Authors Speak Out Against Amazon’s E-book Policy

Spurred by a recent Booktok hack, Amazon’s “read and return” policy has been popularized (and abused) to the detriment of author profits.

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Amazon’s Kindle e-book policy stands out significantly from other major book retailers. Why? Because it allows customers to receive a full refund for an e-book within seven days of purchase. Neither Apple nor Kobo nor Barnes & Noble has as flexible a return policy.

For most avid readers, a week is plenty of time to devour a book. Some speed-readers only need a single sitting! Thus, this standing policy allows for a “read and return” system that has left many authors with negative earnings for their hard-earned work.

Author Grievances

Romance author, Lisa Kessler, is one key voice raising alarm about the effects of the “read and return” trend. According to a recent piece for NPR, Kessler, for the first time in 11 years, saw a “negative earnings balance” on her dashboard.

The culprit behind this was none other than e-book returns, which allow individuals to treat Amazon as a library.

Essentially, the existing policy allows for returns that deduct from author profits, not Amazon’s. Given that all customer purchases involve a download fee for the authors, if e-book returns spike, authors (like Kessler) end up with negative earnings.

Unsurprisingly, authors affected by this popularized return hack equate use of this policy to stealing. I mean, what else can one call it? Consuming the entirety of a product without having to pay for it certainly points to the definition of theft.

Even if the return policy is framed as a safeguard for accidental digital purchases, a seven-day window seems a little too generous and easy to abuse. Joining Kessler, authors like Kristy Bromberg, Nicole Givens Kurtz, E.G. Creel, and Chad Ryan have suggested a return limit at the very least.

In this way, e-books read to completion by the customer would not be considered for a refund.

Interestingly, e-books are the only grouping of digital products that are returnable. Amazon’s selling of music or movies doesn’t have this strange leniency in refunds. All of which leaves authors questioning why e-books are treated differently than any other digital product and, subsequently, calling for much-needed policy shifts.

Petitioning For Change

Lucidly, the Booktok trend that started it all was not outwardly seeking to harm authors. Rather, it was a bookish hack looking to stick it to the all-powerful Amazon. However, seeing this e-book loophole backfire and do palpable damage to hardworking authors has induced the bookish community to petition change.

As of this weekend, a petition started by Reah Foxx has over 75,000 signatures. The goal is 150,000! If you’d like to add your name to support changing the e-book policy, please click here.

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos
Image via Seattle City Council / Wikimedia Commons

Whether or not Amazon will listen to rising complaints by authors and readers alike about the harm of the e-book policy is yet to be seen. The hope of many authors struggling with the financial effects of this practice is that a wide enough scandal will force Amazon’s hand to alter their policy.

Plus, as Kessler notes, “readers and writers have a symbiotic relationship.” When a system negatively effects one half of this vital connection, the bookish community has to restore that harmony.

Finally, click here for more content on the business side of book trends.