Modern Day Robin Hoods?

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard about the new thing going on—TikTok-ers advocating that people buy books or audiobooks from Amazon, read or listen to them in their entirety, and then return them.

Why would Someone Do This?

These people have varied motives.Some cackle gleefully about how they are taking money out of the pockets of Jeff Bezos—like sure, he’ll notice the $2-$3 you stole from him.

Some think they’re putting one over on the system, which they think unfairly favors someone else. Anyone else. Who might that be? It’s certainly not the people who are losing money from this practice.

And some of the people who do this are out-and-out grifters, reveling in the fact they’ve managed to get something for nothing.

Amazon’s Return Policy is Bonkers

Amazon’s return policy on e-books allows this game to continue. As stated, it allows people seven days to return eBooks.

Unless otherwise specified, games, software downloads, and purchases from the Amazon Appstore, the Amazon Digital Music store, the Amazon Luna store, or the Amazon Video store are not returnable after purchase.

Books purchased from the Kindle Store can be returned within seven days of purchase. (Emphasis mine)

What gets me is that software and games, which are downloaded just like books, are not returnable after purchase. Those refunds come out of Amazon’s pocket, so Amazon doesn’t allow it.

When the money comes out of a writer’s pocket, it seems to be a whole different story. Returns are no problem. In some parts of the world, the return period is fourteen days. Plenty of time to read a book.

Amazon Knows if You’ve Consumed the Product

And make no mistake. Amazon knows if people have read the book they bought. They know exactly how many pages you’ve read, but even if you’ve read the entire book and given it a 5-star review, you can return it and get your money back.

Surprised that Amazon knows what you’ve read? Pages read is the basis they use for paying authors in the Kindle Unlimited program, so they know.

They know.

Yet they allow this grift to continue.

Audible is an Even Bigger Swamp

Audible’s terms are even worse:

Returns must be made within 365 days of purchase. (Emphasis mine.)

And once again, Audible knows if you’ve listened to the book, and exactly how much of it you’ve listened to.

The practice or read and return started on Audible, and it was so egregious there that some authors sometimes ended up owing Audible money because of the returns volume.

It spread to eBooks. And why not? Amazon could easily have curbed the practice, but they didn’t.

People Who Hate Amazon and Want Everyone to Suffer

For quite a while, I only sold my books on Amazon. It was easy. They paid well. And as a one-man band, I don’t have time to futz around with different cover requirements and formats and payout schedules and all the minutiae that comes with being self-published.

I often advertise my books on Facebook.

And invariably, one person would comment on the ad “Don’t buy from Amazon. Don’t give your money to Jeff Bezos.”

Pity the Poor Self-Published Author

But it was the only place my books were available. So “Bezos,” in the form of Amazon KDP, lost about $3 for every book of mine that nobody bought because of this troll.

I lost about $7.

Why should the author, who let’s face it, did the hard work here, lose any money at all, never mind more than twice what Amazon loses?

A Lot of Work and Expense to Quiet a Troll

So to shut this idiot up, I had to put my books up for sale on many different sites. Otherwise, I was wasting money on Facebook ads, because as soon as this jerk posted her comment, the affected ad received no more clicks—which meant no more sales from the investment in advertising. Each time, I had to create a whole new ad to regain my sales momentum.

And I spent weeks formatting covers and text and filling out forms to make my books available in other stores besides Amazon.

The Effect on My Sales?

It cost me money because I had to buy another ISBN for each edition. If I didn’t belong to ALLI (Alliance of Independent Authors), it would have cost me even more money to publish through Ingram, because they have a fee for every file upload. It cost me even more money because I had to pay for my cover designer to format my covers to the new sites’ specs. I retooled my ads to show multiple purchase options. I spent hours on this stuff. And guess how my revenue breaks down, after all this time and expense?

Sales Location Percentage of     Total Sales
Barnes &Noble .0002%
Ingram Spark (which is basically everywhere else + libraries) .0001%
Amazon 99.9997%

This was only two months worth of data, but it looks bleak. I lost money, and at this rate of return, I’ll be dead and buried before this pays off.

Meanwhile, I saw a sale of the whole Fin Fleming Series pop up at the same time. Could have been a coincidence, but the sales of each book went up by one unit in less than one minute. (No, I don’t check every minute as a rule. I was working on some sales analysis.)

Returning to the Subject of Returns

A week later, I saw a return of the whole series in a single day. Those were my first returns, ever. I couldn’t help but think one of those grifters had struck.

In the scheme of things, those returns didn’t hurt me financially. I’m doing pretty well, (she said modestly.)

Listing my books at multiple sales sites won’t hurt me in the long run, and I probably would have done it sooner or later anyway.

But it makes me angry that people who don’t understand the industry and how authors get paid, think they’re modern-day Robin Hoods by pulling these stunts.

Let’s Try to Be Fair to Everyone

All consumers have the right to buy products wherever they want. But in my opinion, if a consumer wants to use a product, they are obligated to pay the asking price and not scam the system into giving them free goods.

All authors deserve a fair wage for their work.

Authors, have you been affected by any of these bad practices?

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 Sea Adventures Thriller series.

Sharon was a marketing executive at prominent software companies Oracle and Microsoft before starting her writing business. She was 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.

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