Today I ran across a Facebook link to this petition.
I am not going to sign it, and I would urge anyone who cares about independently published books not to sign it, either.
Why? Because it would hurt authors, and it would hurt unknown authors most of all.
The language of the petition is rather emotional, it talks about “fraud” and “theft” and invokes an image of hoards of greedy customers buying books, reading them, and returning them.
Does that happen? I’m sure that there are people who deliberately abuse the return policy, just as there are some who will abuse any other store policy for their advantage. I knew a man, many years ago, who would buy a radar detector just before a road trip, and then return it as soon as he got back home. I’m sure that he wasn’t the only one.
However, in my rather extensive experience in retail loss prevention, fraudulent returns are both fairly rare and rather easy to spot. I am confident that Amazon has algorithms in place to recognize and flag accounts that show a pattern of repeatedly buying and returning e-books.
Seven days is a reasonable window for returns. Yes, it is possible to read a book in seven days. It is also possible to copy an e-book to another medium in a few minutes. If someone has the desire to commit fraud, the only policy that will prevent it is an “All Sales Final, No Returns” policy.
Most people do not return a product just because they can. When an item is relatively low cost, most people won’t take the time to return a product unless there is some serious defect. I personally have never returned an e-book, even though I have bought some that were really terrible. I simply chalk up the buck or two to a learning experience and avoid that author in the future.
Tightening or closing the window for return of e-books will not significantly impact fraud. What it will do is impact sales, and the impact will be greatest for unknown authors.
Customers are far more likely to purchase a new product if they are aware that they can return it if they don’t like it. Even though most people will not return a product, knowing that they can is a powerful tool for overcoming sales resistance.
Amazon knows what it is doing. This company didn’t get to be a retail giant by alienating customers. Their return policy is based on extensive research in buying habits of hundreds of thousands of consumers, and is designed to maximize sales. Stopping a few cases of outright fraud is not worth discouraging large numbers of legitimate sales.
Look at it this way–all restaurants have customers who run out on the check from time to time. It’s part of the business. Suppose that a restaurant started putting an armed guard at the front door who would demand to see a paid receipt before he allowed you to leave–would you still eat there? Maybe, but I suspect that most people would be more inclined to patronize an establishment that didn’t impose such draconian policies. The loss of sales from alienating legitimate customers who be far greater than any savings from preventing walkouts.
It’s the same thing with Amazon’s return policy. As I said, I have never had an e-book returned. I am quite certain, however, that many customers who did buy my book would have thought twice about buying a book from an unknown author if Amazon didn’t allow for returns.
Think about it.