Episode 58 – Lifetime Bans, Community, and the Big 5 Decline

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After a short (and live!) musical interlude, Jim and Bryan tackled the latest publishing industry news and tips. Tips included Chuck Wendig’s 10 authorial self-promotion commandments, Nate Hoffelder’s thoughts on writing for short attention spans, and Jane Friedman’s four questions to ask yourself when building a community. The news stories centered on 100 percent self-publishing royalties, the difficulty of selling digital products, a customer’s lifetime Amazon ban, the five dumbest business practices in publishing, and the latest Author Earnings report. If you answer this week’s question of the week with a video or phone call, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free year of Author Marketing Club! This week’s question: Should customers be allowed to return an unlimited number of ebooks at any time? Why or why not?
What You’ll Learn:
  • Why sleep and positivity are important for publishing
  • What commandments you should follow for self-promotion
  • Why you shouldn’t write books for short attention spans
  • The four questions you should ask when building a community
  • Why Jim thinks more and more Gatekeeper Press companies will spring up
  • Some tactics for selling digital and non-digital products
  • What will get you banned from Amazon
  • The five dumbest business practices in publishing
  • What Author Earnings would mean even if the numbers were off
Question of the Week: Should customers be allowed to return an unlimited number of ebooks at any time? Why or why not?

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  • Good show. …or is it? Hard to say since it doesn’t have physical presence.

  • No, Amazon allows buyers to return an ebook after seven days. Most people could easily read full-length novels in seven days. The return policy doesn’t say anything about preventing a return if the user has read the book. I suspect Amazon could track it since they do so for KDP Select borrows. From the policy, it sounds like there’s nothing to prevent someone from buying ebooks and then returning them after reading them within seven days, thus treating Amazon like a library with a deposit on the books.

    • I think so, too.

      I’ve accidentally purchased a kindle book via one click purchasing and returned it, but if a book is read, it should be very rare to allow its return. They have samples to try and reviews to read. Plus, like Jeff says, for the most part they KNOW how far into it you’ve gone before returning it.

      Even if I buy a physical book, I have to be truly offended or feel duped to return it. I can only remember returning a read book once, and it was because I found out the author was full of it and making stuff up to make his case.

      • I agree. People who return ebooks after reading them are going to a special circle of hell. Even when I’ve been annoyed with ebooks I’ve read, or been inspired to leave negative reviews, I’ve never even considered returning them. Why? Because I absorbed the information, and even if it wasn’t what I was hoping for, I got something out of the experience of reading the book.

        I remember back in the days of renting VHS tapes from the video store, I used to work for a mom ‘n’ pop shop where this couple would tag-team us on a weekly basis. The husband would come in, get a stack of movies, and ask to use our phone to call his wife and read her the descriptions of each movie so she could pick the ones she wanted and (supposedly) he would avoid renting one she’d already seen. He’d rent 2 or 3, and leave. After a couple of hours (i.e. long enough to have watched at least one of these movies, or ripped them all to blank tapes), the wife would come in with the movies and claim she’d seen them before and wanted a refund.

        That, to me, is the essence of returning ebooks. You can try to justify it any way you want to, but ultimately I call scam. Ripping off authors is not cool. We already give away so much of our work for free, in an attempt to connect with readers and true fans, so when you return a book, you’re taking something for even LESS THAN FREE. Our book is in your head, but now our money is back in your pocket. And that’s just wrong.

        • Bryan

          I don’t think I’ve ever returned something digital other than semi-expensive software that didn’t do the trick.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, 7 days is enough for sure.

  • Honoree Corder

    An ebook purchase is just like any other purchase: the consumer has a right to return it if for any reason they aren’t happy. I don’t think digital content or ebooks should be any different, and like any other product, a certain number of returns is to be expected. I’m never happy when I see a returned ebook in my metrics, but I understand that not everyone who purchases my books is going to love them and may want their money back. I rarely return anything, but understand and expect some people to make that choice.

    Having said that, different people have different levels of integrity. I’m sure there are a few that read and return a book because they can. I’ll let karma handle those folks. 🙂

    Thanks for another great show!

    • Honoree Corder

      P.S. I left you guys a message about two weeks ago … I’m only mentioning it because you sound like you didn’t get any/very many messages so I’m wondering …

      • Bryan

        You did?!?! Strange, maybe we’re not getting them for some reason. We’ll go hunting.

    • I don’t think it’s a right. The vendor probably doesn’t have to accept returns at all, but it’s the custom of most businesses to take things back.

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Honoree! Yes, there is a definite integrity continuum :).

  • Jacob Williams

    You should do a show that’s dedicated to marketing strategies that don’t involve social media or online strategies. Here’s some of mine:
    On your KDP free promotion day, go to your local libraries and put a flier on everyone’s car in the parking lot.

    I first built my YouTube channel up by applying to be a substitute at all the schools in my region. Then I accepted all the high school and middle school computer classes. Seven classes a day with 30 students = 210 people to tell about my channel and free programming tutorials. I left my card on the teacher’s desk at the end of the day. I also mingled with the other teachers at lunch break and told them about my channel.

    On the day your KDP Free promotion is – hold a sign on the corner of a busy intersection that says “Download my book for Free Today” and put the link to it. What is a tweet or facebook post other than something people drive by?

    Online marketing is only one form of marketing. Boots on the ground is far more effective. (My own experience with my retail businesses.) There’s a reason people make six figures knocking doors in the summer to sell stuff.

    • Bryan

      I’m not sold on the flyering methods. And I’ve definitely done boots on the ground marketing for other companies before.

