TikTok users show readers how to play Amazon’s e-book return policy
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A TikTok trend where users encourage others to buy, read and return Amazon eBooks as part of the company’s return policy has angered freelance writers, who say they’ve seen dramatic spikes in their return rates. eBooks since the trend went viral.
The #ReadAndReturn challenge drew attention to Amazon Kindle Return Policy, which states that readers can “cancel an accidental book order within seven days.” But what has been billed as a “life hack” by the literary community is hurting fantasy writers like Lisa Kessler.
“When you buy a digital book, if you read it and send it back, Amazon turns around and gets the author’s money back, plus Amazon builds in a digital delivery fee and so Amazon still gets that delivery fee, but we get all royalties recouped,” Kessler told Motherboard.
Kessler, who self-publishes several book series, says before the challenge, she would see an average of one or two comebacks per month. But when she checked her Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) sales dashboard on June 1, she said she was shocked to find a negative account balance.
“It’s ridiculous,” K. Bromberg, another self-published author, told Motherboard. “As you can literally see in your dashboard. Someone goes through a series — they buy a book, return it, move on to the next book in the series, buy it, return it. You can’t see the names , but it’s like when there are three returns in a row, like from one day to the next, it’s like go!
For each download of an ebook priced between $2.99 and $9.99 with a 70-30 split between royalties and Amazon, authors must pay a delivery charge for sending the ebook files to people’s e-readers, which are deducted from the author’s KDP royalties. For free ebooks that are returned where the author never earned, authors still see shipping costs deducted from their account, according to Kessler.
Shipping costs start at $0.15 in the United States and are multiplied by the number of megabytes a book contains. At first, these rates seem like pennies, but when e-book files include graphics or images like book covers, shipping costs add up quickly. This, Kessler says, is how authors with large ebooks who see a lot of ebook returns can end up owing Amazon money at the end of the month.
“People are definitely playing Amazon’s return system,” Kessler said. “I think readers didn’t realize this was coming back to hit the authors and I don’t think Amazon realizes that people are abusing their return policy.”
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company is listening to customer feedback and investigating all concerns received.
“Amazon aims to provide the best possible experience for customers and authors. We have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent our eBook return policy from being abused.
But many independent writers believe that is not the case. Some authors who challenge Amazon’s e-book return policy have pointed out that Amazon should be able to track pages read on e-books like it does on Kindle Unlimited, which has a different royalty system where Amazon pays authors per page read. At the time of publication, a Change.org Petition calling on Amazon to change its ebook return policy for completed ebooks received nearly 65,000 signatures.
TikTok user @samanthaestchic first heard about the controversy when independent authors and supportive readers began calling on people to stop reading and return books to Amazon. She has since received backlash for what she saw as an uncompromising discussion.
“Speaking out against the challenge of reading a book and giving it back is fine,” she told Motherboard. “But I think it got mixed in with everything where it was like, ‘If you ever return a book, you’re a bad person. You’re costing the author money. I think there had to be have a nuance that just wasn’t there.
@samanthaestchic says there have been instances where she has returned an ebook. She says she wrote a chapter, realized the tone wasn’t for her, but skimmed through the rest of the book to see if it would improve. While she may have “finished the book” by Amazon Kindle metric standards, she says there’s a difference between browsing and reading. It took him two hours to decide to return the ebook.
“I left a review just to let others know why I fired it,” she said. “In my mind, if people recognize what the book is, they won’t buy it and return it. It’s sketchy when people buy books for the purpose of returning them. You can use a library for this. I don’t think readers should treat authors as if they were libraries.
Jennie Halperin, executive director of Library Futures, a nonprofit that advocates for libraries and digital property rights, says the #ReadAndReturn trend has revealed how Amazon’s policies and near-monopoly control over e-books have created unfavorable market conditions for writers and creators.
“One thing that cannot be underestimated is the importance of these independent publishers, independent creators, independent authors to Amazon’s sales, especially the e-book market,” Halperin told Motherboard. large publishing houses which control up to 85% of large commercial publishers. I think it’s definitely worth looking at which isn’t copyrighted by a major publisher as well.
Authors and readers interviewed for this story all agree that Amazon Kindle’s e-book return policy is extensive, with some noting that other digital services like Amazon Music and Prime Video don’t give customers the option to return at all. these types of media. Calls for a policy change have suggested a two-day return period or barring returns once a certain percentage of a book has been read.
Although there are other eBook distributors like Barnes & Noble and Apple, most authors see most of their sales coming from Amazon.
“They got us,” Bromberg said. “They know what they’re doing doesn’t really matter. We’re kind of stuck here.