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Kindle Owners Beware: Amazon is Now Closing Accounts of Bad Customers in Germany

amazon frownReady the pillories; Amazon is being evil again. Reports are coming in today that Amazon is culling accounts in Germany. Frankfurter Allgemeine and have independently that Amazon is on a rampage.

Their target: serial returnees.

Amazon’s reputation for losing money willy-nilly notwithstanding, the retailer does have rules to cover even the least profitable customer. And this week looks to be the chosen time for Amazon to cull the worst offenders.

Returns are a serious issue with German retailers. Consumer protection laws guarantee that a consumer can return an item at the retailers expense. When a consumer abuses this and turns Amazon into their at-home showroom, the costs can add up quickly.

My sources are reporting that the ex-customers are cut off from their account and are not allowed to register for a new account. What’s even worse is that the ex-customers also lose access to their Kindle ebooks. One has even reported losing access to their account at

Update: Amazon has said that this is not true. You should still be able to access your previously purchased ebooks:

Account status should not affect any customer’s ability to access their library.

If any customer has trouble accessing their content, he or she should contact customer service for help.

This should come as no surprise, though I do expect many to throw up their hands and scream in horror. Amazon has been culling customers for excess returns since at least 2009.  This is at least the third major media spectacle over this topic that I know of, and there are probably others that I have not read about.

If you’re wondering why I am not calling for pitchforks and torches, it is because this has happened before, and because it is one of the obvious and well-known problems with relying on cloud storage.  If the servers go down, you lose access. If the DRM servers are turned off, you lose access. And if Amazon cuts off your account then you lose access to your Kindle ebooks, video, mp3, and audiobooks.

None of this is new, and that’s why my recommendation remains the same: only buy digital content which is fungible. If you can’t remove the DRM and take the content elsewhere then it’s not really yours.

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Juli Monroe August 1, 2013 um 12:51 pm

Or play by the rules and don’t lose your account.

And I know, that doesn’t solve the George Orwell problem, but those are such isolated incidents that I just can’t get too worked up about them.

Nate Hoffelder August 1, 2013 um 1:45 pm

That too.

Vikarti Anatra August 2, 2013 um 3:43 am

One small issue is "what rules"? Secret ones only amazon knew?
Is there non-secrect definition of serial returnee with even approximate numbers?

Name (required) August 2, 2013 um 10:45 am

The problem is, we do not know exactly what the rules are. What number of returns is one too much? Nobody knows. I have seen complaints from people that claim that they had bad luck with merchandise and had to return some of it, because it was clearly faulty and they still ended up with a canceled account.
I know that some people do abuse the return policy, like buying several brands of expensive goods and returning all but one. Or buying an expensive camera and returning it when the holiday is over.

During the first waves of canceling of accounts several years ago people did lose access to their purchased e-content. Nowadays, I guess, people with Kindle Fires have more purchased content than a few e-books, so Amazon is more careful.
Still, I can’t imagine not having a good [liberated] backup

Juli Monroe August 2, 2013 um 10:56 am

I’d be cautious of complaints you hear. People often claim they "did nothing wrong" to get sympathy and vent. I’m not saying that Amazon hasn’t ever been over zealous, but I suspect if you return the occasional item, with reason, and buy enough stuff that those few returns are a small percentage, they won’t take action. I’ve returned a couple of e-books. One with horrific formatting. One because I’d bought it someplace else and forgotten. 2 out of over 300 obviously doesn’t raise red flags.

Chad Campbell August 2, 2013 um 1:16 pm

How many reason can you possibly have for a DIGITAL returns besides I read it and don’t want it anymore…It shouldn’t happen at all and if it does happen it should be immediately. Amazon should just limit returns on digital items to 24 hours and be done with it.

Jayne August 2, 2013 um 3:05 pm

Formatting errors that are not obvious in the sample/preview.

