit card companies might charge for what could be a lot of micro-transactions: $4 bought one day, $5 another, $3 another, and then returning them a day or two later… No chance of bundling those for one larger-amount transaction, I would presume. (I would welcome explanation/links from someone who has a better knowledge of how that works; I’m not up to the task of doing a search on it today.) Which is probably why they do have a limit.

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  80. Arethusa
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 16:33:05

    As I admitted in another thread I am one of those readers who will, absolutely, return a book if I simply did not like it and the return policy has not expired. No, I am not allowed to do the same with film and therefore I can count on one hand the number of times I go to the cinema in any given year. If authors are willing to have their books approached with similarly extreme caution cheers to them.

    As I also shared in the other thread, an ebook is such a restricted item — as a reader I don’t own it, I can’t resell it, I can’t share it — that author angst about returns seems like delirious entitlement.

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  81. AlexaB
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 18:08:57

    As others have mentioned, if you go to the movie theater and, for whatever reason, you don’t want to finish the film, most box offices will give you back the price of admission and/or a pass to see another film at a later date. The camera work on “Cloverfield” made me sick; I got a full refund despite sitting through half the film.

    DVDs and digital downloads of films are a second window after the first window of theatrical distribution; there is very little guess work necessary in determining whether or not the consumer might find the content problematic. Just visit Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, for starters. Songs can easily be listened to before purchasing. However, e-books, especially those with few or only puff reviews, are a different matter.

    In fact, most retailers/providers of services will provide a full, partial, or exchange in kind if the consumer does not like the product. It’s called “good will,” and although intangible it is still a line item on the company’s balance sheet. Therefore, most businesses will try to make up any disappointments in order to preserve consumer good will.

    I truly think the writer/reader corner of the innerwebz would be much quieter if Amazon, Smashwords et al required authors to take a seminar in basic best business and social media practices, with a written test at the end. No passing grade, no upload allowed. After all, publishers build returns into their P&L projections as a fact of doing business. Self-published authors are running their own business; they need to do the same.

    In addition, serial returners are NOT taking money out of authors’ pockets. Period. Just like serial pirates, serial returners have ZERO intention of ever paying for the book. The thrill lies in getting something for nothing, not the reading experience.

    My former company ran a two year, multi-million dollar research study into the piracy of media content: why, who does it, and what are the effects on the bottom line. Someone who serially pirates/returns is committed to not paying, and the study found there are little to no incentives to make them change their behavior. This doesn’t mean that the practice should be condoned and tolerated, and Amazon needs to turn off the worst offenders’ accounts. However, nor does this mean that the presence of a return policy = gazillions of lost dollars for authors. These people were never the authors’ paying customers, nor will they be in the future.

    All that turning off the return policy at Amazon would do is piss off the customer who doesn’t abuse the system. I’ve only returned one e-book, and that’s because the pages after the sample were so sophomoric and hard to swallow that I didn’t want the book anywhere near my Kindle. I read maybe 20% before hitting return, and I feel wholly justified in asking for my money back (even though it was only $0.99). However, I’ve kept far more books that I might not have bought if Amazon didn’t have its return policy.

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  82. CaroleDee
    Dec 03, 2013 @ 01:46:35

    @Elizabeth McCoy:

    Oh, no, there was no ‘previously released’ or any other like that. I seriously thought I was going nuts when I started reading it. It had been about a year since I read the other one, so when I started remembering/having physic visions/having deja vu about certain scenes and dialogue, I had no idea where it was coming from. It took wading through a bunch of GR reviews to find one that finally spelled out the situation for me. Thank god for that, because predicting scenes/dialogue/endings to books would be the WORST super power EVER. lol.
    Also I don’t think it could be a plagiarism. Both books were sold under the publisher that the author runs/owns.
    The whole situation was just really shady.

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  83. Elizabeth McCoy
    Dec 03, 2013 @ 05:18:45

    @CaroleDee: *shudder* That would be the worst superpower ever. And it sounds like that case was… sloppy at best, yeeeaaaahhh. *shudders for that, too*

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  84. T.K. Marnell
    Dec 03, 2013 @ 21:59:27

    A lot of the arguments I see here are comparisons of e-book returns to big business policies. A restaurant will comp your meal if you complain. A retailer will accept returns if their products aren’t up to snuff. A movie theater will refund your ticket if you leave halfway, etc.

