01 logo

Don't Do This

A Growing TikTok Trend, And The Damage It Causes

By Natasja RosePublished 12 months ago Updated 6 months ago 6 min read

Recently, there's been an uproar on TikTok, between Influencers encouraging their followers to take advantage of Amazon's 7-day return policy by purchasing an ebook, reading it, and returning it for a full refund, and Authors, who are rightfully furious at what they see as Book Piracy or outright theft.

To be clear, I've returned ebooks before.

Not often - it's rare for me to actually not finish a book, and the ones that don't grab me often languish in my Kindle app until after the deadline - but very occasionally I will be so turned off by a book that I stop after the first chapter or two, delete it from my library, and request a refund.

I only do this for ebooks that I don't finish more than a few chapters

If I make it to the halfway mark, then the author did something right to bet me that far and deserves compensation, but I won't be checking their profile for other things to read.

If you want to read a book for free: you can!

It's easy! You can even make a group activity out of it! Or do it solo, if that's your preference!

Go to a library.

Consider it your civic service for the day: Libraries are publicly funded, and the more they can prove that people are actually using them, the more funding they can argue for. If a library doesn't have the book you want, you can request it! Libraries also have audiobook CDs, if that's more your thing.

Don't like leaving the house? There's an app for that, too!

Apple and GooglePlay both have apps to read library books: Libby and BorrowBox. If you have a library card, a lot of public libraries are creating their own apps for the same purpose.

Best of all?

It doesn't harm authors.

By Clay Banks on Unsplash

If you go to a library or use a library app, the author still gets paid for the book or books you read.

Big Executives couldn’t care less if you return a book; they already got their cut when you bought it in the first place.

You know who does care? Who does get hurt?

By Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Indie Artists.

Small Publishers.

Writers trying to break into Traditional publishing, and running head-first into crappy takes like this.

By kilarov zaneit on Unsplash

Stop for a second.

Forget about going viral as you argue one side or the other. Forget how many views you got, how high your stats are, how much you'll make from ad revenue. Come down from the endorphin and validation high; this is important.

I want you to pause for a moment, and consider the real, human, cost to this latest cool fad.

Because there is one, and it's hitting hard.

By Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

When a writer sells an ebook, they get between 35% and 70% of the royalties, after the publisher takes their cut. There's also an electronic delivery fee of a few cents. Practically negligible.

But when you return an ebook for a full refund, the publisher doesn't take a cut of the loss. Nor do they wear the delivery fee.

That goes to the author.

Now, on a good month, an author who has made twenty or more sales that month can weather a returned ebook without too much trouble. It's only a few dollars. They won't like it, and maybe it sinks their plans of treating themselves to dinner or a movie at the end of the month, but it isn't the end of the world.

But this #ReadAndReturnChallenge that went viral in May? That's a few dollars, multipled by dozens, hundreds or even thousands.

Think, for a second, about the Indie author who has to make up for the lost revenue. Normally, they'd have an extra hundred dollars or so at the end of the month. Not much, but enough that they could cut back their exhausting hours working multiple day jobs, and spend more time doing what they loved. That's a pipedream, now; too many returns meant that they had to ask for extra shifts, instead of calling in a rest day.

Another author who was already wondering if they could afford to keep up writing, even as a hobby or side hustle, bows their head over a closed laptop. They’re hurt, because they still need to pay their editor, the artist who does their covers, and while they were breaking even before, this new TikTok trend is putting them into debt.

Then there's the writer who has to push the release of their new book back, who cries at night, muffling the noise to avoid waking anyone, because they have to make rent. They would have, but so many people returned their book after reading it, their royalties for the month are negative, and they actually owe Amazon money, instead of the reverse, so final edits got put on the back-burner, and they can’t make the original deadline.

Another writer stares at their email, seeing the forwarded message from their Agent, but not really reading it. The Traditional publisher they’ve been negotiating with has pulled out, it says, because with the market trend influenced by TikTok accounts urging their followers to return books after reading them, investing in a new, unknown name is no longer worth the risk. The Agent asks if the writer would like them to look into other publishers, but warns of a similar result.

A few neighborhoods away, a Small Publisher goes over their accounts. Most of their income comes from the cut they get from printing services and the small publishing fee they take per book. But all these returns are hurting their authors' rankings, and they’re hesitant to spend the capitol to publish new material. New readers don’t pay attention to low-ranked authors, and the algorithms on the websites the publishers use to promote those authors penalize books that have a large rate of returns by minimizing their visibility.

If this trend keeps up, they may not be able to keep the business going.

By Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

That’s who this “clever” ploy is hurting.

Not Amazon, who can recoup the losses in an hour.

Certainly not Jeff Bezos, the third-richest person alive, with wealth in the hundreds of billions.

Ordinary people, who just wanted to follow their passions, and got burned for it.

By Thought Catalog on Unsplash

A clothing store wouldn't let you buy a prom dress, wear if for a weekend, then return it for a full refund.

If you walked into a grocery store or news agent with an empty chip packet and told them “I finished it, but wasn’t all that keen, can I have my money back?” you’d be thrown out.

Even Walmart makes you prove that there’s something wrong with a product before they’ll issue credit or a refund.

Why should ebooks be any different?

If you enjoyed this article, or found it worthwhile or thought-provoking, then go check out my work on Amazon or here on Vocal. I won't even complain if you return something, as long as you also didn't finish it.

social media

About the Creator

Natasja Rose

I've been writing since I learned how, but those have been lost and will never see daylight (I hope).

I'm an Indie Author, with 30+ books published.

I live in Sydney, Australia

Follow me on Facebook or Medium if you like my work!

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  4. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  5. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

Add your insights

Comments (13)

Sign in to comment
  • Mike Singleton - Mikeydredabout a month ago

    Excellent article

  • Deasun T. Smyth5 months ago

    WHAT! I've been no fan of TikTok, but this? it's an outrage. I hope amazon does something to fix this, or it'll be hard for me to publish my books (which aren't so bad you have to return them).

  • Manisha Dhalani9 months ago

    Yikes! I didn't know about this. Scary times for writers.

  • Thank you for sharing! 😊

  • Shauna Houser 12 months ago

    Very well said! Wow. That whole TikTok platform needs to just crash and burn. It’s a frickin blight on society. Way to teach children how to be dickhead human beings! 🤬 I will admit I have also returned books. But only the ones that were so terribly written I couldn’t make it past the first few chapters (the dangers of trying new authors because NOT everybody is capable of actually writing despite their belief otherwise). And come to think of it, I don’t think those had cost any money to start with.

  • L.C. Schäfer12 months ago

    This makes me spit nails 🤬 I hope whoever used social media to encourage people to return books gets a spectacular case of diarrhoea, and finds that all their toilet rolls have spontaneously morphed into especially spiky cacti.

  • Chau Trieu12 months ago

    People are actually doing this? That's so insane.

  • Whoaaa I wasn't aware of this. This is such a terrible thing to do

  • Strange that it's all on the author, to be quite honest if I bought an ebook it wouldn't be worth the effort to return it. If I buy a book ut's mine forever

  • Mariann Carroll12 months ago

    ebooks are so cheap why would anyone return them?Congrats 🎉♥️

  • Call Me Les12 months ago

    That's so messed up. Seriously concerned for my own ventures and also disappointed my publisher didn't alert me. Thank you for writing this Nat!!

  • Chloe Gilholy12 months ago

    Daylight robbery. Times like this, it’s actually better to pirate the book.

  • Babs Iverson12 months ago

    Not a fan of tic tok!!! Definitely shocked and appalled at this behavior of returing ebooks. Wasn't aware. Fabulous [email protected]💕

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.