Disclaimer: This is a scenario, not a specific experience belonging to me or anyone else at NA Alley.

Piggy bank courtesy of George Hodan.

Imagine, if you will, a random writer. Her timeline might go a little something like this:
  • 3 months to finish a manuscript
  • 1 month to “shelve it” and clear her head
  • 6 months to work with critique partners & beta readers, doing numerous edits and revisions
  • 3 months to work on the cover, book trailer, and promotional materials
  • 4 months to do back-and-forth copy and content edits, work on synopses, etc.
  • 2 months to do formatting, seek out book bloggers, send e-ARCs, etc.
  • 1 month to work on pre-marketing and logistics

That’s almost 2 years of her life spent working on one book.

Now imagine she chooses a promotional price point for the first week, just to get her name out there. If she sells 100 books through a given retailer, she might be able to look at her sales like this:
  • 100 e-books sold x $0.99 price = $99.00
  • $99.00 x .35 royalty percentage = $34.65
  • $34.65 x .847 approximate amount she would get to keep after taxes = $29.35

But wait! If this is a realistic scenario, and a week has not yet passed, it probably looks more like this:
  • 100 e-books sold - 14 refunds = 86 e-books she’ll get paid for
  • 86 x $0.99 price = $85.14
  • $85.14 x .35 royalty percentage = $29.80
  • $29.80 x .847 approximate amount she would get to keep after taxes = $25.24

Compare that to federal minimum wage in the US, which is $7.25 an hour. Her week, built on two years of work, suddenly equates to less than a day flipping burgersand that's not taking into account the money we'd deduct for her publishing expenses. I promise you, at this point, she's still in the red.

So, what’s the point? 

If you accidentally one-click and want to return an e-book, that’s fine.  

If you borrow books from friends or the library, that's also fine.

But if you read and return? You're saying writers do not deserve to be paideven a miniscule amountfor their work. With “look inside” features, reviews, rankings, and ratings available, there is no reason to ask for a refund after you’ve already finished a book.


I'm told there’s a petition floating around to get policy changed. If you want to check it out, click here.

End rant. ;)

Question: How do you feel about refund policies on e-books? Don’t worry. We’ll still love you either way.


P.S. Be sure to stop back on Friday for details on how to participate in our CP/beta bulletin board!

Post a Comment

  1. This is an excellent reminder and reality check. Also a bit depressing.

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    1. Thanks, Elise! You're right, though. It is a bit depressing...

      Delete
  2. Brilliant post Carrie! There's absolutely NO reason to return ebooks, especially when most authors offer free samples. Then when you conciser the majority of ebooks are $3.99 or less, really you're not losing that much money if you purchase something you don't like. But as you highlighted, it deeply effects the author. Video games, especially PC games, have certain return policies - you could not return a console game you've already completed. Same with CDs and DVDs, so why should books be different. It's completely unfair.

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    1. Thank you very much, Clare! :) Exactly. There is no reason to have a return policy that encompasses such a long period. I cannot even begin to fathom the reasoning there.

      Delete
  3. What do you think of them selling "used" copies of ebooks?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't believe in "used" e-books. They're not depreciated in any way, so why should someone else get to sell them? Ugh.

      Delete
  4. I think returning eBooks is lame. You're given an opportunity to read a sample before buying. Most places don't allow it. Except Amazon of course.

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    1. Thank goodness the other retailers don't allow it. Here's to hoping their logic is contagious. ;)

      Delete
  5. Love this post. I don't understand why people would return a book, esp at 99 cents. It says that writers aren't worthy of making income of their novels and that's awful. I mean, we tip the barista after paying 5 dollars for a cup of coffee, or you tip the bartender after paying for a 10 dollar shot. But they won't pay someone, even 99 cents, who has put months to years into something? I just don't get it.
    Also, I like that you and I use disclaimers quite often lol
    L

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, L! :)

      LOL Yes, yes we do. It must be something about this alley...

      Delete
  6. Love it!

