Gooood Morning authors and welcome to the middle of the week. During our Writer Wednesdays, we tend to enter the fray regarding industry discourse and more than once, I've eyed the elephant in the room that is the Great Exploit which has been hitting indie authors hard these last few months. I am, of course, talking about the unfortunate trend on Tik Tok regarding Amazon's Return Policy for e-books. I have mixed feelings addressing this, as the discourse surrounding the issue is particularly vitriolic, creating a rather nasty divide between authors and readers.
The Reader vs Author Discourse
Now, this issue is problematic for many reasons, from entitlement, to misinformation, to some of the public commentary fights happening on social media. Authors are justifiably angry, particularly those in the indie community who already struggle against the trad pub marketing machine to earn a drop in the bucket. In general, indie ebooks are already half the price of trad publishing, or cheaper, making them a much lower risk investment. But they are still charged the download and delivery fee Amazon slaps on everything. This is where they eat the larger net loss, between loss of royalties and being charged fees.
From a reader standpoint, it is fair to return a book with technical issues. If a book is missing pages or chapters, if is unreadable due to lack of editing, those are reasonable technical issues. However, as art is subjective, a reader may not like a book, and they should be able to gauge that dislike within 10-20% of that book, often what is already available for a free sample download or preview on Amazon.
Refunding a fully read novel, in the manner it is being done, is an exploit. The product has been used. The art has been consumed. With the existence of systems like Libby, the ebook library loaning system, where indie authors can add their books and readers can request them for the catalog of their local libraries, and with Kindle Unlimited, the reasoning for returns becomes a weaker argument.
Not to mention the argument that 'Books should be free,' when other media is not held to the same standard. Especially, when so many books are free. Libraries offer physical, ebook, and audio book options. Many indie authors periodically offer their books for free. Readers are offered many options to reduce the risk of buying books they will not like.
When so many indie authors already struggle in the business, how many will toss in the towel? How many stories will be lost?
Bad Policy & Pushing for Change
The real winner here is Amazon. It's always Amazon.
Kobo, Nook, even Google, do not give such a wide window for returns or allow ebooks to be returned at all.
Amazon's Ebook Return policy is plainly bad policy. And this is not the only bad policy authors are slapped with on a day to day basis. Amazon is notoriously exploitive of authors in general, creating as many pitfalls as they do opportunities due to the many automated systems in place for their massive publishing empire. But authors have little choice to not play in Amazon's court because they possess such a large slice of the market pie.
When your policy is so easily exploited, it should be grounds for change, but Amazon is a cooperate juggernaut. There is currently a petition on Change.org with over 67,000 signatures to push for a change here, but will this ultimately amount to anything? Even if the traditional publishing side takes a stand with the indie corner, will it be enough to move the needle? The answer is a mixed bag. Enough pressure and noise might be enough to make them re-evaluate this policy. But unless Amazon, themselves, experience a noticeable net loss, this could be an uphill fight.
The takeaway in this discourse is to remember where the real issue lies. There are a lot of opinions on this subject that have spawned many social media fires, another stressful situation for authors to wade through, but try not to let the conversation spiral out. Keep pushing for change. Keep making noise and putting the spotlight where it needs to be.