Regular readers of the Miss Demeanors blog may remember my post about readers who buy e‑books, read them in their entirety, and then return them for a full refund. Under Amazon’s existing returns policy, this was perfectly legitimate from the user’s viewpoint, since Amazon allowed the practice under its stated return policy. As the author of a mystery novel series, it made no sense to me.
The practice hit independently published authors hard, with some reporting negative royalties in months with heavy returns. Recently, the Writers Guild, ALLi, and over 75,000 authors who signed the protest petition won a victory of sorts when Amazon agreed to change the policy. But I have questions.
As of September 24, 2022, there is no press release on the topic on the Amazon PR site nor is the return policy on the Amazon website updated yet, but according to an announcement from the Author’s Guild and other sources, Amazon is finally making changes to the e-book return policy.
According to these sources, under the new policy, an e-book must be returned within seven days of purchase and with no more than ten percent of the book having been read. If the book falls within these parameters, a refund is automatic. Outside of these parameters, or if the user has a history of frequent e-book returns, the return request would be subject to review. The nature of that review has not been made public.
This change is great news, but it still doesn’t go far enough. Here are my questions.
Why Are E-books Different than Other Downloaded Products?
E-books are the only “soft” product that buyers can return. Games and software applications are not returnable at all. Even if you bought them “by accident.” You can’t install them, try them out, and then return them. You can’t decide you don’t enjoy the game or don’t like the software user interface. You buy it, you own it.
So, what makes e-books different? Even under the newly announced policy, users can read up to ten percent of the book and still return it within seven days for a full refund. If that’s fair, why can’t they play a game for a full week up to ten percent of the levels and return it for a full refund?
Because that would be a stupid policy. Kinda like this one.
Why Will This Change Take So Long?
According to the announcements, this new policy will go into effect by the end of the year. That makes no sense.
They should immediately post the changed policy on the website, and it should go into effect no later than fourteen days afterwards. That ensures that any users who are prone to ‘accidentally” buying e-books that they later need to return have been informed of the change with plenty of time to return the book before the new policy becomes effective.
And Amazon already knows how much of an e-book has been read. That’s how they determine how much to pay authors for books read in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s not like they need to write a whole new algorithm to figure it out.
And by the way, how does one accidentally buy an e-book? I’ve been buying them for more than twenty years and never have I ever bought one accidentally.
What is the Additional Procedure for Habitual Returners?
It would be nice to know if this ‘additional procedure’ is a rubber stamp or an actual review, and at what point a user’s return privileges become restricted. On the one hand, explaining the details of that part of the policy would provide a roadmap for these scammers to continue their thievery while skirting the edge of the cutoff point.
On the other hand, as an author who’s earnings could be affected by this policy, I’d like to know that there are some actual teeth in it to prevent continued abuse. I work hard creating my mystery series, and although I’ve never been personally hurt by the original policy, it could happen to any independent author, any time.
About Sharon Ward
Sharon Ward is the author of the traditional mysteries In Deep, Sunken Death, and Dark Tide, and the forthcoming Killer Storm, all part of the Fin Fleming Scubs Diving Series.
Sharon was a marketing executive at prominent software companies Oracle and Microsoft before starting her writing business. She was also a PADI certified divemaster who has hundreds of dives under her weight belt.
Sharon is a member of Sisters in Crime, MWA, ITW, Grub Street, and the Cape Cod Writers Center.
She lives near Cape Cod with her husband Jack and their miniature long-haired dachshund Molly.