Amazon's Return for Refund is Getting Abused

Trollish Reader Returning Books

When was the last time you bought a DVD, brought it home, watched it, and then returned it for no other reason than you were never going to watch it again? When was the last time you did the same for a CD? an MP3? An electronic device?

How about a book?

There is a story making the rounds right now about a reader who bought an author’s series of books, read them, and then returned them––before contacting the author directly to tell her she’d done so, and to please make her works free so she wouldn’t have to keep returning them.

The author banned the ‘reader’ from her page, and posted screenshots of what had been said. Then, the ‘reader’ retaliated by making a new account just to harass her again, claiming that the author could have been a bestseller someday if only they had done what she’d asked (never mind that the author makes no money on a returned-sale). The reader closed with the lines “We shouldn’t have to pay for the stories in your head!”

The story was so ludicrous I was prepared to call it a simple troll, but then I saw the screenshots myself. The author has since deleted the posts to preserve her quiet life, and out of respect for that wish, I will not release any names or screenshots. I do not know the author personally, but the screenshots were not doctored.

What I want to talk about with this story is not just the flagrant abuse of the return system on Amazon, which deserves its own coverage (15% read or within seven days, you get a full refund), but about the idea that a book, as an author friend put it, is somehow worth less than other types of entertainment media.

If you buy a DVD and try to return it, shrink-wrap gone and without the disc itself having any defects, it’d be pretty hard to do so. Same with a CD, or an MP3. But somehow books, perhaps because bookstores and libraries generally have the same feeling, or perhaps because books seem like a right, rather than a privilege, both readers AND authors devalue their work.

For the last few years in the indie community, there has been a lot of pressure for authors to price their work at 99 cents, for example, because there was simply no other way to compete with the online catalogs that were bursting at the seams with new content every day. It has its pros and cons–readers now have so many choices that their reading material will never, ever run out, but it also has corrupted the integrity of Amazon sales rankings, which can be gamed–sell 50 copies on a given day in your genre, and you could make the Top 10–become a bestseller! (some genres are more competitive than others, but a bestseller status used to mean selling at least 100,000 copies in any given year.) With the price gauging authors themselves perpetuated, now 99 cents is expected by many readers, and if you charge more than that, you are possibly dooming your book to a low search rank and out of the ‘price range’ of many readers.

After all, I have seen readers complain about prices quite a bit. They compare books to their daily coffee: why should I pay more for a coffee than an ebook. Because so much is free on the internet, that attitude is to be expected. Even authors sometimes fall into the trap of asking why a cover artist’s work, for example, is so much, when they are only going to sell their book for 99 cents. (Answer: a book can be sold multiple times; a cover can only be sold once. The price you set for your book is not the artist’s problem.)

All of this is not to blame authors alone, because it really is a symptom of modern media and the struggle to be noticed in a sea of perma-free books, Wattpad, piracy sites, and celebrated, NY Times List authors that are “guaranteed” not to be a “waste” of the reader’s money. But hey, even authors with brand name recognition are beginning to feel the pinch of a culture that simply doesn’t read all that much (the median for women is 5 books/yr and for men, 3 books/yr).

But for a reader to expect and even demand that an author make her books free? To specifically target that author, approaching as a fan, and say that the author should be thanking her for such communication? With all the ways in the world to legally read for free, or at a low cost (your local library, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited, to name a few), there is no reason to make those kinds of demands.

I mean, it’s great that the reader liked that author’s works. But let’s get real for a second. If that author can’t afford to keep publishing (not even writing–publishing, which has several backend costs, like editing and cover design, at the very least), you won’t be able to continue reading her work. She won’t be able to afford to share those amazing stories in her head. When you pirate, return a book unfairly, or demand an author work for free, you are in essence cheating yourself out of continuing to have that author’s work available to you.

Don’t abuse systems that are meant to protect against mistaken purchases. It’s not really Amazon’s fault, here. But if it keeps being abused, then authors will pressure them to change, and then it will be harder for those not abusing the system to get help when they need it.

