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Refunds for Amazon Ebook Sales, Should You Be Worried?

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales |

41

Amazon Kindle Ebook Sales and RefundsWhen I first started selling ebooks on Amazon, I don’t remember noticing a “refunds” column. Then, as I started selling more books, a number appeared there. What? Someone returned one of my ebooks? How could they?

Actually, I just shrugged it off, but I’ve seen forum posts by indie authors asking what it means and if they should be worried.

The quick answer is probably not, but I’ll add a caveat at the end, so keep reading.

First off, speaking as someone who owns a Kindle, it’s very easy to buy ebooks (one-click) straight from your device. The Kindle also promptly asks you if it was a mistake and you want to return the ebook. My guess, based on the fact that my returns usually pop up simultaneously with corresponding new sales, is this is what happens most of the time.

It’s also possible for someone to write to Amazon and request a no-questions-asked refund (I believe you have 7 days). I did this once when the story took a steep downhill turn after the sample chapters and was much shorter than the product description implied (novella when I’d expected a novel). If it hadn’t been on the pricier side, I wouldn’t have bothered, but I felt a little betrayed. (In case you’re curious, this was a small press ebook, not one published by an independent author.)

Given how easy it is to return ebooks at Amazon, I’m surprised I don’t get more returns. It’s a lot less hassle than sending back a physical book.

So, to answer the original question (should you be worried about returns?), probably not. It’ll happen. If you have a high return rate, though, it may mean there’s something worth addressing.

Here are a few things to check:

  • If your ebook is not novel length, is that clear upfront? For short stories and novellas, it’s worth mentioning the word count and the corresponding paperback page count (assume about 250 words per page) because word count won’t necessarily mean anything to someone who’s not a writer.
  • Does the product description match up well with the story people get? If it’s described as an action-packed adventure, is there plenty of action throughout? If there are lots of explicit sex scenes, is it clear from the blurb that things will get hot and heavy?
  • Did you have a professional proofread for you? If you couldn’t afford it in the beginning, consider investing in this once you’re selling enough copies to cover the expense.
  • Is the formatting a nightmare? If you uploaded a Word file and let Amazon handle the conversion automatically, it might very well be.

If you’ve returned ebooks for other reasons, please let us know in the comments.

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Comments (41)

Interesting. I was unaware ebooks, etc … could be returned. Not that I spent much on ebooks. If the price is too high, I’ll just go ahead and order a print copy [as I have yet to get an ereader ... soon, soon].

I suppose Amazon has something in place for people who abuse the return policy?

I see Smashwords is working on a deal with Amazon, which would mean uploading in only one place for an author.

I tend to purchase my books onsite, instead of through my Kindle (faster searching), so haven’t see the ‘was this a mistake’ pop up. Think that’s an excellent idea, though.

Seven days for the return period is correct. :)

I’ve read that Amazon only allows so many returns of ebooks before a customer can’t return them anymore. Not sure what the limit was said to be (I’ve slept since then, and am on my 1st cup of coffee).

My returns tend to stay under 2%, so I’ve never worried much about them. About 50% of them seem to have been ‘mistake’ purchases (see a sale and refund show up at the same time).

“If you couldn’t afford it in the beginning, consider investing in this once you’re selling enough copies to cover the expense.”

F that. If you can’t take your work professionally, you’ve got no business asking people to pay to read it. Get a copyeditor, or GTFO.

Ridley, if you can’t stay civil, then G.T.F.O. yourself. As for proofreading: paying for the service is not a requirement. Any writer can do it himself if he’s good enough. It just is often easier for a new set of eyes to see any mistakes. And doing it himself does NOT make that person unprofessional, but speaking as you do, Ridley, in a public forum, does.

The only reason I’ve ever returned on my kindle is when I bought it on accident. I didn’t even know that you could email in for a refund.

Great informative post Lindsay! I actually think every ebook should have the word count and number of pages listed. Sometimes there’s only a file size :( If I’m on the fence about the book, I won’t buy it if I can’t figure out if it’s a full length or not!

