Authors quarrel with Amazon over e-book return policy claiming to deprive them of royalties

Writers, including Ian Rankin and Jeanette Winterson, are up in arms Amazons return policy for e-books, which they claim unfairly deprives authors out of royalty sales.

The online retailer, whose founder Jeff Bezos is worth an estimated $ 142 billion (£ 108 billion), allows buyers to receive a full refund within 14 days of purchase – even if they have read every word.

A petition calling for a change in policy has been signed by more than 24,000 people, and the Writers’ Association, The Society of Authors, wants Amazon to shorten its return period to 48 hours.

What do the authors say?

Winterson, whose novels include Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Frankissstein: A Love Story, told Sunday Times: “Jeff Bezos started selling books because they have a long shelf life, are easy to pack and their ISBN system is an algorithmic dream. The man has never thrown himself over books, booksellers or authors. ”

Inspector Rebus author Rankin (below) said: “I’m shaken. Writers have a hard enough time as it tries to earn a living. If anyone can read your book without paying you anything for that privilege, you’re sunk.”

E-book royalties for authors are typically around 25 percent of “publisher receipts”. This is to be compared with about 7.5 percent of the suggested retail price for physical books.

What drives the return?

Authors say there has been a huge increase in people returning their e-books, claiming that more than 100 copies of their books were returned last month.

Some believe the trend is driven by clips about returning e-books shared on the video-sharing platform TikTok, where the hashtag #booktok has become a worldwide phenomenon for social media-savvy readers. Clips on e-book returns on the platform have been viewed more than 17 million times.

There are even users who provide tutorials on how to return the books after reading them.

Has Amazon taken shape?

In December 2020, Amazon changed the return policy for its audiobook site Audible following complaints from authors.

The company announced that royalties would be paid to authors for any title returned more than seven days after purchase, rather than within 365 days – although some authors did not think this went far enough.

What does the company say now?

A spokesman for Amazon defended the policy, saying: “Our e-book return rates are consistently low and we have policies and mechanisms in place to prevent this from being abused.”

They told I: “Amazon aims to provide the best possible experience for authors and customers. We allow the return of e-books up to 14 days after purchase.

“Our goal is to inspire reading, and we recognize the important role of authors. That’s why we launched Kindle Direct Publishing and further new initiatives such as the Amazon Literary Partnership, which support authors and a range of literary groups.”

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