Indie Authors Criticize Policy That Allows Readers To Return Books to Amazon

If you want to get a book for free, go to the public library

This spring’s BookTok beef centers on Amazon’s seven-day ebook return policy and whether or not returning one is theft. Is it wrong to read and dislike a novel, and return it? And—even worse—are certain nasties exploiting that policy and using Amazon like a library? As always, opinions are strong and divisive.

@mckenseareads

words have meaning and returning something is NOT stealing. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s stealing 🤦🏻‍♀️ #booktok #returningbooks

♬ original sound – mckensea 🐳

@mxalex44

Making an informed decision to screw an author over is 100% your problem and you should feel guilty about it. #booktok #authortok #indieauthors #indieauthorsoftiktok #returningbooks #theft #stealing #informedchoice #dobetter #DeserveADrPepperDuet #fyp

♬ original sound – MxAlex44

According to Amazon’s policy, you can “cancel an accidental book order within seven days,” with a note saying, “If you have a high rate of return requests in your account history, the self-service refund option might be blocked.”

Authors are alleging that readers are abusing that policy by reading the book in full in those seven days and then returning it. When a buyer returns a book, they receive a full refund, and Amazon returns the author’s royalties. The Daily Dot also alleges that authors must pay a fee to Amazon for restocking that returned ebook, causing many authors to lose money, but I don’t see that in the Amazon policy. Though many authors have shared their recent increase in returned ebooks and negative account balances online:

Representatives from Amazon said on Tuesday in a statement, “Amazon aims to provide the best possible experience for customers and authors…We have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent our ebooks returns policy from being abused. We’re always listening to feedback and we investigate any concerns we receive.”

I first learned of this controversy recently since it usually takes a few weeks for TikTok content to make it onto Instagram and Twitter. “Every time you return an ebook at Amazon, the author is charged back more than what they were paid for the sale. Yes, that means we could owe Amazon at the  end of the month,” tweeted author K. Bromberg. “Since TikToks went viral saying ‘it’s okay to return ebooks’ most authors returns have skyrocketed. Reading and returning a book is stealing. If you want free books, try the library app, Libby (among others) #AmazonIsNotALibrary.”

“Just a reminder that Amazon is NOT a library. When you read and return a book it COSTS the author… It’s June 1st and I owe Amazon at the moment because people are reading through the Muse series and returning the books when they finish,” tweeted author Lisa (L.A.) Kessler, linking to a petition that calls for Amazon to change its policy. “Authors need to eat too.”

One solution in the mix that eliminates all of this back-and-forth is to cut out Amazon entirely. Enter Bookshop. Their savvy social media person has started a campaign this June that calls on media outlets to swap out their Amazon affiliate links for Bookshop ones, where 10% of every sale goes to an indie bookstore.

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Katie Smith

Katie Smith is a Philadelphia-based writer. Find her on Instagram @saddy_yankee for cat pics.

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