Authors feud with Amazon over e-book returns policy which they claim deprive them of royalties

Authors including Ian Rankin and Jeanette Winterson are up in arms over Amazon’s returns policy for e-books, which they claim is unfairly depriving writers out of royalty sales.

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

A petition demanding the policy is changed has been signed by more than 24,000 people, and the writers’ union, The Society of Authors, wants Amazon to shorten its returns window to 48 hours.

What are authors saying?

Winterson, whose 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.”

Inspector Rebus author Rankin (below) 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.”

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.

What’s driving the returns?

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

Some believe the trend is being driven by clips about returning e-books shared on video-sharing platform TikTok, where the hashtag #booktok has become a worldwide phenomenon for social media-savvy readers. Clips about returning e-books 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.

Have you Amazon got form?

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

The company that announced 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’s the company saying now?

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 told i: “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 recognize 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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