Readers returning E-books

No this isn’t a post about ME returning a book but rather other readers returning an e-book they purchased. As usual, I am late to the party over this issue but reading online it seems it was a big uproar a few years ago with self-published authors.

I guess I am only thinking about it now as I finally have had readers who have returned my books to Amazon. The majority of my books are sold on Amazon, and those sales have been going pretty well since the release of my latest book, The Heir to Alexandria.

But as I looked at my past six-week royalty report, I noticed I had four returned books.

Returned books – April 19 to May 16

The Heir to Alexandria – 2

Summoned (Book 1 of The Elemental) – 1

The Elemental Box Set – 1

This had me wondering why these people returned the books.

  • Did they make an accidental purchase?
  • Did they begin reading it and decide it wasn’t for them? (genre or writing style based)
  • Did they (as many people on the Internet assume about self-published books) decide it was riddled with grammar errors, and they couldn’t read it?
  • Or perhaps they read the book all the way through and returned it?

Unfortunately, I will never know. But Amazon does make it easy for readers to return an e-book.

Amazon’s e-book return policy (from their website)

Books you purchase from the Kindle Store are eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within seven days of the date of purchase. Once a refund is issued, you will no longer have access to the book.

I did read on several different sites that Amazon will stop allowing returns if the purchaser abuses the policy. But that ban doesn’t seem to happen until they have really abused the policy with an excessive amount of returns (say 30 returns in a year’s time. These numbers are just based on what I read. Amazon does not list an actual policy on how many returns you can make in any certain period.)

Of course, I am not against a return policy. Who wants to buy something without the possibility of returning it? I am all for people returning accidental purchases or books they truly dislike. But in most cases I am thinking a 7-day policy is too lenient.

Let’s look at the four scenarios from above.

1.) You accidentally bought the book by clicking the buy-now button. If you did so, I expect the return to be made right away. Same thing applies if you bought the book not realizing you are no longer in the romance section but somehow ended up in the fantasy section, and this isn’t a genre you read. Accidental purchase can happen. No problem. Return it promptly. (This should be done immediately and not take seven days.)

2.) So you bought the book and decided after beginning to read it that it wasn’t for you. It can happen. The book blurb could be well written enough to fool you. But if you do this a lot, I would suggest next time you download the sample. That gives you 10 to 20% of the book to read and find out if you like it BEFORE you purchase it.

3.) So you bought the book and were troubled with the grammar or plot line…again, I say next time you should download the sample. With 10 to 20%, you should have an idea if this is the book for you. And you should most definitely not be allowed to return it because you didn’t like the ending.

4.) There are a few people (I am hoping it is just a few) who will game the system by actually reading the book and then returning it. I read one person who said they return 60% of the books they buy. Even if they read it all the way through, if it wasn’t something they wanted to read again, they returned it. If you read the book, pay for it. It’s not that complicated.  People who read the books and then return them are short-changing the author their royalties.

Many people bring up the argument that brick and mortar book stores also accept returns. That isn’t a great argument as I don’t think those readers should be reading my book (assuming I had a physical copy of my books) for free either. The only person who should be reading it for free is those who downloaded during a free promotion, from a library or a friend who has already paid for it.

Could Amazon change their policy to benefit both readers and authors? Possibly. They could change the return policy to allow returns within “seven days or 30% or less of the book read – whichever comes sooner.”

Do I really expect them to change their policy? No. But I do wish that authors had more knowledge of exactly why their books were returned.

4 thoughts on “Readers returning E-books

  1. I totally agree with you. No matter where you purchase a book, you can sample read it…equivalent to trying it on. In fact, it’s one of the few things purchasable online that you can ‘try on’. Returning books is the same as buying a dress or coat, wearing it once and returning it…it’s wrong. If you want to borrow a book, go to the library.
    I buy books all the time for my reader…do I read them right away? No, not necessarily. I have books on my reader that I bought years ago. I’ll get to them eventually, I always do. I’ve bought books I didn’t necessarily like…do I return them? No, I read them so that’s that.
    The only time I can ever remember returning a book to a store was a print copy that was missing a section of chapters…that’s the same as returning a pair of shoes that the heel falls off of the first time you wear them. A whole different story. The book was physically flawed. Bad writing, a poor story, or lots of errors means I might not read that author again, but I don’t return the book.

  2. “Did they (as many people on the Internet assume about self-published books) decide it was riddled with grammar errors, and they couldn’t read it?”

    I never assume a book it riddled with errors just because it is self-published. On the other hand, I am disinclined to hold indie novels to a lower standard than trad-published ones, either. (I judge the writing by the writing — who published it is irrelevant for deciding if the book is any good.)

    I’ve read (part of) some real turkeys, but I’ve not once returned an e-book. Perhaps I would be tempted to do so if I’d paid $10 or more for it and found it unreadable for whatever reason, but if it’s $4 or less, the worst I’ll do is leave an accurate and detailed review on Amazon and Goodreads.

    The authors should be told WHY their books are returned, and there should be a clear limit to when the customer can return an ebook. That limit needs to be a percentage of the book, too, rather than just a length of time after purchase, because just about anyone can read a 50-page story in a week or less, and the author shouldn’t lose money because someone wanted to treat Amazon like a library (without, y’know, officially singing up for the right to use Amazon like a library).

  3. sjhigbee says:

    I absolutely agree with your points. As a Kindle reader, one of the reasons WHY I like buying ebooks is because of that nifty READ INSIDE gismo that allows me to open up a book and read several pages to get a feel for the writing, style and quality of formatting and editing, etc. So, like you, I think there should be a 24 hr limit imposed on returning ebooks so the honest I-clicked-on-the-wrong-button mistake can be addressed, but that people playing the system cannot go on doing so.
    As both an avid reader and writer, it seems to me self evident there is a contract between an author and her reader. The reader pays to enter a world crafted by the writer, who has spent time and effort crafting that world to the best of her ability. If it isn’t the world the reader thought he’d signed up to, or simply pressed the wrong button, then fair enough, he is entitled to return the book and get his money back. But reading the book and THEN returning it? That’s breaking the contract.

  4. sjhigbee says:

    Reblogged this on Brainfluff and commented:
    I happen to think this is a something of an issue. Susan’s thoughtful article highlights the problem from a writer’s viewpoint, but what do you think?

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