    Well said, Carrie. Well said. ;)

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  7. So true! I don't understand at all why people return books, e-books or otherwise. If you read the book, regardless of whether or not you enjoyed it, the author deserves to get paid. It'd be like eating an entire meal at a restaurant, then demanding a full refund because you didn't really like it that much.

    Now, if, as you said, you didn't intend to buy the book (or in the case of hardcover books, someone gifted you one you aren't interested in reading), that's another matter entirely. But to read a book then return it, to me, is the same as stealing.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yes! That's a great analogy, Ava.

      Delete
    2. I actually know a guy (ok, more than one) who has eaten an entire meal then complained so much he got it comp'ed. Pretty embarrassing.
      And B) If you didn't intend to buy the book, you should have looked before clicking. No one's fault but your own. (Not you, Ava. Just sayin)

      Delete
  8. Preaching to the choir I think. I can't imagine a writer who wouldn't cheer this post on. I've never thought of returning an ebook and didn't realize it was done habitually. I wonder what the reasoning is with a reader (who isn't thinking about the author's plight)?

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    1. I can't, either. I assume this behavior is consistent with that of those who think it's okay to download books from pirate sites, too.

      Delete
    2. Funny you should mention this. Someone on twitter recently said that often times, people that download then return books are able to rip the content and post to pirate sites. I didn't believe this but I did notice that my book was on a pirate site (thankfully taken down) and it was just coincidence that it was returned same day it was posted?? Am I reaching here?

      Delete
    3. You aren't reaching. That's absolutely a possibility. Luckily, it's easier to catch pirated books than it is any other media (probably due to the fact that exact phrases and words can be searched for versus sound or video clips)

      Delete
  9. I've only one tried to return an ebook (Kobo), but that's because the darn thing wouldn't download. Turns out every time I buy a Kobo book for my iPod, I have to delete the app and reinstall it. In the end I did get my expensive ebook (which I have no intention of returning).

    You can't return ebooks on Kobo. That's only an Amazon policy. A dumb Amazon policy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eek. That sucks about your Kobo/iPad situation!

      I'm glad it's an Amazon-only policy. Hopefully, it'll be nothing but a bad memory in a few months.

      Delete
  10. I've only returned an ebook once that was because I accidentally clicked it and didn't mean to. I think there should be like you have 2 hours to return and that's it or something. Just for accidental clicks.

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    1. Same here! I accidentally bought a $9.99 e-book once when I meant to click on the paperback. I returned it within 2 minutes, and then bought the paperback--which was almost the same price. *facepalm*

      Delete
    2. No offense to either of you. But try and buy says I.

      Delete
  11. I love that you took the time to detail exactly how much work goes into a book and how little authors get in return. Well done!

    I think it's dishonest to buy and read an eBook, then return it for a refund. Thanks for posting on this subject.

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    1. Thanks, Natasha! I figured if we were going to delve into the subject, we might as well get detailed. :)

      Delete
  12. The only ebooks I've ever returned were to the library. ;) Honestly, I didn't even know it was a commonly happening thing. I agree that it doesn't seem right, especially if you can sample the book beforehand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gotta love the ol' library! ;) Yeah, it's becoming more prevalent. A sign of the times, I suppose.

      Delete
  13. "You can't return ebooks on Kobo. That's only an Amazon policy. A dumb Amazon policy."

    Stina has it right. I love Amazon... but it's a stupid policy. There should be like a two hour window on e-book returns, if they absolutely must offer this to customers.

    I've read some horrible e-books... but I've never once thought of getting a refund. I just know better.

    Great graphic, Carrie!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Kristen! :) And I agree. A two hour window would be more than enough time.

      Delete
  14. I honestly never even realized that returning an e-book was an option. I would never consider doing it. I agree with the others who have said a two hour policy for accidental purchases is the only acceptable policy. As far as I know they don't allow refunds on mp3 downloads so I don't understand why they view e-books differently.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Exactly! E-books should be treated like mp3s or any other digital download.

