Several authors are currently petitioning Amazon to severely reduce the time limit on refunds of Kindle books. At present if you buy a book from Amazon you have up to a week to ask for a refund. It's a very easy process. You simply click on "manage my Kindle" which gives you a list of books you have bought. Against the one you want refunded you click "Actions" and "Return for refund". Next time you switch on your Kindle (or other device) the book will be gone, and the money will be back in your account.
The authors of the petition want the time limit for refunds reduced to 1 hour. They state - quite rightly - that it is possible to read the entire book in a week, and then return it for a refund. Unscrupulous readers (gosh, it feels odd typing those words together) could read as many books as they liked and never pay for them. (Almost like, oh, I don't know, a library.)
I thought long and hard about whether to put my name to the petition. It is unfair that authors don't get paid for these books even when the reader has read them. Books are a commodity, like any other, and the author should get the credit they are due. Enjoying the product without having to pay for it feels a little like theft.
They point out that you can download a sample before you buy to check whether you are going to like the book. That's a good point. It's much better than, say, having to decide whether to spend £7 on a cinema ticket on the strength of a two-minute trailer, or order a £10 restaurant meal on the strength of the olives on the bar. With free samples of books available, there's no excuse for buying one and then changing your mind.
Ultimately, however, I decided not to sign the petition.
I like the fact that you can get a refund on a Kindle book. I found out the hard way that books are one product you can't return for a refund if they are substandard. Years ago I bought the latest book by my favourite fitness guru, and discovered that it was basically a rehash of her last one. In high dudgeon I went back to the shop to ask for a refund. It was refused. The shop assistant explained, "You might have read it." I replied, "I have read it, it's rubbish, that's why I want a refund." I learned that day that you don't get refunds on substandard books. I have read many terrible books. If you got refunds when the book was no good, I'd be much better off.
The fact that we can get refunds from Amazon is something I think we should celebrate.
Just last month I bought the book club assigned book for the month on my Kindle. I browsed through the reviews a couple of days after I had bought it, and discovered from one of them that it had graphic and unpleasant sex scenes. I don't read sex scenes, so I decided not to read the book that month. Within minutes I had a refund and the book was wiped from my Kindle.
I'm very glad that Amazon gives refunds on Kindle books. But I understand the author's perspective.
Here's another solution - I'm sure it's possible for Amazon to tell how much of the book the reader has read. If my Kindle can tell me I'm 28% of the way through a book, surely it can communicate that information back to Amazon? So maybe Amazon should simply tighten their criteria. If the buyer can give a valid reason why they want the refund and it can be shown that they have read no more than, say, 50% of the book, then they are entitled to their money back. If they've read any more than that, then they are not. If anyone from Amazon is reading this, how about this as a solution which wouldn't upset authors?
Meanwhile, authors - if you want readers not to return your books perhaps the trick is to make them so good they'll want to read them again and again. After, all it's not as though they are returning them because they need the shelf space.