Amazon’s e-book return policy criticized by authors: NPR
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Earlier this month, Lisa Kessler, an author of paranormal novels, logged on to Kindle Direct Publishing to check her earnings for the previous month. On her publishing dashboard, she saw something she had never seen before in her 11 years as an author: a negative income balance.
The reason for the negative balance? Kindle eBook Returns.
The authors are protesting Amazon’s eBook return policy, a system they say allows readers to “steal” self-published authors. Amazon’s current return policy for e-books allows customers “to cancel an accidental book order within seven days.” But, for some readers, seven days is more than enough to finish a book and return it after reading it, effectively treating Amazon like a library.
When an Amazon customer returns an e-book, the royalties originally paid to the author at the time of purchase are deducted from their revenue balance. Authors can end up with negative balances when customers return books after the author has already been paid by Kindle Direct Publishing, an Amazon spokesperson said.
Just a reminder that Amazon is NOT a library. When you read and return a book, it COST the author… It’s June 1st and I owe Amazon right now because people are reading the Muse series and returning the books when they’re done… :- / Authors need to eat too… 🙁
— Lisa Kessler/LA Kessler – Wolf’s Witch – Out Now (@LdyDisney) June 1, 2022
Authors and readers want to change politics
Louisiana book lover Reah Foxx started a petition to change the policy after seeing “life hacks” circulating on social media that teach readers to abuse Amazon’s return policy and read for free. To date, the petition has garnered nearly 70,000 signatures.
Kessler said that before the “read and return” trend, she would normally have one or two book returns per month, which she attributed to genuine accidental purchases. Now she sees entire sets of hers being flipped.
“It really shook me up,” she said. “You think, ‘Can I still make a living if this continues?’ and that’s very disheartening.”
Kristy Bromberg, an author of romance novels, said she had more feedback in the past two months than she had in the previous eight months combined.
Those who suggest the read-and-return practice think they’re “sticking to Amazon,” but in reality are only hurting authors, said Eva Creel, a fantasy writer who publishes as EG. Creel.
“I have my book available at the library. If anyone wants to read it for free, they can,” Creel said. “But reading it and making me think that I earned an income and that income is taken away from me is like theft.”
Science fiction and fantasy author Nicole Givens Kurtz said she fears this trend will continue.
“If people keep promoting [reading and returning e-books]it impacts my income, which impacts my quality of life and my ability to take care of my family,” she said. “I don’t think readers understand or see the person behind the product.”
Amazon’s policy stands out from other big brands
Among the five largest e-book retailers, Amazon is the only one that allows customers to easily return e-books within seven days. Some other retailers have a flexible return policy, but require additional steps – Kobo and Apple iBooks both require contacting customer service to see if an item is eligible for a refund. Barnes & Noble and Smashwords do not allow returns of e-books.
E-books are also the only digital products that Amazon allows customers to return.
“I don’t really understand why digital movies and digital music aren’t refundable, but digital books, you have a whole week to read that book and return it,” Kessler said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s still a digital product.”
Kessler, Givens Kurtz, Creel, and other authors also suggest that Amazon limits returns based on how much of a book a customer has read — for example, after reading 20% of a book, they can no longer be returned.
“Amazon aims to provide the best possible experience for customers and authors. We have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent abuse of our eBook Returns Policy. We always listen to feedback and investigate any concerns that we receive,” an Amazon spokesperson said.
These authors are still loyal to their readers and hope that those who return their books will learn how harmful this practice is.
“Authors love readers. They are our lifeblood,” said Chad Ryan, a horror and fantasy writer. “I hope readers will understand that the influencers on TikTok and Facebook discussions may have gotten all the angles on how to get free eBooks from Amazon, but it’s not Amazon they’re hurting here. .”
“Readers and writers have a symbiotic relationship, and most readers are the best,” Kessler said. “The best thing to take from this great scandal is that readers have the writer’s back, and that means the world to writers.”