Friday, February 5, 2016

When Readers Return

I'm up to my eyeballs this week and had to delay the planned marketing post. But I came across an angry post about Amazon's return policy and the issue of "serial returners" (those who buy, read, and return so they get a free read.) A tiny comment sprouted from my fingers and grew.

My take on returns is similar to Neil Gaiman's views on piracy (in fact, he helped my view on these subjects evolve.)

I'm an author. Obviously, I don't support piracy or serial-returners, but perspective is everything.

First, we can't assume all returners have read the entire book. We can't assume every return is a scammer. Amazon doesn't tell us if they read one page or 300 for sales. Literature, like all art, is wonderfully, woefully subjective. They may have read half and decided it was awful. Maybe a scene they hated ruined the whole book for them. Maybe, just maybe, the book sucks on an objective level for one reason or another. Yeah that hurts, but it happens. And if an author has a high percentage of returns, something ain't right. It's not normal. Perhaps they need to offer samples so readers have a sense of what they're getting. Perhaps they've targeted the wrong audience or misrepresented the work. Or perhaps the list price is too high for the quantity or quality of work. $2.99 for a book under 20 pages? I'd be ticked. Lots of errors, either in the writing or formatting? It's like going out for breakfast and getting a plate of burnt eggs and raw bacon. I'd send it back. It's possible some are abusing the return system, but a high percentage of returns is a huge sign the author needs to take a look at their work and their business model because something they're doing isn't working.

Is it ethical to return it at after a full or even half read? Probably not. Amazon does punish those they find abusing the system. However, returns are within Amazon's policies, and their policy of easy, universal returns is part of what's made them so powerful. If they refused to allow returns, they wouldn't be who they are and we (indie authors) wouldn't exist as we do now. That policy is a huge part of their--and our--success.

The ability to return makes the process less risky for readers. Indie authors had better appreciate that, because an unknown indie is a huge risk for a reader. There are a lot of crappy (subjectively and objectively) books out there, and a heck of a lot of them are indies. Indie publishing has opened the world of authorship to people who never would have published a word, and overall, that's a great thing. It's also lowered the bar for what's acceptable to publish. It's the bane of those of us who work extra hard to produce quality because it's often hard for readers to distinguish good from bad before they buy. We have to accept that we must give readers incentives to try us and reduce the risk, and allowing returns is a way to do that.

Also, the fact is that it gains fans. There will be some who like it and go to find more of my books, and they may buy those or recommend them to friends who buy. These are people who may not have heard of me otherwise, or wouldn't have realized they like my work without getting deep into it. I'm willing to accept some marginal "losses" (but as mentioned, it's not a loss if they wouldn't/couldn't buy it outright) if it gains fans.

I fully believe I should be paid for my work, even if it's just a small amount (okay, it's always a small amount.) I want people to value my work enough to pay for it, and most of my readers do. I appreciate that beyond words. I'm not for a second saying I want to give license to those who try to rip authors off.  As authors, we often struggle to get paid. It's frustrating when people don't value our work, but while I dislike piracy or serial returns due to the sneaky nature of it, I think we have to keep it in perspective.

I believe in the power of literature and that people need to read. It's imperative for society. But billions (yes, billions) of people can't afford to buy ALLTHEBOOKS or don't have access to them. Not everyone can afford ten books a week or a even a KU subscription, and not everyone has a library down the street. People have loaned books to their friends for centuries, and that's the purpose of libraries--people understood that few can afford to buy or have access to tons of books, but they wanted people to READ. So if I accept Aunt Gertrude loaning my book to her friend from church and I support libraries--which is essentially free books--how can I get up in arms about a few people essentially borrowing a book? It's really the same thing. They borrowed it. Just because it shows up on my sales report doesn't change the nature of what happened. Would I be that mad if I saw how many times Gertie loaned my book to her friends or how many times it was checked out of the library? Nah. I'd appreciate the fact that people are reading. I'd be pretty happy that Gertie bought it in the first place and liked it enough to recommend it. And I'd accept that one or two of those friends hated it, rolled their eyes when they returned it to her, and thought she has awful taste in books...and might have asked for their money back if they'd paid for it.

The world isn't perfect. I think I should get paid millions for what I do. I think everyone should love my work. And I think all the ice cream and chocolate should be free. But that ain't reality. The reality is there are benefits and downsides to everything. Return policies have them, too. But allowing returns is overall far more beneficial--or companies the world over wouldn't do it. It allows customers to try something without risk. The vast majority keep it if you've done a good job, a tiny fraction return it due to dissatisfaction (whether objective or subjective,) and an even tinier fraction abuse the system. Amazon punishes the "abusers." It's the cost of doing business, and a small price to pay in the big scheme of things. We need to keep it in perspective.

When Doves Fly is just $2.99--pick up the ebook. If you do, I hope you love it. (Please don't return it.)

Image courtesy of  lekkyjustdoit at

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