Received an alarmed e-mail today from a reader, who was concerned that when you type the word “Scalzi” into the search function at Barnesandnoble.com, the first several listings are for shabby-looking books that appear to be illegal compilations of my work (here’s one of them).
In fact they’re not, but what they are isn’t substantially better: Some geniuses have hit upon a scheme of cutting and pasting Wikipedia articles into what appears to be publish-on-demand books and then charging people ridiculous sums for the collation. The link above is to 32 pages of Wikipedia articles on my books, and the charge for this service is $12.72. That’s a pretty obnoxious amount to charge for something someone can read for free online, or could print out themselves for pennies. I won’t speculate whether grepping content from Wikipedia and then trying to sell it to people represents a violation of Wikipedia’s Creative Content license, but I will note that on its FAQ page, the publisher here claims that they charge for everything but the content, which is the sort of delightful hair-splitting that would probably get destroyed by any competent lawyer.
I don’t particularly care if these folks sell Wikipedia articles about me as books — it’s a stupid business and you’d have to be stupid to buy the books, but apparently there are enough stupid people out there to make it work — but what I am annoyed at, as an author, is that when people go to the Web site of a major retailer and search on my name, the first several references they get — the “Top Matches” — are to crappy insta-books I didn’t write. Call me crazy, I think the “Top Matches” for my name should be my own work, not the work of Wikipedia-snurching bottom-feeders. Likewise, it would be substantially less than awesome if someone desiring to purchase my work clicked on the book bearing the name of four of my works, paid for it, and then got a tiny, slim volume of Wikipedia articles. Because that reader may end up pissed off. And that’s not good for me.
Dear Barnes & Noble: You know, when I type in “Scalzi” at Amazon, the first nineteen references are books I wrote. At Powell’s it’s the first twelve. At IndieBound it’s at least the first fiften. So, do you think it’s possible that the Web site of the nation’s largest brick and mortar bookseller might actually put one of my books in the top five references when you type in my last name? Or at the very least, some author named Scalzi? It’s not too much to ask. Thankfully, searching “John Scalzi” turns up my work, but I think the “Scalzi” thing is sufficiently problematic to give you a head’s up about it. If you could fix that, it would be lovely.
For everyone else, well, if you see a really crappy looking book with my name on it (or the name of any other writer, for that matter) in the Barnes & Noble search function, see if the publisher is “Books LLC,” and if it is, run away from it. I didn’t write it, and you can get what’s in it for free online. And besides, all the books by me from real publishers don’t look like crap. They look awesome.