Friday, May 4, 2012

Is There a New Type of eBook Piracy?

Over the last week I've noticed something that has me really concerned. My titles are selling. And then they're being returned. I've been indie publishing for about 2 years now. I can count on three fingers the number of returns I've had of my ebooks over that period of time.

Over the last 2 days I've had 8.

Okay, I know that's not a lot in the overall scheme, but I think it's a pattern. Amazon has been nice enough in responding to my concerns, though I imagine they think I'm a total loon at this point. The problem isn't very big yet. However, to a hard working author who counts every penny she earns dearly, 8 lost sales is a smack in the face. Here's what I think... I believe someone is scamming the system. I think they're buying the books, reading or copying them, and then returning them.

Paranoid? Maybe. But there's that pattern to worry about again. I'm not imagining the 300% increase in returns in an extremely condensed timeline. It's not so farfetched when you think about how many pirate sites authors have to monitor and report in a given year. There are lots of unscrupulous people who apparently only care about getting what they want for themselves and the hell with the author/artist/whatever.

It's disheartening. I hope I'm wrong. But I really think I'm discovering the leading edge of a new type (or at least growing if not new) of piracy.

So what can I do? I'm already doing it. I've contacted Amazon and asked them to go over their records to see if they can identify any single person who has purchased several of my books and then returned them within a few hours. I've also unpublished the books that have been hit the hardest from Amazon. I'll return them to circulation once Amazon does its review of the returns. And I'm telling you, so that you can be on the watch and report any patterns you see in your own returns.

I may be jumping the gun here, but if I am no harm done. Forewarned is forearmed. If any of you have had this problem I'd love for you to share. It's always nice to know you're not alone.

Happy Writing!

24 comments:

tracie2667 said...

It is amazing what people will do we have also noticed cases with some authors where people have gotten copies of their free stories or short stories and have put them up for sale on Amazon. I would like to know where is the accountability from amazon and other online book sellers to ensure the product they are selling is authentic and to make sure people are NOT using these outlets for piracy. Personally it disgusts me it is theft and the culprits should be held accountable. Thanks Tracie

Mandy M. Roth said...

You're not alone.

Sam Cheever said...

I totally agree Tracie! I don't believe these sellers should be allowing returns at all. I told
Amazon that, but I doubt they'll listen. They currently give people 7 days to return an ebook. 7 days!!! A pirate could easily read a 100 page novel in that time and then return it. Crazy.

FYI, I just checked and I had another return. That's 8 in 2 days. Something is definitely going on. I just hope Amazon will help me figure it out.

Thanks so much for speaking up. I feel a little less crazy. #:0)

Sam Cheever said...

Hey Mandy! Thank you!!! I don't feel so much like a conspiracy nut now! LOL

Lee Rowan said...

If there's a way to steal, some thief will find it. Amazon's return policy is ridiculous. Just makes it easier for the pirates to get a copy, then post and charge 'membership' fees or sell advertising.

Amazon seems to be all about making profits for Amazon, and anything that keeps customers happy keeps them coming back. Authors are just feedlot animals t be exploited. Sorry if that sounds cynical, but I've seen nothing to indicated otherwise.

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

I've said this before and I'll say it again. Amazon don't care. Amazon don't give a crap. Amazon just take what it want. Ew, nasty! Look at that! Now it's eating a snake! Amazon just don't give f+ck. (With respectful nod to the Honeybadger!)

Sam Cheever said...

You're so right, Lee, the return policy seems custom made for pirates. Amazon hasn't responded yet to my note so I don't know how helpful they're going to be. We'll see.

Sam Cheever said...

Hey Jody,

Thanks for stopping by. I share your frustration...

Kari Thomas said...

Personally Im for a NO Return Rule on ALL books! This is so ridiculous that Amazon is allowing this to happen right under their greedy noses! I noticed I had more returns last Quarter too.

HOW does one check on current Sales with Amazon to check on daily Returns?

THANKS for posting this; Im passing it on!

hugs, Kari Thomas, www.authorkari.com

Sam Cheever said...

Hey Kari!

You can keep track of your daily sales and returns on the Reports page of KDP: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/reports

Thanks for stopping by. The more of us who keep an eye on this and report unreasonable return rates, the better our chances of getting the return policy changed.