    However, most authors today are earning nowhere close to the nets of restaurants, retailers, and movie theaters. They’re more like street performers, grateful for every penny that comes their way. Returning an e-book half-read because you didn’t like it isn’t like sending a plate of undercooked spaghetti back to the kitchen at Olive Garden. It’s more like tossing a five dollar bill into a subway musician’s guitar case, listening for a bit, deciding they aren’t talented enough to deserve payment, and taking your money back.

    That’s why the people who abuse returns policies frustrate self-publishers so much. The actual monetary loss is inconsequential–most live off of spouses and/or day jobs anyway–it’s the attitude. The attitude that their work should be free for consumption unless a reader decides it’s worth $2.99 and deigns to pay for it–like payment is a charitable reward for passing the quality test, not rightful compensation for their services.

    Because writers are really providing an entertainment service, not a product. Half of a book provides two to three hours of entertainment. If, after an afternoon of reading, a customer decides her hours weren’t entertaining enough and, therefore, she shouldn’t have to pay for them, she’s behaving like a Bridezilla who refuses to pay the band after the reception because she didn’t like their performance. You don’t pay musicians for their music, which dissipates into the air as soon as it’s produced; you pay for the experience of listening to it and for their labor in creating it. Likewise, when you buy a book, you’re paying for the experience of reading it and for the months or years the author spent writing it. Taking the experience, then retracting compensation for it, is dishonest.

    Legitimate reasons for returning a book–typos, bad formatting, file corruption–can be determined within the first half our of ownership. If you read more than that and then return it for flimsy reasons like it isn’t to your taste, it isn’t what you thought it would be, or the story isn’t going the way you want it to, you are taking advantage of the writer’s labor for free.

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  85. Linda B
    Dec 03, 2013 @ 23:27:13

    T.K. Marnell – that was very well stated and totally accurate. I absolutely agree with your comments.

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  86. Ami
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 01:02:57

    @T.K Marnell

    I think your musician analogy fails, because normally you would listen for about 5 minutes, before deciding whether or not the musician deserves your money. Plenty of people also listen for free. As long as Amazon keeps track of serial returners, why does it matter why someone returned your book? I think Amazon should offer a option for readers to explain why the book was returned if they want to, but it still will not stop people from returning the books. I think the restaurant analogy is a good one because normally if it doesn’t taste that great, most people will not return the food, but some people still will ask for a refund regardless if it was cooked correctly or not or they consumed all the food. I seriously had a patron once ask for a refund because the dish was not what he ordered despite him consuming 75% of it. I also had someone consume a whole dish of food and then complain that the dish was cracked and wanted the meal comped. Unfortunately, I had to comp both of these people. As a small business owner, my margins are not Oliver Garden either.

    There are legitimate reasons for return, such as the food was too salty, the food is raw, the food is spoiled, you put egg in my dish but I requested no egg, you gave me beef instead of chicken. I like the salt/sweet analogy because that’s purely base on taste – the restaurant may do it that way but it may be too sweet or salty for you and you can request a different dish.

    Sometimes a book awfulness doesn’t turn up later or it doesn’t get better (like a bug or hair you don’t until you ate some of your food already).

    But I’m sure Amazon has a handle on this as they decide this policy was in everyone’s best interest. They want to sell more books as much as authors do.

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  87. CaroleDee
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 02:22:29

    This is my final thought on the matter; Amazon is not a library. It is not acceptable to buy a book, read it and then return as if it were a library. With access to review blogs, Goodreads, etc.. the information is out there. Yes, everyone has different opinions on entertainment, but through a few well written reviews you should be able to see the basic trend of a book and decide whether it meshes with your tastes. If you’re a finicky reader prone to returns due to ‘poor story’ and there are no reviews? Skip it until there are. Easy as that.

