The gamble of ebook returns: are returns bad?

Hello everyone!

Something’s been on my mind lately and in order to get a better understanding of the situation I thought I’d ask you e-reader users for your thoughts. So in this post I’m going to discuss ebook returns.

Now I have perhaps a slightly different perspective on the situation as a self-published author. That’s why I really want to hear from others whether your an author or a reader. Have you ever returned an ebook and why? Was there terrible formatting issues that made you barely able to read the book or did you just not like the book? Or what other reasons do you have?

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I’m going to really head this discussion off by first stating how I regard book returns. Simply put, I’ve never returned a book. Ever. There have been many ebooks I’ve bought that I thought I’d like but I ended up hating. Many of these are DNF (did not finish) books. Some of these DNF novels are traditionally published by well-known authors and some are self-published by both big and small known authors. It’s always really disappointing to find a book blurb you like and buy the book. If you’re like me then you even read the sample of the book first to see if you like the style of writing. So, it’s always crushing when you’re partway through and for some reason or another you can’t finish this darn book. But I’ve never returned a book.

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I think I’m still set in the ways of buying paperback books. To me buying paperbacks is always such a gamble, the same can be said for ebooks, except I don’t get as mad because ebooks prices are usually priced lower. If I get DNF book and paid $3.99 compared to $7.99 plus tax, then I’m not as mad about it. If you all remember from the days of buying book in bookstores, you might recall that they have a strict no return policy. For one, they can’t accept books back because otherwise they’d become libraries with people reading scores of the latest, hottest titles for nothing. Maybe it’s because I’m still used to buying my books in paperback, and still do on occasion, that when I get a bad book on my ereader, I don’t even think to return it. At all.

After all, part of buying a new book is the gamble of choosing. That’s why we all juggle around the cover, the blurb, the first page we read in the store or in the online sample. We want to carefully place our money on a solid bet. Sometimes it’s a dud and that’s frustrating as hell. But, it also gives us fodder for snarky reviews to tell your friends and family.

So I don’t return books. Never even thought to do it.

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But as a self-published author and someone who reads a lot in the self-published forums as well, I see talk about ebook returns. Now, I’m not going to bother trying to speak for anyone else because I don’t have the right. So all of these thoughts are my own. A trend I’ve noticed as an author published on Amazon, where ebook returns are allowed, is that people seem to buy my books, read them, and then return them. You can track the number of returns throughout each of my series and in my standalone titles. I consistently see the same number of people buy and return each of the books in my series month after month. They must be enjoying them, is my first thought, because they read all of them. They also don’t want to pay for the books which I think is wrong. I have created a book (and have several free novels to offer), I have priced it at a very low price point, and if you are enjoying the books then aren’t they worth the $3 for that novel that would cost you $7.99 to buy from a big publisher?

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Of course I think so. Of course I think my books and other authors like me deserve to have their books paid for if an individual likes the book. I also happen to think, and this may be where it gets sketchy for some, that even if you didn’t enjoy the book you shouldn’t return it. To me it seems like it’s cheating a system. At least in my case, I have free stories for the beginning of each of my series, so you can try the story to see if it suits you or not at zero cost. So if you do like it and decide to read the rest of the books, and you like the next and the next and the next, don’t I deserve to earn my royalty off that book? If you were buying my book of a shelf at a Borders (how I miss Borders and their Seattle’s Best coffee!) then you wouldn’t have that same privilege.

I pose the question to you readers: Why is it okay to return an ebook? Have you ever done it and why or why not? Is it okay to only return expensive ebooks or just the cheap ones? Have you ever returned an ebook you liked? 

Now to be completely fair I want to state that the number of returns to the number of sales is very small (based off my personal experience). So it’s a small number of people who do this. But I do see it consistently in readers buying each of the books in my series and returning them. I also hear about this trend in the forums I mentioned with other authors.

Is this fair? Is this ethical? Does it matter?

I don’t know and a part of me understands this isn’t a big deal, but the other part wants to understand when is it okay to return an ebook and why. Please, share your opinions and let me know what you think! :)

T. A. Grey

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44 thoughts on “The gamble of ebook returns: are returns bad?

  1. I never returned an eBook. I have read some that I would like to have received a refund for them. That’s why I now read the reviews (good & bad) to help make my choice.
    I will wait for the price to drop on eBooks because I don’t want to pay the same price as a print book… Does that make me sound crass and cheap? I have purchased so many eBooks, I should buy stock in Amazon!! :-)

    • I completely agree. If the paperback price is the same as the ebook I will usually go and buy the paperback. At least then I can put the book on my bookshelf and show it off. :) I don’t think that’s crass or cheap just resourceful!