Juli Monroe August 2, 2013 um 5:05 pm

I don’t always start a book within 24 hours of buying it. I think a week is reasonable. I’m an author on Kindle, and I still think it’s reasonable. Sure, there have been a few returns of my books but not enough to worry about.

anono123 October 8, 2013 um 4:19 pm

Ebook. How can you return something that is not yours? Also, any and all returns are unacceptable. You made a return regardless of all of your purchases. If I worked in Amazon AIS, I would suspend your account since you are willing to use their return process. You should have previewed it before you bought it. You are worst than those who have not actually even had the opportunity to experience the product…Sound fair? Who are you to make the judgement call?

Jennifer @ The Bawdy Book Blog August 3, 2013 um 10:15 am

The problem with Amazon giving a clear boundary – aka "Do not return more than this number of books/goods/whatever or you will be banned" – is that the return policy abusers will still return up to just THAT MUCH and then tow the line. Those are not the kind of customers Amazon wants anyway, so they probably don’t care. Fire that customer, focus on marketing to customers you want to keep or gain.

Sharon Cullars August 5, 2013 um 11:06 am

Thank you. There have been posters to message boards bragging how they get around the system and read entire books at the expense of authors. They treat the system as some sort of library.

David Haywood Young August 1, 2013 um 12:57 pm

Amen. And maybe backup your stuff (aka Calibre library?) elsewhere in another magical cloud realm while you’re at it. I like SpiderOak (NFI) because they encrypt stuff & don’t have the password to decrypt.

Note: I once thought of developing a seriously privacy-conscious cloud backup app. It would have fit fairly well with another product I had out–which basically did website monitoring & backups/restores to/from the cloud. But I didn’t build the general-purpose app, because SpiderOak satisfied all my requirements. They’re still the only folks I’d use in favor of rolling my own.

Geert August 1, 2013 um 1:43 pm

Always make a personal backup of your cloud files.
Everyone should know that by now.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) August 1, 2013 um 5:53 pm

It isn’t just kindle books. Amazon has a long-standing policy of shutting accounts for serial returns. I’ve seen forums where people complained their accts were shut just because they ordered 4 tvs and returned the 3 they didn’t want.

In the case of Kindle books, why wouldn’t they shut accounts of people buying, probably reading and then returning? The number has to be pretty large and chronic before they are going to dump a customer. If Amazon makes money, they have no reason to dump a paying customer. If they see abuse, what else can they do?

Jeff McNeill August 2, 2013 um 6:08 am

Note to self, add monthly reminder to De-DRM the kindle collection and backup into Glacier.

Kindle Owners Beware: Amazon is Now Closing Accounts of Bad Customers in Germany | The Passive Voice | Writers, Writing, Self-Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe August 2, 2013 um 10:00 am

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Binko Barnes August 2, 2013 um 12:18 pm

The ONLY way to secure digital product that you purchase is to never buy anything with DRM. Or you can learn to strip off the DRM for purposes of personal back-up.

Make at least two back-up copies of all your digital items which you then update on a regular basis. Store at least one copy offsite so you can’t lose everything in a single fire or theft or raid. If you have anything important "in the cloud", be sure to include it in your local back-ups.

This has been the basis of data security since the dawn of computers.

The Bawdy Book Blog: Amazon Is Right To Ban Return Policy Abusers August 2, 2013 um 9:17 pm

[…] is reportedly banning user accounts in Germany, according this article at The Digital Reader.  The users getting banned are what Amazon deems “serial returners,” or those who […]

Cora August 2, 2013 um 10:19 pm

If you read the original German articles, this policy mainly affects serial returners of physical goods, including print books. In Germany, customers of online and mail order companies have the right to return a purchase free of charge, i.e. the return postage is at the retailer’s cost. This is pricey for many retailers, since some people treat online retailers as their personal showroom and e.g. order the same t-shirt or pair of shoes in three different sizes and then return the two that don’t fit. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine article, a representative of German clothing/shoe online retailer Zalando said that their return quota was 50% of all order! If those serial returners are getting their accounts closed, I’m not going to feel sorry for them, because they abuse generous return policies. Ditto for those people (they exist) who buy Kindle books, read them and return them.

