A loophole in Amazon’s return policy is costing some writers a pretty penny after becoming hot on social media.
The TikTok trend has drawn attention to Amazon’s Kindle return policy, encouraging people to read and return e-books within the appropriate window to get their money back.
“Individuals buy books, read them, and then return them within two weeks,” independent author Trevor Wiltzen told CBC Edmonton radio active.
“What’s happening is they’re treating Amazon like a library.”
Wiltzen is the author of the mystery series Mabel Davison and is self-published by Amazon. He said he’s noticed a change in his sales recently.
In Canada and the United States, customers have seven days to cancel a Kindle book order for a full refund, whether the book has been read or not. In other countries, customers have up to 14 days. The policy includes audio books.
But the trend has hurt independent and self-published authors, Wiltzen said.
“They think Amazon is a big conglomerate, but that’s the way Amazon got big, by making itself risk-free and passing that risk on to the artist,” Wiltzen said.
If an author chooses to self-publish on Amazon, they can receive anywhere from 30 percent to 75 percent in royalties, depending on the book format.
Every time a book is returned, including digital copies, the authors lose royalties and delivery fees.
Authors also have to pay a download fee for Amazon. The fee will not be refunded to the author if his book is returned.
Wiltzen said he originally chose Amazon for the self-publishing because of its international audience.
“I have 17,000 readers from countries as far away as India or the United Arab Emirates, Europe or South America,” he said.
“The reach is fantastic for us to get our work out there.”
radio active6:06Return books to Amazon
And while Wiltzen credits Amazon for helping independent authors publish, he said authors need more support.
“As self-published authors, we need that income to keep going and publishing more books,” he said.
Book returns are not a new trend, but something that publishers have been looking at for years.
“I don’t think it’s fair to read a book and then return it and expect to get your money back, because basically that means publishers and authors aren’t getting paid for their work,” said Kieran Leblanc, Executive Director of the Book Publishers Association of Alberta.
Alexander Finbow, a publisher at Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd., said book returns reveal a flaw in the system.
When bookstores can’t sell books, they return them to the publisher. This system was introduced during the Great Depression and was a way to support bookstores.
“But in reality, it’s a system that can and will be abused by the biggest players in the game, and some of the decisions involved can have unforeseen consequences,” Finbow said.
He said Amazon is a big player in the publishing industry and getting them to change their policies can be difficult.
“It might take some of the really big writers and publishers to pressure Amazon to change,” Finbow said.
Other Amazon digital services, such as Amazon Prime and Amazon Music, do not have a return policy.
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said: “Amazon is committed to providing the best possible experience for customers and writers. We have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent abuse of our e-book return policy. We always listen to feedback and we follow up on any concerns we receive.”
Wiltzen encourages readers to support independent authors by promoting them through reviews or word of mouth.