Amazon Policies Frustrating Fantasy Authors…Again
Interesting article by Paste Magazine today on a kind of customer behaviour, which they refer to as “jerk-like”, whereby certain customers are choosing to return ebooks after they’ve read them (the entire thing, the whole way through) as a means to enjoy a free read at the author’s and publisher’s expense. The reason I found this interesting is that we’ve recently had a discussion on this site about illegal piracy and concluded, by majority at least, that if you’re pirating to read free books–even if you’d probably not have read them if weren’t free–you’re doing the author a disservice, hurting the industry and breaking the law. (Note: Worth taking into consideration that there were some good arguments on whether this is still the case if you own the physical book, the book is out of print, you intend to buy the book when it is available or have read the book before.)
Returning ebooks is a different issue though. This is about authors losing money due to a policy that the world’s largest bookseller has setup that is giving its customers an exploitable loophole that can lose its merchants money. It is only Amazon that is allowing ebook returns (Barnes & Noble and Apple don’t allow them at all). Amazon’s own policy is that they only allow physical books to be returned if they are unread. Oh, and it doesn’t allow returns on other digital items (movies or music) either…imagine trying to return a movie you’d finished watching. So, why do they allow it for ebooks?
Well, obviously they do not allow it to occur on purpose. Rather customers are given a long time (7 days) on which to return the item. It would be nice to know Amazon’s rationale behind this length of time, but Amazon has refused to comment on it, even after a petition with over 5,600 signatures was handed to them asking to review their ebook returns policy. I guess many of you will be asking: “But surely there is protection against this kind of behaviour?” or “Surely it isn’t as easy as just clicking a button and getting your money back?” Well, I’m sorry to say it is. The process is as follows:
Amazon now accepts Kindle ebook returns within seven days of purchase.
Unlike Barnes & Noble and Sony, who won’t accept returns, Amazon makes it easy. You can request a return and refund by visiting the Manage Your Kindle section of Amazon’s website, clicking the Actions tab for the ebook title, and then selecting “Return for refund.”
I do remember a few years back being in a business studies class and my teacher telling me about the risks of a monopoly and why it was so important that they are reigned in should they begin to get out of control. At the time I thought that if a company was clever enough to leapfrog all its competitors and gain a place so high up that they earn control, why should there be laws to hold them back making profits? Well, I can honestly say that Amazon has answered my question in a way that my business studies tutor was never able to. Amazon is now so large and so relied upon by authors and publishers that if they do something that hurts the authors or publishers they can basically shrug and say “like it or lump it”. Although my younger-self may have admired this earned ability, my older-self realises how dangerous this is as a consumer and a stakeholder in the publishing industry.
It’s not just Amazon though I guess, it’s the people doing it too. I guess a similar conclusion will be reached about them as was reached about the pirates in the piracy discussion I linked to at the start of this article: They’re most likely relatively normal people, certainly not “evil”. And, in fact, if we take a step back from publishing we find that, in the UK at least, consumer savviness is not only prevalent at an all-time high, but also a rather respected talent. Some of the world’s most visited websites are those which teach customers how to get stuff for free or very cheaply by exploiting loopholes (Money Saving Expert for example). That said, what I found most shocking about the whole article was that Shawn Speakman had been made to refund money for numerous copies of his Unfettered anthology, the money from which was set to go towards his cancer treatment.
I think the biggest question for me is why are refunds needed at all? Amazon already allows you to read a pretty hefty sample of a book on their site or even by downloading it to your device. I’m not sure of the average, but I believe it is a good 30-60 pages in most cases? Surely, if you’ve enjoyed a book enough by that point to commit to buying it then you’ve surpassed your right to demand a refund. Trust me, I know that books exist that start out AMAZINGLY and then end leaving you utterly disappointed–but don’t movies do this to? How about video games? Holidays? I think that there is a pretty good argument that as long as someone fairly advertises and fully delivers you the experience they have promised and that you are paying for, their responsibility has been fulfilled once they hand over the item.
So, continuing on from last week’s discussion: what do you think about returning ebooks? Should it be allowed at all? If so, how long should you have to return them? Are people returning books in the wrong or just savvy customers? What about if they genuinely didn’t enjoy the book? (Note: That’s not what returns are for, but can you sympathise with them?)