44 thoughts on “Trollish Reader Returning Books

  1. Denise Hammond says:

    Read a book and return it cause you think it should be free? I’m almost speechless. But, when I was in college I had a part-time job in a large department store. I worked in the bridal salon which was next door to the designer shop. Some wealthy socialite women would pick up a designer dress, be photographed in it and appear in the Detroit papers, and then return the dress a few days later saying they did not want it. Nothing should surprise me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      I have heard about dresses being returned in that way. It really does astound me though. I would never be able to bring myself to return something I had legitimately used! :/ I know money is tight… but where books are concerned, there are libraries.

      Like

  2. Susan Gourley says:

    I just heard about that story yesterday. I’ve never understood Amazon’s return policy for ebooks. Writers make so little of every dollar spent on their books as it is. So many people don’t even see pirating videos and music as stealing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Since Amazon is a huge distribution company, they have to have return policies (especially since people can’t really preview the item). I think to keep things simple, they carry basically the same policy across the entire store (and 7 days is the lowest one, except for perishables). That being said, if they are able to track the amount of a book read (as they can with KU) then they should be able to tell the difference between an “unopened return” and one that was read in its entirety.

      Like

  3. Jemima Pett says:

    Somehow I’m not surprised, but to contact the author and tell her her books should be free is astounding. It really confirms a view that’s been growing inside me. The lower my profile is, the better! My devoted followers know where to find me, after all.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. isabellamorgan says:

    1. Seven days is more than enough to read most books. I think it’s too long. 2. You can take a book back to a bookstore, though I have no idea what the usual time limit is. 3. Have you signed the petition? Here’s the link: https://www.change.org/p/amazon-com-amazon-stop-letting-people-return-ebooks-after-15-read?recruiter=16254915&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_page&utm_term=des-lg-share_petition-custom_msg&fb_ref=Default (wow, that seems long. I hope it works.) 4. I hate people sometimes.
    Thanks for posting this, Alex. Something really needs to be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      1. I agree, though some people aren’t power readers, and won’t read a book within 7 days (most books, I believe, don’t get read past 30% most of the time.)

      2. Chapters in Canada allows for store-bought condition books to be returned within 14 days (but that’s easy to assess. If Amazon is going to accept digital returns, it should be making use of KU’s ‘pages read’ tracking system to make sure the item hasn’t actually been “used.”

      3. I have signed the petition, though I am wary of poking Amazon for this when it may not be as common as this reader makes it sound. (I do have other, legitimate complaints about the way Amazon does business, so I’m not especially pro-Amazon… just trying to keep it fair, case-by-case.)

      4. Yes…. and then I run around Imgur and feel better. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  5. azteclady says:

    I am not surprised, sadly. I remember a particular romance author who received comments on her blog, telling her she should feel honored someone felt her work was worthy of piracy, and that she should be grateful someone went to the trouble to put her work out there, giving her ‘free’ publicity.

    People’s sense of entitlement knows no end–and the truth is, those people, like that incredibly rude reader in this particular incident, they were never going to pay to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tdspringer says:

      Sadly, it isn’t just books. I know many people who create patterns for quilts. They spend their time and money traveling to shows to sell their work only to have people photograph the finished work and copy it. There are many people out there who want something for nothing and feel completely entitled to whatever they desire.

      Like

    • Alex Hurst says:

      That’s awful. 😦 I also had someone PMing me via Facebook, asking for free books and heckling me when I didn’t deliver on some of them. (The first I did give away free because he claimed no access to the content due to living in India.)

      Like

      • azteclady says:

        I do have sympathy for people who live in places where geographic restrictions make it impossible for them to pay for a copy of a book they want to read–in these days of digital immediacy and global social media, it really makes no sense to have geographic restrictions on digital books.

        Mind you, I have no doubt that there are plenty of people who claim to live/be in places where those restrictions apply, for the sole purpose of getting free things. As with anything else, just because some lie, doesn’t mean that there are entire markets that wouldn’t willingly pay for their reading material.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. jazzfeathers says:

    Beautifully said.
    Internet has accustomed readers to have so much for free, and unfortunately the great competition, that today is fiercer than ever, has pushed the prices down. And I have to disagree with you, I do think that Amazon is a good part of the problem here.

