Amazon eBook Return Controversy

There’s a fuss smouldering away in some parts of the author community, especially the parts that primarily sell Kindle eBooks through Amazon. In a nutshell, Amazon has a lax eBook return policy and some readers are abusing it by reading books they have no intention of paying for.

That much is… well, it’s debatable whether even that much is entirely true*, but we’ll say it is for the moment.

For some authors, this trend has led to a surge in returns. That sucks. And it is hurting their bottom line.

That is true. And painful.

For most other authors this trend could lead to a permanent uptick in returns, but not one so dramatic that they’ve noticed.

That is plausible.

After that it gets messy really fast. There are conspiracy theories and disinformation that is clearly not true. Rumours are being claimed about Amazon charging authors for returns that are unsubstantiated by any evidence and that I find very difficult to believe.

The connecting thread for a lot of this is a hatred of Amazon. “Amazon is stealing from authors” is a claim frequently repeated. Often with a verb a whole lot saltier than ‘to steal’. Certainly, the villain of the piece has shifted away from people who buy and read books they have no intention of paying for and onto Amazon. It’s all Amazon’s fault.

There’s even a vituperative attack from the UK Society of Authors in which the literary worthies are so consumed by their hatred of Amazon that they direct their abuse at the wrong target*.

After a dozen years as a full-time writer, I can say from experience that this is just another day at the office. This kind of thing goes on all the time. In fact, this particular topic around Amazon eBook returns has been a recurring crisis in publishing since 2011. Hundreds of thousands of signatures have been collected over numerous petitions to make Amazon change its policy outside of Europe*.

My signature is included in several of those petitions, including the latest, here . I hope Amazon tightens up its return policy where it can. Personally, I don’t think it will because it’s too scared of falsely accusing customers who aren’t abusing the system, but I hope I’m wrong and it does try, because some authors and publishers are genuinely stung by returns abuse.

This may be an old story, but it bugs me because real people have been getting very upset about this topic. I’ve even seen some micro publishers remove their books from Amazon over this. Some have good reason to be upset, but many more do not because while we might criticise Amazon for the ease of abusing its return system, the real anger is coming from the conspiracy theory that Amazon is charging authors for returns.

What I know for certain is that Amazon isn’t charging me for returns. At least, not for the 7/14-day return window everyone’s talking about. They aren’t charging any other author I’ve talked to either. It’s possible they are charging specific unfortunates – I can’t rule that out without going through every individual’s royalty statements – but it does seem unlikely.

Until recently, I found it very easy to tell myself that a topic like this was not worth getting involved. Shut it out and ignore it.

Now it bugs me and distracts me from more important things. Like writing. I’m not sure whether this is connected with multiple sclerosis or this is advancing age revealing my destiny as Grandpa Simpson.

Whatever the reason, it’s been bugging me. So I produced a video of going through my royalty statements and my returns so that authors worried about the idea that Amazon charges them can go through their own figures and see what they’re really being charged. Or not being charged!

I hope it helps someone by putting their mind to rest. I’m certainly hoping it puts my mind to rest. To be honest, my plan is to do the video, write this post, and then permanently retire this topic from my head. However, if anyone wants to ask a question because they’re worried about this then fire away.

Here’s the video.

* Europe.

I keep mentioning Europe. The reason is that in October 2011, the European Union decided that Amazon’s ‘overly’ lax eBook return policy wasn’t, in fact, lax enough! So the EU issued a directive for all its member states to enact legislation to force Amazon (and every other online retailer) to adopt a 14-day no-questions-asked full refund window. Here in the UK, that EU directive is currently surfaced in the Consumer Rights Act (2015).

That’s why I say it’s not really Amazon’s return policy here in Europe. It isn’t. It’s the EU Commission’s policy. And like Judge Dredd, it’s the law.

(BTW: I’ve since learned a 7-day return window is also the law in Brazil. I did check for USA, Canada and Australia and believe that there are no state or federal laws forcing Amazon to use their 7-day return window policy. That’s still on Amazon.).

About Tim C. Taylor

Tim C. Taylor writes science fiction and is the author of 21 published novels as of August 2021. His latest book is 'Hold the Line', published by Theogony Books. Find out more at humanlegion.com
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2 Responses to Amazon eBook Return Controversy

  1. Nigel Edwards says:

    A real shame about the politics of writing. It hurts Amazon and writers alike. Amazon can possibly afford to ignore it, but the vast majority can’t. It would be good to have a simple solution. I heard someone say that all writers should band together into a cooperative in order to control everything. But you know, the same politics would appear again, maybe even worse. In short, life’s lesson is this: suck it up and don’t let the bastards get you down! 🙂
    PS, sorry to hear about the MS, mate. You are one of the good guys and don’t deserve it.

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