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Ebook refunds and absolute satisfaction

Why no-questions-asked ebook refund policies work.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“What if Every eBook Could be Returned for a Full Refund…At Any Time?“). It’s republished with permission.

The land of NO by Unlisted Sightings, on FlickrAmazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has been getting a lot of buzz since it was announced recently, and rightfully so. I posted my own thoughts about it as a publisher here. Some supporters of the program have mentioned it will be a great way to try before you buy. In other words, borrow the book for a week or two and if you like what you read you’ll probably want to buy the book, not just borrow it. I can see that happening … sometimes. But I don’t think that’s the best way to encourage more ebook sales.

First of all, each of the ebook vendors offers samples of books. I always download and read the sample before I make a purchase. Samples have saved me from making a number of bad purchases. But I’ve often found the samples are way too short to tell whether the book is right for me. That’s where an unconditional, money-back guarantee should come into play.

That’s right. Why not have a no-questions-asked, complete refund option for all ebooks? I’m not talking about the return-it-within-seven-days-of-purchase option Amazon offers for Kindle content. That’s not good enough. I want the reassurance I can get a full refund if I buy it today and don’t even start reading it until a year from now, but then decide it stinks.

Is that crazy? We don’t think so at O’Reilly. Here’s a link to The O’Reilly Guarantee. You won’t find any fine print with exclusions that limit your right to a full refund.

By the way, as the publisher at O’Reilly I can tell you I see all the email exchanges between customers and our customer service team. Very few people ever ask for a refund. In fact, our customer service team sometimes offers refunds when customers don’t even ask for them and most customers reject the offer.

It’s interesting how this works. We stand behind our product with a very simple “absolute satisfaction” guarantee. And believe it or not, customers aren’t banging down our doors asking for their money back. Why? I think it’s the same reason why we’ve been so successful with our DRM-free stance: We trust our customers. Pretty novel concept, isn’t it?

By forcing you to make your product return within seven days of purchase, a retailer is telling you they don’t trust you. Perhaps they assume you’re a speed reader and are just looking for a free ride by gaming the system and reading a book in less than a week. That’s too bad. A little trust goes a long way. Will some customers abuse the system? Absolutely, just like they do with DRM-free content. But the vast majority will not only do the right thing, they’ll also become more loyal to you because you trust them.

Photo: The land of "NO" by Unlisted Sightings, on Flickr

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  • http://www.clickindustries.com/blog Sarah

    About a year ago, I bought a Kindle, and one of my first purchases was a book by one of my favorite authors and settled in to read it about a month later. The formatting was TERRIBLE.

    I’m an editor, so I have a high sensitivity to errors when I read for pleasure — one misplaced em dash and I’m pulled out of the enjoyment of reading and I go into work mode. (My musician fiance tells me he has the same issue when he listens to poorly mixed music.) This was an ebook by a major publisher that I should expect to have actual human employees formatting these things, and I found a glaring error on nearly every other page. I didn’t finish the book. I also didn’t receive a response from the publisher.

    I sincerely hope that ebooks have come a long way since then, and that publishers’ respect for their ebook readers has begun to match their respect for their print readers. But I’ve since given away my Kindle, and I’m quite happy to purchase print copies of my reading material until I can be assured either that the ebooks I download are of similar quality to their print counterparts, or that I can do exactly what you suggest here: return a product because I’m dissatisfied with the quality, regardless of when I decide I’m dissatisfied. But until I can trust ebook publishers a little more to respond to my quality concerns (or better yet — not give me cause for concern), I’m done giving them the opportunity to trust or mistrust my intentions as a consumer.

  • Ben

    I can’t help think that the audience you cater to is vastly different then the audience Amazon sells to. You deal with people looking to learn new technologies. Amazon deals with people who want to buy the latest Penthouse anthology. There are huge differences in the mindsets between the two types of customers as well as what they expect from the book.

    A friend of mine worked at a bookstore. She told me about a situation at her work. Some of the clerks notice a woman was regularly returning books. The store had a “No-Questions-Asked” policy in place that trusted their customers and most followed it, but this woman was coming back every couple of weeks and returning books. Someone finally asked her why she was returning a book. She said she had finished reading it. Vastly different audience then what O’Reilly would cater to.

    I, as a customer, take a risk every time I buy content. I understand that. I bought a ticket to the Phantom Menace and wish I hadn’t, but I took a risk to watch it and don’t expect the theater to refund my money. I’ve bought a copy of “The End of Mr. Y” and was unsatisfied with the ending. Should I get a refund?

    I don’t agree with DRM (and wish Amazon et al. would abandon it), but I do understand limited return policies.