Are you scamming the Amazon Kindle store?

For reasons that should be obvious enough to anyone who’s ever worked in retail, Amazon doesn’t exactly go out of its way to advertise its e-book return policy.

In fact, unless you’re a fairly regular customer of the Kindle Store yourself, there’s a good chance you’re not even aware that a Kindle books return policy exists. But there it is, right on Amazon’s website:

Books you purchase from the Kindle Store are eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within seven days of the date of purchase. Once a refund is issued, you’ll no longer have access to the book. To request a refund and return, visit Manage Your Kindle, click the actions tab for the title you’d like to return, and select “Return for refund.”

Sound like a pretty fair policy, right?

Well, not according to Derek Haines, a blogger and self-published author who sells his books through the Kindle Direct Publishing program. In a recent blog post, Haines says he’s been seeing an increasing number of “Units Returned” on his KDP sales reports. As far as he’s concerned, those increasing numbers aren’t due to unsatisfied readers who are returning his books because they didn’t like them, but rather to people who are reading one or another of his books withing the seven allotted days, and then returning them to the Kindle Store for a full refund.

With the exception of Amazon, of course, no one actually knows if that’s the case. But nevertheless, Haines does make a good point: There are more than a few books out there that can easily be read in seven days or less, and there are almost certainly a fair number of not-quite-honest Amazon customers taking advantage of the Kindle Store’s return policy. As for whether or not the policy is negatively affecting self-published authors whose sales numbers are low to begin with … well, I tend to doubt that. Then again, I might feel differently if I had books of my own for sale in the KDP program.

Here’s what Haines has to say:

Of course I have written to Amazon to express my concern at this policy, stating that in seven days an ebook could be read more than three times, but [I] have no doubts that nothing will change in the near future. I have no issue with this seven day return policy for physical goods, but for Kindle ebooks, it’s just plainly open to abuse.

What do you think? Is the return policy good customer service? Or, as Haines suggests, is it an invitation to abuse?

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51 Comments on Are you scamming the Amazon Kindle store?

  1. Firstly, you could argue the same with paper books, however, I don’t hear anyone trying to change the dead tree book return policies.
    Secondly, the following quote may explain the high return rate:
    “In reading 34% of this book I have documented 17 typos, and I stopped counting all the incomplete sentences in teh first 10%…”

    Upon closer inspection, this author has the same few people giving him 5 star reviews for all his titles!!

    It could be that, since Prime members can borrow his books for free, users see $0.00, click buy, then realize that the title costs money for non- Prime members and return the book without reading it.
    If I were the criminal type, I would do the type of scam he is insinuating with expensive top 10 titles, but then again, maybe thieves prefer indie authors :)

  2. I will repeat what I have said before: I believe the number of people who have used the return policy to speed read and return a book to cheat an author/publisher/Amazon is negligible.

    First, Amazon can and has closed accounts for abuse of the return policy. It is simply not worth the risk. If Amazon closes your account, you lose access to all of your books. Don’t think Amazon won’t notice a customer who is returning books on a regular basis.

    I do hear of people returning books for several reasons: 1. The book was purchased by mistake (accidentally hit the buy button), 2. The buyer mistook the Prime Members price of $0.00 as meaning the book was free, then discovered that it was not free and that this only meant it was available in the Prime Lending Library, 3. The price on the book has dropped within the return period and the buyer returned the book to buy it back at the cheaper price, 4. The formatting of the book was terrible, and 5. the book wasn’t what they expected or they didn’t like it (50 Shades of Grey comes to mind here).

    I am tired of authors who assume that their books aren’t being returned because of the quality of the book or the situation it was purchased under, but instead because his readers are thieves. Makes me not want to be one of their readers.

  3. Everything I’ve seen indicates that this is a very small percentage of sales (well under 1% for my own titles), and that Amazon will close the accounts of those who abuse the practice. So if people want to try my books feeling safe in the knowledge that they can return them if they absolutely hate them, that’s fine by me.

  4. I’ve returned two ebooks out of well over a hundred purchased. One turned out to be a re-release nder a new title of a book that I already owned.

    The other was a college text with lots of mathematics and cost far more than a typical ebook. After reading several paragraphs that seemed to end or in the middle of an incomplete thought, I borrowed a copy of the paper book and found multiple instances where the ebook dropped a half-page or more of text just prior to an mathematical equation.