And I see there’s a reply button on the comments now! Sweet! I thought the theme on one of my sites was poorly designed, but no, it was just a wordpress setting. Huzzah!

I’m nesting! Sorry for the spam, but I had to see it in action.

I also wish that they did this. I only remember seeing one that had this (but it might have been the only one I looked hard at) and it was what made me buy the book.
I even do this with print at the book store because if I’m iffy about a book I’ll look to see the page number to try to figure out what time investment I’m looking at.

Yeah, I had no idea! Thanks for mentioning it on Twitter. ;)

Hm, maybe I should add the word count to my novel descriptions too. They’re all over 100,000 words, so I doubt anyone will feel short-changed, but, hey, curious minds like to know, right?

Ahhh, live and learn. I was so excited when I figured it out, I had to share it with you, of course!

And I totally think you should add the word count in. I personally don’t go by page count because it never seems right to me. It says full length novel but it’s 200 pages…huh? Really. Okay, maybe some are that short. Or did someone calculate wrong. Me no trust page count! I want the word count, dangit!

I like the idea of giving the reader a novel length estimate, but I am worried a word count might be meaningless to most readers. 100k words might translate to 400-500 pages to a writer, but a page estimate may serve most people better.

I never knew you could return ebooks. That seems weird to me, but your reasons listed make sense.

I’m guessing the new changes to remove the Buy Now feature from Kindles will reduce this reason for returning.

A paperback page count is sufficient to me, but even on my kindle I’ll check the length of it and make sure I feel the time invested is worth the money spent.

I think the refunds are just part of the flow. Just concentrate on delivering the best possible product and it will take care of itself.

I had a couple of refunds, but I didn’t know why. My biggest seller is a diet book, and I have ads for my other books at the end.

I thought some of those books might be too controversial for the typical diet book reader, so I removed them. I’ll see how that affects my returns.

By the way, I accidentally bought a book on my kindle. When I searched the book, the cursor landed at “buy.” I tried to toggle up, but actually pressed “buy.” I imagine this has to happen with some frequency.

[...] to Amazon’s policy,  But I wondered why anyone would return an e-book.  Fantasy author Lindsay Buroker speculates that customers simply order the wrong book. “It’s very easy to buy ebooks (one-click) straight from your device,” she writes. [...]

Thanks for posting this. I was worried about my 2 refunds on my newest book, Spencer’s Face. Now I’m not so worried. I thought maybe two people found it too racy, and that’s why they returned it. But I clearly say in the blurb that it contains sex scenes described in detail. Anyway, I’ve sold several, and only 2 refunds. Guess I should quit worrying so much. Thanks for mentioning the “accidentally bought” possibility. I didn’t think about that.
Autumn Brown

Well, guys and girls, I tell you a little secret. When you see that your book was refunded very quickly, yes, it might mean hopefully someone made a mistake. But most likely it is not. Don’t be naive, grow up.

Search the Internet and you will find there are a lot of programs which hack your book. You install the program, download a kindle book, then you run that program, it strips the protection (called DRM – Data Rights Management), you copy and keep the hacked book file and then ask for a refund. The book is free (or more precisely – stolen) this way.

Trust me, I tested it and it worked. Most importantly it was extremely easy. I downloaded a kindle book, hacked it then asked for a refund and received it. It took me 10 minutes max in total. Of course, because I am a good guy, after I tested it worked I went ahead and bought the same book without a refund. I needed to know if it was true. Sadly it is true.

Go ahead and google something like – hack kindle book DRM download. There are loads of YouTube videos that will guide you through that. If you decide to test, please, buy back the book after you hacked and refunded it. It will be a good test if you buy the book back after the experiment. Report those YouTube videos.

