Beware the Wikipedia Scrapers
Over at Chaos Manor, Jerry Pournelle sounds an alarm about Hephaestus Books, which at first blush appears to be publishing his (and many other science fiction writers’) works without authorization, and cluttering up the search results of the online book stores with their wares.
I took at a look at it; it seems that what Hephaestus Books is doing is that thing where unscrupulous jackasses scrape Wikipedia for articles on authors and books, prep files to give the appearance of a book, charge a ridiculous sum for the material and bang out either a POD object or an e-document when something is (almost always inadvertently) ordered. Sometimes the Wikipedia-derived nature of this crap is made apparent in the description text, but just as often it is not. If you’re not paying attention you can think you’re buying a collection of books when what’s really happening is that you’re being ripped off.
I first ran across this last year on Barnes & Noble’s site, and to that retailer’s credit, they subsequently changed their search parameters so that this sort of junk falls further down into the search queue. But it doesn’t ever go away, as you can see from this search; scroll down far enough and this crap is still there, not just from “Hephaestus Books” but also from “Fonte Wikipedia,” “Books LLC” and other such folks preying on your inattention. It’s not only Barnes & Noble were this stuff pops up; Jerry Pournelle found this stuff on AbeBooks as well, and I’m sure there are other places this stuff will appear.
Naturally none of us writers want you to get scammed by this crap; I don’t think any of us are any happier about it being out there than you are. Here are some clues to look for to avoid this junk:
1. Generic cover art;
2. Titles that are a list of authors, or of a particular author’s work (usually when we publish an omnibus collection of our works we’ll give it a unique name);
3. Publishers you’ve never heard of before — this is particularly the case with established authors like Jerry Pournelle, whose work is primarily with well-known imprints.
4. Small page counts — if you look at the page counts for this one, as an example, you’ll see it is but 50 pages long. That’s because Wikipedia articles usually aren’t very long at all.
5. Description data which notes the provenance of the material — although not every listing will have this.
Regardless, it’s certainly appears that these people are hoping to get you to buy something other than what you think you are. So caveat emptor, my friends. Pay attention before you click the “buy” button.