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There’s No Need to Change Amazon’s Kindle eBook Return Policy

oEKiurzzuCtigWf-556x313-noPad[1]Have you ever returned a Kindle ebook? That option might soon be going away, thanks to a petition over at The petition calls on Amazon to change their customer-friendly Kindle ebook return policy. Even though this petition is only 4 days old it has over 2 thousand signatures from authors and publishers, all of whom want Amazon to now block some types of returns. The petitioners don't see the return policy as reassurance to readers that we can return a poorly written or poorly formatted ebook. Instead they view it as a loophole that is being gamed by serial returnees. There is some truth to this idea, but would it surprise you to know that Amazon is a step ahead of serial returnees?

I first read about this petition on GalleyCat, and I was surprised to learn that I was the only one who knew about Part B of Amazon's return policy.

A lot of authors are bothered by readers who appear to be gaming the system (buying, reading, and returning multiple books) and that is an entirely understandable concern. Amazon is bothered by that as well, and that is why they have long had a policy in place for responding to serial returnees.

If a customer buys and returns too many ebooks, Amazon will put a block on their account and not allow any more Kindle ebooks to be returned. I know this policy exists because I encountered it in 2009.

In December 2009, while I was still blogging for MobileRead, I shared an email that a friend had received from Amazon. It very politely noted that my friend seemed to be buying a lot of Kindle ebooks by mistake:

Hello from

We're writing regarding your request of Refunds.

Unfortunately, the number of issues you have sustained with your Kindle Store orders has led us to believe that there might be a larger issue. Since it appears that many of your orders have been accidentally purchased, we ask that you contact Customer Service for troubleshooting in an effort to avoid these issues in the future.

Effective immediately, we are unable to compensate you for any additional issues with your Kindle Store orders.

Thank you for your understanding.

Best regards,

Account Specialist

So as you can see there's no need to change the policy. Amazon already has it covered.

I'm not sure whether Amazon sent the email when the returns hit a certain threshold or whether his buying habits fit the pattern of a serial returnee. But I do recall that this email was sent after 30 titles were returned.  In absolute terms that is really not a lot of ebooks; I've bought more ebooks than that in a single month.

But it doesn't really matter why Amazon sent the email; what matters is that they have a policy in place to cover anyone trying to cheat.

Furthermore, I am a little surprised at the number of authors who don't realize the importance of Amazon's return policy.  While a few people use it to cheat, the rest of us see it as a promise that we can return a crappy product. This increases the probability that we will take risks with unknown authors.

Few ebookstores have a return policy as generous as Amazon's. Barnes & Noble does not allow returns at all and nor does Sony. In fact, Google Play Books (and Kobo, or so I am told) are the only significant ebookstore that let you return ebooks.

I don't know about anyone else, but I would bet that Amazon's return policy is at least partly responsible for Amazon continuing to dominate the ebook market all the way through Agency pricing. It is is less risky to buy ebooks from Amazon that anywhere else. And TBH if Amazon did not have this policy I would be far more cautious about spending money there.

That is the point that the petitioners seem to have missed. They are upset about the tiny fraction of people who are gaming the system and in order to stop serial returnees the petitioners want to hurt the rest of us as well.

I would say that the cure is worse than the disease, wouldn't you agree?

About Nate Hoffelder (11123 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

76 Comments on There’s No Need to Change Amazon’s Kindle eBook Return Policy

  1. flyingtoastr // 3 April, 2013 at 10:51 am //

    Amazon dominates ebooks because they have mindshare and throw more cash at advertisements than the entire market capitalizations of the other ereader companies combined.

    It isn’t because they will return ebooks.

  2. “The petitioners don’t see the return policy as reassurance to readers that we can return a poorly written or poorly formatted ebook. Instead they view it as a loophole that is being gamed by serial returnees.”

