Amazon reforms ebook policies in response to union concerns

Amazon logo on the facade of one of their office buildings located in Silicon Valley, San Francisco bay area - Photograph © Sundry Photography / Adobe Stock
Photograph © Sundry Photography / Adobe Stock
Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.
Online retailer to change practices around returns of digital books following discussions with the Society of Authors and Authors’ Guild

Update, 31 January 2023: In September 2022, Amazon pledged to change its ebook return policy and has now confirmed that it has rolled out the new functionality on its US platform. Amazon says that it is ‘monitoring the technical changes closely and will launch additional Kindle marketplaces in the coming weeks’. We will of course update SoA members when the updated functionality is launched in the UK. 

In a major improvement for authors of books available on Kindle, Amazon has confirmed plans to change its systems to address complaints about its long returns windows which have negatively affected authors’ profits.

Amazon’s returns policy for ebooks currently allows readers to receive a full refund for up to 14 days, even if they have read the full work. The use of this refund loophole has been encouraged by users on the social media platform TikTok, with videos on how to return books being viewed over 17 million times.

Throughout 2022, the Society of Authors (SoA) and the Authors’ Guild (its sister union in the US ) have been in discussions about the problem with senior executives at Amazon. In April, the SoA called publicly for the ebook returns window to be reduced to 48 hours, backed by authors including Jeanette Winterson and Ian Rankin. This was echoed by a petition on which has so far attracted more than 78,000 signatures.

In an email to the SoA and the Authors’ Guild on 21 September David Naggar – Amazon’s Vice President of Books & Kindle Content – said, ‘we do hear all you have said over the course of our conversations on this topic and are planning to make meaningful changes … Most notably, we will de-activate self-service returns for any book read past 10%, adding substantial friction to the process.’

While stressing that in Amazon’s view returns on Kindle products continue to be low, with ‘no discernible spikes’, Naggar confirmed that the company will introduce the change to all the platforms that support Kindle, including eReaders, computers and smartphones. He said their developers have, ‘reprioritized existing product roadmaps … and believe this improvement can be implemented by the end of the year’.

Commenting on the announcement, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said, ‘This is excellent news for authors, and a perfect example of what unions can achieve through lobbying together. We look forward to hearing more from David and his team at Amazon when their new system goes live. In the meantime, thank you to the many self-published authors who first brought this problem to our attention.’

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