Not For Christmas

by wjw on December 15, 2010

If any of you have bought what seems to be a new $45 Walter Jon Williams collection off Amazon . . . well, maybe it’s not too late to get your money back.

Folks seem to have packaged my Wikipedia page plus 80 pages of other publicly-available information and are selling it between covers for an outrageous amount of money.

And it’s a paperback!  These people have no shame.

I’ve just found out about this, so I don’t know what can be done about it, if anything.  Maybe we can all review it on Amazon or something.

PS: you won’t even learn anything new.   My Wikipedia page is loaded with errors.

Zora December 15, 2010 at 7:35 am

The net is rife with scamming bottomfeeders like these. They come in two varieties: the POD scammers and the ebook scammers.

The POD scammers will sell you a deadtree version of a public domain book that they grab from Project Gutenberg or Google or Internet Archive; you order it for $45 or so, they turn around and have it printed at Lulu for $13. No risk, big profit.

The ebook scammers take a free PG ebook and sell it at high price (they’re fast; they’ll have a version up the day after the book is released). OR, they sell an ebook ABOUT some author, an ebook assembled from Wikipedia pages.

John Scalzi was complaining about this recently. In his case it was a Wikipedia-copied ebook that was the top result for his name when the Borders database was searched. He complained to Borders and the issue was resolved.

The online booksellers are going to have to do something about this. They are enabling ripoff artists. People who know something about ebooks aren’t going to be fooled, but there are too many people with new Kindles and Nooks out there who are ripe for the plucking.

Ken Thomas December 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Wikipedia is nothing more than what we make it. If the errors bug you, let me know what they are and I’ll be happy to fix them.

Marius Gedminas December 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Even if the errors *don’t* bug you, let’s fix them.

Keith Morgan December 15, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Sweet Jesus, it’s not just you. Click on the link for the first editor’s name, Lambert M. Surhone, in Amazon and you can see 12 other “editions.” All at incredible price points and all re-cycled Wikipedia pages.

wjw December 15, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Oh, I think the Wikipedia errors are kinda cute. They’re the sort of thing that will throw spammers and hackers astray without bothering anyone else.

Zora December 16, 2010 at 4:27 am

Lambert M. Surhone has listed 213,000 books for sale, so far as I can tell. I think he/she/it must be doing this with a script.

I wrote Amazon customer service. This is incredible.

Ralf the Dog December 16, 2010 at 8:02 am

My Wikipedia page calls me a Muppet. I am not a Muppet.

I do not know the law, but you are a public figure. I don’t think you have the same level of protection as a person who only thinks they are famous. If the information is wrong and could be considered negative, you could try to charge them with Defamation and Libel. Do they claim a connection with you? You might be able to get them for fraud.

Your best bet is to launch an internet campaign to make them look silly or stupid. Getting them banned off of Amazon could also be a good move. If the company has a website, talk to the ISP to get it taken down. I don’t think that many people will fall for this trick. Most of your fans are smart.

Something like this happened with my family business. We had some guy in India make an exact copy of our website with our images and everything. The only thing they changed was the name. After about 10,000 people in our industry sent the guy and his ISP email asking him to remove the site and many industry websites posted messages warning people about him, he decided to take the website down. Sometimes an angry army of fans can be more destructive than a lawsuit.

Ralf the Dog December 16, 2010 at 8:21 am

Sorry for the double post. I do that a lot. I posted a review asking readers not to feed the fraudster and I clicked yes on all the, “Was this review helpful to you?” comments.

I think it strange that there are three editors listed. We need to do what we can to get all the “Editors” banned from Amazon. I would purchase some of the books just to see how bad they are, but I don’t want to reward criminals.

Michael Grosberg December 16, 2010 at 9:40 am

I’m assuming Mr. Wiliams is just one of many, many authors whose name was stripped from some author database and used by a script that generates those books automatically. There’s no point in banning the author or commenting on this book: they’ll just remove it and post it under some other publisher’s name. This is, in other words, spam.

Currently the product page truthfully describes the book as a collection of Wikipedia articles so it’s not misleading. It would take special kind of idiot to invest $48 without bothering to read the product description. The out-of-copyright novels that are taken from Gutenberg and sold for money are a bigger problem.

The only remedy I can see is to contact amazon and voice our dissatisfaction with the spam in their inventory. If they understand that too much spam makes it difficult to find the authentic product – and therefore reduces the chance of them making a profit on a sale – they’ll be forced to deal with the phenomenon, perhaps by installing some mechanism similar to a spam filter.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden December 16, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Betascript Publishing is one of the many imprints of VDM, which is a very wicked German POD publisher:

The books don’t exist until someone orders one. At that point, Betascript/VDM auto-harvests the Wikipedia article, automatically formats it (badly) as a POD book, and charges the hapless customer a great deal of money for it.

Another version of this scam generated books by randomly skipping from one Wikipedia page head or subhead to another until it accumulated the target amount of text. This produced some bizarre combined volumes.

On every one of Betascript’s 213,737 Amazon listings, there’s a link for you to contact Amazon. Some points you might want to mention:

— These are books no one would ever buy on purpose. They can only be bought accidentally, by Amazon customers who don’t realize what they’re getting. This is wrong — an inherently fraudulent transaction — and Amazon should not be letting it happen to their customers.

— It’s also wrong for Amazon to be earning money from what it knows are fraudulent transactions.

— It’s worse if Betascript is using Mindspace, Amazon’s subsidiary POD publisher, to produce these volumes, and profiting from it twice over. I’m still trying to find out whether VDM uses Mindspace, so if you mention it, use the conditional.

Go forth and complain.

Ralf the Dog December 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Teresa, the link from Wikipedia had some good information. I bet you could sell it online and make a ton of money.

DensityDuck December 17, 2010 at 6:46 pm

yeah, this seems to be the new scam. It’s a perfect example of what happens when you listen to your users; Amazon kept hearing authors cry about how haaaaaaard it was to get POD or self-published stuff in the store, so they removed most of the barriers to entry.

Marisol Perry December 22, 2010 at 2:49 am

Lambert M. Surhone has listed 213,000 books for sale, so far as I can tell. I think he/she/it must be doing this with a script. I wrote Amazon customer service. This is incredible.

Tom N January 1, 2011 at 9:15 pm


Do you mean CreateSpace?

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