Ebook Returns: Stop Treating Amazon as a Library

The other day, I was looking at one of my Amazon KDP reports, and I made a startling discovery: of the four books I had sold in that time frame for a given edition, two were returned. Something similar happened the month before, and while just two books is not a lot, I've never returned a book in any format for any reason in my life. When I reached out to some of my fellow authors and readers on Facebook to get their feelings on the matter, what I heard from them was even more surprising.

Battle lines drawn

To be clear, Amazon is one of the only places that allows you to return an ebook. Most other ebook retailers don't.

The overall discussion on Amazon's policy grew quite heated on the groups where I asked for comments. The most common positions were:

  • I never do it, unless I hit 1-Click Purchase by accident.
  • I only do it when the book is unreadable (massive typos and other errors).
  • I do it when I don't like the book.

Some even said they supported the ability to return a book if the reader didn't like it so that they could avoid getting a bad review or so that the reader might try one of their other books instead. Since few people review books, whether bad or good, this seems like an unlikely scenario. I don't think the ability to return a book keeps someone from leaving a bad review if they really want to.

And if they returned your book because they didn't like it, it's an equally unlikely scenario that they will try another of your books instead, just in case it's better. I certainly wouldn't try another if my initial introduction to an author's work was bad enough to make me consider returning the book.

They read and returned my entire series!

Believe it or not, this is not an uncommon thing that I heard. Multiple authors told me that on more than one occasion a reader purchased and returned one and then another and then another book in that author's series.

Regardless of whether you support Amazon's return policy or not, it's impossible to make the argument, in the case of a series, that the reader "accidentally" purchased each book in the series. I also dare you to make the argument that the reader in question simply didn't like the books.

Buying, reading, and returning every book in an author's series is clear theft of the work.

What's the harm? It's just a few dollars.

Those who engage in returning ebooks may think that they're not hurting the author that much. They may think it's just a dollar or two here and there. They may think that the author's other sales will make up for it, and in some cases this might be true.

But what you are actually saying when you return someone's work is that (for whatever reason aside from an accidental purchase that drove you to return it) you don't think the author deserves to be paid for their work.

Do you also eat at a restaurant and then tell the manager that you didn't like it after all and you'd like a refund? No, because you ate the meal.

Reading more than the Look Inside book sample and then returning the book because you didn't like the writing isn't any different. You read the book. If you purchase a book without a preview, I'm afraid that's your own fault. That's an "enter at your own risk" book, and you bought it.

And yes, a few dollars can matter to an author. Whoever returned those two books took back more than $6 from me. That's a loaf of bread and more. Yes, that's grocery money for my family. The same is true for other authors.

I don't say this to make anyone feel sorry for me or other authors. How you feel about ebook returns is entirely your business. And I fully support your right to say, "I didn't mean to make this purchase." I don't want you to be stuck with my book by virtue of an accident.

However, if you return a book because you didn't like it or you just wanted to read it for free, I simply ask that you consider who you might be taking your money back from. Is it really someone to whom a few dollars doesn't matter or is it not? And do you think authors shouldn't be paid for their time and effort?

There are places where you can easily read books for free, without any risk at all to your wallet. They are called libraries. Amazon is not the library.