If you find those videos embedded into a web page, right click on it, chose Copy URL, then Paste URL in a new window, open it, most likely it will be a YouTube, click Report icon, then go through the procedure. The choices given might not describe your complaint exactly, use the closest to what you are complaining about. I chose – Infringes My Rights then Other Legal and filled out a YouTube form explaining details, in this case I wrote “they show how to commit theft of ebooks, because after ebook’s DRM is removed the book can be copied then refunded and the stolen hacked copy is still retained”.

Is it worth worrying about it? NO. It is one of the realities we have to accept as writers. There are more decent people than bad guys and girls. Even if your book got stolen it might mean someone really wanted it and hopefully will promote your book by talking about it to his/her mates.

Can you do anything about it? As a writer it is your responsibility to protect what is legally yours.

I reported some of such videos, if each and everyone of you report at least one of such videos you will be a Doer and there will much less of such videos.

If you want to report a website there is http://www.ic3.gov where FBI and NW3C will investigate it. However this process is lengthy and requires lots of forms to be filled. But the action against that website and its owners will be severe. Even I have not yet used this way, but if you do, you will be my Hero and a Hero of many other decent book writers.

Amazon closes the accounts of people who are serial returners of ebooks. I’ve heard from folks who have had it happen that there’s no warning or anything. They just send you an email letting you know after the fact, and you’re out.

Fantastic to hear this, Thank you! I will sleep a little bit better now :)

The only time I’ve used one of those programs was back when all my friends were self-publishing on Amazon and I only had a Nook. So I tried to use something to convert one book to .epub from .mobi (with the author’s permission)…. never did get it to work. Turned out to be less of a headache for me to buy a $69 kindle then waste my time with that. But I guess if you have the tutorial and experience it would be much easier :(

This is an thought-provoking problem without an easy solution, and I do not care for Amazon’s “no-questions-asked” refund policy. For those trying to cheat the system? Even if Amazon closes the account of serial read/returners after too many refunds are requested, what’s stopping them from just creating a new account under a different email and user name? Instead, I think the solution is to check how much of the book has been read. If less than 25%, then refund it. If more than that, then no refund. As for an appropriate time-period? I think 3 to 4 days is enough time. However, I think returns have more to do with e-pirates.

I feel that the dilemma isn’t that readers are purchasing a book(s) and returning them after reading them for a refund, the problem is most definitely related to e-piracy. Usually after a book has been refunded, within a day or two I can always find pirated copies. The major distributors of pirated eBooks purchase the book, remove the DRM, and then return it.