    I honestly think you have that entirely backwards. The core issue is precisely that under Amazon’s existing policy they can’t just dump unproofed raw OCR output on us and say “Suck it up, buttercup” without fear of repercussions. Serial returnees gaming the system are a cover for the real concern (and a way to sucker in auctorial support).

  3. I’m always amazed at how quick authors are to form a mob and act stupidly. It reminds me of how they took down that one legit book lending site several months back.

  4. Kobo does allow returns, and always have. I have gotten a few refunds from them for books which had problems. In all cases, they asked for details about what those problems were, and once they verified that I was correct that the book had legit problems, they refunded my money with no problems.

  5. Yet another attempt to erode physical-world, consumer-friendly policies we’ve always enjoyed in the digital space. At this point, I just wanna ask writers backing this kind of garbage why they hate readers so much. I’m starting to agree with Bob Mayer’s take. If these writers hate Amazon’s return policy so much, then pull your books and go with B&N. They don’t even allow returns, that should be their panacea. Of course, maybe they actually want to sell books.

  6. Hi Nate, a slightly off topic question: if you’ve on occasion purchased more than 30 ebooks in a month, how many do you tend to read on average? I don’t see where you find all the time ;-)…Dave

  7. When I find an author I like I usually buy their backlists in a single go. And Baen’s monthly bundles make it easy to buy more than I can read.

  8. I think Amazon’s return policy should be revised, at least. If you read more than 20% of a book, you should no longer be eligible for a refund. That’s enough to determine if the formatting has a problem or the book is just bad.

  9. I’m wondering within what period of time this person did 30 returns. If it was within a month, that seems excessive.

    With e-books being so inexpensive, I really don’t see why people should get any leeway with returns after 2 days. That’s time enough to know if a book was bought by mistake. Also, it’s their fault if they didn’t read the generous sample first.

  10. There is no such thing as a “legit book lending site” (at least not when it comes to ebooks). Besides, if it was legit, it wouldn’t have been taken down

  11. Amazon has never been able to effectively answer my queries about one thing. If they do indeed have a seven-day strict return policy, why do I show, say 100 sales for Book A in January and February combined and 190 returns for the very same book for the very same time period. I’ve graphed out multiple times the discrepancies in the number of returns, which far outnumber the actual number of sales in a given time period, and they’ve never been able to provide an effective answer. It is simple math.

    I had 177% more returns than sales on several titles the entirety of 2012, and no, my December, 2011 wasn’t so successful to make up for that extra 77% in returns. My formatting on said titles were just fine and there were no returns on any of the other venues.

  12. The site that Tristan is referring to is called Lendink. Last August a huge number of authors falsely accused that site of pirating their ebooks when in fact all it was doing helping connect Kindle owners so they could legally lend an ebook to each other.

    It was a lynch mob:

  13. Returns aren’t just for mistaken purchases, they are also for poorly constructed ebooks.

    I’ve had Kobo refund a ebook due to obvious construction errors. Amazon just sent me an email letting me know that an ebook I purchased has been updated with better construction, I haven’t opened the original ebook because it hasn’t made it to the top of the TBR pile yet.

    I’m amazed at the level of typos and bad punctuation in purchased ebooks.

    I’ve had ebooks that I’ve purchased that I haven’t opened yet. I haven’t needed to. Yet.

  14. I believe that more information is required to make Nate’s case. For instance, did the serial returner “purchase” more than one e-book by the same author? Did the serial returner avail himself of the free reads, the look-inside opportunities, the legal lending on Amazon, the blurbs and reviews, and many other free opportunities to check out the writing and formatting of any work before “buying”?

    How many e-books did he buy and keep?
    Did he rate or write reviews of any of the e-books he returned?

    30 returns may seem fair to Nate, but that is potentially 30 authors who were not compensated at all before one serial returner was asked to mend his ways.

  15. Why would we need more info beyond the fact that Amazon is tracking returns?

    You’re welcome to assume whatever you like, but I’m not sure how it changes things.

