Sunday, May 29, 2011

Someone make it stop, part one

So I'm trying to search through Amazon to see what kinds of Star Trek books are coming out in the near future, and I'm being swamped by two phenomena: wikipedia reprint books and ebook-only works with no actual publishers. For now, let's look at wiki books.

There are hundreds of books available that will give you a random sampling of wikipedia articles related to Star Trek (some rather tenuously). There's just no point in trying to collect them, and I can't see much value in trying to include them in the Complete Starfleet Library listings. There are too many coming out too quickly, and many of them may not even exist as printed books yet; the only way this kind of operation could be making money is if most of the books are print on demand. Well, that and the absurdly high cover prices -- if you really want printed wikipedia articles, it wouldn't be all that hard to print them yourself through, and it would almost certainly cost a hell of a lot less. For that matter, you'd have as much a legal right to sell your versions and compete with the Germans (Alphascript, Betascript, Books LLC, etc).

Maybe that's what Holly Simon and Project Webster represent: wikipedia books with a little more effort put into them than the Alphascript etc books. Or maybe it's just their latest fake author and publisher name. "Holly Simon" is the author of a lot of books on a lot of subjects, all wikipedia article collections; the main difference is that the books appearing under her name are much more reasonably priced and look as though they've been organized and titled by a human rather than an algorithm. Instead of Books LLC titles like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes: List of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes, Far Beyond the Stars, Duet, The Maquis, The Search with a generic, text only cover for $67, you can get The Unauthorized Guide to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with an actual DS9-related cover image for a US list price of $21.75. The phrase "high quality wikipedia articles" on the covers of the latter, though, suggest it may well be the same outfit, making more of an effort to produce something that will actually sell. More worrying is the claim in the blurb at Amazon that they're not only using stuff under Creative Commons licences, they're planning to use more licenced and public domain material. Still, I can almost see some value in including things like these on the site, at least as a warning, because they look more like legitimate books.

Oh, and now there's WikiFocus books: ebook versions of wiki articles. Yes, now you can pay for electronic versions of free electronic content.

If Project Webster or WikiFocus have websites explaining who they are and what exactly they're doing, I haven't found them yet.

I wonder how many fan-run databases that aren't wikis are being harvested for these things. Like mine, for example. I know some of my content was published in a fanzine under someone else's name a few years back. A lot of people operate under the assumption that everything on the web is public domain, which is simply not true. But with so much of this stuff flooding Amazon, how would we ever find out?

And another thing: boy, wouldn't it be nice to be able to filter all these wikibooks out of my Amazon search results.