Amazon's Ebook Returns Policy Is A GOOD Thing. Here's Why.

This post, by Publetariat site founder and Editor in Chief April L. Hamilton, originally appeared on her Indie Author Blog on 4/22/13 and is reprinted here in full with her permission.

Recently some indie author friends have become so outraged by ebook returns that they’re trying to organize and bring pressure to bear against Amazon to eliminate its 7-day return policy on Kindle books. There are other vendors who allow returns as well, and I’m sure this same group will be targeting those vendors in due time.

The main reason why this group of authors is so upset is that they’re watching their online, real-time royalty reports very closely, and making financial decisions for themselves and their households based on the “sales” they see reported there.

However, as any mainstream-published author already knows all too well, until net royalties for book sales are actually paid they are subject to change, and a large quantity of returns can easily bring your royalty statement for a given 6-month period into the red. The same is true of returnable self-published books, but these authors don’t seem to get that, or if they do get it, seem to think it’s unfair.

And so they’ve taken to social media to try and raise the visibility of this issue, to nudge their fellow authors into taking action intended to eliminate legitimate, vendor-sanctioned ebook returns. In my opinion, what they’re doing is a big mistake and if they succeed in getting vendors to eliminate ebook returns, it will be bad for all authors who have ebooks on the market.

Amazon’s 7-day return policy seems to be the biggest target here, so I’ll address my remarks to that specific vendor. But I think the points I’m about to make here are equally applicable to any ebook return policy.

I am *in favor* of Amazon’s 7-day return policy on Kindle books. Here’s why:

 

1. Hard copy books can generally be returned up to 30 days after purchase—longer, if you bought them someplace like Target. Therefore, as a consumer and reader, I don’t see why ebooks shouldn’t be returnable as well. Why aren’t all of these same authors up in arms about return policies on hard copy books? I’m all for removing barriers to ebook adoption, and one major barrier is consumers’ perception of value, that an ebook is somehow inherently inferior to, and less valuable than, a hard copy book. Elimination of ebook return policies makes ebooks economically inferior to hard copy books, from the consumer perspective.

 

2. Returnability removes the risk for buyers who might not otherwise take a chance on a new author.

 

3. People who want to game the system will always find a way, and it doesn’t make sense to take these first two benefits away from readers (and authors) for the sake of trying to do battle with the scammers. Take returns away, and the scammers who are abusing the returns system will just go back to outright piracy. Meanwhile, you’ve given paying customers some good reasons not to take a chance on your ebook.

 

4. I don’t believe most people DO read a book within 7 days of purchase, nor do I think most readers WANT to be put under that kind of time pressure. Those who are willing to read EVERY Kindle book they buy within 7 days are already paying a significantly higher cost than the price of the book in terms of their time and convenience.

Classic case of penny-wise, pound-foolish. True, the dishonest buyers’ inconvenience does not put money into authors’ pockets. But this just underscores my point about people who are looking to game the system. People who are willing to put themselves out like that to save three bucks or less are not a desirable target demo. I don’t want them to be my fans because they’re not truly invested in my work in any sense of the term, and never will be.

 

5. Regarding the “missing” or “stolen” royalties issue, I know this will sound harsh, but authors shouldn’t be counting their chickens before they hatch, anyway. Until I actually get a royalty transfer into my bank account, I know those figures I see in the KDP reports are fluid and subject to change. KDP authors still have it better than mainstream-pubbed authors, who must wait a year or longer for the first royalty check and only get them every six months thereafter.

My Indie Author Guide STILL hasn’t ‘earned out’ (the collapse of Borders meant thousands of returns), and it was published in November of 2010.

 

6. Contrary to what these agitating authors seem to think, those ebook returns do NOT represent lost sales. The people who are motivated to steal books or anything else never intended to pay for those things, and never would have paid for them. This argument from the authors is like a bank manager thinking that if only the bank robbers could’ve been talked out of their heist, they would’ve opened accounts at the bank and become customers.

Pirates and thieves are pirates and thieves, period. It’s just a question of how they get the books for free: illegal download, or return policy abuse.

 

7. Some of the authors who are speaking out about this are suspicious that there are actual, organized groups promoting the practice of return abuse as a means to get free ebooks. But even if there ARE groups of people who’ve organized to promote theft, well…so are pretty much all piracy groups. There’s no way to stop all piracy, and if people are abusing Amazon’s returns policy, it’s just another form of piracy.

 

8. Again, I know I’m about to sound really harsh, but the realities of business ARE sometimes harsh and that doesn’t make them any less real: Ignorance is not a defense here. Anyone who’s self-publishing for profit has a duty to read, and ensure they not only understand but agree with, any contracts they’re signing, and that includes KDP terms of use and Amazon’s ebook listing and sales policies.

If you don’t like Amazon’s ebook returns policy, you shouldn’t publish there or list your ebooks for sale there.

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Personally, I share Neil Gaiman’s view on piracy: I don’t care how people initially discover me, because once they’re fans and are able to pay, they will. And in the meantime, they’ll be spreading the word about me and my books. You may disagree with this stance, or even feel it’s naïve. But the bottom line is the same, regardless of anyone’s opinion about it: thieves will ALWAYS find a way. Hassling your paying customers and fans in an effort to discourage thieves will NEVER stop the thieves, but it is LIKELY to annoy customers and fans, resulting in TRUE losses in sales and new fans.

Has consumer hatred of DRM taught us nothing?

 

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