Apr 4 2013 7:20am

Return to Sender: Why Return E-Books?

Kiera Knightley in AtonementA petition posted at is requesting that e-retailer giant Amazon change its ebook return policy since it seems some readers are purchasing ebooks and returning them within seven days, which is Amazon's grace period for returns. The petition points out that seven days is more than enough time to read a book and then return it, similar to when you purchase a fancy dress for an event and you return it to the store the next day after wearing it.

Of course there are legitimate reasons for returning an ebook—so if you have returned one, why did you?

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1. mastersdelight
I returned an e-book. It was awful! So badly written, it just didn't flow right atall. I normally try to read a book through to end but only managed sbout 3 chapters.
2. SuthrnCat
I've returned several e-books - for the same reasons I would have returned a hard copy. It was awful. I used to be determined to finish no matter what, but now, if it's not any good after the first 50 pages or so, it goes back. I have better things to do with my time, many, many more books on my tbr list that are more deserving of my money and space on my e-reader/cloud.
3. stiggles
I have wanted to for reasons such as the text not being able to be read, for something wrong with it.
4. BethAnnie
I didn't realize this was Amazon's policy. I've bought a book by mistake clicking in the wrong place and just thought I was stuck with it. I've also pre-ordered books and then had them show up free or cheaper on their day of release and again, just figured that was my fault. Since I know the policy now, I might look to return a few but within the first day. I'd say 48 hours is max for return of ebooks.
5. SuthrnCat
More on above comment - sorry - I've returned paperbacks, too - for the same reasons. I have never returned a book when I've finished it, those do go straight to the second hand store though, and I've deleted a couple off my cloud/reader that I never want to read again. I think it's less than 10 books out of over 1200 that I have digital copies of that I've returned before finishing. The ratio is less than that for hard copies.
6. Melanie S
I've never returned an ebook, but I've returned audiobooks to Audible before. They have a great return policy of taking back anything for any reason. I've bought books and found that I couldn't stand the narrator, so I returned it. They just ask why with a choice of radio buttons. Very easy.
7. A.Rivers
I returned E-Books, if they are in my opinion, too short. For example, spending $3.99 for a book that is only 3 chapters and the author keeps releasing more books in the same series only to add all the short stories together months later angers me. I wasted money when I could have bought all the books integrated into one book. I just stopped buying any short stories. Or if the book is really bad and the plot makes no sense, I will return it.
8. EmilyB
The best job I ever had was at a chain book store that fully supported romance novels. There were three customers who regularly bought stacks of books and returned them a week later. It bugged us to no end because we couldn't prove it. That's the thing with e-books. You can't prove the book has been read or not and its unfair to punish those of us who would never do something like that. I have returned a few mostly for the reasons above and I applaud Amazon for allowing the customer to return a product they are not satisfied with.
Allison Hickman
9. AllisonHickman
The one time I returned an ebook it was because I'd already bought it & didn't realize it until it was too late. It never occurs to me to return the books, even when I don't like them. I'm not sure why that is because I wouldn't keep a sweater I didn't like but it feels different to me with items like books. I feel like I made the wrong choice so it's on me. Of course most of the things I've absolutely disliked were free so maybe I've been lucky that way.

If you've read the entire book and you still return it? That is pretty lousy of you IMO, you read it, whether you liked it or not you still read it. That would be like sitting through a movie & then demanding your money back, who does that? But again, that is just my opinion.
Kaye Dacus
10. kndacus
I almost always download and read the (free) sample of ebooks before committing to purchasing them. Or, if it's an author or story I'm unsure of, I'll check it out from the library if they have it. If I'm unsold after reading the sample or if the library doesn't have the ebook, I'll move on to another book out of the the hundreds lying in wait on my "Books to Sample" list.
11. tammye
I didn't even know you could return e-books!! There are several in my collection that I would have returned because of poor writing and editing.
12. ms bookjunkie
Accidental purchase, buyer's remorse, a price drop right after I purchased, bad formatting, a godawful book (though most of those are usually freebies in my experience as I do my research before buying), oops—already owned it!… The reasons are many.

I've never returned a book I've actually read, and hearsay says that some of the cancelled Kindle accounts are due to too many returns of read books. Who knows? (Amazon does…about how far we read in the book before returning. Seriously, they will not let customers misuse this. They're a business.)

But I will be seriously put out if my ability to return a Kindle book in the seven-day Amazon grace period goes away.
13. Torifl
I just returned an ebook the other day. Terrible formatting, missing words, and misplaced paragraphs. I'm not keeping a $10 plus anything that is an inferior product.

While no busness likes returns, it's all part of doing business to accept them. Unless you can tailor your item to appeal to every person who buys it, your going to have returns.