    • I like you have NEVER returned a book either, and in retrospect believe that to even have the option in which to do so, should not even be made available to consumers (and I am one of those myself)!

      It is my belief that the review section is what truly gives the reader his or her chance to in effect get their frustrations out if the book was terrible, or their praises if the book was wonderful. The honest review of the consumer of ebooks can honestly “make or break” the author and their work(s), and actually in my opinion, is much more worth the small price that the consumer (has) paid for the ebook. On the other hand, I do believe that consumers should be offered a refund for an ebook in situations of malfunction or error, such as a non opening or faulty (blank screen) ebook, but only in those types of circumstances should a refund be allowable.

      In short, the purchase of any book rather in paper or ebook format as you said yourself,”is a gamble,” and you may not care to ever read anything ever again from an author after picking a seriously bad apple from their authorship bunch. However, to read and continue reading from an author’s works (ebooks) and then in turn request a refund seems awfully like stealing away the glory of that author’s talent and livelihood, and should never be
      allowed to occur. Moreover, in the case of reading books whether in ebook format or not, the option to return a book for any other reason(s) besides malfunction and/or erroneous error (such as missing chapters, completely blank or empty ebooks), should not be an option for consumers in order to prevent dishonesty (from the consumer) and hardship (for the author).

      • Hi Hunneybee1, I think what you said was very smart. I hadn’t quite thought of leaving reviews but that would be a great place to leave comments such as: badly formatted, it’s crap, terrible editing, stay far away from this book, etc. I agree also that in case of a malfunctioning book, the customer should certainly get a refund. Thank you for your comments. I certainly agree that it does seem wrong and a lot like stealing. I’m glad you agree too. I always thought of buying books as a gamble, so when I learned people returns ebooks simply because they didn’t enjoy it, or even when they did enjoy it, I was completely baffled. Thanks for weighing in your thoughts. I appreciate it! :)

  2. I have only returned two e books ( none that were yours ). One time the grammar was soooooo bad I could not get through a paraghaph. The other was a format issue. Even though it was formatted for a nook the last word on every third or fourth line was cut off. Neither books did I get to finish. I got so frustrated I won’t even buy books from that author in print.

    • Those are legit reasons. It’s more of a defect than being unhappy with the content. Whether it’s .99 or 9.99 spent, you want quality and enjoyment. Not headaches and frustration! Great post!!!

    • See, I understand that. I have seen some books that were terribly formatted to where you couldn’t tell where a new paragraph was. I was lucky that I had just read the sample of the book and hadn’t purchased it or I would have been mad. Thank you for weighing in your opinion!

  3. To start out I never new you could return a book or a e-book until the other day on your site when someone mentioned it. This is how I feel. I would never return a book because I didnt like it. Its my responsiblility to research and read the tease that all authors put out there to draw us all in. There have been several series Ive bought 3 or 4 books at a time (liking what I read in the tease) only to find I cant make my way through it. I always try to skim through to find somthing positive in it to keep my interest (because alot of time the first book is not always the best due to the fact your trying to make readers aware of what going on and whats going to happen in a series). So those series sit in my e-reader not read. As I said before its my resposibility to do the research. Its not the authors fault I dont like their series it may just be somthing I dont click with and therefore I would never return a e-book or paperback because that author took the time to write(many months of hard work) and I respect that fact and I infact believe they deserve their royalties from the purchase. You dont return your kid because you dont like everything they do. Although you want to at times…lol You dont like the book file it away and chalk it up to a mistake made.

    • I love your reference to children!! I don’t have any, but I am a high school teacher!! lol.. You are so right about researching a series. I don’t buy a new car sight unseen. On Amazon, I can download sample pages to see if it’s my kind of story. That’s how I discovered T.A. I read the first Kategan’s book and was so hooked!!! I usually just buy the first book and if I like it, I look for more of the same style or from that author! ;-)

    • “You don’t return your kid because you don’t like everything they do.” LOL Oh that made me bust a gut. Too funny, Jerri.

      Thank you for your thoughts. I definitely am in agreement. Heck, I wrote a whole post on researching and hunting for the right book to read so you avoid disappointment. Us readers all feel the same! I love it. I am starting to see from other posts that maybe there are occasions when the book is so unreadable that a refund makes sense. I still wouldn’t do it but I can see why others would.