    As university bookshop, we used to make little discounts to students when we first opened 12 years ago. Back then, we were one of the only two bookshops in the university of Verona lot. But it came a time when several bookshops opened in the area, and everyone tried to use the trick of offering ever higher discounts to allure students. At a certain point my boss said he was going to just stop.
    “This is a bucher game,” he said. “It will only destroy us. We have to offer something different and better, not something cheaper.”

    I think that’s the point. But while this may be true and the way to go, once customers are accustomed to have something for nothing, it’s very very hard to teach them the value of what you’re offering. Because you’re the one going cheaper and cheaper, they just assume what you’re offering isn’t that valuable and there’s no reason why they should pay to get it.

    I think this is where we are today with ebooks. I mean, they’r enot even actual things, a publisher has NO expance to produce them, right?
    I don’t know whether we will ever go back to understand that books are more than the paper they are printed on… or the intangible file you read on a device.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Great comment, Sarah, and of course, you’re welcome to disagree. I’m by no means pro-Amazon, but I just felt that the reader was abusing a system that wasn’t built for that kind of use (and yeah, Amazon needs to have better checks against fraudulent returns)…

      All that said, yes, the Internet has been a huge contributor to the free entitlement feeling in many people these days. Huffington Post, for example, pays NONE of its writers–and writers put up with it, because it is great publicity…. but if all a company/writer cares about is publicity, eventually, the business will fail. There’s no revenue to be had in that system. I’m glad your previous boss had the foresight to simply step out of the trend. Hopefully his business is still healthy and active!

      The good news is that indie ebook prices are finally going up again. 4.99 seems to be the new sweet spot. Part of that came from readers themselves, who started associating “free” with “you’re getting what you pay for.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. shoreacres says:

    This just astounds me. I’m not much of an ebook reader. In fact, I’ve downloaded very few. In the mix, there have been a couple of truly terrible books, but I never would have dreamed of returning them. In fact, I didn’t know you could. Ah, people. If you want a lending library, go to the library (online or otherwise). The growing sense of entitlement in this country is taking on some truly weird forms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      I tried to be an ebook reader, but I can’t stay focused on the text very long. My brain equates digital reading with newspapers and articles, and therefore, tries to skim when I want to “soak in” the text. I’ll always be a paper girl. 🙂

      Like

  8. noelleg44 says:

    I cannot understand why some readers think an ebook should be free. But then, nothing much surprises me any more. And as for Amazon, everything that company does with, for, or to its authors is all about the bottom line. I’ve learned to accept that, too.
    By the way, Alex, I never got to follow up on your move. Let me know!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      I’m not even sure it’s about the bottom line with Amazon (their stock return is a constant complaint to their investors), but they are definitely concerned with cornering the market as slyly as they can….

      My move was…. a trip, haha. I’ll be writing a post about it soon, promise. 🙂 This was just more time sensitive.

      Like

  9. Iphis of Scyros says:

    I’ve seen this kind of thing in other media, but I had no idea it was even hitting books. 😦 I’m not sure if this is better or worse than the reviews I see in the App Store on my iPad, calling games “overpriced” and “a rip-off” because they dare to charge $0.99-$1.99 instead of being free. (They should try being a console gamer sometime — $39.99 to $59.99 for most games — and then see if $2 feels “overpriced”!)

    I’m more of a “physical book” person, myself, but I do have some ebooks, too. The idea of returning them would never have crossed my mind, even if any of them were terrible. I’d just have deleted them from the Kindle app on my iPad, and moved on without another thought. But to abuse the system and act like it was the author who was in the wrong? I’m appalled and baffled at the thought!

    …though I think it just gave me an idea for that story I’ve been planning about people with weird superpowers. I think I’ll give someone the ability to track down people like that and force them to cough up what they owe…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      The mobile game industry has certainly tried to get around that by putting all the fun or advantageous content behind paywalls (which lets the app be free….. but I don’t see many people complaining about those $49.99 or $99.99 packs that give other players an advantage… :P) Imagine if the book industry started putting final chapters in ebooks behind a paywall, haha.

      I love physical books, too. I remember more since my memory is primarily setting-based, and I remember text on the page… I don’t retain ebook versions’ plots as well.