Often larger retailers keep track of those buyers who show a trend in buying and returning above the norm. What often happens is the buyer is warned and soon begins to recieve credit instead of cash back.

While I do not approve of those who buy, read, and return...not allowing returns is not the way to handle it because it will never happen. No company is going to stop offering returns. Esp. Amazon who in all honesty, will always be more sympathetic to buyers. Plus, merchant venders such as Paypal and most credit card companies offer returns regardless of what the company's return policy who uses them.
14. Ekatarina Sayanova
Returning an ebook because you don't "like" it is promoting what essentially amounts to piracy. Whether or not you will like a story is the chance you take. Caveat emptor. Besides, you can download a free preview. If you buy the book after reading the preview and don't like the book, tough. Get over it and move on.

The only valid reason to "return" an ebook would be if the file was corrupted and you were not able to access it on your ereader, or it did not display properly. A refund would be issued only if, after downloading the second file, the file still didn't work properly. Because free previews are available, there is absolutely no reason to be permitted to return an ebook for a full refund.

Here's what everyone is refusing to understand: Those returned books are resold and the author does not make a single penny on the resales. The sale of a copyrighted work without royalties paid to the author is piracy - plain and simple. Amazon gets away with it because of a loophole in the law or because they are (paraphrasing) "too big to prosecute".

I'm an editor. I bust my professional rear end working with my author clients to get the best possible story out to the readers. I'm not a charity and cannot work for nothing. Those who complain about stories that need editing - guess what? Piracy is one of the reasons why authors (indy authors especially) sometimes can't make enough to hire professional editors. (Don't get me started on what small publishers charge authors for editing.) There is nothing we'd like better than to see to it that every ebook sold went out without errors and read as smooth as the finest brandy feels going down the throat. It isn't going to happen if the author can't make money because the work they sweat blood over is being sold without them getting compensation.

So, the next time you return that ebook because you don't "like" it and you didn't take the time to read the preview, or simply because you just don't "like it" , or because you think you can get away with something, remember that book is someone's livelihood. How would you like to put a year of your life into something and see it stolen out from under you? Hmmmmmm?

I didn't think so.
Allison Brennan
15. Allison_Brennan
@Ekatarina -- actually, at Amazon, if someone returns an e-book, they deduct previously paid royalties. So if they paid me on 500 copies sold one month, and the next month 10 copies were returned, then they would deduct the royalties they'd already alloted to me. So it's *as if* the book hadn't sold. The book sells again, the author gets royalties. What I think you're thinking of is the digital re-sale market, which a district court just ruled was illegal (in a music case.)

As an author who is traditionally published, and has a couple indie books out there, I completely sympathize with readers who need to return a product that's inferior -- poor formatting, unreadable, not as advertised, etc. I don't think any authors would disagree.

The problem has arisen because some readers have been "bragging" that they buy ebooks, read them, then return them. They treat e-books like a library where they use the same pool of money to read as many books as they want. This is the practice that needs to be stopped, because it is akin to piracy. It's like buying a dress, wearing it, getting the benefit from in, and then returning it because you know you'll never wear it again. Stores have policies against that as well.

One friend of mine suggested a technical solution -- if more than half the book was read, the book can't be returned. (Any inferior production problems would be obvious pretty quick. Not liking the writing style/author's voice would be noted quickly, too.) My idea to stop serial returners was to limit the number of books they can return to X a month, or X a year.

Another note: I have very few returns on, Kobo or Apple. Maybe 1 a month, if that. At Amazon, it's 10-20 a month. Just thought it was an interesting statistic, and I think it was on the Amazon boards that some people were bragging about returning ebooks after reading them.
16. Susanw
I've only returned a few e-books and it was because I had already purchased them. Amazon has made it a little easier to tell right away if I have the book, but sometimes it's a different isbn for some reason, or part of an anthology. Usually I catch it within a few hours, which at that point is like cancelling the order and fully acceptable. I've never opened/read the book then returned it though. That's like using something and returning it... just a huge NO. Nor have I ever requested the refund after the first day. Again, just not right.
Germaine Smith
17. Germaine
I've got over a thousand books on my Kindle. I don't think I've returned more than five over a period of around three years. One of them was so horribly formatted I couldn't read it. Another turned out to have a lot of BDSM and sex that I really didn't want to read about. These were things that weren't hinted at in the free sample. The other three were $7.99+ books that I just couldn't get into. I would never return a book that I had finished. I really appreciate Amazon's return policy and I don't want to abuse it.
Barbara Bauschka
18. njoireading
I have only ever returned two: one because the formatting for the e-book was awful with symbols for letters, etc. The second one was just this week. Over 100+ pages were missing-chapters 6-18. It is a content issue and BN was very helpful. Money back and will let me know if the issue is solved as I really wanted to read the book.

