The true cost of returning books


As you know, I don’t yank out my soapbox on a regular basis. Today, I’m making an exception because I’ve been talking to a lot of author friends and there’s a real problem with the new habit of book returning that needs to be addressed. I know I am seeing a significant rise in returns, so I thought maybe I’d point out a few things from the author perspective.

First off, I realize money is tight right now. I’d have to be living on the moon to not be aware of the financial state of the world. Funny thing, though, authors are feeling the pinch just like everyone else, so here are some things you might be interested to know.

For one, did you know that while we do not have to pay to have our books on most sites—including Amazon—we do have considerable outlay with each book. Cover art, editors, proofreaders, formatting, advertising, and a host of other minor expenditures come into play—such as download fees for each book that is purchased and distribution fees.  

For two, when you purchase an eBook authors get paid. When you return it, we get docked for the return. One person flat out said this to me the other day, “What does it matter? Amazon had record profits this year. It’s no skin off their nose.” While that might be true, Amazon isn’t footing the bill for those returns, authors are. Trust me, our noses are losing skin every day.

That bears repeating. When you return a book that you read and enjoyed enough to buy the next one and do the same, authors pay. And it’s not in Monopoly money, either.

Another thing you might not know is that yes, we see these returns as they happen. Yes, we absolutely know when someone buys book one, reads it over a day or two, returns it, then buys book two and so on. Yes, it costs us money, and yes, it is a form of theft. Period.

I know authors, probably some of your favorite ones, who have books in Kindle Unlimited (where this type of behavior happens far more often for some reason) that have decided to remove those books from the program to slow down the systematic returns. If you’ve read halfway through a series and then went to borrow the next book only to find it’s no longer there….returns could be part of the reason. That’s sad. It really is.

Speaking of Kindle Unlimited, it might also interest you to know that authors make far less per book through that program than they do from selling a book outright. We choose to take a significant pay cut to make our books more available to people in that program, but it costs us. Make no mistake on that.

One or two authors I know are becoming so discouraged, they’re considering taking their books down entirely. That’s sad to me. Especially considering that if this is happening for financial reasons, most authors I know are happy to give out advanced copies for free. This is a way to support authors not tear them down by putting their income into jeopardy.

On top of the finite costs, there are others. Such as when an author has a rash of returned books, that tells Amazon’s search feature that people don’t really like this book after buying it…well, of course they do because they’re buying, reading, and returning the entire series…but Amazon doesn’t see that pattern. What they see is simple math, the percentage of sales vs. the percentage of returns, and that affects how and where our books show in the results when someone comes looking for something to read.

Not only are our pockets being picked, but now we’re being penalized and selling fewer books. This isn’t exactly motivating authors to create more books.

If you are guilty of serial returning books, please consider contacting your favorite author and asking to be added to their review team so you can get them for free. If you are guilty of serial returning books, do not—for one minute—fool yourself into thinking you’re only sticking it to the big corporation. It’s not costing them a thing. If you’re guilty of serial returning books, authors hope a big, old karma bomb falls on your head. If you’re guilty of serial returning books, use the library. Or maybe just stop. Stop picking author’s pockets.

You’re not entitled to anyone’s work for free. Period.


  • Rhonda
    May 1, 2023 - 6:10 pm ·

    Thanks for the info. If I buy a book, I keep it even after reading it. However, on the Kindle Unlimited, you can only have a certain # of books downloaded at one time. You MUST return the Kindle Unlimited books before downloading more once you hit that limit. If they didn’t, I’d keep all of them.

    • ReGina Welling
      May 1, 2023 - 6:16 pm ·

      That’s exactly right and it’s as it should be! I’m a KU user myself because I read a lot of books. Borrowing doesn’t enter into this at all. You can borrow and reread a book 20 times, we get paid for the first one and we know that. It’s buying, reading, and then returning one book in a series after the next that is what’s unacceptable.

  • J'net Stapleton
    May 14, 2023 - 12:15 am ·

    I love my Kindle Unlimited subscription. It allows me to read more books than my budget normally would allow. However, when I find a series that I want to go back and re-read, I BUY the books as I re-read them. I figure if I like them well enough to read twice, I’ll most likely enjoy having a third go, at some later date. Also, I feel that shows the author that I enjoy their work enough read their “babies” more than once, and to help support them financially so they can keep doing what they love, which is also creating books to read that I love. I build my library, and the author gets a sale. Win-Win in my book.