When you see a negative sale on your Tablo Sales Dashboard, this is considered a 'return'. It is unlikely to be a customer returning your book, and is more likely to be a bookstore returning unsold inventory.
In the book industry, bookstores like Amazon or small independent bookshops will only purchase copies of a book on a 'sale or return' basis. This means that the bookstore is able to return any copies of a book that have not sold and receive a refund of their wholesale cost.
It is a traditional clause in the book industry. Bookstores will not accept a book if they are unable to return it. It protects independent bookshops for taking risks on new titles, because they will be able to return the book if it is unsold.
Normally, bookstores will return books between 9-12 months after their original purchase. So it is likely that any returns on your dashboard correlate to sales 9-12 months earlier.
Returns are very normal. Traditional book publishers expect to see a return rate of 20% on most titles. On Tablo, authors experience a return rate of less than 1% because most copies are only printed when they are sold.
Who is returning my book?
We can't see for certain, but it is not likely to be a reader, and is more likely to be a bookstore, such as Amazon or a small independent bookshop. The return is likely to correlate with a sale 9-12 months earlier, as bookshops have up to one year to return unsold books.
The return of my book is more than the royalty I received.
When a return is initiated, the bookstore receives a refund of the entire wholesale purchase price. For example, if you are selling a book at $19.99 and earning a $5 royalty, when a return is initiated you won't see a deduction of -$5. The bookstore will have purchased your book at a 'wholesale' price, which is normally 40% off your retail price. So the return and deduction that you would see is -$11.99, the price the bookstore paid to purchase your book.
Why do returns exist?
Bookstores will not purchase a book unless they are able to return it. It's a compromise that all authors and publishers need to consider. If returns were not offered, your placements would be limited. You will sell more copies overall when a book is 'sale or return', even though you might experience a few returns in the future.
My royalties for this quarter are negative. What does this mean?
This can be normal. If you received a large royalty payout in recent quarters, it can be normal to see a few returns in a future quarter. We don't deduct the returns from your account. Instead, this negative amount will offset future profits until your account balance returns to normal.