Regular customers who only return goods in case of genuine problems are not affected by this.

Georgia November 17, 2014 um 9:15 am

I find your attitude completely puzzling. Ordering different sizes is not an abuse – if you’re between sizes, it’s absolutely the only way to use online clothes retailers… I’d also like to point out that online retailers have lower costs because they don’t maintain showrooms. Some of this is offset by paying for the cost of returns, but only a fraction, I’d say.
Just to give you a specific example: if I order from Zalando, I will order ten to twelve items and keep about half of them – partly depending on which of two sizes fits me better, partly depending on which of two items (e.g. two different dresses) I like better on me – which is a different question from which looks better on the photo. I will still spend a few hundred Euro. Yes, Zalando will have spent 2 or 3 Euro more on sending 12 items than they would have spent on sending only the ones I end up keeping (although bear in mind they also are big enough customers to get discount deals on postage). They nevertheless make a significant profit from the, say, 400 Euro I’m spending, which they definitely wouldn’t make if they didn’t have the return policy in place, as I wouldn’t even think about ordering from an online retailer that doesn’t have it; I’d go to a shop instead – and probably end up spending less money on clothes overall, as I don’t have time to go shopping that often, so would only buy clothes I actually need. So Zalando do make significant profit from my purchases, even though I have a return quota of around 50%, and it’s good for the economy, as I spend more on clothes than I would otherwise. Where’s the problem? You can’t buy clothes without the equivalent of a showroom.

Solfa August 4, 2013 um 1:10 pm

I wouldn’t return an ebook unless it was absolutely impossible to read, as in formatting problems that are only apparent once the book is on the Kindle. That’s it. Things like narrative voice, typos etc aren’t a concern because I use the sample before I purchase.

I’ve glad Amazon is cracking down on this; they should have done this sooner, and still need to be more vigilant about it because people are continuing to get away with it.

Vikarti Anatra August 4, 2013 um 9:49 pm

For me just ability that I can return for reason _I_ think book is not ok/wrong (of course from others points of view it may be different) is one of big advatanges of buying in kindle store at all. instead of alternatives (and I knew that for example Smashwords has strict no return policy).

I’m not abuse this. 2 returns so far.

James July 22, 2014 um 2:31 pm

What rules? Amazon buries the rules so deeply, and words them so vaguely, that you don’t really know when you’ve broken a rule, or what the rules are.

I was purchasing $15K per year from Amazon, and had less than three returns in the last year. But when they sold me an unlocked phone for $395, which actually turned out to be jail broken and locked itself back after a few months, Amazon gave me a run around never made good on the phone. In the process of attempting to figure out their "Amazon Guarantee" I found that they really make the rules and procedures hard to find, and don’t seem to publish their phone number anywhere.

Then they did a run around that consisted of, "You didn’t buy it FROM Amazon, you bought it THROUGH Amazon", and even though we sent you the comments about the Amazon guarantee when you bought, it doesn’t apply.

So I’ve stopped buying anything like phones, TVs, computers and electronics from Amazon. And, essentially, all big ticket items.

As for e-books and movie purchases, we’ve decided to no longer buy them since we can’t be sure we will be allowed access. We now only stream Prime, and have added Netflix to address selection issues.

Amazon turned out to be a huge disappointment for this high volume customer who did nothing wrong by any rule I can find.

Mike August 26, 2014 um 8:27 am

I’ve just read a blog post from a woman who returned 60% of the Kindle books she bought in a year. For her that worked out at about 10 a month. Only then did Amazon contact her and tell her she was abusing their policy. She thinks it is unfair, but
I think that was extremely generous of Amazon. A return rate of 60% is outrageous.

The truth is, a small minority of Amazon customers are clearly taking the piss. They are using a for-profit business as their public library.

I’ve never heard of someone getting banned for returning a small percentage of books.

P.S. Remember that Amazon can tell how much of the book you have read!

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