  4. I have returned a book, my reasoning was because the book was not good. Rochelle Alers is one of my favorite authors and I love the Hideaway series, however, the new generation books were not that great, so I read it within the 7 day window and returned it, and included a review to let others know about the book. I usually don’t return books and I didn’t know we had the option to return them, but when I found out, yes I will, if I don’t like the book. However, I’ve never returned any of your books, I’ve loved them all. Alpha Squad

  5. I completely agree. I will buy the print book if it is the same, or close to the e-book price. I have never returned an e-book or a print book. I have many that I haven’t even read yet. I am at a loss though, as to why some people feel they have the right to read a book and then return it afterwards. I am also at a loss as to why Amazon has a 7 day return policy on e-books. I have questioned Amazon about this. They state they have the same return policy for all their merchandise. It upsets me every time I think about it. Amazon makes it very easy to sample a book before buying so you know people are buying, reading and then returning, therefore getting our books for free. Sorry for ranting, but this is such a sore subject with me. Great post by the way. Thanks for sharing your views on this.

    • I think the 7 day policy is too long for ebooks. Just like with video games, many game developers have a 24-hour period for you to return a $60 video game. They do that so you can’t play and beat the game and then return it for a big fat refund. I totally understand that too and agree with. I personally think Amazon should just limit the return policy to a 24-hour window. I think it might discourage people who abuse the system from doing it.

      Don’t worry. I don’t think you were ranting. You made some excellent points and I agree wholeheartedly with them. :) I am a sample kind of girl as well. Doesn’t mean I still don’t end up hating the book and not finishing it, but at least it’s better than purchasing blind, right? Thanks for the insight, Susan!

  6. I only purchase ebooks and yes I have returned one once (sorry). I hated the 20% of the book that I read and was annoyed that I paid 7.99 for such a terrible book. That was honestly the only time. I really can’t say why I did it because I paid 7.99 for another book I had on pre-order that I never read because I read reviews after and I didn’t like the direction the author took the characters and I never returned that one I just deleted it from my library. I’m usually really good about picking books because I love reading reviews so I either like it or I love it (and TA I love your books).

    • :) You don’t have to apologize. You are totally within your right. I know, paying 7.99 for an ebook and then hating it is the worse. I recently had that problem and it really makes me grind my teeth at the wasted money. Of course the book was one of those with so many great reviews! *bashes head in* That’s all part of the gamble for me though. You win some and lose some. Thank you for your thoughts! Very insightful (and thank you for liking my books too).

  7. I have accidentally purchased a book and immediately contacted Amazon to undo the purchase (meant to put it on my wishlist for later but hit the wrong button) but NEVER returned one if I so much as open them. My sister has sent me a couple of books “gifted” that just wasn’t for me (she reads a lot of YA) or that I already have and I have returned them for credit, again before accepting them.

    • That makes perfect sense to me, June. That’s one reason for a refund I hadn’t thought of either. Thank you for pointing that out. Returning a gifted book in exchange for something else seems very fair to me too. After all, you hadn’t read the book first. Excellent points!

  8. I have returned an EBook, but that was because I mistakenly purchased it. My Nook started acting wonky and it purchased on it’s own, a $15 book from an author that I normally do not read or buy from. I contacted BN and they reversed the charge and took the book off my device. But NO I have never returned an EBook that I purchased. If I did not like it, I deleted it from my device, then went to the website (amazon, bn) and deleted it from my library there. (don’t want to mistakenly read it again, blah) lol And the next answer, NO I have not went to amazon or bn and left a negative review. Some books are just for different people. I overlook spelling errors or missing words and only get really upset if there is multiple errors on one page and it makes reading hard. I can honestly say that it has been a long time since I have ran into that problem. Thank goodness. :)

    • Once, I left a 3 star review because of grammar. Then, I got to know the author via FB and blogs. She explained her grammar issues and I reread the book with a new found understanding. I went back to Amazon and edited my review. I upped it to 5 stars for content. (Very hot sex scenes) lol… When reading, sometimes it’s hard to turn off “teacher mode”.

    • Wow a $15 ebook. That’s crazy! I’m glad you returned it. That’s very understandable. Really good info, Lynette. Thanks for weighing in. I feel much the same way myself. :D

  9. I have never returned an ebook, actually didn’t know I could do that until someone said it on fb the other day. I used to go to a used book store when I was growing up it was an inexpensive to get new books and give someone else to read ones I already had. If I really liked it, it was on my bookshelf! I have bought quiet a few ebooks that I haven’t enjoyed and kicked myself for the cost I wasted,I get a lot of samples.

    • I just went to a thrift store the other day and got an excellent condition paperback copy of John Grisham’s ‘The Firm’. I paid 38 cents! Couldn’t have been happier. Samples are definitely the way to go. I have lots of them!