Having been flagged as a serial returner of Kindle ebooks by Amazon.com, I have posted below a shortened version of the comment letter I provide Amazon.com that sums up my personal experience and opinion re: this issue. I intend to make no further comments. However, if publicly sharing my personal experience forewarns other sincere but un-witted Kindle customers, the effort was well worth it. As follows:
I am submitting a letter of comment regarding my personal experience with Amazon.com’s, Inc. (hereafter “Amazon”) Kindle ebook return policies and my being flagged as a serial returner (high return rate of ebooks) upon which Amazon acted.
In sum, I believe a lack of transparency and public disclosure of Amazon’s overall Kindle ebook return policies contributed to my high return rate because I believed customer satisfaction was a legitimate reason for ebook return; the publicly disclosed return policy provided no further guidance, description, or warning (hereafter “guidance”); and, as an individual customer, I received no forewarning of exceeding an internal Amazon return threshold for Kindle ebooks.
The publicly disclosed refund policy provides NO further guidance such as maximum number of acceptable returns per time period, limiting the reasons for a return, or restricting a customer’s viewing an entire ebook after purchase. The internet refund process provided the option of “other” that a customer can mark as the reason for a refund. While the process appears “automated,” none of my individual ebook return requests were questioned/denied as improper in and of themselves.
At present, I have 206 books in my Kindle ebook library; I made my first purchases in Spring 2012, mostly sci-fi romance and erotica categories. I have copiously utilized both sample previews and customer reviews; however, more often than not, preview of an ebook’s opening pages is inadequate and customer reviews are “hit or miss.” My Kindle Fire and my Kindle library represent a significant investment of my “entertainment” budget. I approximated my Kindle ebook return rate to be 60% of purchases for 2013 and 40% of purchases for 2012. I do not dispute the high return rate.
Prior to purchasing a Kindle and transitioning to ebooks, I thoroughly previewed paper books from front to middle to end prior to purchase in the actual store regardless of the price or condition of the new or used books. For new books, I purchased one or two books every few months overwhelmingly from my “trusted authors” list and very rarely purchased a book from [to me] a new author. Furthermore, in this day of digital media, people can “preview” in its entirety many games or movies by renting the items first and songs by listening to the radio first.
Amazon’s return policy, as I understood it before this incident, was a big inducement to purchase a Kindle and Kindle ebooks, even over a coworker’s personal recommendation of a Nook.
The incident is as follows: The week of November 17, 2013, I discovered my internet return option was disabled. After briefly researching, it appeared that I un-wittedly exceeded Amazon’s internal return threshold. Following up on my inquiry, customer service representatives’ ultimate answer was the restriction is not temporary but the “matter may be revisited in the future,” no further guidance as to return policy except a generic “be careful of what you purchase,” and no information regarding the un-descriptive public policy or why potential violators were not forewarned. No assurance as to future access to my Kindle library was provided.
In sum, having outlined the above information, based on the basic public return policy without further guidance or forewarning; this customer believed that customer satisfaction was integral to the Kindle ebook purchasing process and a legitimate reason for returning a Kindle ebook. Consequently, after a thorough preview after purchase (given the nature of an ebook), I kept ebooks that I was satisfied with (some ebooks were returned for other reasons), and I returned ebooks that I was dissatisfied with. My buying habit was never with the intent to cheat Amazon or authors or to exceed any public or internal return policy.
I believe the publicly disclosed statement of Amazon’s Kindle ebook return policy, as standing, is not transparent and does not sufficiently disclose Amazon’s serial returners policy. I believe, at the very least, forewarning potential violators of its internal policy would engender better customer and vendor relationships (for un-witted customers such as myself) while also addressing the legitimate concerns of both Amazon and authors regarding serial returners.
Other vendors have, while also monitoring customers’ return rates, publicly disclosed and better described their serial returners refund policies. Examples include Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and even Google play books provide that “[r]efunds will not be granted in situations of purchase abuse.” Today, creditors and even pay-as-you-go cellular phones forewarn customers before they exceed a limit.
As it now stands without further guidance on its refund policy, to purchase ebooks with Amazon, under the “fear” that the next return request could result in account closure and loss of my Kindle library, is equal to purchasing ebooks from another vendor with a transparent no-returns policy. I shall return to my prior paper book buying habit of buying only from my “trusted authors” list and severely reduce my willingness to purchase from new authors.
Now better informed on the matter, I certainly do not seek leave to return to a buying habit that may violate vendors’ return policies [even internal ones] or may be detrimental to authors. I now know that Amazon’s return policy does not provide for customer satisfaction. While some who may read my comments will conclude “good riddance to a bad customer,” I will note that, even accounting for my prior high return rate, less than ten (10) of my kept Kindle books were from my old “trusted authors” list [due to their new book release rate]. The overwhelming majority were by new authors, several of whom I have added to my new “trusted authors” list and have made/will continue to make several purchases therefrom.
After this incident, I join other customers and authors who encourage Amazon to either substantively change or, at least, better publicly describe and disclose their serial returners policy. At the very least, I believe that forewarning potential violators of an internal return threshold is a more positive, productive process than as now stands. If I had been forewarned, I would have immediately thereafter complied with Amazon’s internal return policy without my trust as a customer in Amazon as a “customer-centric” vendor being destroyed in the process. Thank you,

Thanks for sharing your letter to Amazon, T.O.

I agree with you that returns should be to ensure customer satisfaction, period. Are there some jerk-heads who just read a book, enjoy it, and then return it just because they can? Yes, there are some. However, I think most people who do returns, even a large number of returns such as you describe, are returning books for honest reasons. And Amazon’s looser return policy IS a big draw to choosing the Kindle over competitive products.

