Amazon is Not a Library, but These Apps Are

It’s not a mystery where this trend started… (Photo by cottonbro on

Anyone with an internet connection knows that disinformation is a huge problem online. This post is not about lies or inaccuracies. This is about harmful accurate information.

Authors Pay, Amazon Profits

Amazon is a staggeringly huge corporation. Their CEO has enough money to launch himself into space as a hobby. Think about that for a minute. Or don’t, if it upsets you. In a sense, they’ve earned it by efficiently providing… well, everything. One aspect of that efficiency is that Amazon 100% fulfills the promise of their contract below: Authors owe Amazon for any returns. Here is chapter-and-verse on their Kindle ebook returns policy, from their terms and services:

“5.4.8 Offsets, etc. We can withhold Royalties and offset them against future payments as indicated below. Our exercise of these rights does not limit other rights we may have to withhold or offset Royalties or exercise other remedies.
If we pay you a Royalty on a sale and later issue a refund, return, or credit for that sale, we may offset the amount of the Royalty previously paid for the sale against future Royalties, or require you to remit that amount to us.”

This is nothing new. This has been their policy for a while, as indicated by this article on the very subject from February of this year, or this one from… (checks notes)… November of 2020. How much damage could result from a single viral trend?

Ideas have consequences.

A lot.

Can Does Not Mean Should

The week of June 1st, a viral video on TikTok pointed out that you can return books eBooks to Amazon within 2 weeks for a full refund, even if you have read the entire thing. As established, when readers do this, it is not the multi-billion-dollar corporation eating this cost: it’s authors.

I’ll say it again: ideas have consequences.

Within a day of seeing the first rumblings about this trend, I saw independent authors posting screenshots of their negative royalties: the amount they owed Amazon for their returns. This can be greater than the amount Amazon initially paid the author, because Amazon deducts “delivery fees” from royalties based on the size of the file. This is the digital version of a shipping fee: Authors pay to use their servers and bandwidth. Of course, the multi-billion-dollar corporation could not possibly eat those costs. They must pass them on to the author. (That’s sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell.) There is no logical reason authors should be required to pay more for a return than they made on the sale, but I digress.

What If I Love Reading, But Cannot Afford Books?

As we’ve advocated in this space, reading is important. It shares knowledge, builds empathy, and helps us relax. If you cannot afford to buy books – physical, digital, or otherwise – I sincerely feel for you. I want you to have access to all the books ever written.

Fortunately, you do.

If you don’t have access to a physical local library for any reason, here are four free online libraries you can take advantage of at no cost to you or to authors –

Libby – (by far the most popular. I’ve used it. It is excellent.)



Many state or local public libraries have their own apps. For example, here is the New York State public library’s Simply E app.

Now That You Know, Do Better

If you are reading this and you assumed that in the grand scale of things authors would be unaffected by ebook returns, you can be excused for that misunderstanding. Royalty payment structures are not exactly dinner-table conversation material. But now that you understand, I think you know what you have to do.

If you buy an ebook, keep it. It’s yours.

If you can afford to buy books to support authors, great! Please do. The stories we love would not exist without loyal readers.

If you cannot afford to buy books, take advantage of any of a number of free library apps, and read with joy.

Thank you for sticking with me. Happy reading, and happy writing.

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Photo by John-Mark Smith on

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