FRIDAY NEWS: Publisher fined, Facebook sued, and author protests Kindle returns
Penguin pinged $30,000 for publishing the recipe book of fake cancer survivor Belle Gibson – Penguin Australia published a cookbook written by a woman who faked a cancer diagnosis, apparently asking her for fact-checking details, but ultimately publishing the book without getting them. The publisher cooperated with the investigation by Consumer Affairs Victoria, which is also looking at the author for possible “deceptive conduct.” Just imagine if US publishers and authors were subjected to this level of scrutiny.
As well as the $30,000 contribution, Penguin Australia has agreed to improve its compliance, education and training program for staff, including a risk management checklist for books that make health claims, and statements about natural therapies in books must be accompanied by a prominent warning notice. – Business Insider Australia
Facebook loses first round in suit over storing biometric data – Oh, Facebook. After allegedly collecting and storing biometric information from user photographs (SERIOUSLY?!), Facebook tried to get a lawsuit filed by users dismissed, pointing again to that user agreement they claim covers every possible type of “research” the social media giant decides to conduct.
Facebook filed the motion arguing that the users could not file a complaint under Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) as they had agreed in their user agreement that California law would govern their disputes with the company, and that BIPA does not apply to “tag suggestions.”
The court found that Illinois law applies and that the plaintiffs have stated a claim under BIPA. – Yahoo News
Purchased by accident? Cancel order – Jenny Trout believes that Amazon’s seven-day digital book return policy allows readers to “steal” from authors by reading a book in its entirety and then returning it. One proposal being presented via a Change.org petition (by another author) is for Amazon to refuse a return when a book has been read past the 15% point. I don’t know how widespread an issue this is, and I agree that returning a book simply because you’ve read it already (and not because there’s anything “wrong” with it) is an ethical problem. But I also think “wrong” goes beyond technical issues, and that may take more than 15% of the text to detect. Also, I tend to be wary of arguments based on the reader entitlement assertion and the specialness of books (e.g. why don’t we prohibit returns of all products, because people can use them and then return?).
Free e-books, which were once considered a promotional tool or a gift from authors to their loyal readers, are now an expectation. Despite the endless options for free digital reading from sites like Wattpad and An Archive Of Our Own, some readers feel that all content should be free, regardless of whether or not the author is a professional who relies on writing for their income.
“Why would you think our job is any different than your job–you know, the one you are supposed to go to so you can pay for your entertainment?” author Becky McGraw asks. “Authors work twelve to sixteen hours a day at our job to produce books for your entertainment.”
On the surface, Amazon return scams seem no different from piracy. But whereas readers who pirate ebooks seek out a particular torrent with a title already in mind, Amazon’s return policy allows unscrupulous readers to browse at their leisure and easily download the content to their devices. – Jenny Trout via Medium
Watch George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien Face Off in Rap Battle – I don’t even know what to think or say after watching this. I laughed, I cringed, I was horrified and entertained. Have you heard of these Epic Rap Battles of History? This video has almost 5 million views on YouTube, and some have more than 20 million. Deadpool v. Boba Fett has more than 28 million views!
The return thing is very problematic because Amazon only knows where you read when you sync. Many people will skip to the end. Others can simply move to 1% and then sync. There are so many ways around this, it’s not funny.
Beyond that is the issue of actual returns. I firmly believe that if you are getting a high rate of return there is something wrong with the cover, blurb, etc. not matching the contents of the book. Returns are a cost of doing business. You can’t eliminate all risk.
You’ve covered the Kindle return controversy before I believe. There’s the risk of abuse for almost everything you do in life. Like Jane said, it’s the cost of doing business with returns and for that 1% or whatever that abuse it, hey, they are NOT representative of your paying customers. Let’s try to keep that in mind please.
With all the minutiae Amazon is able to track, I think they would know if a customer was habitually treating their store like a lending library. Bearing in mind that Amazon also likes to make money from sales and isn’t in the business of handing out freebies, I can’t envision them not cutting off serial abusers. Inventory loss is an issue in any retail business, but once you identify a chronic shoplifter, you ban them from your store. The one time they buy and keep windshield wipers doesn’t make up for their other pilfering.
