The Return for Refund problem is a reader issue too
A week after my first blog post about the Return for Refund problem, it’s still front and center as an issue for many writers… and readers. Because the truth is, this isn’t just a problem for those of behind the keyboard. It concerns those behind the screens too – or at least it should. The longer this remains unresolved, the bigger the problem for both groups. If you’re not sure what the issue is, I wrote about it in my last post: The Return for Refund Problem
Before going any further I want to start this by clarifying a couple of things.
First and foremost this is not about KU readers returning books they’ve borrowed in KU. Writers respect readers who use KindleUnlimited even if they (writers) do not have their books in the program. KU is not the problem with KU (that made more sense in my head) – the problem is the exclusivity clause that Amazon has. In order to be in KU a writer has to be exclusive to Amazon and for those of us who have our books wide, we have done that because it’s a better financial decision for our business. Yes being an indie author is a business. We have overheads, we have expenses, we have taxes to pay. Some writers do extremely well in KU and some don’t. Some do well by being across all platforms and some don’t. If you are a KU reader, relax – we are not upset or targeting you at all.
Secondly, this is neither a new problem nor a strictly TikTok problem. Refund Bandits have always been around; writers, especially indies, have been fighting them for years. However, this trend on TikTok of encouraging the practice is new and very disturbing, not least because despite hundreds of authors begging TikTok to remove what amounts to a call to pirating* and theft, the powers that be refuse to do so. Think about this for a moment – you put a clip up on TikTok of two men or two women fully clothed and kissing and that can be considered a breach of community guidelines, but publicly encouraging people to be dishonest because “if writers can’t afford to pay back royalties they shouldn’t be in the business” is absolutely fine.
Finally, this is not just an Amazon problem but Amazon is the biggest platform with the most power… they set the example the other platforms emulate.
So, why is it a reader problem? There are two reasons that stand out to me. The first is the most obvious and the most important: if this continues to happen, a lot of indie authors will stop publishing. We’ll go back to corporate jobs, give up our dreams of quitting corporate to write full time, we’ll take our books down and stop sending newsletters. Not as a form of blackmail – but because it will be too expensive for us to continue. Yes expensive. It’s incredibly expensive to create, promote and market a book, no matter how many FB groups you belong to or how many TikTok/Twitter/Instagram/Goodreads/BookBub followers you have or how many people have signed up for your newsletter. Big name authors like Nora Phoenix worked hard to get where they are, and a lot of what they earn goes back into their business. It’s no different for those of us who are mid or low list names. Many indie authors write part time and have a day job. Many – myself included – are writing full time on lean budgets growing our audience bit by bit and honing our craft as we go. All of us love our readers – as a writer that is the goal: to write something readers will love. After four years, getting an email from someone telling me how much they love Jesse’s Smile makes me just as happy as it did the first time. Working on a new release, as I am at the moment, is just as nerve wracking – sometimes more so – as it was when I was preparing to release Jesse’s Smile or The Beach House. If being published costs us more than we make and I don’t just mean financially but emotionally and mentally, we are going to stop doing it. I write because I love to write. I publish to make a living and just like any business, if the costs continue to outweigh the income for too long, I will have no choice but to shut things down. When readers – and again, I know … not all readers *sigh* – buy-read-return-repeat it has an impact on our bottom line. It’s not just their return and refund. It’s that it looks bad to the algorithms and bots that control the platforms, making us less visible and much harder to find. As the mid-listers fall away they’ll take with them not just the stories readers love but the next Lucy Lennox or the next Stephen King or the next Neil Gaiman.
The other reason is because I would like to hope you think we are worth protecting. We try, individually and collectively, to create books that speak to you, that speak about you. We try to have covers that please you. We try to deliver the tropes and the characters and the relationships you want to read. We try to create stories that feed things within your soul – whether you want to be seen, or you want to feel good (or hell, if you want to feel horny for that matter), or you want to learn or you want to just escape for a bit. We try to keep our prices reasonable and our quality high. We open our ARC teams and our beta teams to you so we can fall as close to the mark as we can. We spend hours and hundreds of dollars getting the right covers. We do giveaways, run groups, create newsletters, explain to our accountants that yes Cocky Boys and OnlyFans are research and as such tax deductible while pretending the accountant isn’t mentally judging us. When a Refund Bandit does the Return for Refund thing and our royalty gets reversed, know what also gets taken? The cost of the download – mmhmm, we end up paying for these… people… to be able to do this. This group of readers who believe they are entitled to steal the result of our hard work – the result that you paid for whether by buying or having a KU subscription – is endangering our career and your future reading. We have been protesting this for years and it’s exhausting – and now, we need your help. Believe it or not, readers wield a lot more power than writers do in this instance and honestly if you don’t think that writers as a group deserve better than this, it begs the question: why are any of us doing it in the first place?
There is, at the time of writing, a petition circulating that asks Amazon to stop the practice of refunding eBooks or at least tightening up the rules around refunds and then enforcing those rules. The petition will then be presented to Amazon and hopefully be seen by the powers that be – and acted on. If Amazon leads the way, we have a good chance of the other platforms following. Please consider signing the petition and sharing it with your network – whether you are a writer or a reader or both.
*A disturbing number of people approve of pirating books, citing it as the only way they can afford to read. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, I’ll write something about it another day.