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

10178041974_6688626f47_hThere's a post circulating this week about readers abusing Amazon's return policy in the Kindle Store. Writing over at her Trout Nation blog, Jenny Trout, recounts:

Amazon will refund readers for an e-book purchase within seven days, regardless of how much content has been read. At first glance, this might seem like good customer service. I’ve certainly thought so in the past when I’ve accidentally purchased a digital duplicate copy of a paperback I already owned. Still, this is something I’ve done rarely–twice, if I remember correctly–and each time I worried that my return might affect the book’s sales ranking.

Other people, it seems, do not feel that kind of guilt. Last week, a story circulated on social media that outraged readers, writers, and book bloggers alike.

I found this story via The Passive Voice, and since this is bound to be hotly debated topic this week I thought it would be worthwhile to repost part of an article I wrote in 2013.

Authors were circulating a petition at that time which asked Amazon to end or change its return policy to prevent some readers from abusing the system. The authors were unaware that Amazon already had a policy in place to deal with serial returnees.

Here's the core of the post. I've had additional insight since that post was written three years ago, which you will find at this post.

O O O

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 Amazon.com.

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
Amazon.com

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. 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.

O O O

So I wrote that three years ago, thinking that it would settle the discussion and inform everyone that Amazon had this second-tier policy for those who try to cheat the system.

But as I sit here writing this post in 2016, I have to wonder whether Amazon still has that policy. Surely, if this policy existed, someone else would have written about it in the past three years. Authors would be telling each other not to worry, that Amazon would swat the cheaters, but that isn't happening.

Instead we have authors continuing to complain about the cheats.

Do you suppose that is a sign that Amazon has dropped the policy, or is it simply that we are seeing a new variation of "if it bleeds it leads"?

It's easier to get someone's attention with bad news, and it's easier to get them to share a story if it pushes their buttons. And this topic certainly pushes authors' buttons, so I can see how authors would be more likely to be complaining about the cheaters than discussing the policy which puts an end to the cheating.

Of course, that doesn't mean the policy still exists, just that if it does then it's not getting a lot of attention. All I have to prove that it exists is my source, and a similar report left in an Amazon forum in 2012 by a Kindle owner. That's just not enough to prove the policy is still around in 2016.

Do you know anyone who has encountered this policy? Have you read about it elsewhere?

image by masmithers

About Nate Hoffelder (11585 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."

6 Comments on Repost: There’s No Need to Change Amazon’s Kindle eBook Return Policy

  1. I like the 7-day return window for eBooks and the quite generous 30-day return window for real goods.

    Here is a story from Nov 2015 about someone that returned too many ebooks and had their account cancelled, however it lacks more details: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/nov/08/amazon-cancelled-account-audible-books

  2. I see (customer) complaints pop up in the Amazon forums pretty regularly, actually, more frequently than ever, so pretty sure the policy is still there. Hard to do a decent search there, but here are a couple of threads from 2015:

    https://smile.amazon.com/forum/kindle/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdMsgID=MxGO4G1VAZ6O45&cdMsgNo=1&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx20DKBIAPP8D8U#MxGO4G1VAZ6O45

    https://smile.amazon.com/forum/kindle/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdMsgID=Mx2J4QO9K5A1VR8&cdMsgNo=1&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx114DHXOQNIQR8#Mx2J4QO9K5A1VR8

    I have a lot of sympathy for the authors who see bunches of serial series returns, but other than that I think the complainers are just not being realistic–they’re micro businesses within the billion dollar Amazon retail umbrella and yes, successful retailers of that size will usually have a liberal return policy. Especially Amazon with its emphasis on customer service. Amazon’s ‘cost of doing business’ percentage will occasionally swamp the little guys and they take a harder hit. Harsh, but that’s retail. Just like a lot of things Amazon does, they could maybe do better (with enforcement) but I can’t see an internet petition getting anywhere…those are just silly and amateur-hour.
    Not that I support cheating returners,though!

  3. I think it is a case of “if it bleeds, it leads.” I think there is a loud minority that will complain or find something to complain about. One of the reasons I now take reviews with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, they can sometimes have an outsized influence on policies so I hope all their bluster doesn’t make Amazon have second thoughts on their return policy.

  4. Heh, in the UK and other EU countries the return period is fourteen days, not seven, based on EU policies. Will Brexit come to the rescue of Amazon authors?! So much uncertainty…

  5. The main reason I’ve seen people return ebooks is not to milk the system but to return garbage riddled with grammatical errors and typos. Funny enough it’s usually the big publishers that do this. Seriously. I have not made use of returns but I probably should have. Here are some examples that I’ve encountered in the past few years:

    Stephen R. Donaldson’s Gap Cycle has some horrific mistakes in always the most important passages!!!

    Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has been pulled off of the Kindle store repeatedly by Amazon to force the publish to fix the numerous reported problems. I actually switched to paperback to finish this series.

    Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen has many errors including getting the names of the characters wrong! I also had to switch to paperback for this series.

    The funny thing about these three examples is that they are not esoteric backlog but the product of New York Times Bestselling writers.

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