Ian Rankin ‘appalled’ at Amazon over e-book returns policy which he claims deprives authors of royalties

Ian Rankin is among a number of high-profile authors who have hit out at Amazon over the online retail giant’s returns policy for e-books, which they say is unfairly depriving authors of royalties from those sales.

By Gary Flockhart
Monday, 4th April 2022, 11:49 am
Updated Monday, 4th April 2022, 11:49 am

Amazon, whose revenue in 2021 was $469.82 billion, allows e-book customers to receive a full refund within 14 days of purchase – even if they’ve read the entire book.

The writers’ union, The Society of Authors (SoA), has called on The Seattle-based company to cut its returns window to 48 hours, after the online retailer was criticised in an online petition signed by more than 33,000 people for offering refunds on e-books to customers who have finished reading.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the SoA said: “Seven days is more than enough to read a whole e-book and exchange, and it is not fair to deduct the author’s royalty for books that have been or could have been read."

Ian Rankin is among a group of bestselling authors who have hit out at Amazon over the online retail giant’s returns policy for e-books.

She argues that royalties should be deducted only in cases of accidental purchase.

Edinburgh-based Inspector Rebus author Rankin said: “I am appalled. Writers have a tough enough time as it is trying to make a living.

“If someone can read your book without paying you anything for the privilege you’re sunk.”

Jeanette Winterson claims Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has “never given a toss about books, bookstores or writers”.

The award-winnng English author, whose best-known novels include Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Frankissstein: A Love Story, told The Sunday Times: “Jeff Bezos started selling books because they have a long shelf life, are easy to package and their ISBN system is an algorithm dream.

“The man has never given a toss about books, bookstores or writers.”

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E-book royalties for authors are typically around 25 per cent of the “publisher’s receipts”. This compares to around 7.5 per cent of the recommended retail price for physical books.

As a result, some authors are claiming there has been a huge upsurge in the number of customers returning their e-books.

Authors say this is a growing problem, with one writer claiming that more than 100 copies of their books were returned last month, compared with fewer than 10 in the first two months of 2022.

The trend may have been driven by TikTok videos showing how easy it is to return e-book. Some users provide tutorials on how to return books after reading them, and one such video has been viewed more than 17 million times.

An Amazon spokesperson 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 said : “Amazon aims to provide the best possible experience for authors and customers. We allow e-book returns up to 14 days after purchase.

“Our aim is to inspire reading and we recognise the important role of authors. That’s why we launched Kindle Direct Publishing and further recent initiatives like the Amazon Literary Partnership, which supports authors and a variety of literary groups.”

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