Archaic practices in the publishing industry allow bookstores to return unsold books, often just weeks after their debut – for full purchase price.
No risk for book sellers, but lots of frustration and loss for authors.
Most bookstores allow customer to return physical books for any reason, if the store can’t sell that copy to someone else, they can simply return it to the publisher for a full refund.
What about online retailers and e-book returns?
The two biggest online retailers — Amazon and Barnes & Noble — have almost contrary return policies: Amazon’s return policy is very generous for customers, it lets a customer return an ebook for any reason within 7 days of purchase for a full refund. At Barnes&Noble it seems difficult, if not impossible, to return an e-book through their online store.
Here are some legitimate reasons for returns:
- Formatting: For instance, weird spacing between words, paragraphs that all run together, various type sizes etc.
- Copy Editing: The book has more than a tolerable number of errors and/or the writing is below-standard
- Subject Matter: A reader picks up what appears to be a sweet romance, for example, and it turns out to be the opposite.
A reader who can use the “Look Inside” should be able to tell whether or not they’ll enjoy the full story and that a return based on whether a reader liked a book or not isn’t a legitimate reason to return a book. Technology allows Amazon to know how much of the book a specific reader has paged through.
Authors who published with Amazon for the first time are often surprised to see those first returns show up on their statements. Sometimes authors are even seeing high returns on FREE books.
Possible return reasons
For books that pass the technical tests and the likability factor, Amazon gives customers a 1-click ordering that can play havoc with our return rates. Customers’ complaints: “I meant to send a sample to my Kindle, not actually buying the book is a fairly common”.
KDP Select program errors
Amazon lets Prime customers know if a book is available for free in the “Lending Library” by prominently displaying a big red $0.00 price (with a tiny little disclaimer) that overwhelms the actual retail price. The majority of readers not shopping for a Prime borrow can easily be confused into thinking the book is actually free. Even though the 1-click Buy button displays the actual price, once it registers on the reader, it’s often too late and they have already clicked on the button.
Some readers who want to borrow the book are not completely sure how to do a borrow and accidentally buy the book rather than borrow it. Often, authors will see a sale show up on their KDP dashboard followed by a return followed by a “borrow” in quick succession.
FREE Book errors:
Some customers read a lot of free e-books, and some of them aren’t quite sure how to delete a book off their Kindle once they have finished a book which they don’t want to read again. They return it to make room for more free books. And some readers just don’t take the time to sample free books when they go on a download spree. They’ll hoard a day or two’s worth of free books, then go through them and choose the ones that they’re really interested in. The rest get returned to free up space for more free books.
Some readers also see a book that’s been returned to the paid list advertised for free on an old email or post, click through and don’t pay attention to whether the book is actually still free or not. When they find out, they have been charged, they return the book. Or they may see a book they’ve bought within the past 7 days now offered for free. They return the purchased book and download a free copy instead.
Seeing a lot of returns can be discouraging, but if your book is of good quality and is being enjoyed by readers leaving nice reviews, then the returns are likely happening because of factors outside your control. Keep in mind the 1-2% fairly normal return rate and add to that all the purchasing errors that result in returns.