Have you ever returned a Kindle ebook? That option might soon be going away, thanks to a petition over at Change.org.
The petition calls on Amazon to change their customer-friendly Kindle ebook return policy. Even though this petition is only 4 days old it has over 2 thousand signatures from authors and publishers, all of whom want Amazon to now block some types of returns.
The petitioners don’t see the return policy as reassurance to readers that we can return a poorly written or poorly formatted ebook. Instead they view it as a loophole that is being gamed by serial returnees.
There is some truth to this idea, but would it surprise you to know that Amazon is a step ahead of serial returnees?
I first read about this petition on GalleyCat, and I was surprised to learn that I was the only one who knew about Part B of Amazon’s return policy.
A lot of authors are bothered by readers who appear to be gaming the system (buying, reading, and returning multiple books) and that is an entirely understandable concern. Amazon is bothered by that as well, and that is why they have long had a policy in place for responding to serial returnees.
If a customer buys and returns too many ebooks, Amazon will put a block on their account and not allow any more Kindle ebooks to be returned. I know this policy exists because I encountered it in 2009.
In December 2009, while I was still blogging for MobileRead, I shared an email that a friend had received from Amazon. It very politely noted that my friend seemed to be buying a lot of Kindle ebooks by mistake:
Hello from Amazon.com.
We’re writing regarding your request of Refunds.
Unfortunately, the number of issues you have sustained with your Kindle Store orders has led us to believe that there might be a larger issue. Since it appears that many of your orders have been accidentally purchased, we ask that you contact Customer Service for troubleshooting in an effort to avoid these issues in the future.
Effective immediately, we are unable to compensate you for any additional issues with your Kindle Store orders.
Thank you for your understanding.
So as you can see there’s no need to change the policy. Amazon already has it covered.
I’m not sure whether Amazon sent the email when the returns hit a certain threshold or whether his buying habits fit the pattern of a serial returnee. But I do recall that this email was sent after 30 titles were returned. In absolute terms that is really not a lot of ebooks; I’ve bought more ebooks than that in a single month.
But it doesn’t really matter why Amazon sent the email; what matters is that they have a policy in place to cover anyone trying to cheat.
Furthermore, I am a little surprised at the number of authors who don’t realize the importance of Amazon’s return policy. While a few people use it to cheat, the rest of us see it as a promise that we can return a crappy product. This increases the probability that we will take risks with unknown authors.
Few ebookstores have a return policy as generous as Amazon’s. Barnes & Noble does not allow returns at all and nor does Sony. In fact, Google Play Books (and Kobo, or so I am told) are the only significant ebookstore that let you return ebooks.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I would bet that Amazon’s return policy is at least partly responsible for Amazon continuing to dominate the ebook market all the way through Agency pricing. It is is less risky to buy ebooks from Amazon that anywhere else. And TBH if Amazon did not have this policy I would be far more cautious about spending money there.
That is the point that the petitioners seem to have missed. They are upset about the tiny fraction of people who are gaming the system and in order to stop serial returnees the petitioners want to hurt the rest of us as well.
I would say that the cure is worse than the disease, wouldn’t you agree?