    For everyone stuck on the food analogy imagine this:
    You want to go out to dinner.
    You look up reviews on Yelp.
    There are 30 reviews that state the food is pretty salty.
    You don’t like salty food.
    Do you still go to that restaurant?

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  88. C A Hall
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 06:41:49

    Ebooks, should be able to be returned maybe not with in 2 hours, but 14 days is too long. Long enough to encourage pirates. To solve the problem is to examine, what allows the author to be protected, the marketing arm to have a return (to insure sales), but the pirates to be stopped. I am working on this very issue ethically and technologically at http://www.spellbreakerstudios.com
    So glad to see the concern and needs expressed.

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  89. carmen webster buxton
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 11:48:44

    I am also self-published; my rate of returns seems pretty low to me, but I’m not good enough at math to offer a percentage. I think Amazon can be trusted to cut off anyone who abuses returns because if there is one thing Amazon wants, it is to make money. They are also good at mining data about their customers, so I am sure they know who return abusers are.

    I would like to see more info on returns, though. It would be nice if the customer had to supply a reason and the publisher got to see what it was. I have bought backlist books from traditional publishers that I would have returned if I had read them fast enough to know how many scanning/conversion errors there were.

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  90. Elizabeth McCoy
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 05:31:49

    @C A Hall: It’s lovely that you think that it takes a pirate more than 2 hours to download, strip the DRM, copy a book, and “return” it — but it takes far, far less time. Maybe 5 minutes, with a really slow connection, once they’ve prepped their tools. Restricting returns to an incredibly short 2 hours would do nothing to hamper the real pirates, and everything to burden people with real complaints.

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  91. Marcia Bookswagger
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 09:49:28

    I do not understand why anyone would assume readers want authors who put out the things they want to read to fail or not be able to support themselves.This is not a battle of us against them we are all on the same side.

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  92. Lori Toland
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 10:54:07

    I really don’t want to see Amazon decrease down to 2 hours to return a book. I usually buy books via my iPhone and go straight to my kindle to start reading it right away. However, I do accidentally purchase a good number of books and so I make a mental note to get up in the morning to return it. Just because I browse your book doesn’t mean I want to buy it.

    I would like to see being able to turn off one-click purchases for Kindle and music. That’s a pain. I accidentally purchased an album I already had and Amazon was great about returning it but it’s a pain to return books and music accidentally purchased.

    I still don’t care for people reading all the way to the end and then returning the book, unless it was for formatting or grammatical errors. If you want to read books for free, please go to the library. That’s what libraries are for. They even have e-libraries now that can send books to your kindle.

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  93. AlexaB
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 11:05:20

    @T.K. Marnell:

    However, most authors today are earning nowhere close to the nets of restaurants, retailers, and movie theaters.

    I’m guessing you don’t know very many independent restaurant owners or small boutique owners. They are living on razor thin margins as well (with retailers usually rolling everything on a throw of the December die), plus they have to deal with the sunk costs of a returned item. A sent back meal cannot be resold; and if the returned retail item has been damaged or is out of season, it can no longer be sold at its full retail price. At least ebook publishers and authors do not suffer lost revenues due to physical degradation or depreciation of their product.

    That’s why the people who abuse returns policies frustrate self-publishers so much. The actual monetary loss is inconsequential–most live off of spouses and/or day jobs anyway–it’s the attitude. The attitude that their work should be free for consumption unless a reader decides it’s worth $2.99 and deigns to pay for it–like payment is a charitable reward for passing the quality test, not rightful compensation for their services.

    And I, for one, am getting a wee bit weary of authors demonstrating the attitude that readers owe them just because the author put a book into the world. I mean, yay for the writer who births a book. Seriously. That’s a huge accomplishment. But readers do not owe the authors anything except a legal business transaction – and returns are part of that business transaction. How long the writer worked on the book is, I’m afraid, inconsequential and does not enter into the equation.

    (Also, I usually don’t look at the ebooks I’ve bought until months later. So Amazon’s return policy does me no good as it is. But expecting people to look at each book and check for errors in the half-hour after they’ve hit “Download” – when Amazon has built its business on one-click shopping, impulse buying and mobile purchases – sorry, but it is to laugh from any kind of rational business model perspective.)