    Unlike the folks on Haines’ site, I don’t think the 7 days policy at Amazon is all that outrageous. I barely caught these two problems within that time limit. I find that I often buy books that I don’t actually start reading until more than a week later.

  5. Considering that ebooks often cost as much as print books but prohibit the purchaser from resale or from transferring to another device or giving the book to somebody else when finished I don’t blame people at bit for exploiting any loophole they can find.

  6. Binko Barnes, I think that people who love books would not abuse of this option, especially since nobody forces them to buy the ebook versus the similarly paper book that they may attribute more value to.

    When you sit down and spend hours or even days reading a book, you usually like or love it (or else you would just stop reading) which, in turn, makes you respect the author and appreciate the time they put into writing the book. You want to support them, and see them continue writing.
    I even feel uncomfortable calling this return policy a “loophole”.

  7. I worked in a bookstore in the late 80s and early 90s and remember a few customers that would buy, read, and exchange books. There is nothing a store can do, really, if they want to kept the return policy available. It’s the price of doing business. There will always be a few cheaters and scammers finding the “loopholes” to exploit.

  8. When I lived in Pittsburgh, there was a B&N in a neighborhood called Squirrel Hill (long since closed, RIP), and there was a guy who would return his books ALL the time. This guy was out of control, and eventually the manager cut him off – or tried to, at least. I probably saw this guy and the manager screaming at each other a half-dozen times because he literally tries to return every book he bought.

    The reality, of course, is that some people will, and do, take advantage of little loopholes like these, but as Vonda Z says, the number is negligible.

  9. It’s also possibly a problem with his books being in the Prime lending library. There are posts all the time (ie: pretty much daily) on Amazon’s Kindle forums from Prime members that don’t understand how the lending library works and have inadvertently bought the book instead. That may be the source of some returns (not all of course) as well as people who bought by mistake when really wanting a sample.

    I think if this were really a big problem we’d have heard of at least one of the Big Six complaining and/or trying to have Amazon do away with the policy as Big Six books are much more likely to be victims of the abuse of this policy.

  10. I think Amazon knows how to manage their business. Having a return policy makes sense for the vast majority of people who have other things to do than buy and return books.

  11. The Big 6 probably don’t complain as they don’t permit refunds once the book is downloaded or accessed. This was verified by other retailers explaining why they couldn’t issue refunds to customers. Amazon takes the loss on these refunds which is why they will close your account if their generosity is abused.

    Paper books can be returned to publishers/distributors for a refund or credit. So the refund policies for them can be more liberal.

  12. @Fbone, I’d like to know more about this verification you mention. Retailers say a lot of things that aren’t necessarily accurate, did they provide any documentation, also interested in how you know Amazon is taking a loss on those? Most retailers other than the big ones (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Sony) use a distributor like OverDrive or LightningSource and I believe it’s true that those distributors don’t generally allow refunds, but that could be different than the publishers not allowing it. Are other retailers taking a loss as well on refunds? I’ve gotten refunds from Amazon, Kobo, Sony and back in the day Fictionwise for Big Six books (2 from Amazon, 1 from the others).

  13. As an author, I’ve seen roughly 5% returns related to my book on Amazon. I do not apprecaite the Amazon return system. Seven day is plenty of time to read a 400 page book. Futher, anyone who owns a kindle KNOWS that they can access the data folder on the device and COPY the needed book files onto your PC to read the book well after a refund has been issued.

    I do respect that people make mistakes and download accidentally. I also understand that not everyone will like what I write. There are just too many people looking to scam.

  14. I don’t know what Amazon does with the big publishers, but for indie authors through KDP, it’s the author — not Amazon — who takes the loss, as Amazon doesn’t pay us royalties on books that are returned.

  15. Speaking of return policies have you guys heard about the new one at Audible? They’re giving you 365 days…

  16. I agree that returns are highly questionable. Amazon provides a preview, letting the reader get a substantial excerpt so they can see the quality of the writing, the editing and of course the story. I don’t get a lot of returns but I do get some and I do suspect that at least some of these returns are people taking advantage of my authors and me. Can I prove it… of course not. Still, I price my books affordably just so people won’t be tempted to game the system. So it’s annoying when they game it anyway.