      Sounds like a great superhero. 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Widdershins says:

    When Smashwords and The Data Guy released their latest data it seems that the current sweet spot for pricing is between $2.99 and $4.99. The 99c argument seems to be well on its way out, and about time. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alex Hurst says:

      That’s great to hear, especially because it shows a reasonable price for a book (now if only trad. publishing houses would lower theirs to match… but that’s not going to happen.)

      Like

  11. saraletourneau says:

    I hadn’t heard of this until your post, Alex. *shakes her head* Some people.

    I don’t have an e-reader, so all of the books I own are paperbacks or hardcovers. And the only time I have ever returned books is when I’ve received duplicates as gifts. Otherwise, anything I’ve read and didn’t like enough to keep has been donated to libraries and charities. I couldn’t fathom doing what the reader did here – not just returning the books, but asking the author to offer her work for free. It’s incredibly selfish and rude, and I don’t understand why people feel entitled to get a product for free that someone worked so hard on.

    This also reminds me of something that happened to me when I was a freelance music journalist a few years ago. I used to be a member of Last.FM, which is basically the music version of Goodreads. It would “connect” to my music programs (iTunes, Spotify, etc.) and keep track of the songs and artists I listened to.

    So, when I received not-yet released albums from artists or their record labels that I planned to review for Sonic Cathedral, Last.FM would show my listening statistics for those not-yet released albums. And then other users who didn’t have those albums yet would start posting on my wall or sending me private messages, asking me to send them the album because they didn’t want to pay for it.

    My answer, every time? NO. That’s how album leaks always start, and I didn’t want to be responsible for one. And after a while, I left Last.FM completely because I was sick of being bugged by people who didn’t want to pay for the music they wanted so badly.

    Authors deserve to be paid for their work, just like musicians and other artists deserve to be paid. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Wow…. that’s a lot like when you see a leaked movie. In one case, I actually saw one that hadn’t been properly blurred (yes, I pirated for a few movies when I was in Japan, as they actually didn’t release over there, and all legal avenues wouldn’t give me access [Netflix, Hulu, Amazon… I tried!]) that actually said “Ellen DeGeneres Copy”…. made me wonder if someone had gone dumpster diving. 😛

      It’s too bad, though, that it ruined your experience for a platform. I wonder, now that Goodreads had started a Kindle giveaway program, if the same problem will start popping up over there. I’ve never participated in a print giveaway over there, but I think the winners’ names are published? Don’t know.

      Like

  12. Rae Z. Ryans says:

    The last line from the screenshots bothers me the most. Writers tell stories, share knowledge, and entertain. We absolutely should be paid in some form, whether money or something else suitable for our situation (I’ve actually asked for donations to charities and given copies to those with receipts). What that line showed me was a complete lack of respect for authors and books. Unfortunately that is the current trend—why pay $2.99 for one book when another is free, or why pay it for one when a ten book box set is only .99 cents?

    Your DVD analogy is spot on. The only way stores would accept it is if it’s not working properly or arrived physically damaged. I would consider the same a just cause for an ebook return because if it’s unreadable, a reader isn’t receiving the entertainment they purchased.

    I, too, felt the original posts shared were trollish, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that people do this to readers. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last until something changes to protect authors. The original author did the right thing by reporting her to Amazon. The ball is in their court now, and time will tell if they can find a solution that benefits readers and authors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Yeah, I hope Amazon does something about that profile (though if that will cause its own sort of negative ripple effect, no one can know.)

      I really wish I had saved screenshots of the post while it was up… not that I would have shared more than a couple quotes, but man. It was insane.

      At the very least, another commentator mentioned that ebook prices are on the rise, so that’s something to look forward to.

      Like

  13. cwhawes says:

    I’ve never returned a book (well, to the library), unless it was badly damaged and I can’t remember the last time that happened. I agree, there is a mentality that digital content should be free. But that particular reader took the idea to truly new lows.

    Personally, unless the ebook is defective, I don’t think Amazon should accept returns on ebooks. I’ve had ebooks returned. And of course don’t know why. Be nice to know that. But for the arguments you make, I think Amazon should scotch its policy of allowing ebooks to be returned.