Not a few of the authors bemoaning being ripped off are also ripping off Amazon with $0.00 price matching schemes and justify that TOS violation a hundred different ways. “When **I** abuse the system, it’s business.”
Also, there are readers who don’t read on a Kindle – which, for them, makes the “15% read” metric irrelevant. Those who download, convert and read on other devices (ie not Kindles or kindle apps) will show *none* of their books as read according to Amazon’s algorithms.
That said, I understand that serial returners are blocked by Amazon. They can tell how often a reader is returning books. If a reader returns every book she buys (or just a lot of them) they’re going to notice and do something about it. And I absolutely think that’s fair enough. I’m just far from convinced however that it’s a huge problem. There are plenty of reasons to return a book that don’t involve being a scheme to steal from the author and retailer.
As Jane said, returns are part of the cost of doing business. Like breakage in a restaurant. Books aren’t unique in this regard.
(Also, part of me is thinking “there are a lot of people who buy a book and read it within 7 days? Really?” The amount of times I’ve done that I could count on the fingers of half a hand. There’s a reason my TBR count is more than 2900… The reality is, for me, MOST of the books I buy are *never* going to be read. Doesn’t stop me buying them however!)
Is there any data on how frequently e-books are returned? I’m not asking to devalue the claim, but out of genuine curiosity. Is it 1% of sales, 10%, etc? Personally, I’ve only ever returned 2 kindle books – one because of an accidental purchase, and once because the day after a collection of all four books in the series went on sale for only a few dollars more than the single title. The system is certainly open to abuse, but (as someone commented above) Amazon tracks *everything* and I think they’d quickly catch on to serial returners.
I’ve returned kindle books that were terrible…I want my $5 back. But for me, I turn around and spend that $5 on another kindle book. Write a good book and maybe it won’t get returned. On the one hand I’ve found a lot of really great authors in the self-pub world and on the other hand I’ve read some god awful books by self-pub authors that aren’t worth my limited book money.
I’ve returned an e-book twice before, and both times were because I accidentally clicked “Buy Now” when scrolling down my iPad (but those returns were seconds after clicking the button).
It has crossed my mind a few times to return e-books that I’ve bought on release date and haven’t yet started when authors have done things such as reduce the price a couple days later (way to thank the people who preorder!) or put their books into Kindle Unlimited a couple days after it comes out. I haven’t, but in those cases, it would’ve been nice to have a bit more transparency from those authors about their plans to drop the book in price or put it into KU a few days after the release date. The only thing those tactics have done for me is to caution me for future purchases to hold off on “one-clicking” on the day the book comes out–no more release day sales from me!
After reading the article, which reported that some authors have return rates of 40.1%, my immediate thought was that obviously there is something wrong with the book and it is ridiculous to blame the readers for the “devastating” income loss in that case. I actually felt bad for the other 60% who did not return the book because they probably did not even open it yet.
In rational self-pub circles, consensus is that 5% is the average rate of return. If it’s lower, good job. If it’s substantially higher, you’re advised to take a good, hard look at your book — or preferably have a professional do it, since your previous looks are what got you into that position.
With a 40% return rate, the customer is the victim, not the problem.
Jenny Trout’s latest book features a very upsetting development. You know how some people won’t read books where children or animals are hurt? Along those lines. And I remember her asking readers not to spoil the storyline, so I’m sure more than a few of her faithful readers bought the book and were blindsided. Maybe that’s why she’s finding that her returns are so high?
In retail for stuff other than books, can you return items if the value didn’t live up to the price? Or if you simply change your mind?
I don’t think it’s right to say, “If you want free books, go to Wattpad.” Wattpad does NOT have the same books as bookseller sites. (Except maybe for P2P fan-fic books, and even then there may only be excerpts of them on Wattpad.) Professionally-published authors often speak of how much better their work is than amateur writing…so why would Wattpad be suggested as a viable substitute? Don’t published authors have development-editors and copy-editors to improve their books? SOME books on Wattpad may match that quality, but I doubt all of them do.