  16. Lendink appears to be a bartering scheme for profit and the evasion of taxes which are due on barter transactions. One wonders how much Lendink will profit now that the affiliate system rules have been modified, and affiliates are not paid if the majority of clicks go to something other than sales.

    Lending is reasonable when a purchaser loves a book and wishes to share it (once, as allowed by Amazon), privately with a friend who is likely to enjoy it.

    When they wish to trade their “lend” of a book with a stranger in exchange for a borrow of another book, that is gaming the system. Moreover, there are sites that encourage members to snag promotional reads when they are free even if the book does not appeal to the member, explicitly for the purpose of subsequently trading the freebie for a book they really want to read.

  17. Amazon tracks returns.
    Amazon also terminates accounts of people that *do* game the system.

    Considering that serial returners generate no revenue for Amazon but generate download charges they would be the most interested party in kicking them off the system, no?
    Either you trust them to apply their rules or you don’t.
    If you don’t, peace of mind alone would suggest you take your business elsewhere.

  18. I never saw so many readers who hate writers as I have in this comment thread!

  19. Some authors have earned themselves a lot of scorn.
    The lendlink lynch mob, Scott Turow, Sue Grafton…
    The signees to this petition are good candidates to join that select list. :)

  20. Actually, authors get charged for download too, so much per book! As a reader I have returned books, because I read so many books that often I’ve forgotten that I’ve actually read xyz book in paper format. I’m pleased to see Amazon does have a watch on serial returners. As this is the digital world, surely Amazon could build a way to tell how much of the book a person has read. If they have read the whole book, I don’t think a return should be allowed. That is not fair. But on the other hand I suspect many readers will try a new author KNOWING that if they start the book and don’t like it they can return it (often we don’t have time to read the sample, especially if the book is on special). This could mean new authors get read and enjoyed when otherwise they might not.

  21. As an indie author, I would NEVER waste my time worrying about returns. I see them occassionally, and they are just part of the landscape of selling books. Most readers are honest, good folks and the returns are mostly mistaken purchases. To think that all or even a high percent of books returns are cheaters is silly. I’m not that paranoid or pessimistic or bitter in life. Even if if the returns were ALL cheaters, I still wouldn’t care, cause folks who want to cheat the system will find a way and won’t convert to paying customers–so I pay them no heed. they are the minority in this world, not the norm.

    I love my readers and would never do a thing to hassle them. The customer is always right. I’m a Nordstrom shopper for the same reason–don’t hassle me if I need to make a return. So I’m perfectly happy that Amazon is kind to customers in these situations…so let it be!

  22. Absolutely. It seems that the underlying problem here is that there are huge numbers of self-publish authors who are absolutely SURE that their book OUGHT to be earning them more money than it is. So when they find that sales are dribbling in at a pathetic rate, it MUST be because somebody is cheating them out of the fame and fortune they deserve.

    Heaven forbid that they consider the notion that people just aren’t buying their book because it’s not worth buying.

  23. I haven’t seen this more than hinted, but I would expect that a certain group of authors would see a higher percent of the returns. Just like Nate was saying, being able to return a book if it is crap makes you more likely to get more books. But it also means that the authors who write the crap books will see a lot more returns. And if those authors think their book is good it will look to them like people are gaming the system instead of the returns being a reflection on the quality of their book.

  24. Frank Skornia // 4 April, 2013 at 9:11 pm //

    You have a particularly narrow concept of lending. Libraries and their lending practices must really burn you up. Or do you just believe that a library’s patrons are close personal friends to the library. What about a site like PaperBack Swap ( Aren’t they doing pretty much the same thing that Lendink did, but with physical books? In fact, I’m sure that’s an even more egregious sin because those books can be swapped multiple times, unlike the Kindle books which can be lent ONCE FOREVER.

    I should be able to lend my books to anyone I choose, even if I don’t know them personally and have only communicated through an online site. Once I paid for my license for the Kindle book, I’m entitled to ALL my rights within that license, even lending if it is allowed.