    It’s BUSINESS. Authors want to be treated like street performers, then put the books out on a corner and let readers decide whether they feel like tossing money in the hat in return. Authors want to sell their book in a professional marketplace like Amazon, then they need to understand the basics of conducting business in a consumer-driven world.

    Again, Amazon and other vendors really should require a mandatory Business 101 course before allowing people to sell on their sites.

    @C A Hall:

    Ebooks, should be able to be returned maybe not with in 2 hours, but 14 days is too long.

    Amazon agrees, which is why the policy is 7 days.

    And there is a world of difference between pirates/serial returners who treat Amazon like one big treasure trove of free content, and the legitimate customer who needs to return a book every now and then. Amazon has systems in place to deal with the former, and trying to cut off the latter will only result in far more lost sales than the small percentage of legitimate returns authors currently see.

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  94. Mzcue
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 20:46:27

    This seems timely: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-get-a-price-match-from-amazon-2013-12

    Apparently if you discover a price drop within 7 days of a purchase, Amazon will refund the difference. If that applies to ebooks, and nothing I saw suggested that it didn’t, there’s no need to return your book to get the lower price.

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  95. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity will try not to whine about the cold… too much
    Dec 06, 2013 @ 02:05:17

    […] “Is there a return problem for digital books?“ […]

  96. Julia
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 15:17:37

    I also use the amazon return policy for ebooks. Sometimes the free sample just doesn’t do it for me, and even after the sample i am still undecided. Would I buy this book if I coudn’t return it? NO! So, yes I actually think the amazon return policy makes me buy more books and lets me try new authors.
    I don’t return books I finish. If I finish a book I keep it no matter how much I dind’t like the ending/the price/the cliffhanger…
    But sometimes I buy a book where the free sample sounds promising but two chapters later I discover the book is just horrible. This happens usually around 20-25% and if I can’t get into the story at that point I request a refund.
    If I were in a bookstore I would also look through the pages and read a little bit (and yes I admit it: sometimes I read the end of a book to see if the “journey” will be worth it). I sometimes wish amazon would offer a comment box where i could say exactly why i returned the book, that might even help the authors to improve their formatting/grammer/ storylines.

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  97. Denise
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 10:52:12

    Interesting topic. I love some of the comments, as I’ve rarely returned an eBook and it’s enlightening to read about those options. I just never considered returning. As another commenter stated, there’s an inherent risk of not enjoying the story in any form: play/novel/movie. The only time I’ve actually returned an eBook is when there’s something wrong with the file and I can’t open it or due to formatting, I can’t actually read the story.
    While this may not pertain to the argument of returning, because the argument of returning is “led largely by self published authors” I will say this: if a book has shoddy grammar and poor formatting to the point that I’m distracted from the actual story, I won’t purchase from the author. Ever again. No matter her future success. The example in the OP of Ms. Crownover’s opinion that she’s an author (do we curtsy now, or later?) and doesn’t feel she should concern herself with punctuation and grammar is case in point. I haven’t bought any of her stories (apparently, thank goodness), but this holds true in general. Because you are a writer, I expect you to know your craft. That includes how to construct a sentence correctly, with appropriate spelling, grammar and punctuation, if you’re going to self-pub. If that’s not your forte, HIRE AN EDITOR and show some courtesy to your readers. They are, after all, paying for your work. They expect a product with all the parts. If you were a product merchant, you wouldn’t sell them an item with half the nuts and bolts missing. Same idea applies to a story.
    If you can’t respect me enough to write a cogent sentence, something that you should have learned in elementary school if you weren’t asleep, or hire an editor to polish your work, then I can’t respect you by purchasing your work beyond the absolute mistake of purchasing that story.

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  98. Vic
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 16:49:17

    Never in my life have I returned a book – nor would I. In print or online. If I’ve taken a chance on the author, whether it’s based on reputation, recommendation or hell, just the look of the cover or the sell-it-to-me blurb, then that’s the gamble I’ve taken.

    Regardless of quality, I’ve read that story. The rest is completely subjective. Would I demand a refund at the cinema if I didn’t like the movie after I’d watched it? Why should some poor sod who happened to like the book have to pay while I can read it, declare myself unsatisfied and effectively get a freebie?

