Gabrielle Bisset

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Amazon's Newest Disaster For Indies

The author of the book Beautiful Disaster thought she'd hit it big when her indie book became a national bestseller. The money was rolling in and she was hitting the bestseller lists, not just Amazon's lists. Life got even better when NY came calling and she signed with a traditional publisher to get her book Beautiful Disaster into even more readers' hands.

It's a dream come true for many indies, but now comes the nightmare part. Amazon has decided that it should email readers who purchased the indie version of the book and let them know that it will no longer be available and they can ask for a refund, and they will pay for the over $4 difference to purchase the new NY book. But the author is going to have to pay for that refund.


So because she's found some success, she can afford the many thousands of refunds that will come pouring in? How different is the book in its NY version that this refund is even necessary? And why is Amazon breaking its terms of service and allowing returns after 7 days? Does it do this with the indie books it signs for its publishing business? Do those now Amazon published authors get mass emails sent out that their books are available for refund and they then have to eat that cost?

Amazon seems to be saying something about the content being the problem. Yeah. I heard this, on a much smaller scale, a few months ago. I took a book off sale in July, yet Amazon kept it for sale until September. Then in November, I saw a refund for the book. Whoa! That's definitely more than 7 days (the length of time one gets to submit for a refund supposedly), even if you go with the September date. Amazon's answer? It was a content issue.

I called shenanigans and told them there was no problem with the content that the thousands of other readers hadn't found. I went round and round with them to no avail. They were like the ignorant kid who only knows enough to warrant a punch in the face but argues his point louder than anyone else. I finally gave up.

Hopefully, Jamie McGuire doesn't give up and takes the big Zon to the mat. It's about time. Amazon has become a bully in the indie world, regardless of how many devotees it has among us. Any time there's a problem, it spits back nonsense emails that answer nothing, and good luck trying to get them on the phone. (Why we tolerate this business with no phone calls is beyond me. They make money from me and I can't get to talk to someone in person?) Their customer service might be stellar, but their vendor service is the worst.

I personally have no real problem with people being stupid or naive (which seems to be an epidemic in the indie publishing world), but when the rest of us pay for that stupidity, it's a problem. There are constantly problems with authors' dashboards at Amazon and yet no one seems to be asking if we can even trust our sales numbers. As long as the rankings on the books keep rising, who cares, right?

Far too many indies can't see past their glowing praises of KDP Select or free days or permanently free books getting them something to notice that Amazon bears very careful watching. What it's doing with this author is wrong. It breaks their own TOS. That in itself is a problem, but it's even more than that. Amazon has become a bully, and unless indies begin to see that and stand up to it instead of trying to make friends with it or believing we make too much money for the company for them to ever want to hurt us, we'll all find ourselves in a place where we have no control over our work, much like Jamie McGuire.

Jamie McGuire is asking readers who have been offered the refund not to take it until she gets things straightened out with Amazon. I say they should go one better. Don't take the refund and complain to Amazon that this is unfair business practices. Stop Amazon on this and it might have to remember that their TOS is enforceable against them too, not just something to be wielded against authors.

For more on Jamie McGuire and the Beautiful Disaster issue, visit her FB page at

UPDATE:  Amazon has retracted its offer of a refund on Beautiful Disaster and now says the entire thing was an error.  While I am pleased for Ms. McGuire, this doesn't change my opinion that Amazon bears close watching.


Lily B said...

that is really sad and unfortunate that Indie authors have to go through this, and it makes me mad by itself since Amazon is my number one favorite place to buy books ;/ so really hearing this is making me wince. I hope she gets it straightened out, she should not be paying any refunds. Unfortunately most people here, refund and more money that they paid and it's like...oh yes

Tammy Dennings Maggy said...

Well, I chose to never sign up for the KDP select program because I didn't want to be exclusive to Amazon even for a short period of time. This just solidifies my decision to watch them like a hawk. Excellent post!

Obsidian Poet said...

This is really sad. I have decided to leave Amazon even before this. I started branching out. I took advice to stay only with Amazon for a while and now I'm like nope, not gonna happen. From the time I signed up with KDP to now their service has gone down hill. The treaty indie's like crap. Nobody should stand for that.

Christina Fifield-Winn said...

Excellent post! I have felt the same way for a long time and have tried to fight Amazon on particulars, but always end up feeling helpless. It's almost as if we need a union that's willing to fight for us. Thanks for informing and lending your fellow author a hand. I'm sure she appreciates it.

Rich Meyer, harbinger of Chaos said...

Wasn't there also an issue of copyright infringement involved here? The legendary grapevine says that the original book included the lyrics to the Rolling Stones' song "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" without getting the proper releases or attributions.

If that's the case, then surely that should also be considered in this mix when deciding upon the rightness or wrongness of the business decision, shouldn't it?

Gabrielle Bisset said...

I heard that through the grapevine also, but it seems as with many things, that was wrong too. I would say with issues like this, the person dealing with the problem is the best resource.

As for the Stones song, why would Amazon get involved with that? Wouldn't that be a legal issue between the Stones (or whoever owns the rights to Satisfaction) and the author? Amazon is a delivery man in this situation--McGuire is a producer of a product and Amazon delivers the product. It has no legal stance in any copyright infringement case, especially one that hadn't been decided (if there ever was one to begin with).

According to McGuire, this is how the situation stands now:

“As you all know, this weekend Amazon sent an email to readers who had previously purchased the self-published edition of Beautiful Disaster stating that this edition was no longer available and a refund was possible if they purchased the new edition. I’ve spoken with Amazon, and they have told me this was an error on their part. Thank you all for your patience and help in getting this situation resolved; I am so thankful to all of my dedicated readers!”

Elizabeth Lang said...

I've been warning about Amazon for years now, because they are no friends to authors, not even self-publishers, despite how it appears. Good to know some people in the indie world are starting to wake up and smell the dung.

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

Now that we know the refund letter was a mistake and Amazon apologized and issued a retraction on Monday, maybe an update on this post is necessary, so folks don't continue to incorrectly assume the worst?

Gabrielle Bisset said...

Thanks for stopping by, Matthew. I thought people would see the update in the comments, but perhaps not.

As for assuming the worst, I'm not sure what you mean but I continue to believe that Amazon, like any other big company that so capriciously acts like it does, bears watching. To believe otherwise is your choice, but if you are an indie, you believe that at your own peril.