I like that BN lets me know if I have a book in my library already so I don't double buy. Even my UBS tells me as it shows on my account.
19. HJ
It's pretty clear from these comments that Amazon's policy is not needed by bona fide buyers of ebooks. We would want to return a faulty product but that's about all. And it's evident pretty quickly if the ebook is faulty.

As Allison Brennan points out, this policy is costing authors money. They lose the royalties on books which are returned. Moreover it is likely that the ability to return books is helping those who pirate them - they have time to do their copying and they don't even have to pay for the original!

Apart from those ripping off the authors (either by treating their books as library books or by copying them) the only beneficiary of this policy is Amazon, which offers something which no other seller of ebooks does and so has a competitive edge.

Under normal consumer law (in the UK at least) buyers could return faulty products without this clause. That is all the protection bona fide buyers need. The balance is disproportionately adversely affecting authors, and that mattes to readers because we need them to be able to write more books for us!

As a reader and buyer of hundreds of ebooks (mainly from Amazon) I feel strongly that Amazon should cease this practice. If they do not, I will transfer my purchases to other retailers.
20. Maureen Driscoll
I have mixed feelings on this topic. As an indie author, it can be very disheartening to see the returns. I've never read a bad comment after a return complaining about formatting, spelling, etc., so I don't think it's that. And there's usually a patterm: The books in my series have almost an identical number of returns. So, I do believe there are readers who simply use the return policy as a library, which isn't fair to those of you who pay for the books.

However, decreasing the length of time could punish people who stock up on books and don't necessarily get to a particular book within a week. It could also dissuade people from trying indie authors because some of the books truly are unreadable and who wants to end up with that?

And, personally, I had serious financial difficulties in the past few years and the library was a lifesaver to me while going through that. Being able to lose myself in books for free was such a joy. I have to think at least a few of the serial returners do so because they can't afford to buy books. And I wouldn't want to deny them that. Of course, I'm sure a lot of people buying the books don't have loads of money to spend, either. I DEFINITELY appreciate the latter group.

But, yes, sometimes it really depresses me to see the returns
21. Nikki H
I have returned 2 books to Amazon that I had inadvertantly purchased twice. I know there is usually a notice letting you know that the book has already been purchased and on what date you purchased it, but in this case, the notice wasn't there.
romance reader
22. bookstorecat
I accidentally bought a book recently while showing someone how to work my ereader. (Doh!) I kept it even though I'm not planning on reading it. If an ebook is not defective, I would NEVER return it. Seriously.
Candice Burnett
23. SleepyVamp
I had to return an ebook once to amazon because I accidentally purchased the title in the wrong language (I thought it was a translation!).

I think if people want an ebook lending library they should join something like amazon prime. It's not very expensive when you consider the indivual pricing of ebooks, and I think there are something like 300,000 titles currently available. Otherwise, I would agree with a change in rules that you can only return if you have read less than 50% of the ebook. Unless there is some kind of secondhand ebook shop in our future?
Laura Toth
24. lanchid
I've returned 2 ebooks to Amazon in my 3 years with Kindle. Both were because I was putting the books on my wish list and somehow pushed the wrong button. Since I was wish listing the books you's think I'd just shrug and keep them, but I literally didn't have the funds in my account to cover the books and something would have bounced.

I am one of those readers whose philosophy is "she with the most books at death, wins." So I have lots of books in my TBR file on my kindle. Some I've had for a year or more and I *will* read them! Eventually. But I couldn't imagine returning any of these books after they have been gathering virtual dust for so long.

The idea that people are bragging publicly about buying and returning ebooks in a never ending cycle makes me want to shake them and say "this is why we can't have nice things! Stop screwing it up for the rest of us!"

I didn't even return my e-copy of Lora Leigh's Navarro's Promise, even though about ten pages are missing right at the climax of the story! (Literally, the heroine finds out the bad guy has escaped and she is trapped with him.........and the next page she and the hero are in bed enjoying their HEA.) It totally ruined the story for me and I haven't been able to enjoy a Breeds book since. Mainly because the publisher and LL (IMHO) showed so little concern over what was (metaphorically speaking) a horrible case of coitus interruptus. Yeah, it's been almost two years and I'm still bitter. Go fig.