    I’ve also noticed a movement on the part of my fellow indie authors to move the price of their books upwards. I see many books now at the $4.99 price point, with maybe the first in the series free or 99 cents. I say, it’s about time. Especially when the Big 5 have the audacity to charge upwards of $12.99 for ebooks. Ridiculous.

    A good post Alex! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      I think that ebooks should be allowed to be returned–as you say, there could be significant defects, it could not be edited, etc… however, Amazon can track pages read, and if the reader has read it start to finish, and then wants a refund, that’s the same as going to restaurant, eating your whole plate, and then telling the chef you want your money back (with no physical signs of illness). It’s just ridiculous.

      I’m glad to see the price point rising; I’ve seen it too. I think the first few who did it must have been very courageous to be the guinea pigs, but if enough people do it, then the 99 cent range will be reserved for short stories and novellas alone, as it should be.

      Like

  14. ridicuryder says:

    Hi Alex,

    It’s a different world / the free market…blah blah blah. I generally value and engage more in something I pay for decently. Others value your work when you yourself regard it as valuable. On the other hand, let’s keep smiling for free…WooHoo! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    RR

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Totally agree with you there, RR. 🙂 Cheap begets feelings of cheapness, and vice versa. Indies shouldn’t be afraid of being seen as “less” than traditionally pubbed authors. Time to start pricing appropriately!

      Like

  15. Alexia Rose says:

    I like to think of myself as a wee patron when I purchase any creative content. If you don’t want to “invest” in buying a book (electronic or paper) why don’t you just visit your local library? Or even squat in B&N — I’ve seen people spend a day there reading. But to read, return and then have the nerve to tell the author that her intellectual property should be FREE???!! The Universe knows when you’re a “taker.” (even if the Internet hadn’t revealed that fact already.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Haha, my siblings and I used to squat in B&N and Borders… they kicked us out when they realized we were never going to buy anything. 😛 But yeah, if we’d had a library in the area, we would have gone there instead.

      Like

  16. Patricia Lynne (@plynne_writes) says:

    I’ve had someone message me and ask if I’d be doing a giveaway soon because she liked my books but couldn’t afford them, and I’ve had instances of returns where I wondered if the person read it then returned. I also recall a topic on Amazon in a review where a woman boasted about reading and returning books. But it takes a whole new level of balls to email an author and demand this. Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Yeah, I think I’ve seen the thread on Amazon that you are talking about. It definitely takes a new level here, though. I can’t think of a single content creator I would go up to and be like “Yo, take my advice. It’s gold (to no one but myself).”

      Like

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Yep! Somehow I keep hoping that a digital record of so many human interactions would start to make people learn…. but I guess not. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Kate McClelland says:

    I think that selling ebooks either for free or £0.99 may be counterproductive.
    It makes people think it’s not worth having.
    A colleague was giving away an impartial advice booklet. hardly anyone took it. They then put it up for sale and it started selling.
    It seems that people thought free advice wasn’t worth having!
    I have taken a few books for free, but they have been from authors long deceased, so I didn’t feel like I was ‘taking’ from them. I will not be doing this again.
    The only way to stop books being sold so cheaply is to not have them as ebooks unless there is a guaranteed price – it’s not a library, it’s an online book shop.
    Just because it’s not a physical book doesn’t mean it’s any less the work of that author who should be paid accordingly.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Matthew Wright says:

    I get a lot of Amazon ‘returns’ for my stuff. I managed to get much of my trad-published by out-of-print backlist on Amazon Kindle. Well and good. But about half the sales end up as ‘refunds’. I am confident enough in the calibre of the writing (which went through the trad publishing process originally) – one of the issues, I think, is that because all this stuff is non-fiction, people are ‘buying’ it for long enough to look something up or read what they wanted to know, then returning it – contriving to get ‘free’ for their purposes.

    Like

    • Alex Hurst says:

      It makes me sad to see the system abused, because I can understand it to a point. But with the internet out there to give you free answers, it’s not a huge hurt to pay for the information it can’t provide (in the case of nonfiction).

      Liked by 1 person

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