I used to work for Nordstrom, which is famous in the retail world for its very permissive return policy. Currently my husband works for Nordstrom in the loss prevention department, where he deals with fraudulent returns all day long. Even though Nordstrom could probably cut its loss prevention and customer service staff in half and dramatically reduce its overhead if it would just tighten up its return policy and function as its competitors function in that regard, the peace of mind honest customers have regarding returns and satisfaction guarantees are a huge draw to them — it’s the return policy that keeps so many customers loyal and keeps Nordstrom at the forefront of its business.

Amazon should keep that in mind.

(AND I’m an author, so I’m not insensate to how annoying serial returns can be! I still think Amazon’s return policy is smart for customers, authors, and Amazon itself, and rather than capping all customers at a mysterious threshold, they should devote the staff to investigating each individual customer who exceeds the limit and only act on those who are clearly doing fraudulent returns. It’s not that hard to figure out, and if Nordstrom can spare the budget to handle fraudulent returns the right way, Amazon sure as hell can, too.)

Libbie, what “honest reasons” could possibly account for a 60% return rate?

I’ve gotten stuck with a few clunker ebooks, and I’ve never returned one. Even if I did, common sense would dictate that a return policy as generous as Amazon’s would only encompass a reasonable return rate (to me, “reasonable” would be maybe, MAYBE, 5%). Even allowing for different individual understanding of the policy, can you find anyone who thinks that 60% is reasonable?

Clearly, TO either needs to change the way he/she chooses to purchase ebooks, or needs to stop deliberately abusing the system. I tend to believe the latter, but I’m open to the former.

Either way, I’m glad Amazon dropped the hammer.

The fact that both you and TO are putting the onus on Amazon, who let TO get away with this for two years, is a little unsettling.

Dan

I don’t know. I’m not judging T.O. I think most readers don’t return anywhere near that many books, so frankly I don’t care. If many more readers were returning 60% of the books they bought, I might be concerned. But they don’t, so I’m not.

Why are one reader’s return habits such a threat to you?

I’m not seeing any indicators that Dan feels threatened. I am seeing plenty of signs that TO is the problem, not Amazon, and it is downright startling to hear someone say otherwise.

I’m not threatened at all, just calling a spade a spade.

I will admit that I’m a bit curious as to why you seem to be blaming everyone but the person who returns 60% of their ebook purchases.

Suck it up, T.O. You’re a thief and got better than you deserved.

Amazon is a store, not a library.

T.O. – the BEST place to investigate “new to you” authors is the library. My library carries books in every genre, including M/M, in ebook format. The most popular is Kindle, but they also have Adobe EPub format. I’m sure you can find something there.

And how many indie authors are available in your local library, Jillw?

T.O. – being flagged as a serial returner is not due to any weakness in Amazon’s T.O.S., but a weakness in you. You seem to be the type of person who gets off on manipulating the system in order to get free stuff. You, my friend, are a free-loader. No one likes a free-loader. Remember that.

Hi, T.O.,

I must thank you for your honest and lengthy comment. I applaud you for your willingness to speak out, if not your actions. I noticed you said this:

“Prior to purchasing a Kindle and transitioning to ebooks, I thoroughly previewed paper books from front to middle to end prior to purchase in the actual store regardless of the price or condition of the new or used books.”

I’m curious about this — did you sit down and read every book you purchased in the bookstore before deciding whether to buy it? Did the bookstore tolerate this? This behaviour often results in books with bent covers or broken spines that are harder to sell as new to other customers, but that aside, I’m curious about whether any bookstore would let you read 400 books per year there without buying them first. Furthermore, if you were to do the exact same thing — buy them, sit down outside or in the store, read them, and decide whether to return them or not based on whether you felt your experience was enjoyable, I suspect you would be turned away very quickly. You might argue that it’s the inability to preview that forces you to return so much, but I disagree. You’re purchasing the book and getting the experience of reading it, whether or not you enjoy it, without paying for that experience. :(

“Furthermore, in this day of digital media, people can “preview” in its entirety many games or movies by renting the items first and songs by listening to the radio first.”