    Rob Preece, Publisher

  17. Vanda Z said, “Amazon can and has closed accounts for abuse of the return policy.”

    This has to be wrong. At least I hope that it is wrong. If you bought (not rented) 200 eBooks and Amazon summarily closed your account, that would be a significant deprivation of property without due process. Surely, one would have some recourse, no?

  18. “deprivation of property without due process”? Amazon is not obligated to provide due process – that’s a legal right restricting interactions between a citizen and the government.
    Amazon is only required to uphold the contract that they and their customers have agreed to – a contract that Amazon wrote and, as part of which, Amazon reserves to itself the right to rewrite at any time. Try google-ing for “reserve right modify suspend discontinue” if you want to see the ugly side of those contracts.
    But this is hardly unusual. Try replacing the word “amazon” in that search by “barnesandnoble”, “walmart”, “netflix”,… and you will find much the same. If you want to scare youself, try the same search with the name of your local telephone company, electric company, etc.

  19. Yeah, they don’t really advertise the e book return policy! Even though I
    visit the Kindle store but I have never really noticed the return policy.

  20. Right or Write // October 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm //

    What I think some people may fail to realize is that even though a return policy within itself is fair (poor editing, wrong book downloaded, etc.) when the purchaser is allowed to read the entire text and return it, sometimes they in fact will and they will do this repeatedly under multiple accounts that they have created on amazon. So, even if one or two accounts are closed due to possible abuse of the return policy, they have another one waiting in the wings. It does in fact seem like a lot of work, time and headache to the average person – because most of you responding are not criminally minded. The people that do this regularly, do not think the way you do, however. This policy is in fact being abused and there is one person I know for an absolute fact, who purchases books and returns them within 3-4 days after reading the complete book. She does this with most of the kindle books she purchases and has yet to have her account closed.

  21. I’ve even known of women who will purchase expensive dresses for special occasions, wear them once, press them or have them dry cleaned and return them. They see nothing wrong with this. “I could never afford a dress that expensive, and the company can easily sell it again.”

    Well, perhaps a resale is possible, but the first buyer is the one who should be paying for the dress. Whatever happened to integrity?

  22. @Right or Write, you may well be more correct (right) than you imagine. The criminally intent could remove the DRM and return the book amassing a vast collection of illicit eBooks. Imagine the Scrooge McDuck of eBooks with a digital swimming pool of eBooks.

  23. I’m sure a few people scam. But for my own returns (about .5%, which isn’t too bad, though it always makes me wince), I suspect it is mostly due to sex! (I write romance.) Because I definitely have many more for the first book in the series. Yes, it surprises me. You can “look inside” the book (but not see the “steaminess” of the sex scenes, as they don’t happen that fast unless it’s erotic romance), but the reviews clearly say things like, “the sex was hot!!” My assumption has been that somebody gets to the first sex scene, screams and drops her Kindle in disgusted horror, and pushes the “return” button as quickly as her shaking fingers can manage it. Of course, if they LIKE the sex scenes, they are much less likely to be returning Books 2 and 3!

    I like my theory anyway. :) Because I know it’s not typos. Don’t have any of those (she says confidently).

  24. Yeah, they don’t really advertise the e book return policy! Even though I visit the Kindle store but I have never really noticed the return policy.

  25. Like Rob Preece, I have seen an increase in returns, mainly with some of our best selling romance and erotic authors. But this week, while checking our dashboard on sales of our recently released books, I noticed one book sold 20 copies and 10 returns. And this author is NOT in the KDP program. Then my gaze continued scanning and noticed other returns of KDP books now…

    The 7 day return policy is great perhaps for other products but for digital, where one can easily read or copy and then upload to a piracy site) they, being Amazon, should allow publishers a chance to offer an updated file if the reason was unsatisfactory formatting. In our case, all of our books are in top shape where formatting is concerned. Or Amazon should have a place where reasons for returns are placed beside the ‘return’ tally in our dashboard.

    Amazon may lose money as one member mentioned here, but ‘if’ some of these books are purchased on the sly, read, and then returned, it is the hard work of the author who is losing out, along with the editors and cover artists who worked on that book and depend on their share of royalties in this business.

    Seven day policy to return a digital file is just a tad too much.

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