    Completely different scenario if there is a problem preventing me from actually reading the book properly – format, missing pages, consistent spelling/grammar issues. But just because I didn’t like it? Are you kidding me??

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  99. Linda B
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 17:59:13

    Vic – if you had the opportunity to read the alltthe comments, you would be shocked at the number of people that think it is just quite alright to return a book because you don’t
    like it. From the beginning I have considered that stealing. Nothing was said that changed my opinion.

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  100. Vic
    Dec 09, 2013 @ 02:55:19

    Linda B – Oh, I saw. I’m always prepared to hear out other opinions and I’m not one of those people who refuses to back down even if they see sense in an opposing view – but I’m afraid this is one I just can’t see myself being swayed not, at least not by anything said so far.

    I love books, I’m a reader and therefore a consumer. But literature is art, it’s creative. It doesn’t have to be high-brow, I’m not trying to get all pretentious here – but you can’t treat it like you’re buying some … commodity. Just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it’s broken.

    And I’m not published, but I would love to write something worth publishing one day. Realistically, I’ll probably have to self-publish – does that mean I’ll throw together any old bollocks, complete with typos, etc? Hell no. Would I be doing it for the money? Eh, no, I quite like not starving to death and I’m not expecting to be hitting any bestsellers lists any time soon. Does that mean I wouldn’t work hard? Nope. In fact, having pride in anything I do means a ridiculous amount of work when you have a big dream of writing a book and have to juggle it with a career that feels like it takes up practically every waking second.

    So I say all that just to say it would be nice not to be robbed for my efforts. Critique me as harshly as you feel you must, but sit down and try to write chapter one of something that would impress you as a reader and then tell me some poor sod didn’t earn their couple of quid – even if you didn’t like it.

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  101. Sami
    Dec 21, 2013 @ 01:37:09

    I will not buy a book by an author that I have not read and loved something previously by them, or that book has amazing reviews from more than people just rating the book on goodreads. I want to know more than you think this book is 5 stars. I know that is not good for some authors but I don’t like to return my books so I can not be one of that 15% returning books.

    I think that is why my backseat of my car has 4 overdue library books in it right now.

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  102. Andy
    Apr 07, 2014 @ 00:35:28

    I realized I could return a book on Amazon Audible “no questions asked” and thought “wow, what a great policy to exploit!” Then, I went to return my first book and thought, “wow, I suddenly feel like a total piece of shit!” So, I changed my mind… I know, good story, huh?

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  103. Kathy
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 14:14:34

    I’m only a reader, and I think Amazon is allowing customers to steal. Every other store, whether brick or online, has stopped the refund abuse. We as readers have to take some responsibility to check out what we read and quit relying on hitting the return button.
    Amazon says they police the abusers, but they don’t. A lady I work with buys several books a week and gets refunds for several books a week. Many she completely reads. She laughs about it and says she’ll continue until Amazon stops her. It’s been going on for several YEARS. If she’s doing it, so are many others– whether they admit it or not. If you’re not abusing the system, then you shouldn’t care about eliminating the policy. If you had a legitimate gripe, Amazon would listen and maybe refund.
    I went to a book fair and listened to an author talk about the abuse. She has a trilogy, and the first book is free. People buy the second and third — then refund on both. BTW, she’s a well known author with great books and great reviews (hundreds). I’m sorry folks, in this case buying the second and third and refunding both is abuse and stealing. You should know after the first book if you like her style, etc. She has complained and Amazon has given the money back to the author and assured her the thief has lost privileges.
    So when you ask for a refund, and the authors complain enough, you can lose privileges. Not only that, Amazon will eventually find it an epidemic and eliminate ANY refunds for ebooks.
    Personally, I wish they would stop allowing refunds. Maybe it will take a law suit or intervention from stockholders who are losing money. Every book refunded is less money for stockholders. Maybe writers need to complain to them.
    BUT I also think Amazon should put a button that allows you to click that you don’t want any more books from that author. Also they should give more than a few pages for sampling.

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