BBC 5 Live Investigates is running a piece on Sunday 9pm (this item likely to go out 9:45pm or so) on Books LLC and similar operations, which sell reprints of Wikipedia articles as print-on-demand books on Amazon.
The researcher called a few UK people for the Wikipedian viewpoint. As it turns out, we have one — more than a few Wikipedians have bought these things, thinking they were hitherto-unknown new printed sources to use, only to discover their own words on the topic! At prices like $50 for a 10,000 word pamphlet, this is a most unpleasant surprise. It’s also caught a number of slightly famous people who were surprised to find someone had “written” a book about them.
The casual reader encountering these things may not be aware of the business model. These are print-on-demand books, compiled by computer from a list of keywords. No copies exist until someone orders one, at which point a single copy is printed and sent. People aren’t generally aware that POD is very good quality these days — you can send a PDF to a machine and have it spit out an absolutely beautiful perfect-bound book for you, of a standard which previously would have been quite pricey. So Books LLC and Alphascript and whoever manage to eke out a tiny profit on single copies, having worked out a way to spam Amazon.
The books are entirely legal — you can use our stuff without permission, even commercially, and “Please, use our stuff!” is why quite a lot of us do this at all. And we have a link on each wiki to make your own PDF book, and various projects have partnerships with printers like PediaPress. So the main issue is that it’s not being made clear that these books are just Wikipedia reprints.
I tried to stay strictly descriptive of consensus, but I think I could clearly say that we would very much like the publishers and Amazon to make it clearer just what these things are. Thanks.
The problem is there’s no direct action we can really take without hampering the good reasons for reuse of our material. Or scaring people off entirely — it’s hard enough getting across the idea of freely reusable content as it is. We can use publicity about this to spread awareness that we’re all about reusing our stuff, as we introduce civilisation to the notion of reusability as being the normal order of things.
thewub points out on foundation-l:
From March 1st it might be worth contacting the UK Advertising Standards Authority, as their remit is being extended then: http://asa.org.uk/Regulation-Explained/Online-remit.aspx Amazon product descriptions almost certainly fall under “non-paid-for space online under [the marketer's] control”. So a misleading description ought to lead to action. But the issue here is the misleading *lack* of any description. It could be an interesting conundrum for the ASA!
The problem will largely solve itself: if physical copies of Wikipedia articles ever gained any actual popularity, competition would kick in very fast. Even competition on quality would fail, as people sought to design beautiful editions just because they could.
But they won’t. Is the essence of a book the informational content? Is the essence of a book a lump of tree pulp? Is the essence of a book the ideal synergy of the two, creating an object of beauty, wonder and love? The answer people seem to be picking is the first. The Kindle may be a hideously locked-down proprietary money trap, but it’s really quite lovely as a book reader. I read books as PDFs on my netbook, hardly ever picking up my paper copies. A printed general encyclopedia is now a ludicrous idea. “It’s from a printed book!” will soon be as relevant a criterion to sourcing as “It’s on a website!”
Anything made of atoms is a white elephant. I have a four hundred kilogram vinyl record albatross. I will never rip these things, having had a turntable four years and ripped none. Music is digital. Books are digital. Stuff is a curse.
(In that essay, Paul Graham explicitly excludes books from being counted as mere “stuff.” He is wrong.)
Update: Books, LLC responds. They claim Amazon removed Wikipedia links from the listings.