As consumers, we really appreciate it when businesses allow us to return the items we bought. There are various reasons why we would like to do that. Maybe it is a faulty item and we didn’t notice it while purchasing it, or maybe we found something better at a lower price or saw something in a different light and it didn’t look as good.

Return policies are there to keep the customer satisfied, but it becomes a problem when they start abusing the system. Recently people started sharing a “hack” of purchasing ebooks and then returning them after they’ve finished reading them. Authors have noticed that their returns have gone up and blamed it on a trend that originated on TikTok, raising a question of its ethics.

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Writer Lisa Kessler received a lot of ebook returns and went to Twitter to vent, finding out it is actually a trend lately

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The issue was brought up by Lisa Kessler, a pretty well-known author for her dark paranormal fiction. She has received numerous awards, the first being for her debut novel Night Walker. This book won a San Diego Book Award for best Fantasy-Sci-fi-Horror.

She posted a tweet reminding people that Amazon is not a library and that for every returned book, she is being charged, so now the author is indebted to Amazon.

Lisa opened up about it more in her podcast named The Perfect Podcast created to promote her upcoming thriller Perfect. In the 5th episode, the woman reveals that she has been a writer for 10 years and during this time, a normal month would mean she doesn’t get any returns; 2 was the most she had ever had.

So she was really surprised when she opened up her Kindle dashboard and saw that in May, she had so many returns that she actually owed Amazon. Lisa was upset, and wanting to vent, she turned to Twitter. Her experience wasn’t isolated and so many other authors shared that they’ve recently noticed the same thing.

In the tweet, Lisa reminded people that Amazon is not a library and informed them that authors get charged for every returned book and she now owes Amazon

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Turns out, she was not the only one experiencing this

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While talking with BuzzFeed, Lisa explained why she thinks this is happening: “I discovered that in March, there was a TikTok video instructing readers about this loophole in Amazon’s return policy allowing them to read books quickly and return them. It even had a hashtag, #ReadAndReturnChallenge, but I don’t think they realized that Amazon was turning around and deducting money from the authors.”

Bored Panda reached out to another writer who also talked about the issue online, Erin Casey. She is the author of “The Purple Door District” series and the genre she specializes in is urban fantasy. Erin told us that she hasn’t seen her books returned yet but she is still waiting for one of her monthly updates on book sales, but she knows of other people receiving negative royalties and is upset that such a trend is hurting the author community.

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Other authors selling their ebooks on amazon shared that they’ve noticed that recently, people are returning more books than usual

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It is unclear where the TikTok videos advising people to return ebooks to be able to read for free have gone, as they are nowhere to be found, but there are a lot of videos of people discussing the situation.

People were comparing reading and returning an ebook to eating at a restaurant and asking to get the money back when the food is already gone. The majority of readers didn’t support this ‘hack’ and actually haven’t ever thought about doing this, even if they bought a book by accident.

The ones who thought that returning an ebook isn’t that bad didn’t understand the metaphor of comparing a book to food, because the book is still there even if you read it, while the food is gone once you eat it.

They were saying that they should have the right to return a book because what if they didn’t like it? What if it was problematic and they didn’t want to support the author?

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Lisa thinks this is due to a trend that started on BookTok where people encouraged people to read books and return them to save money

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We asked Erin if she saw more people supporting the authors or the ones that believed following such a trend wasn’t a big deal. The author admitted that she noticed there was a mix, “On TikTok, I’ve seen tons of readers/authors supporting authors in this situation. I’ve also seen TikTok users saying it’s not stealing and calling authors entitled.”

She explains why such a trend is so hurtful for authors, “We spend months and years developing this work, paying for people to edit it, create cover art, etc. It takes a lot of money out of our pocket in order to bring this creative world to the reader. And to have a reader take that work, read it, and return it just so they don’t have to pay… it’s literally taking money out of the author’s pocket.”

Also, returning books is a problem not only because authors get charged for it but some places will stop carrying the author’s books. Erin believes that not everyone realises that authors are losing funds and that is why they say things like “Well, if I didn’t return it, I wouldn’t have read the book anyway, so you’re getting exposure from it and not being negatively impacted.”

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Of course, if you accidentally bought a book and didn’t want to read it in the first place, then it’s a completely different situation. Also, if you bought a book and after reading the first couple of chapters, you realize that this wasn’t something you wanted, most people also don’t have a problem with the buyer returning the ebook.

What bothers them and the authors is when people read the whole book and then decide to return it. Which was the case with Lisa Kessler, because she noticed that people would return her whole series, and who would buy a third and a fourth book from the series when they knew they didn’t like the previous two?

People failed to realize that in this way, you are hurting the author and many of them considered such behavior stealing

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Many readers and authors argued that when you are paying for the book, you are not paying to get a great book or a satisfying ending. The product is reading itself and if you’ve read a book, that means you’ve got what you paid for and consumed it. You can’t give back the experience, the same as you can’t give back the experience of seeing the Mona Lisa or consuming any other form of art.

But if we put morals aside, there is another problem with returning ebooks: the authors get charged and they can even owe Amazon. The authors not only lose the money for the books, but they are also charged the download fee, so when it adds up, the revenue for the product might be negative.

Readers were outraged, suggesting that Amazon’s return policy is faulty and they should try harder to protect the authors who choose their platform to sell their work

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This trend on TikTok probably started out as an innocent hack to save money, because there are definitely people who like to read a lot and books are expensive. But there is such a thing as a library where you pay a small annual fee, you can read as many books as you want, and it’s actually expected from you to return it.

Libraries offer ebooks as well, if you prefer a digital version, and in this way you are not hurting the author because the library pays for those books. Many people also pointed out that Amazon has a subscription service called Kindle Unlimited, which costs from $9.99 a month and you get access to more than 1.5 million titles, including books in foreign languages.

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While people still believe they should have a right to return a product, most of them recognized that it is easy to abuse the system

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While going to a library seems like a very easy solution if you can’t afford books, Erin gave us a few reasons why people wouldn’t want to go there or maybe don’t want to: “1. People are now making it a challenge to read and return books for the exposure. They don’t care. They just want to prove they can do it. 2. Some people say they don’t physically have access to a library, which I can respect and understand. Accessibility is so important! That’s not to say they should steal books, but something else needs to be put in place to help them. 3. In some countries, people have to pay to use library services. 4. Sometimes the book isn’t at the library. However, if you request a book from a library, they more often than not will put in a request to buy it or interlibrary loan it. I’m not sure if people are aware of that.”

The author realises that not everyone understands returning ebooks after having read them is wrong, “They see others do it, so they assume it’s okay if they do it. That’s why I strive to educate because I know not everyone may understand.”

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To solve the problem, many people suggested Amazon should track how much of a book a person has read and not allow returns when they pass a certain percentage. Others think there should be a shorter time limit for returns.

Erin agrees that Amazon should review their return policy. Now it says that you can cancel the order in 7 days if you accidentally bought the wrong book, but “people are reading books within 7 days and returning them. Perhaps shortening the time in which a person can return an e-book would be helpful. Another easy way to fix the issue is for readers to stop returning the books. Amazon isn’t a library. It’s not meant to have items bought and returned after the item has been used.”

Have you ever returned an ebook? Did you know that it costs the author? Do you think it is a buyer’s right to be able to return an ebook? Do you have any ideas how the issue could be solved? Let’s create a discussion in the comments!