From Dear Author:
In the past few months, the noise about returns has risen to a level that is hard to ignore. Led largely by self published authors, there is a growing group of people who are rattling for change at Amazon. Amazon allows for return of a digital book purchase with 7 days, no questions asked from the Manage My Kindle page.
. . . .
After seven days, the return for a refund disappears and you have to email customer service to request a refund. At that point, you have to provide a reason for your return.
At other retailers, returns aren’t as large of a problem because it is nearly impossible to return a digital purchase. I’ve found it fairly easy to request a refund at Apple for incorrectly purchased movies so long as I’ve done it quickly after the purchase but Barnes & Noble and Kobo will usually only respond with a replacement for a corrupted file.
The reason that returns have gained a lot of attention is that for the first time authors actually see the number of returns.
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Reportedly, some author’s return rates are around 15% and some are around 2%. I’ve heard that the rate of return is higher for New Adult books (although the above example is a New Adult author) and lower for historicals. It’s easy to see why an author would balk at losing 15% of her possible income due to returns.
Returns, however, have always been part of the business of book selling even when books were sold solely in print. While it is hard to assess the numbers of exact customer returns at the point of sale, most author’s royalty statements held a reserve against returns. Usually this is 15-25% of the royalty that is withheld against returns from the bookstore. One industry person shared that mass market returns are about 50%, trade is around 30-40% and hardcover is 40%. Meaning that the bookstore would place an order for 3-5 copies of a book. In the case of a hardcover or trade paperback, the bookstore could return the book. In the case of mass markets, the cover would be stripped and the book would be thrown away. In each case, the bookstore would receive a credit for each unsold book.
Obviously this is not the exact same thing as a book purchased by a consumer and then returned, but returns are allowed at most bookstores. Barnes & Noble’s return policy for paper books reads as follows:
It’s easy to return an item if you’re not satisfied.
We will issue a refund to your original form of payment for items returned within 14 days.
Items must be returned in their original condition; shrink-wrapped products must be unopened.
. . . .
Regardless of the reasons readers may have for returning books (and they are numerous) authors who’ve signed a recent change.org petition treat returning books the same as piracy, using the same language. John Ruch calls people who return books “jerks”.
Lois W. writes that “this policy allows people basically to steal my work. They buy the book, read it, then return it.”
Shelly C agrees: “Returning an e-book (even if Amazon allows you to do so) after you’ve read it is the same thing as pirating, you’re just cheating the system instead. When you return the book, they deduct the amount from our pay. It’s stealing, any way you slice it.”
Kathleen H chimes in “I am an avid reader and aspiring author. I don’t believe it requires seven days to decide if you like a book or not.” Mary Lou agrees and suggests that the return time be truncated to two hours because those who use the return feature are book thieves. Book theives [sic] probably think this is funny. They don;t [sic] realize that most authors are starving artists unless they have a day job. With the preview, two hours should be sufficient time for anyone who accidentally purchases an e-book to request a refund.
Sharon G believes she is being discriminated against. “I’m a writer, and I see no reason we should be discriminated against in the matter of e-books. No other Amazon e-product is subject to this condition.”
Link to the rest at Dear Author
Passive Guy sides with Amazon on this (and with Wal-Mart and Nordstrom and Costco and a bunch of other successful retailers with liberal return policies). Although some people will abuse returns, most won’t.
Smart retailers understand that the ability to return a product for any reason encourages more people to buy it because it reduces the risk for the buyer who isn’t completely certain whether he/she will like the product or not. If a product ends up being marginal, or even not at all useful, most people won’t bother with a return even if it’s possible.
And for indie authors, there’s no cost of goods loss involved in a return, only a prospective lost royalty from a reader who might not have purchased in the first place without the ability to return the ebook.
Imagine that, instead of ebooks, you’re making big-screen televisions or computers. A return of one of those represents a loss. Even if you can resell an open-box item, you’re only reducing your loss, not making a profit. Yet manufacturers of those expensive products still sell through retailers with generous return policies.
Most retailers have procedures to deal with customers who abuse return privileges. We recently had a post on TPV about one such person who had an Amazon account closed for too many returned ebooks.
There are many reasons why most indie authors sell far more ebooks on Amazon than on Barnes & Noble or Kobo. PG suggests it is possible that Amazon’s returns policy contributes to some of those sales.