In London and New York, Authors’ Trade Groups Hail Amazon’s Change on Self-Service Ebook Returns

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Amazon’s change reportedly will prevent a self-service return of a Kindle ebook for a full refund if a consumer has read more than 10 percent of the text.

The Kindle Paperwhite. Image: Amazon Kindle promotional photo

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘A Major Improvement’
The major author-advocacy organizations in the United Kingdom and United States—the Society of Authors union and the Authors Guild, respectively—are today (September 22) praising Amazon, which is not something that happens every day.

Representatives of both organizations say they were informed on Wednesday (September 21) of “a major improvement for authors of books available on Kindle,” per the Society of Authors. The change reportedly will mean that a consumer who has read more than 10 percent of an ebook on Amazon’s Kindle system will no longer be able to trigger a self-service return for a full refund.

The Society writes, “Amazon has confirmed plans to change its systems to address complaints about its long returns windows which have negatively affected authors’ profits. Amazon’s returns policy for ebooks currently allows readers to receive a full refund for up to 14 days, even if they have read the full work. The use of this refund loophole has been encouraged by users on TikTok, with videos on how to return books being viewed over 17 million times.”

The return policy on ebooks and the social-media exchange of information on how to return ebooks in the Kindle system has been covered in many places, of course, as when Deanna Schwartz at NPR wrote about it on June 27, saying, “When an Amazon customer returns an ebook, royalties originally paid to the author at the time of purchase are deducted from their earnings balance.

“Authors can end up with negative balances when customers return books after the author has already been paid by Kindle Direct Publishing, an Amazon spokesperson said. … For some readers, seven days is more than enough time to finish a book and return it after reading, effectively treating Amazon like a library.”

Implementation Expected by Year’s End

At the Society of Authors, the staff writes, “Throughout 2022, the Society of Authors and the Authors Guild have been in discussions with senior executives at Amazon about the problem. In April, the Society called publicly for the ebook returns window to be reduced to 48 hours, backed by authors including Jeanette Winterson and Ian Rankin. This was echoed by a petition on which has so far attracted more than 78,000 signatures.”

Now, in an email to both the Guild and the Society, David Naggar, Amazon’s vice-president of books and Kindle content, is reported by the Society to have said, “We do hear all you have said over the course of our conversations on this topic and are planning to make meaningful changes … Most notably, we will de-activate self-service returns for any book read past 10 percent, adding substantial friction to the process.”

Naggar, per the Society, has said that the change will be introduced “to all the platforms that support Kindle, including e-readers, computers, and smartphones. He said their developers have ‘reprioritized existing product roadmaps … and believe this improvement can be implemented by the end of the year.”

The Society also points out, however, that Naggar stressed that “in Amazon’s view, returns on Kindle products continue to be low, with ‘no discernible spikes.'”

The Guild’s information tells us that the change is to go into effect by the end of the year. After it takes effect, “Customers who wish to return ebooks after reading more than 10 percent,” the Guild writes, “will need to send in a customer service request, which will be reviewed by a representative to ensure that the requested return is genuine and complies with Amazon’s policies against abuse.

“This process,” the Society says, “will create a strong deterrent against readers who buy, read, and return ebooks within seven days, and readers who attempt to abuse the policies will be penalized under Amazon’s policies. The Authors Guild and the Society of Authors, its sister organization in the UK, had taken up this issue with Amazon’s senior executives earlier this year.”

Nicola Solomon

In London, Society of Authors chief Nicola Solomon, is quoted, saying, “This is excellent news for authors, and a perfect example of what unions can achieve through lobbying together.

“We look forward to hearing more from David and his team at Amazon when their new system goes live. In the meantime, thank you to the many self-published authors who first brought this problem to our attention.”

Mary Rasenberger

And at the Authors Guild in New York City, CEO Mary Rasenberger says, “We applaud the scores of indie authors who advocated for this change.

“We are also grateful to Amazon’s team for listening to our concerns and taking good-faith action. The Amazon team is also reviewing individual author accounts for customer returns abuse.”

The Guild points out that it negotiated a similar change with Amazon-owned Audible in 2020, in that case agreeing to pay royalties “for any [audiobook] title returned more than seven days following purchase.” You can read the Guild’s account of that situation here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on digital publishing is here, more on the Society of Authors is here, more on the Authors Guild is here, and more on Amazon is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.