Amazon's e-Book Returns Leave Authors in the Red

Authors say 'life hack' feels more like theft
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 27, 2022 7:50 PM CDT
Amazon Authors Say 'Life Hack' Feels More Like Stealing
A e-book reader.   (Getty/urfinguss)

(Newser) – Readers increasingly are using Amazon as a library for e-books, a practice that authors want to put a stop to. It's made possible by Amazon's return policy, which gives buyers seven days to cancel an accidental purchase, NPR reports. So people are reading the book in less than seven days, then calling the deal off—an idea that has circulated online as a "life hack." They may think they're "sticking it to Amazon," but it's the authors who are paying, said Eva Creel, a fantasy writer who uses the pen name EG Creel.

Authors checking their royalty payments are finding they have a negative balance, because the income already deposited for sold books is deducted once the e-book is returned. Lisa Kessler, who writes paranormal romances, said that before the practice took off, her statement would show one or two returns per month. Now, it shows entire series being returned. "It really rattled me," Kessler said. "You think, 'Can I still make a living if this continues?' and that's very disheartening." Checking her book out of the library is fair enough, Creel said, "but reading it and making me think that I've made an income and then that income being taken away from me, that feels like stealing."

A sympathetic reader has started a petition calling on Amazon to change the return policy. Other booksellers' policies are tougher to take advantage of. Authors suggest a threshold, as in an e-book couldn't be returned once 20% of it has been read. Amazon was noncommittal. Some writers say the outcome could be increased mutual support among readers and authors, per NPR. "My hope is that readers will understand that influencers on TikTok and discussions on Facebook may have all the angles figured out on how to get e-books from Amazon for free," one said, "but it's not Amazon they're hurting here." (Read more Amazon.com stories.)

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