      Delete
  15. I made a comment online about being irritated (in a joking way) that a bunch of ebooks I had just purchased went on sale right after. I was then given the suggestion to return the books and buy them back at the sale price. While doing that would return to me a decent amount of money (I one-click and hoard a crazy amount of ebooks), I felt like I would be taking the money right out of the authors' pockets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's okay, Amy. You're among fellow one-click hoarders. We could probably form a support group here. ;)

      Delete
  16. Unless someone stole my account information and went on a buying binge, the copy failed to download and I never got the book I paid for, or the wrong book was delivered - it shouldn't be allowed. Period. No room for buyers remorse. This isn't a prom dress, it's a book. I'm even for the idea the Passive Guy suggested on his blog, which is donations for authors when their books are purchased as used on Amazon. It's bad enough that the industry still allows print book returns...

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  17. This is one of the worst policies Amazon ever put into existence. You can't return an ebook on Barnes & Noble, either.

    I have returned an ebook in the instance of I bought it one day for full price and the next day it went on sale. I still got the book, just at a lesser price.

    I understand getting the wrong book on accident -- but if that's the case a few hours should be sufficient to figure that out. Not the seven days Amazon gives you to return.

    I had read once somewhere that they keep track of habitual offenders, but I don't know how or if that's even true.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. Hopefully, they'll be receptive to our feedback. The fact that they implemented Matchbook--which offers paperback buyers a discount on e-book versions--shows that they do listen sometimes.

      I'm hopeful! :)

      Delete
  18. Yup, that policy is TOTAL crap, ugh!!! Geez, thanks for getting me worked up, Carrie ;-) LOVE the way you broke it down, homegirl!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seem to have that effect on people, this week! LOL Thanks, Jamie!

      Delete
  19. I thought Amazon gave 4 days, 7 is nuts. I have purchased a wrong book or changed my mind. But it was always within 24 hours and I never read the book. 2 days should be the maximum and at least 12 hours. Hey you never know what can happen. Great topic, I definitely plan more than ever to publish my book on multiple platforms. Amazon has clearly gone nuts with power.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hmmm, I didn't even know you could. Haha. Wow. I'm really up on it... Great post Carrie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't worry, Kelley. The policy wasn't on my radar until I went indie.

      Thank you! :)

      Delete
  21. Great post, Carrie!

    Last week, I sold my first book to India. Guess what? It was returned yesterday. Want to bet how much that, after 5 days with the book, this person read it? Of course she/he did. It's ridiculous.

    There's a petition online to stop this. I signed it. You all should too ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He/She didn't necessarily JUST read it. I strongly suggest looking into pirating sites and seeing if your book was uploaded to any.

      ...and in case you aren't coming back to this post, I'm going to try to find your blog to say just that.

      Delete
    2. Hey David. I come here all the time, several times a day actually (I'm one of the contributors).
      Uh-oh ... Pirating is so not fun. I'll look into that. Thanks.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, Juliana! I have this song in my head now... LOL

      Delete
  22. I was stunned after I first self-published and realized people could RETURN ebooks. It still kind of stuns me. Sure, if you click the 1-click button by accident, then I understand immediately returning it. But if you READ it first? No. Sorry. Seriously not cool (just like your poster says).
    I probably get a max of about 12 returns per month across my three paid titles across all Amazon stores. Not that bad, I guess, but it still kinda sucks!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Same here, Rachel! It wasn't something I noticed until I re-released/self-published. I can't wrap my mind around it.

      Delete
  23. Even if you end up hating an e-book, at least it only takes up a little space on your e-reader. It's not like selling a physical book you don't want on your shelf or taking up space in a box somewhere. I've spent way longer than just two years on some of my books, and would be even more upset than the writer who only took two years to write and perfect a manuscript!

    It does, however, sound exactly like something my return-happy ex would do! He prided himself on how often he got away with returning stuff he'd already been using for quite some time, even if he'd lost the receipt. He even got away with returning used or defective merchandise and passing it off as new or unused! It's like he and his whole family don't understand that kind of stunt doesn't work in America, unlike the places they've lived in.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I agree. And immediate oops or an hour is OK. But returning it after a 7 days? Not cool - it's even worse if the book was only 99 cents!