Note that royalties are paid out to authors whose books are rented in libraries. The authors you’re dealing with see every refund. Many of them see people read one book after another in the series and refund them one at a time. If I were Amazon, this is the exact sort of behaviour I’d watch out for.

I’ve never returned an e-book that was not purchased by accident.

I have returned one audio book. I listened to the sample and had read (not listened) to previous books by the same author. There was a dog in the book, and he had dialogue. Still ok, I knew this; the book was part of a series. The problem was the narrator used what I can only describe as a Scooby Doo voice for the dog. Killed me. I made it maybe 90 minutes into the book before I gave up.

According to my Kindle Library I’ve purchased (a combination of $ & freebies, and this only counts direct purchases from Amazon) 841 books in the approximately 6 years I have owned a Kindle. And I have not once “read & returned”. That’s what the library and Overdrive are for.

I do know Amazon does track what percentage of a book was read, and even the reading rate (time) it takes a reader to finish a book.
They could be tracking who is reading and then returning books, and cut them off for that reason.

[…] believe this is a problem? Well then, read this comment on the blog of fellow fantasy writer Lindsay Buroker (this link opens a new tab, so this post will still be here when you’ve finished […]

I’ve never returned any fiction ebook. The sampling usually tells me whether or not I want to read it.

Funnily enough, I returned a couple of non fiction ebooks in the past week. Both times the sampling pulled me in, and both times the ebooks ended up being not exactly what I was looking for (the first one repeated a lot of stuff I’d read in other, better books, and most of the space I felt was taken up by the author’s marketing of his services).

Anyway, the thought of returning anything even near 60% would make me rethink my buying process. Does the person above sample? Has he/she figured out that certain genres/subgenres/whatever just aren’t his/her cup of tea?

Just color me confused as to T.O.’s seemingly endless returns.

As an erotica writer, I have somewhere between a 20-25% return rate for my books overall. In some categories that goes over 33%. From the other writers I’ve talked to this is fairly typical of the genre.

That’s for paid, of course. I have two books in the top 100 free list with single digit returns for thousands of copies downloaded.

This indicates to me that it has nothing to do with the quality of what is being purchased, but it’s simply the ability to game the system by a bunch of people who want to get something for nothing.

My hope is that with TO out of the picture my return rate will decrease by some tiny fraction of a percent, and maybe Amazon will start cracking down on the people so blatantly abusing the return system.

[…] I was reading a post – found originally on the Passive Voice which I read daily -  entitled Refunds for Amazon Ebook Sales, Should You Be Worried by Lindsey Buroker. Ms. Buroker is now banned from returning Kindle books because she has a 60% […]

I read. Then I return. Mostly.
Then I go to the store and buy the one’s worthy of my library. Which if it fits in Romance (not erotica) its usually on my shelves. ;)
Case in point, I read a lot of books, and I use amazon to sort through the crap. I also buy a lot of books. Thanks to how useful amazon is with sorting through the crap, but now my return button has been taken away.
I am definitely contributing to the problem. BUT they need to be held accountable for their smoke and mirrors policy.
Not to mention, I buy PLENTY of crap on their site. PLENTY.

I know this comment was made more tha 6 months ago, but I hope that you’ve since taken advantage of Amazon’s new Kindle Prime service. (no, I’m not an Amazon shill :P) – the Prime service seems designed specifically for people like you, T.O and other serial returners who are using Amazon more as a library than as a consumer site.

Personally I have bought a lot of eBooks both on Kindle and Nook, and never returned a single one. Not in the hundreds/year range though, which is probably one reason why 1) I’m not personally signing up for the Prime service – I don’t have time to read enough books/year to justify the cost, and 2) I’m not that upset when I buy a dud.

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