    If you have such a problem with eBook lending, don’t allow it on your books, it’s as simple as that. Granted, it’ll take you out of the sweet profit spot, but that’s the choice YOU must make, don’t make it for everyone else.

  25. I don’t understand how authors can petition against ebook returns and not against physical book returns! In theory, I can buy and read any physical book, then return it, so what’s the diffence?! Ridiculous petition.

    Kudos to you for not regarding your readers as thieves, Christine. I will check out your books after posting this.

    I have only returned 3 ebooks ever, and only because I don’t get to read my ebooks within the first 7 days after I purchase them. Therefore, as a customer, I am already keeping a lot of books that are poorly written or that are so full of typos and punctuation errors that I abandon them after a few chapters.

    To address an earlier comment, being able to return ebooks is not why I favor Amazon, but their very easy, customer friendly, return system is what makes me like them so much more.

  26. Or libraries. When these authors find out that everyone can read for free at a library they will probably have a stroke.

  27. I was contacted by a fellow author and asked to read and sign the petition. After consideration, I declined. I did so for a number of reasons, first of which is that I’ve seen no indication that petitions influence Amazon’s policies in any positive manner at all. So it’s a big fat waste of time that makes the powerless feel like they’re doing something to control their destiny. That’s my pragmatism kicking in.

    I sell tens of thousands of books every month. A typical return rate is 1.5-2.5%. Call it 2%. I’ve checked with other authors in my genre, and that seems to be the number. For whatever reason 2% of purchases get returned. Why, I have no idea. Part of it is probably abuse, but it’s impossible to know how much, unless you’re Amazon and have access to an important data point: How much of the book has been read.

    To me it would be pretty simple. Amend the return policy to be something more reasonable – return within 3 days if the book has been read 25% or less. If over 25%, guess what? You didn’t like the ending, felt it should have been done differently? That’s called not liking the ending. It happens. I can’t recall how many films I’ve walked into and felt the film fell apart halfway through. But I didn’t demand a refund. That’s part of the experience of going to the movies. It’s also part of the experience of buying a book.

    I’ve read reviews where readers didn’t like the amount of swearing, or aspects of the plot, or the character arc, or the denouement. Guess what? You can’t please everyone. I’ve got back to back reviews on one of my extremely well rated novels saying, in essence, that reader A didn’t like the ending because it was a cliffhanger and they don’t like cliffhangers, and reader B didn’t like the ending of the same book because she wished it had been more of a cliffhanger. I can’t make this stuff up. If you try to please everyone, you’ll please nobody, and there will always be those who dislike a book for some reason, often something completely irrational, or that they got wrong. It goes with the territory of running a retail business, which is what bookselling is.

    I would more than happily sign a petition lobbying for refunds to be terminated once a reader has read 25% or more, even though I think it would make no difference to Amazon what 2000 of its authors did or didn’t think. Perhaps they are already ahead of that, and have looked at their data, and concluded that most returns don’t make it that far through. Or maybe they just don’t care because a 2% cost of doing business is basically a rounding error if the customer is happy and the net revenue from that customer is still positive for the company.

    I find it difficult to believe that a company that’s so customer-centric and has been so ahead of the curve in this arena would have missed the mark on returns – something that costs not only the author money, but more importantly to Amazon, costs Amazon money. My hunch is that this is another tempest in a teacup, and just part of the bookselling game.

    Russell Blake
    Suspense Author
    Author Page:

  28. I agree with Christine. As a writer, I don’t worry about returns. I worry about getting out the best book for my readers. I do think that some readers will take a chance on a new author regardless of whether or not they can return the book. From my experience, as a reader, I’m always looking for new authors. It’s always a thrill when I find an author I know is on auto buy. But returns are just a matter of doing business.

  29. I’m not a writer, but I purchase all of my books through amazon and have never had a problem with returns. But I can see that there may be people out there abusing this privilage by returning books after having read them, it takes all kinds you know!

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