I originally read this post on the Trout Nation blog (not medium), and the comments mentioned libraries’ Overdrive ebook borrowing system. Which is great, yes, unless it doesn’t have the exact books you want to read.
All this doesn’t mean “false returns” aren’t terrible, but I don’t think the problem is as widespread as it’s made out to be in the post. But credit to the authors within it for mentioning how people who download pirated copies probably wouldn’t have bought the real thing anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.
That 40% of April’s sales for one of the authors… I think we need sales data, rather than percentages. Because if you only sold 5 copies, and 2 of them were returned, you may have other problems than just returns.
On a completely unrelated note: Was Becky McGraw an author who was plagiarised? Her name’s familiar.
DISCLAIMER: I do not pirate, download pirated copies, or “falsely return” books. I’m not an author myself, though.
I have only returned an ebook two times (I have bought hundreds) and it was immediately because I had accidentally clicked the buy it now button. The return was completed within a minute or two. I have never returned a book because I simply didn’t like it, but I would if it was poorly formatted, with a ton of errors etc. I have seen stories online where people were angry because Amazon had frozen or cancelled their accounts because of excessive returns. It seems around a 20% return rate is the cutoff for Amazon but I think the examples were all physical returns (which obviously costs Amazon money). I would think if some readers are serial returners Amazon would definitely know. They track everything.
I do return books if I find that they are just not my thing after reading further than the sample one can download (and I will check the ending before I read a book — I do that for print books all the time, so it’s annoying not to be able to do that with e-books — and that means sometimes I will return a book just because I would never have bought it due to the ending). I don’t feel that it’s unfair, because I don’t WANT the book in my e-reader and cluttering up my files if it’s something I will never read. Some weeks, I will return two or three books because I’d read a fantastic review that got me all excited about the book and then I started reading (and/or checked the ending) and went “nope, that’s not for me.” If that’s evil, well, then I’m evil. But I find it does give me the freedom to try new authors that I might not have tried if I didn’t have that option. (And I only just discovered I could do it at the first of the year.)
I’ve read reviews on Amazon where a reader says she’s returning the book after reading the entire thing because she didn’t like it.
I think it’s sad that some readers have become this entitled. Like they only have to pay for what they like even if they’ve read the entire book. If you want free books, only download the free ones or go to the library. Otherwise, you’re no better than a book pirate.
No one gets their money back after watching an entire movie in the theater and deciding the movie sucked. Books shouldn’t be any different.
I’ve returned a few books, mostly because I discovered that I’d already bought them from another vendor when I went to add them to my Calibre library, so they weren’t actually lost sales although I suppose that’s what they looked like. A couple were because of formatting problems, and only one because I didn’t like it. The tone was so misogynistic I decided I didn’t want the author getting any of my money. In general if I don’t like a book I just don’t buy any more from that author though, I don’t return the one I’ve already read.
Regarding the return thing, there is also that annoying thing where authors, especially self-pub ones but I’ve seen in it books by epublishers or the majors before, where the sample portion of the book is nigh on perfect… no formatting or spelling errors, beautiful editing, etc. Then you get past the sample and things go to hell…. the formatting is screwed up, spelling errors galore, weird grammar errors… and then I return it. It’s reached the stage where I very rarely buy ebooks anymore and now only from trusted authors or a publisher I know with a proven track record in how their ebooks are formatted and edited. If I find an error in their books, I know it’s likely a genuine mistake of some kind and will send an email asking just that… “Hey, read your latest, discovered some mistakes… you might want to check the book?”
The whole return issue is problematic. Really, almost everything concerning eBooks is problematic. IMO, there’s nothing different between returning an eBook after reading it and returning a physical book after reading it. Yes, cheapskate people are going to do both. And I agree with the statement that several others made… it is the cost of doing business. Guess what, there are people who will buy a new outfit, wear it to whatever function they bought it for and then return it to the store. There are people who buy DVDs, take them home, burn copies, then return them to the store. It happens and you just have to suck it up and move on.
