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Self-publishing News: Amazon Agrees To Reform Its Ebook Returns Policy

Self-publishing News: Amazon Agrees to Reform its Ebook Returns Policy

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at Amazon's decision to change its ebook returns policy to stop people getting refunds for books they've finished.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

After a summer break, Howard and I got together for September's Self-publishing News podcast last week. You can listen and read here. We talk about Spotify, of course, and took a deep dive into what the controversy over AI-generated art means for indie authors and the wider book business. This week's #indieauthorchat is in its usual Wednesday slot, at 8pm UK time, 3pm Eastern Time. Tim will be talking with us about when we need an index in our books.

Amazon Agrees to Reform Ebook Returns Policy to Stop People Returning Books they Have Finished

It feels like a long time since there’s been good news for authors from Amazon. So it’s nice to start the week with something positive. One of the most consistent causes of complaint is the way Amazon handles its returns policy. This was, you will remember, one of the central issues in Audiblegate. And recently the problems with Amazon’s existing policy for Kindle books has been the focus of authors’ attention. I reported on this back in July.

A policy ripe for abuse and the TikTok trend that exploited it

It is very simple to sum up the nature of the complaint. At present, Amazon’s returns policy for ebooks is based on time since purchase and not the use a consumer has gained from the product. It allows returns within 14 days of purchase.

It may seem obvious that the current policy is flawed. But it’s very much in line with consumer protection policy in general, and the importance of allowing people a cooling off period after making a purchase during which they can change their mind and return an item. The problem is that if you return a physical item, it is very easy for the retailer to add an additional condition that states the product must be, in a meaningful sense, “as new” or at least able to be resold. For example, if I try on a pair of shoes I’ve bought online, and I walk around on my living room carpet only to find they pinch a bit, or even that I don’t like the colour in my living room light, I can return them and they reach the retailer in as good a condition as they came to me. If I go outside and wander up and down a hard, or muddy, road and make the same discovery, I will damage them to some degree and the retailer is within their right to refuse a refund.

But digital products don’t work like that. “Using” a digital file like an ebook, in the fullest possible way, won’t damage it. You could still resell it “as new.” And for that reason, it makes no sense for returns policies to work the same as they do for physical items. TikTok users have been sharing this loophole widely to readers. And authors in genres where readers get through books at least at the rate of one a fortnight have suffered. They lose all royalties from a returned ebook. In some cases, this meant authors having royalty payments deducted in subsequent months and ending up with a negative balance.

Returns now to be based on the percentage of a book that has been read as well as time since purchase

Following a campaign by author groups, Amazon has relented and will reform its policy. It will no longer be possible to return an ebook if you have read more than 10%. The change will happen around the end of the year, and represents a significant milestone in ensuring fair payment for rights holders. ALLi is delighted, and proud to have been part of the voice for change.

More on that Spotify Audiobook Announcement

Last week’s news that Spotify was finally making its audiobook play broke just as I was filing. A week on, we can have a closer look at exactly what they announced and what that means. You can find the original release on Spotify’s Findaway Voices blog here.

The first thing to note is that this is not an across the board launch. For now it targets the US market. The intention remains to roll things out everywhere, though.

The Spotify audiobooks website claims an offering of 300,000 audiobooks. As Porter Anderson notes, this seems to be a reference to the 325,000 audiobooks available through Findaway Voices. The really interesting point from that initial post on the Findaway Voices blog is the direct call to authors:

“So how do you get your audiobooks on Spotify?” the blog asks. Point two is, “If you’ve never created an audiobook before, get started with a free Findaway Voices author account.” The implication is very clear. If we publish an audiobook through Findaway Voices, that book will find its way to Spotify listeners.

“Authors get excited, because Spotify presents new audiences for your stories as the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service with over 433 million monthly listeners” is the banner headline. Though while the statements that quote contains are true, the implications are aspirational for the moment given the US-only launch.

Writers' Guild Launch Self-publishing Guide With Free Event

The Writers' Guild, which represents writers in all mediums in the UK, is launching a guide to self-publishing. And to mark the occasion, it is holding a free online event on October 7th that you can sign up for here. I'm delighted that our very own Orna Ross will be part of an excellent panel that also includes the Writers' Guild's John Sailing, and guide author Corinne Sweet.

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Upcoming Conferences and Events

Free ALLi & IBPA joint webinars on best practices in self-publishing

Sep 21 Northern Hemisphere

Sep 22 Southern Hemisphere

Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) – Zoom meetings the 2nd Saturday of each month

Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


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