      But here’s something that I think could be kind of cool. You know how Costco has samplers giving away tasty food. What if authors had a table at a library and gave away books? Could be kind of cool at a big one like downtown Chicago libraries with lots of foot traffic :).

      I think we focus on online marketing mostly because it’s scalable. I’d love to hear more about the success you’ve had from in-person marketing.

      • Jacob Williams

        Knocking doors is scalable. – DirecTV 🙂

        • Bryan


  • Question of the week: No because it’s not fair! 🙂 This is one thing that I think Amazon does get right where you can return an ebook up to a week after you buy it. IMHO a week is a reasonable amount of time to checkout something you’ve bought and return it. Ebooks aren’t high priced items like a car where some states allow a 3 day cooling off period to return it or none at all.

    This question makes me wonder why someone would return an ebook in the first place? They don’t like it. Buyers remorse. Accidental purchase. There are probably more but those are probably the main ones and all of which could be resolved within a reasonable amount of time (7 days!). When you say “any time” for some reason a year or 6 months comes to mind and I don’t think you should be able to return something after that amount of time. It’s just plain ridiculous. On the very extreme side, can you imagine checking your books sales only to find out that you now owe the retailer money because there was a mass return of your ebooks? I don’t think so. Great show as always guys.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, a mass return would be the worst.

      Thanks, Ken!

    • Daniel Martone

      Ken, beyond the accidental purchase, how is it fair that someone should be able to buy your ebook, read it (easily done if they have a whole week), and then return it? If Amazon has a policy allowing this, then they shouldn’t ban someone for returning books… of course, I don’t think you should be able to return an ebook beyond the “oh crap, I accidentally clicked on that”. Maybe if Amazon knows whether the book has not been read beyond the first 10%, (not sure if they know this for anything but KDP books), then I’d be ok with the return.

  • Looks like our message number got deleted. We had to create a new one. Call 206-337-7897.

    • Really? I answered the question of the week just yesterday over the phone.

      • The free account we use for the number deleted our account for inactivity. So that never got to us. I guess we need to find a better solution.

      • Bryan

        It’s like you never existed…

  • RachelMedhurst

    I think there should be a limit. Especially when it’s for the same author. If someone doesn’t like an authors style of writing, but continue to buy, review (negatively) and return every single one of the authors books, I feel that there should be a limit after the first two books. Surely if someone hates the work that much, they shouldn’t get it for free.

    • Bryan

      Agreed, Rachel.

  • Dang it! I said I was only going to listen to a few minutes of it. I said “just get the idea of what’s going on and move onto the next podcast, I don’t have time for all these…” I Failed. I failed miserably.

    Should people be able to return ebooks willie nilly? Are you crazy? I’ve done it once. It was because I had one-click turned on somewhere and it was a mistake. I was grateful for not getting questioned further on the return. If you want to return them all the time, that’s what libraries are for. Many of them, nay most? have an ebook option and rules to go along with its use. Why not try that instead? Unlimited returnable books? That sounds like a library or a monthly paid service… Netflix for ebooks right?

    Amazon has every right to reject a customer who is costing them more money than they are getting in return. As for a limit? Case by case basis and alerts on your account as a possible abuser once you go over five percent?

    • Bryan

      Hook. Line. And sinker!

  • People should definitely not be able to return ebooks for an unlimited time. I don’t think they should be allowed to return them at all. You already have that “accidental purchase” link you can use if your finger gets all click-happy. The 10% sample is there for a reason; if you get burned and don’t like the book after that, it’s caveat emptor! I would never return an ebook, unless after the free sample point it was just nonsense words or something.

    • Bryan

      Haha, that’s a good way to reel ’em in :).

    • Daniel Martone

      I completely agree, Leslye!

  • Amazon has an incredibly fair return policy. That dude was banned “for a reason.” As far as the return policy for ebooks – a 7-day turnaround time is more than enough time to decide. Yes, Amazon should have a return policy. No, people should not be allowed to abuse it.

    • Bryan


  • Daniel Martone

    I do not believe customers should be allowed to return ebooks… period! They have the ability to view 10% of the book before purchasing, which is pretty amazing when you think about it… You can’t watch a whole movie or see a whole play and then get your money back… why should you be able to read a whole book and then get your money back? If you actually have a problem with the material (and are not just looking to score free books) you have the option to have your voice heard through the review process.

    • Bryan


  • Just so you know, that guy was banned for buying mostly physical products (phones and cases) and then returning each just before his 30 days were up. Kindle books were mentioned, but they weren’t really issue.

    • Bryan

      We know, Jim just wanted to give things more of an “our audience” spin :).

  • I think this is a ‘Spirit of the law’ kind of thing. Assigning a specific number of infractions before eviction – as your line in the sand – might be very unwise, as you would only be adjusting an already abused system.

    The point is to kick the abusers out while retaining the folks who want a continued business relationship.

    At the end of the day, the business owner needs to make the determination herself, or delegate it to someone else who acts on the owner’s behalf using specific criteria.

    • Bryan

      Good point, David. I like that “spirit of the law” term :).

  • QotW: Customers should not be allowed to return ebooks at any time. That’s what samples are for. I think the 7-day return period is a little too long for digital content, IMO. I would prefer maybe 3-5 days. Amazon and other ebook retailers should not make it so easy for people to accidentally purchase things, but I understand why they do it for a marketing (and convenience) standpoint. How many people return physical books that they purchase from brick and mortar stores? Surely, it can’t be as high as the number of people returning ebooks. It’s become too easy for people to abuse the system. So many people are treating Amazon like a library, reading and returning books for refunds. I suppose this isn’t as different as people sitting in brick and mortar stores reading books without purchasing them.

    It’s a sticky situation, and I don’t really see any way to police something like this.