Marti Talbott's Stories said...

I have a series of books and when two or three readers return the whole series, something is wrong. A mistaken purchase? I don't think that's possible on 12 different books. It is more of a wound to my pride than to my pocketbook, and I fear it is a trend that will get worse before it gets better. I too alerted Amazon, but it hasn't helped. I guess we are just stuck with it until Amazon starts seeing a major drop in their own bottom line.

Savannah Chase said...

I'm seeing this patter as well and sadly Amazon doesn't seem to be doing anything. I don't think you should be able to return an ebook...Until Amazon does something about this will just continue.

Sam Cheever said...

OMG! 12 books, Marti! I'm so sorry. That's exactly what happened to me, but not quite as many. Though I'm sure the number will continue to build now that the pirates have found me. I unpublished the three books for a couple of days and I'm hoping they moved on. You might want to try that. It seems that's all we can do.

Sam Cheever said...

I totally agree Savannah. If we could get a bunch of authors to team up against Amazon we might be able to get this to change. It would help if we could get a few really big names (aka big sellers)to join in. I'm going to give that some thought. Hang in there.

Linda Mooney said...

I'm also seeing a huge jump in the number of returns on my indie books. Which means there has to be some returns occurring with my regular publishers, too. Since Novelrank only shows sales without counting returns, it may help explain why my sales reports from my pubs are not reflecting those NR numbers, which are low-ball anyway.

Sam Cheever said...

That's what I was thinking, Linda. I wonder if our publishers are tracking returns. I would think they could really add up when multiplied by several hundred authors. It seems if publishers put pressure on Amazon things might get changed too. Maybe we should contact them and ask the question. It's a thought.

Scath said...

My previous four years, I averaged a whopping 3 returns yearly.

So far this year, I've had 11 returns in roughly 2 months - after I first put a couple into the Select program.

Kaz Augustin said...

I'm not selling a lot of books (not like the rest of you guys...lol) but have also noticed several returns and have wondered about it.

The problem is one of outreach as much as anything else. Amazon make it
falling-off-a-log easy to have all sorts of shiny widgets leading to them. I've pointed this out at my Sandal Press blog. If the other etailers either refuse, or are unable, to compete in the outreach stakes, then Amazon essentially have authors like us by the short and curlies. Where else could we possibly go that would match the influence and pervasiveness of Amazon?

I really wish a few other etailers would start stepping up to the plate and offering VALUE for authors, rather than just investing the minimum so they can skim some quick bucks off the top.

Becky said...

As someone who has accidentally purchased an ebook or two, I wouldn't want a no-returns policy. It's so ridiculously easy to bump that button when browsing on the Kindle. Of course, if Amazon can sync a book over a half dozen different devices, they should be able to tell that those ebooks were returned without ever being opened. It's not reasonable to read the whole book and then return it for a full refund. If you're so desperate for free books, borrow from your library.

Sam Cheever said...

Scath! You might have something there. Maybe the pirates are finding us through the Select program and then "expanding" their lending practices to our books that aren't in the library. The timing would be right for me on that too. Hmmm

Sam Cheever said...

Hey Kaz!

I don't think there's any question that Amazon is good for us overall, as far as outreach and sales go, but this is a problem and somehow we need to convince them to fix it. I think the only way is to come at them in numbers. I'm thinking of 2 events that proved Amazon can be swayed, when they stole back books from people's Kindles and there was an uproar, and when they went off on Erotic romance and people went crazy. They backed down. We could make them back down if we can hit them in large enough numbers.

Sam Cheever said...

I agree, Becky, it is possible to make a mistake buying a book. 2 things though, most etailers don't allow returns so it's not unheard of. And second, what we're talking about are people who "accidentally" buy a whole series...one at a time...and then return them...one at a time after a couple of hours or days. I don't think it's possible to be that stupid. #:0) Amazon should be able to spot these people fairly easily too I would think.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

I agree with you, Sam. I'm noticing this trend also. Up until recently, I've never had a single book returned. Now readers can read the book and within a certain time limit, return it and get their money back. Best of both worlds for them. Not for us.

Sam Cheever said...

Hey Julia! I'm so glad you stopped by. We're going to find a way to do something about this. If we all work together we can do it. Hang in there!