Monday, April 1, 2013

Don't Sign the Petition to "Stop e-Book Refund Fraud"

As some of you already know, there's a petition on going around: "Amazon Kindle e-Book Return Policy: Stop allowing refund of e-Books after the e-Books have been read".

Now, if you truly think this is a problem, and you truly think this is the way to fix it—by all means, sign the petition.

But please hear me out, first.

Remember when Breaking Dawn came out? Some folks bought the book, read it, and returned it in outrage.

The response then was something like, "The sky is falling! Readers are setting a precedent for returning books for the sole reason that they were dissatisfied with the ending!"

News flash #1: There have always been readers who returned books due to emotional dissatisfaction, rather than physically flawed product.

News flash #2: There have always been people who take advantage of refund policies.

Ask anyone who works in retail.

Now, e-books are a lot easier to return than physical items. I don't know about you, but it's fairly normal at my house to have some kind of "Ulgh! I should return this!" item at home, but the gas cost to return the physical item would be worth more than returning it. So I'd expect e-books to have a higher return rate than physical items.

And then, some people are more likely to return things than others. I actually return things and complain to management more often than my mother does (except for restaurants, where it's not unusual for us to end up with discounted or free meals due to screwups). But when we do, we do so calmly, rationally, and without lashing out at the middlemen, so even when we're recognized, the reaction is along the lines of "Is everything okay this time?" rather than "Oh, it's them! I'm on break!"

But most people who are likely to return things lash out at the poor retail personnel or the waiter who's in-between, and who probably isn't at fault.

My mother's worked in restaurants. She's taught me how to tell the difference between waiter incompetence and kitchen incompetence. Most of the time when we have a restaurant screwup—which happens probably a good third of the time when we go out—it's the kitchen. From waiters' startled reactions when we give them the proper tips despite the screwups, most people don't realize that and penalize them. Servers usually don't even make minimum wage, people. Tip your waiters and delivery guys!

Especially at lunch. And Christians who leave tracts instead of tips have really bad reputations with their servers. Yes, I'm one of those people who gives 10% for bad service. But when service is good? I tip well enough that the good servers remember me and want to serve me, despite how troublesome my orders can be. I don't go out to eat unless I can afford a 25% tip. I've had servers who got that even correct my order for me when I forgot to specify something I always ask for, like chopsticks or no ice in my water. Or ask "Did you mean to specify no mushroom?" (at which point, I give them a bonus).

Apologies for the slight rant, but it kinda proves the point of one reason I actually rather like e-book returnability:

Ebooks can be returned without personal middleman involvement.

Most people, when they're angling to return something that they don't really have cause to return, do so by causing enough of a headache that they'll be given the money just to make them go away. But e-books can be returned more easily, without raising someone's blood pressure or ruining anyone's day.

And policies will always be abused.

Even the change recommended by the petition is imperfect. Someone could download the e-book, make a copy, read it as an imported (not-Amazon) file, then return the Amazon file, because it wouldn't show up as read. If you think that sounds too complicated for people to do, macros could easily handle a good portion of it. Also consider how a lot of people know how to strip DRM off their files (and a fair number do so just because they don't want to get locked out of their own files).

You can bet Amazon keeps track of the policy abusers. I've even heard of them cracking down on such people. Amazon is policing itself. Let it do so.

Is it disappointing to lose a sale to a return? Yeah. But the author likely never would've gotten that sale if the reader was unable to return it.

And even if the return is a lost sale…that's a standard component of working in retail. Some of the product will be returned. We self-publishers should be glad that we don't have to deal with defective physical product, water damage, etc. Back when offset printing was the only way to go, self-publishers had to deal with all that.

There are legitimate reasons to return an e-book after getting to the end. It might've been that bad (like a non-fiction book that utterly failed to deliver on what was promised). Maybe the reader jumped ahead to see if the editing got any better. Maybe the reader is disgusted and prefers to return the book rather than give a one-star review. (If it's an either/or preposition, wouldn't most of us rather have the returned book than the bad review?)

Now, to be clear: I've never returned an e-book. I've considered doing so, but so far, everything I've been that dissatisfied with has been cheap, and I was leaving a low review anyway, so decided that my low review would be a sufficient slap in the face for the author.

And that's just for the e-books I buy that accept returns. My preferred vendor, Smashwords, doesn't accept returns, but that's not why I prefer them. I just don't consider the inability to return an e-book enough of a detriment to overcome what I like about them.

I'm also a self-published author, with most of my sales in e-book form. One of my pennames is dark fantasy. I do my best to give fair warning, and the worst things happen near the beginning, but I don't think it's a coincidence that that penname has a higher return rate than my others.

So I have a leg in this race, and I'm not worried about the returns.

And I don't think you should be, either.

What do you think about the current situation with e-book returns? Do you agree with me or the petition-makers?


P.S. This is not an April Fools' joke. Just to be clear. ^_^

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