Recently on BookTok (tiktok for books), someone decided to encourage people to steal books, claiming that everyone wins. Readers get to read, it doesn’t actually hurt authors… guess what? It hurts authors. It doesn’t even hurt Amazon because Amazon still gets some of the money. For basically free. Right out of the author’s pocket. So essentially, the authors are paying Amazon to let Amazon let these petty thieves ‘read for free.’
In short, if you consume a digital product for your entertainment and return it, you are stealing. If you get to 11% and discover the author conned/cheated you and you immediately return the book, I don’t mind that; you realized you were cheated and returned it without finishing the book. (Example: I’ve returned like 3 books in my entire life. Each time, the author had polished the first 10% so the sample looked okay and then didn’t bother with the rest of the book OR the book somehow became unreadable. I didn’t continue reading, I closed the book, returned it, and marked the appropriate box in the return form.)
I have purchased thousands upon thousands of books, and have only returned three.
Authors deserve to be paid.
So, after seeing a bunch of posts online, I decided to check to see how many returns I had this month compared to last month, just to give you an idea of how harmful this practice is.
For the record, on average, the author is charged $0.07-$0.15 per full-length novel. I’ll use $0.08 because that’s a common transfer fee over at Amazon.
February’s Returns: 107.
March’s Returns (Following the BookTok’s release): 283.
Note: there were only 15 returns on Silent Stalker, so it wasn’t the new book release responsible for the increase.
It was BookTok… and selfish, entitled thieves who can’t be bothered to go to the library. We can’t even call them readers at this point, because they don’t care about the books or the authors. They’re just thieves.
Look, reading is a wonderful activity. I get it. I love to read. That’s why I actually discount my titles to libraries. Industry standard actually recommends libraries are charged 2-4x as much as the book actually costs. I charge libraries the same exact rate readers are charged–and they get to use the book over and over and over again. (Unless they’re using a cost per checkout system, in which case it’s a set rate no matter what the retail price is.)
Stop stealing. Seriously. If you buy a book and return it after you’ve read it, you’re a petty thief. Sure, I do well enough I’m not going to hugely miss the $22.64 these thieves directly stole from me, but most authors?
That was groceries you took out of their cart because you stole directly from them.
You want to help with the theft problem?
Condemn the book thieves. Call them out. Shun and shame them. Tell them they’re thieves and should know better–tell them they should have been raised better.
Stop giving them your silent approval.
Point them at public libraries and subscription services.
There’s no point in contacting Amazon because the petty thieves are more obnoxious than the ethical readers. And a lot louder.
This new book theft thing is going to make it so I work more at patreon and the other non-Amazon sites. (Guess who is the primary source of book returns… that’s right, Amazon. Because none of the other sites really allow you to return books because they assume you read them.)
Because of the increase of book theft, I’m going to be working more at escaping Amazon. The first experiment with Patreon worked well, so I may change it so that I release books to Patreon exclusively first, and then release on other vendors with Amazon getting the titles last.
I have two patreons at current.
The Novels Patreon is just for those who want to buy books. There are currently four tiers, one for RJ Blain only, one for Bernadette Franklin only, one for Susan Copperfield only, and one for ALL books I’ve written regardless of pen name. Sekrit projekt titles will go under the ALL books one.
The general Patreon has a bunch of other stuff, including Q&As, read alongs by chapter with author commentary, etc, etc, etc. They also receive the books as long as they’re in the $10 per month or higher tiers.
I am debating how best to handle distributing backlist books. Currently, the general plan is to include a backlist book with each post announcing a new release. (So essentially a bogo, except I get to choose the bogo.) It’ll be the same book for everyone because I value my sanity.
That would mitigate the returned book issues because Patreon doesn’t allow returns if it’s obvious that the creator did as promised. (And Patreon is directly linked with the book distributor and has access to everything I send out, so it’s simple to verify the user was given what they were promised.)
It may result in changing how I release books on Patreon, so I need to put some thought into it. Honestly, I really do like the idea of releasing books to Patreon first–even before I load in preorders to Amazon and the other sites. Patreon is currently a safe space. People are there because they want to be there.
Piracy and book theft has been a thing for as long as the internet has existed. I spend over a hundred a month hiring a company to help control the piracy issues. But these predatory booktoks are just hurting the people who write the books.
And it may be they’re the straw that breaks the authors’ backs, especially in the indie community. The trad houses and publishers won’t notice much or care; their readers buy books because they love books–and they don’t usually return them.
I can afford for some petty thieves to take $23 out of my bank account… most authors cannot.
You wouldn’t want someone going into your bank account and pocketing any money, so why do you think it’s okay to do it to others?
Shit like this is why authors stop writing, so not only are these petty thieves hurting the authors, they’re ultimately hurting themselves, as the books they want to read gradually stop being sold, leaving only the chaff behind.
Don’t return books you’ve read. Just because Amazon lets you do something doesn’t mean you should do it.
Theft is theft… and stealing from the mouths of struggling authors just makes you a petty thief, among the lowest of the low.
Use the public library if you don’t want to buy books. That way, the author is still paid, and you can read legally for free.
But stop stealing. Theft is wrong and it has always been wrong. Stop trying to pretend you aren’t stealing… because if you follow this Booktoker’s way, that’s all you are: a petty theft.
And if you don’t want to be thought of as a thief… don’t steal books. It’s really that simple.