Friday, April 5, 2013

Unrealistic Return Expectations of the Indie Writer

There's a petition circulating right now through asking Amazon to refuse refunds on e-books that have been read.

I understand the sentiment. No one wants to feel they've been taken advantage of. But there's major problems with this stance:

1) I doubt many of the signers of this petition have owned a retail store of any kind. When my husband and I looked into purchasing a brick-and-mortar store ten years ago, the statistics we received from the Small Business Administration said to expect 5% in returns. (When I find the blasted file in my office, I'll give you the source.)

According the the National Retail Federation ("NRF"), retail returns were expected to hit 8.7 percent during the 2008 Christmas shopping season, the height of the housing financial disaster. They actually hit 8.9 per cent and climbed over subsequent years.

According to Businessweek, retail returns hit a yearly average of 6 percent for 2007. A 2012 article by Businessweek said the yearly average was back down to 5 percent.

What does that mean for us indie authors? Alter Ego's first book, Book A, is my bestselling book to date. It also has the highest number of return. So, let's calculate it

Total books sold through Feb. 2013 = 1558
Total returns through Feb. 2013 = 9
Percentage of returns = 0.57 %

Not even the national average of 5%, but a tenth of that. If I add in my other seventeen books, the percentage drops even lower. That's damn good!

If your return percentage is higher than 5%, you need to take an honest, objective look at your book. Is the cover or blurb misleading? Are you calling it a romance when it doesn't have a "happily ever after" or "happy for now" ending? Is the beginning polished to perfection and the middle or ending need a major overhaul? Your readers may be feeling cheated or misled and want their money back. Not all of them leave nasty 1-star reviews.

2) Changing the policy punishes people who are not cheating the system. Haven't you ever accidentally clicked on something you shouldn't have? Have you ever bought a book where the formatting was so screwed up it was unreadable? The NRF survey for Christmas of 2012 estimates that 4.6% OF THE RETURNS are fraudulant. In other words, only 23 fraudulent returns out of every 10,000 sales.

That means out of all my sales, statistically speaking, less than one of them was a fraudulent return.

Were any of them fraudulent? Yes, I suspect two were because Book A was bought on Day 1 and returned on Day 2 when suspiciously Book B was bought...and then returned on Day 2 when Book C was purchased. So, is punishing these two idiots worth pissing off 1,556 other customers?

In my opinion, no, it's not.

3) Are you absolutely sure the book has been read? The reason I say this is? Sure, Amazon can track where you leave off on your Kindle, but both my mom and mother-in-law jump to the end of the file and READ THE END FIRST. If they don't like how the writer ends the story, they don't read the rest.

Yeah, I've had the argument with Mom thirty years ago that reading the end first ruins the book. I don't dare say a word to the MIL. LOL

4) Contrary to popular belief, Amazon does cut off customers who abuse their return policy.

5) Be very, VERY careful about throwing stones. Norwegian author Anne B. Ragde slammed e-book piracy in a 2010 article in Dagens Naeringsliv, only to have her own teenage son out Anne's music piracy.

Are there always going to be people who steal? Unfortunately, yes.

Will these people buy your books if you prevent them from stealing them? Probably not.

Will Amazon change its return policy? I have no fucking clue.

Will having print-only editions save your books from piracy? Seriously, do I have to explain to you what a scanner does?

I recommend that indie writers take a deep breath, grab their favorite beverage and get back to working on that current wip. I will because I know I have a thousand people waiting on Alter Ego's Book D.


  1. What You Said.

    I saw someone pimping that petition, eyerolled and moved on. I know writers who gripe about returns, but I agree it's not worth stressing out over. I'd never heard about the average rate of return on all purchases in the US, but that just strengthens my agreement.


  2. What's real sad, Angie, are people who don't do their homework before jumping into an industry.