Ebook returns protest gathers momentum as leading authors join campaign

A petition demanding that Amazon changes its policy on ebook returns is gaining popularity, buoyed by protest from authors such as Ian Rankin and Jeanette Winterson.

Amazon, whose revenue in 2021 was $469.82 billion, currently has a return policy on Kindle ebooks that means a customer can receive a full refund within 14 days of purchase. The policy applies regardless of how much of the book has been read, meaning people can read entire books and return them, regardless of enjoyment.

Ian Rankin is among a number of high-profile authors who have hit out at Amazon over the online retail giant’s returns policy for e-books, which they say is unfairly depriving authors of royalties from those sales.

Self publishing authors, including comic creators, are also charged a download fee for customer purchases which isn’t reimbursed when readers return the book. This can lead to authors making overall losses when too many people return their purchases.

Independent authors also get charged the full price of the book, regardless of what the reader paid for it, and several authors have said that they literally lose money some months, because it eats all their royalties, and more.

Author Reah Foxx started a petition on Change.org that has now gained over 40,000 signatories, and the Society of Authors has called on the Seattle-based company to cut its returns window to 48 hours.

“There has been a huge upswing in author’s ebooks being returned to Amazon after they have been read,” says Reah.

“When you have read the book, you consumed the product. Returning a book after reading 10-20% is one thing. But when the book has been read in its entirety it should not be allowed to be returned. End of discussion.”

“In other words, the author paid for that person to read their book!” she writes.

Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin

“I am appalled,” said author Ian Rankin. “Writers have a tough enough time as it is trying to make a living.

“If someone can read your book without paying you anything for the privilege you’re sunk.”

EuroNews has reported the potential damage to self-published authors, citing the case of Sue Bordley, a teacher and author who has self-published multiple books through Amazon under her name and a pseudonym, Jess Molyneux. Forgoing the gatekeepers in publishing houses, Bordley has found Amazon incredibly useful in forging her literary career, but just because the company doesn’t have publishing gatekeepers, it doesn’t make the act of writing a book any less of a challenge.

“Books take months to write and people are getting them for nothing and that isn’t fair,” she says.

“It costs an author quite a lot to get a book together, by the time you’ve organised a cover, if you’ve paid for formatting and proof-reading services. You’re out of pocket before you put that book on shelves and you need to sell a certain amount to just break even. Some independent authors are going to start saying ‘I can’t afford to continue doing this any more’. That would be a real shame.”

“Amazon needs to bring in a policy that if every page has been turned, you can’t get a refund,” EuroNews reported. “In the days of CDs you would not have been able to return a CD once the cellophane has come off,” Bordley says.

“Seven days is more than enough to read a whole e-book and exchange,” commented Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the SoA, “and it is not fair to deduct the author’s royalty for books that have been or could have been read.”

If the problem is bad for ebooks, it’s even worse for audiobooks sold on Amazon’s Audible platform, where, incredibly, the return policy for people unhappy with their audiobooks is as long as a year after purchasing. This policy also applies regardless of how much of the book you have listened to.

Responding to the growing concerns, a spokesperson for Amazon has said: “Our e-book return rates are consistently low and we have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent this from being abused.

“Amazon aims to provide the best possible experience for authors and customers. We allow e-book returns up to 14 days after purchase.

“Our aim is to inspire reading and we recognise the important role of authors. That’s why we launched Kindle Direct Publishing and further recent initiatives like the Amazon Literary Partnership, which supports authors and a variety of literary groups.”

You can view and sign the petition here on Change.org

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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