April 13, 2022

Returning an ebook after reading: is Amazon’s return policy damaging to authors and publishers?


Is it ok to read a book in its entirety and then return it to get your money back? This practise has been brought to light, in part thanks to a TikTok trend whereby some readers have been posting videos about doing just that, even sharing tips on how to do so.

This is largely an Amazon problem. Amazon’s policy allows readers to return ebooks up to 14 days after purchase, even if the whole book has been read. An Amazon spokesperson told The Times:

“Our e-book return rates are consistently low and we have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent this from being abused. Our aim is to inspire reading and we recognise the important role of authors.”

This goes against the current narrative being bandied around by the book community. One author told The Times that more than 100 copies of their books were returned last month, compared with fewer than ten in the first two months of the year.

Self-published Amazon author Sue Bordley told euronews:

“Books take months to write and people are getting them for nothing and that isn’t fair…

“It costs an author quite a lot to get a book together, by the time you’ve organised a cover, if you’ve paid for formatting and proof-reading services. You’re out of pocket before you put that book on shelves and you need to sell a certain amount to just break even.

“Amazon needs to bring in a policy that if every page has been turned, you can’t get a refund. In the days of CDs you would not have been able to return a CD once the cellophane has come off…

“Amazon makes an enormous amount of money from us authors, it would be nice to see a bit of loyalty from them.”

Authors including Ian Rankin and Jeanette Winterson have joined in the condemnation of Amazon, with Rankin telling The Times:

“I am appalled. Writers have a tough enough time as it is trying to make a living. If someone can read your book without paying you anything for the privilege you’re sunk.”

In response, an online petition has been set up by author Reah Foxx on Change.org, demanding Amazon change their ebook returns policy, which at time of writing has over 36,000 signatures and is rapidly climbing. She writes:

“There has been a huge upswing in author’s ebooks being returned to Amazon AFTER they have been read. As a reader this is VERY upsetting. Yes, Amazon’s return policy allows it. However, that doesn’t make it right. When you have read the book, you CONSUMED the product.  Returning a book after reading 10-20% is one thing. But when the book has been read in it’s entirety it should not be allowed to be returned. End of discussion. One author had triple digit returns for March! That same author had single digit returns the prior TWO months combined. Authors are not being paid accurately for their art. Please, Amazon change your policy!”

The Society of Authors has also now weighted in to lend their support, publicly calling for Amazon to only allow ebook returns up to 48 hours after purchase. Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the SoA told The Bookseller:

“Seven days is more than enough to read a whole e-book and exchange, and it is not fair to deduct the author’s royalty for books that have been or could have been read.”

The drama continues on Booktok with many airing their outrage at the practice, calling it theft, with others defending their right to return as they see fit.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.