Riding the coattails of my “how much does it cost to self publish” blog, I figured I should next address a problem I’ve seen rising in the self-publishing space.
Unfortunately, Amazon’s current policy makes it incredibly easy to take advantage of its writers. Please consider signing the petition to change Amazon’s return policies.
Now, I am pro-team save your money. Trust me. I have spreadsheet after spreadsheet demonstrating my borderline unhealthy obsession with frugality. I often have a hard time justifying spending my hard-earned dollar on anything other than the essentials. My indulgence? Books.
Not only am I a contributor to the indie/self-publishing space, but I’m a patron. My downtime is spent reading — enjoying the worlds and stories my fellow authors have created. I’ve never balked at the price of books because, frankly, they provide me with hours of entertainment. Sometimes, their stories stick with me for weeks, months, and even years. Some have even stuck with me my whole life.
I have seen a disturbing trend crop up where people are advocating for people to read books off the Amazon marketplace and then return them within seven days. Which, of course, is plenty of time to finish a book. Now, mind you, I don’t feel there are no circumstances under which someone can return a book. I, myself, have returned some I knew I wasn’t enjoying and would resent seeing on my shelf. Vladimir, I’m looking at you. But the ones I’ve read from cover to cover? The author is owed my money.
Returning a book after reading it is like watching a movie from start to finish and asking for a refund after walking out with the rest of the crowd. Returning a book after reading it is like eating a whole meal, and then asking the restaurant to reimburse your dinner.
It seems absurd when put in that light, right?
Why is it different for authors?
I’ve heard the justification that it’s “not that big of a deal” and that it’s “not stealing” from an author to consume their content this way. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll spare you the gory details, but last week, we discussed how much it costs to self-publish. On the low end, it’s over $1k. On the high-end, it can be up to $11k (honestly, probably higher, depending on how expansive people’s projects are). Many self-published authors are financially in the negative and stay that way. For a long, long time. If they ever manage to get out of it. So, no, it’s not victimless from the onset.
Never mind the fact that the author will be penalized for every returned book. Not only do they lose their royalties, but too many returns can result in their profile being terminated. In no uncertain terms, you’re taking away an author’s livelihood.
If you’re enjoying the content these authors create, it’s only fair that they are compensated. This ensures that they can provide more of this content for you in the future. It may seem like it’s really no big deal to you, but when it comes down to someone’s livelihood, pennies matter.
So what can you do instead?
How can you read books without breaking the bank?
I’m not trying to be a smart ass, but you can always get a library card! Your local library has access to thousands of digital titles, never mind the ability to request what you’d like!
Not your speed? For $9.99 you can get access to $1,000,000+ ebooks, 200,000+ audiobooks, and 1,000,000+ magazines and news articles on Scribd. I’ve been a subscriber for almost a year now, and I have fallen head over heels in love with this service.
For the same price, you can have access to Kindle Unlimited! Which is, as I’m sure you know, the self-published/indie publisher’s playground.
If you subscribed to both for $19.98, you’d honestly have more books, self-published or otherwise, than you’d know what to do with. If you read 5 books a month, that’s already paid itself off. You save money, and authors get some form of compensation.
Long story short, it’s unethical to read a book from beginning to end and then return it. It’s income out of the author’s pockets, whose circumstances you can’t feasibly know. For all you know, that $2.99 they would have made on your sale (after their distributor took its cut, of course), can be going toward putting food on a table, or paying off medical expenditures. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
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