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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why eBooks should NOT be Returnable

Some people think that eBooks should be returnable.

I’m not one of those people. 

I work hard to publish these eBooks and do my best to give the public a quality eBook to read. With me being out of work for the past four years I really need that revenue to pay my bills and eat.

Personally, I think that all sales should be final on all digital products including eBooks. The only returns should be in these two circumstances:

If an eBook purchased in error. If a person buys a book by mistake and returns it within 30 minutes to an hour UNREAD they should get their money refunded. 


An eBook with a coding issue that makes it appear unreadable on an e- reading device or PC. This happens sometimes due to all the software issues between Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF and converters like the ones at Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Nobles’ Pubit! mistranslating the files. In this case the reader didn’t get a book they could read and deserves a full refund of the purchase price.

As a publisher I’ve personally had to deal with eBooks I’ve published crashing on these devices when I read the sample pages, files not loading chapters, and typos that weren’t in the original text somehow magically appearing. I’ve had to deal with some fonts getting BIG then small .in a converted eBook.

I understand these problems arise. And I try to fix them whenever they appear in my books.

But not liking a story is not a valid reason for a return. 

Here’s the problem about returning digital content: neither the author nor the retailer know what the consumer has done with those digital files in the short time they were in their possession. If an eBook is DRM free there’s no telling whether or not they’ve bought the book and made multiple copies to share with their friends. 

Or if they really hate the author, sending their eBooks to filesharing sites like Kazaa or BiTTorrent. Some more malicious readers will do spiteful things like this to deprive an author of revenue.

Again, a consumer not liking an eBook is not a valid reason to return an eBook. Customers can’t return other digital content like Mp3s and TV shows they download when they buy them from other retailers. And they shouldn’t be allowed to return eBooks. Especially if they’ve been read past a certain point.

Reading an eBook in partiality or its entirety and returning it constitutes Theft of Service. Depriving an author and a retailer of revenue and royalties they need to take care of their families. 

At some point the onus has to be on the reader to take responsibility for their actions. Ultimately it’s their choice to buy that eBook or the eBook of another author. 

A reader has plenty of chances to learn whether or not to make an informed choice about a eBook. Most websites like amazon’s kindle Bookstore, Barnes& Noble’s Pubit! Smashwords, or the itunes bookstore offer free samples of all the ebooks on that site. Some like Smashwords offer multiple formats for readers to download. So the reader has an opportunity to read a part of that story and sample a writer’s style. 

Consumers also have a chance to scroll down and read the category the book is in, the number of pages it has, file size and the name of the publisher to find out what kind of book they’re buying and who they’re buying it from. They also have a chance to read the reviews from others who have read the book to get a consensus of whether or not the book will be something they’d like to read. 

In addition to those resources on the webpage, eBook customers can access reader networking sites like and to read reviews and find out what other readers think of a certain eBook. 

Now I understand some readers’ frustration about errors in eBooks, Yes, some authors and self-publishers including myself have to work on issues regarding spelling and punctuation. 

Unfortunately, some errors are unavoidable. There’s no such thing as a perfect print book or an eBook. Readers who buy eBooks from publishing houses often run into the same typos and coding issues self-published authors like myself have in our eBooks.

In those cases, is that all the editor’s fault? Is all that the author’s fault? 

I don’t think so. 

Now I know there are a lot of crap eBooks out there. There are a lot of eBooks with poor formatting, bad storytelling and weak sentence structure. Nonfiction books that are filled with factual inaccuracies.

Unfortunately, this is par for the course in the post 2008 publishing world where 95 percent of the new eBooks out there are self-published. And it’s those writers’ first Amendment right to publish that work. A retailer like amazon, Smashwords or Barnes & Noble can’t make these authors change their content. Nor do they have the resources or the time to vet that content for issues a reader has with what they read.

So the consumer has to make every effort to do their homework before making a purchase. No customer in their right mind would spend thousands of dollars on a car without doing research on it. 

And they shouldn’t buy an eBook for 99cents or $9.99 without doing their research.

In this information age there’s nearly no excuse for returning an eBook outside of coding issues or an error purchase. Readers have too many options to learn about a book, its genre or the writer’s style before making a purchase. I know the customer is always right, but there comes a point where they have to take responsibility for the digital content they purchase.

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