Now… the R.R. battle.I laughed until my cheeks hurt! And I’m pretty sure the battle was a tie.
@Courtney Dion: Didn’t know you could return DVD’s once they were open. I mean even if defective, they give you a hard time.
In a general comment and then I’m done: Books are consumer goods and are allowed a 30 day return in most retail places. As with everything, such returns are tracked and questioned when they are excessive. This is not a new topic or argument and people will have their opinions for one side (consumer) or the other (author). Interesting confession thread tho on who returns what and for what reason.
So the woman claimed that she had been cured from cancer by the recipes in her book, when she never had cancer in the first place. WORST AUTHOR EVER!!
She is selling snake oil to people with cancer.
Poetic Justice that she got caught because she wasn’t giving some of the proceeds to cancer charities, like she claimed she would.
If we could stop with the egregiously bad comparison of a films showing vs the purchase of a book. Readers have little enough rights as it is when it comes to ebooks and now some writers want to take away more without providing particularly good or transparent stats (percentages vs actual figures) and ignoring the “it’s a consumer good” point? It’s revealing to me how many authors use the “books are a special snowflake” argument when it suits them.
Re: returning books. Alison Packard shared a blog post via Facebook the other night written by another author who was contacted by a reader who told her that her books were “too expensive” priced between $.99 and $2.99 and informed the author that she downloaded the books and then returned them upon finishing the books, got her money back, and ultimately told the author that the author really should make her work available for free. No, seriously.
I’ve downloaded thousands of books and returned 2 – one because of formatting problems and one because the blurb was completely off the mark and I didn’t make it past the 10% mark. Otherwise, I frankly would never consider “returning” a book just because it didn’t work for me – even for the ones that I DNF (and I’ve had plenty of those). I don’t think of books like any other consumable item. They’re not. They’re not a blender you expect to mix things at high speeds or a flat screen TV in HD. I do think, as Jane suggests, if the blurb is so far off the mark from the story that you expect to read about a small town single mother, but instead read about a single 20 year old in Manhattan, then that’s probably grounds for return as well as non-stop typos/formatting issues.
But to return a book simply because a reader didn’t like it or didn’t enjoy it seems wrong to me. The movie analogy is perfectly apt as no one would ask for a refund simply because the movie wasn’t to their taste. Do we not pay our cable bills during the summer when all the programming is crappy?
I have only returned one book, I was trying to buy paperback but clicked kindle by accident. Returned it immediately. I usually don’t take a risk on new authors in kindle unless free or under 1.99.
I stopped following Jenny Trout on twitter when she tweeted how much she enjoyed bull fighting. If you take pleasure in animal torture I don’t even want to see your name. If I had any of her books I would have returned them right there.
I’ve returned two ebooks, both of which were accidental purchases. (Oddly, I now own one of them.) I seem to remember Amazon giving dire warnings about what would happen I returned too many ebooks when I did this.
I know a lot of readers treat Amazon like a library. Lots of younger readers use the returns policy as a protest against the book not having exactly the plot they wanted.
When Sylvia Day’s final Crossfire book came out a few weeks ago, many readers read the whole thing and then returned it because they didn’t like the ending.
It IS a huge problem, and something does need to be done about it.
My brother used to manage a cinema, and if you stayed more than halfway through a movie, you were not entitled to a refund. Books should have a similar protection.
About the fine to Penguin. What surprised me is that anybody could think that a cancer can be cured by diet and ‘natural’ therapies. If they decided to sell that story, then it’s great they’ve been fined for their sheer ignorance and stupidity. These books are a danger to public health.
I buy and read an incredible amount of ebooks and often take chances on new authors. I have read some absolute drivel, some with such poor spelling and grammar that the book is unreadable. But I have only ever returned two ebooks. In both cases the book was listed as having 400+ pages when the actuality was under 40 pages. Certainly not worth the 5 bucks that I had spent.
@Sonya Heaney: I’m still unconvinced that the problem is so widespread. Anecdata is just that. Amazon would have the actual records and I’m sure they keep a close eye on returns. Serial returners get extra scrutiny.