  10. I have never returned an E-book. When I buy an e-book I feel as if it’s a gamble just as if it would be when I buy paperbacks. However, the differences from buying an e-book vs. paperback is if you dislike the book you can always give it to a friend who might enjoy it and want to keep the book. In e-book we cannot do that so I can see why Amazon would offer a return policy. I also think Amazon should put in a 24hr time period for e-books to be accepted into returns which would put a stop to people taking advantages and returning books they’ve finished reading and perhaps even enjoyed but just didn’t feel like paying for it.

    • I absolutely agree, Nia. Buying a book is a gamble. Good point. I know some e-books are lendable but I know many of my friends still don’t have e-readers so I wouldn’t be able to share it with them anyway. I think a 24-hour return policy makes sense for e-books. Thanks for weighing in your thoughts, Nia!

  11. I have returned one ebook that I have bought. The ebook was bought by accident and I returned it within 5 minutes of buying the book. I have never really thought about returning a book that I wanted and bought even if it turns out to be a bad book. I have several unfinished books on my kindle that I bought thinking it was going to be good but not being able to finish the book. I don’t think ebooks should be allowed to be returned after 24 hours. If a person accidentally buys a book then returns it shortly after, as in my case, I can understand that but if a person has the book after 24 hours they should not be allowed to return it. Authors deserve to paid for the creativity with writing.

    • Oh my, me too. I have lots of unfinished bad books sitting on my e-reader! Only one of them really makes me mad though because it’s a new one I paid $7.99 for. Grr, and I can’t get through it. Thanks for sharing your opinions.

  12. I didn’t even know you could return ebooks, but if I did, it would only be because I accidentally bought it and it was pricey…i am a book whore and read anything, so I am kinda cautious how much I pay just in case I don’t like it and then I consider it a waste of money.

    • That’s understandable, Tina. I agree with you. I’m always cautious about how much the book costs because I think some of them can get into that “I’ll just buy it in paperback, thanks” territory.

  13. I’ve never returned any books – paperback or ebooks. Just doesn’t seem right, unless of course an ebook is terribly formatted, which I’ve never had happened so far. I don’t return the DNF books either as I chalk it up to buyer experience and note for future references which authors to stay away from.

  14. As a book reviewer I buy and read hundreds of books each year (roughly 987 books in 2012). I returned 2 to Amazon.com for only one reason and that was because the books came to be with formatting problems. One was incomplete and the other was in half English and half Spanish. My Spanish is passable, but not good enough to read the second half of the book. I never return a book I do not like…even if I do not finish it. I also consider it a matter of principle not to leave a negative review about a book because even if I do not personally like it I can leave some type of positive feedback that will help the author grow and will help other readers who may enjoy the book. Negativity never helps anyone…and returns do not keep authors in the coin that enables them to keep writing. Unethical returns are another form of book piracy.

  15. I am self pub. I noticed that some people will buy the e-book and one to seven days later they have gotten a refund. It makes me angry and I feel people are ripping me off. I am a fast reader and I can finish a book within a day but anything Harry Potter length two days.

    I have my prices low because in my mind I am an unknown but my sister feels I should up my prices. It makes me wonder what can I do to protect myself from this fraud and do I even want to keep uploading through kindle. I do freebies and sure no one is going to return those.

    Unfortunately there is nothing anyone of us can do about it because amazon has a seven day return policy for kindle purchases.

    • It’s definitely really frustrating! I couldn’t agree more. I don’t believe there’s much you can do to protect yourself. Even my $.99 have been refunded before. My best selling books always see the highest returns though. I wish that individuals who did this would just pirate the book (though I’m not for that either). Then I wouldn’t be thinking I made a sale when I did not.

  16. I only just discovered your website (and your books!) so I’m weighing in a little late here… :)
    I had no idea until a few weeks ago that you could return ebooks. A little bit ridiculous if you ask me – but that’s just my personal opinion. It doesn’t make sense to me that you can read a book and then return it for whatever reason you feel like giving. If people wanted to do that, why don’t they just join a library or something? There are books that I’ve purchased and have regretted it, but since I bought them in the first place, that’s on me. I’m not going to return it just because I made the error of purchasing something without checking out reviews/samples first. I agree that the 7 day return policy is too long. Some people definitely take advantage of that which isn’t fair to the authors.

    • Hi, Ryella! Thank you for the message. I feel the same way you do. That I’m not a library. There are legitimate websites where my books are “lendable” for free. Also, several of my books are free. So even being generous in that regard doesn’t sway some individuals. It’s just the way it is whether I like it or not. :) I too have made wrongful purchases, but I didn’t refund the book since that was my fault. It doesn’t seem fair.

  17. I have about 980 books on me kindle , some on the started but could not get into list other read and loved , I would not return any of them . TO me that’s just ripping the author off and taking the P .If people want to read and return the book go to the library …. Ok my rant over lol .

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