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  25. Does it look like Amazon has plans to change this policy at some point? I don't think there is anything wrong with a no-refund policy on ebooks. I don't think people should be allowed to return a book just to get the sale price either as was suggested to me elsewhere. JMO. I've bought books by accident before, and I just kept them and figured oh well, I'll end up reading them at some time or another anyways!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amazon's policies and decision-making methods are shrouded in mystery. We never truly know what their next move is until they've made it. Hopefully, they're looking into this!

      Delete
  26. *sigh* ok, my previous response got lost...it's just not cool to return ebooks. I know of people that do it. I would never think to do it. I don't have a two year process for getting a book together but my first self pub was so near and dear to me that it felt like a child...I was upset when I saw that first return. I had no idea why it happened, I even vented on twitter about it but then realized that I couldn't bully the reasons. They either love it or hate it...but to return it, now that's a shame.

    Residuals are small and I usually joke when I get them, "Guys, we can celebrate at Panera but you can't get the 99 cent pastry." I think that puts things into perspective but some people are jerks...they just like to return things.

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    1. A shame, indeed. Let's all go to Panera and splurge on the pastry! I've never been there. :)

      Delete
  27. It's really freaking simple IMHO. No company should offer refunds on e-books. If online retailers need to reinvent their websites to incorporate a SECOND button click purchase (God forbid we're forced to click TWICE before instantly owning a book), then so be it. The entire market of books is in the midst of being reinvented RIGHT NOW and will be for a long time!
    Now I'll go read the other comments and see how stupid I am for saying this.

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    1. NA Alley, I'm sorry for commenting all over the other commenters. I didn't realize this was a thing... I'm more than a little worked up over it.

      Delete
    2. No problem, David! We encourage discussion here. :)

      Delete
  28. That policy is wrong. It's like me eating a candy bar and then returning the wrapper or part of the candy bar with or without the wrapper because I've enjoyed other candy bars more.

    That needs to be changed.

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    Replies
    1. That is an excellent analogy, Teresa! Completely agreed.

      Delete
  29. Love this graphic! Well said all around. To be honest, I didn't that was even possible. Yikes.

    ~Emilyann

    www.anythingimagined.blogspot.com

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  30. I love numbers put out so clearly that even I get it. No read and return ever! I wouldn't have at any rate, but now I can show someone the numbers to support my argument. Thank you so much Miss Butler, Miss Carrie Butler, Miss I've-written-a-best-seller-Butler!

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    Replies
    1. I'm happy to have helped support your argument. :D Thanks, Joylene!

      Delete
  31. I was shocked when I first realized there were people doing this a few months ago and it still makes me angry. I am posting the link to this on my blog so others can see and hopefully learn something from it if they do it.
    Thank you for the wonderful insight!!!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing, Lynn Anne! We appreciate it. :)

      Delete
  32. I've heard this topic quite a bit lately. It seems totally unfair, but I guess if we consider the majority of readers DON'T do this, then we can kinda ignore it. I dunno cuz I dont have any books out there yet. I may change my mind once I do. LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've gotten more since I wrote this post, interestingly enough... lol

      Delete
  33. I think Amazon's policy allows this kind of dishonest behaviour. I download a sample before I buy, which is enough to tell me whether I'll like the book or not. I think this happens mostly with short stories, etc. which is even worse. I've experienced it as a writer and think people take a few days to read the books and then ask for a refund.Good thing is, only a few people do this sort of thing.

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    1. Indeed. I'm grateful for good, honest readers. :)

      Delete
  34. It's actually quite shocking. I'm new at this and still learning the ropes. I hope good readers don't do this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't worry, Kelly. Good readers don't read and return. :)

      Delete
  35. With being a self-published author, I don't think it is fair to refund e-books. I need to be paid and if someone gets a refund after parking of my product, it seems unethical. It shouldn't be allowed.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I love everything about this post. My thoughts exactly!

    ReplyDelete

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