I do like the idea of not taking a return if 50% or more of the book has been read. I think that's a reasonable way to protect the readers and everyone else.
Allison Brennan
25. Allison_Brennan
@lanchid -- there have been some of my books (in print) that had pages missing and it's usually a printer error that was missed in quality control and only affects a few copies. I've replaced books for readers when the bookstore wouldn't (but they usually do.) Not sure about e-books -- but things like that I would definitely email or write about, because they can and should fix them. It's a production error. It needs to be fixed.
26. stlblues35
I do not agree at all with the individuals who return books because they don't like them. You're paying for a product, regardless of how much you end up liking the actual story. I don't even think poor quality of writing where typos/grammar is concerned is a good excuse because they allow readers to download/view samples of all Kindle books for a reason - and while the samples aren't long, if a book is that horridly edited you can usually figure it out from just the sample. Not saying there aren't exceptions but in general I've found this to be the case.

I feel as readers we have to respect these authors livelihoods. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also feel there is no excuse for poorly edited books or books filled with atrocious grammar and spelling errors. Self-publishing isn't an excuse. I actually love self-published authors...there are some amazing authors and books out there I've discovered that never would have happened if authors couldn't self-publish. We won't all like a book's content or story, but it is more than reasonable to expect a quality product where the written word is concerned.

I hope Amazon adjusts their return policy so some of these illegitimate reasons for return can be filtered out.
Rae Alley
27. rszalley
For me, there are usually two reasons to retun an evoked: if I meant to send the Sample to myself and accidentally purchased it or if it is obvious someone failed to edit the OCR scan of the book. So hardto enjoy when you have to stop every so often to guess what was actually written.
28. BananaTricky
I've returned a few ebooks to Amazon. They have either been because:

1. I have already bought/read the book and didn't realise
2. I bought a short story only to find out that it was a freebie in a full length story format from the same author (Shane's Last Stand by Suzanne Brockmann)
3. I pressed the wrong button (usually linked to point 1 ie I bought book 2 when I menat to buy book 3)
4. It is an anthoology of short stories all of which have been previously published and that I have already read (Nalini Singh is good at that)
5. It is a reprint/renaming of something I already own (Suzanne Wright did this with one of her books)

What I do like with Amamzon ebooks is that it tells you (repeatedly) if you have already ordered/purchased an ebook - I occassionally had to return print books because I had ordered them twice!

Also, I note Allison Brennan's point but I also wonder how easy it is to return ebooks on other sites compared to Amazon - sometimes the number of returns is also a product of the system.

I am very grateful for the ease with which Amazon allows me to return ebooks - there is that awful sinking feeling when you are about three chapters into a book and realise that this isn't recap of what happened previously, this is deja vu because you've already read the book.
29. Lynne C Sondelski
I bought a book with a story line that I found I was very uncomfortable with--called B&N and they allowed me to return it--I was told, however, that returning was a one time "courtesy" so although I've gotten some books that had (what I consider to be) bad story lines or didn't come up to my Author Expectations--I never tried to return an E-Book after that.
I have found out that, occassionally, the (free Sample)Synopsis is the only good part of a book--if that happens more than once ,that Author is off my "Buy List"
30. Rich Meyer
The only legitimate reasons to return on e-book are:

-You purchased it in error.

-The book was corrupted in the transfer and re-downloading does not fix the problem.

-The formatting of the book make it impossible to read (at least not without getting a headache; e.g. if there is just one word on each page, or all the text is in a ten-character column justified to one side, or the spacing and font changes every two lines and not to indicate changes in perspective in the story).

You don't just return a "bad" book because it may be subjectively bad. That's the chance you take buying any book. A properly given rating and a scathing review is the answer to that.
31. Arely Z.
I have returned an ebook twice, and both times was because I accidentally bought them. Amazon's "one-click" policy can be good as well as bad, since it can lead me to accidentally buy an ebook. I returned them almost immediately. I have never returned an ebook because it was bad, because I did read it.
32. lanchid
@Allison_Brennan: I did email and complain to both Amazon and the publisher. The publisher told me a fix would be pushed out to e-readers within a month (A. a month!?! WTF? B. Still hasen't happened.) Amazon told me twice that the fix had already been pushed out to e-readers and my copy should be fine. The third time I complained to them, they told me to return it if I was dissatisfied. LL simply put out the missing pages in a free download for readers who didn't have them.
33. Shadowspun
As a bookaholic - I don't generally return either books or ebooks - as my kindle book count of over 6000 can verify. I can recall exactly 2 instances of returning an ebook- once when I purchased one I had as a hardcover ( different cover and the hardcover did not come up on the book for me to check for prior purchases) and the other time was when it was an accidental purchase - i.e. I accidentally clicked on the purchase button - and it was not a book I wanted to get - but was looking up for someone else.

I do think of reading and returning an ebook as stealing and it is not something that should be encouraged - but that said - I will defend the Amazon policy - because I think it is good for business. I will say though that I think Amazon needs to be a little more vigilant and check for abusers of this policy.
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