"Once in a generation a book so righteously bad, so staggeringly deceiving and so unbearably fake comes along that it challenges the way we view ourselves and the world we call home - how can this happen in this day and age? How can this happen on amazon of all places and how can we possibly fall for this trap? It is a message that rattles through our pocketbook and echoes in the deep chambers of our disbelief, opening our eyes wide to the, all at once, fragile and enormous question that lives like an unplanted seed in all of us: why would we ever pay for free online content?
To try and talk about this book would be an exercise in futility or a challenge about how fast Wikipedia entries can change or about how anyone can write a book and sell it without even knowing how to write. It is possible and potentially quite easy. Let us not cheapen the universe's other rare literary gifts to us mortals with trash like this and honest analysis of how some amongst us play the system to deceive others. Let's us rank what is rank able. Let us go ahead and assign one star to something that so succeeds in deserving our preconceptions of when a book really deserves it. This book simply is not a book. And for that we should be grateful, that we have access to free internet. Amen." - adapted from Patrick J. Adams "Let Us Give Thanks."
Now that I have your attention, just humor me as we try to understand why this book is unlike any you will ever see again.
Even though you've never heard of her, Emily Smith has in only a few months become one of the most prolific contemporary writers of our time. No matter what the subject, if it is related to any living movie star, she will have a book about them - guaranteed. For a second there, her encyclopedic celebrity knowledge seems impressive, until you realize it is all copied from Wikipedia - not that this little detail is ever really mentioned in her books. Hundreds of different titles, all sold directly by amazon.
The introduction to many of her books helpfully explains that their content was generated by volunteers (not clarifying that it's those who contribute to Wikipedia). "Nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate, or reliable information.. all used third-party trademarks belong to their respective owners. Contains selected content from the highest rated entries, typeset, printed and shipped, combining the advantages of up-to-date and in-depth knowledge with the convenience of printed books.."
It's nothing new. Internet security expert and author Ben Rothke was among the first to figure out what was going on with this new crop of "content farmers" who have learned how to abuse the system and resell free online content through legitimate retail outlets. In his article "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute - and Charlatan's to Make Sure They Pay for It" (October 26, 2011), he found an author of nearly 400 books, Kevin Roebuck, who copied off Wikipedia, bound the contents into book form and sold to unsuspecting customers on amazon and on Barnes & Noble. His publisher? Tebbo, otherwise known as Emereo Publishing, who - surprise - publishes Ms. Emily Smiths vast body of work.
Ms. Emily Smith, who in a very short time has amassed an astronomical total of 1,608 books under her belt (that's not a typo), for sale directly on amazon at a hefty price. Ms. Smith's books are published on an "on demand" basis (to keep up with the sucker birthrate one assumes) so you might need to wait a day or two extra for processing time. Be patient though - you won't find these books on the publisher's educational literature website.
Amazon has removed many titles after consumer complaints but it's clear that the vast majority remains. Finding the current master list on amazon for her other offerings is not easy as it's been fragmented. There are nearly a thousand under the search Books > Biographies & Memoirs > "Emily Smith", plus hundreds more if you just search under each sub-category.
The resulting search is one hundred (83) pages long and contains the titles of more than 900 books by Ms. Smith (under various publishers including Tebbo and Emereo Publishing), all following the same format. Not all have a search feature but the samples that do show it's usually done in the same fashion, with material in many of these is from Wikipedia.
Not convinced? Head over to The Meryl Streep Handbook - Everything you need to know about Meryl Streep. This book has a longer-than usual "Look Inside" feature that will allow you to compare that book immediately to Wikipedia's site.
Her books do not appear to be endorsed by Wikipedia. Nor are they registered with the Library of Congress. No address listing for its publisher, though Emereo's website might give some insight as to their - uhm - business model. "It is all based around the understanding of our target audience who need some understanding of a subject or topic but doesn't want to have to do all the research. Our readers simply want the information presented to in the form of a book or magazine. Our readers want the knowledge instantly without having to wait for books to arrive, or having to go out to the book store. These are the desires, needs and wishes that are fulfilled by Emereo Publishing. We deliver publications on demand.."
It is a hack job, not a masterpiece, so be prepared to not like the content. More so when you learn that only the first couple of pages are devoted to the actor/ actress (depending on how long the Wikipedia entry) and the remaining two hundred pages or so with "chapters" on every show or movie they have ever worked in, any town they ever lived in (the census figures, street grid, high school songs, government offices, and historical highlights will likely be included). In short, any possible key word associated with the subject at hand, no matter how small, will likely become a chapter in Ms. Smith's books, with no rhyme or reason. If it's a keyword in a search, it gets its own chapter, regardless of the content. Cut and paste, simple, no?
Only Wikimedia can verify if they have allowed for reproduction and commercial use of their material - far more than what we as consumers and reviewers can do. This said, know in August 2013 that there are 200 amazon consumers & reviewers who have noticed the material by this author has been copied from Wikipedia and given these books a one star and two star rating, out of a total of 276 consumers who have reviewed her 1,608 books. This shows there is a very high degree of dissatisfaction and concern among consumers about the books' sources and why free online content is being repackaged for sale at amazon. Some efforts were made by amazon to remove inventory but six months later, there's not much progress.
Don't bother complaining about the content being copied - amazon will only allow complaints from authorized agents for the party whose rights have been infringed, which may not be something that Wikimedia can do given their free share platform and how these "authors" are playing the system.
The result - consumers are the ones who are paying for it, dearly. Yes, amazon will apologize, issue a prompt refund (and keep selling the book). But is this really the point? How much is your time worth? Or the disappointment at finding a book that can best double as a doorstopper, without the pictures, interviews, nuggets of inside information you had imagined you would find? They're just not here.
Please don't fall for the trap - simply go online to Wikipedia, read their current entry, and then do a google search for articles that actually make sense. You'll learn far more and you will save yourself a bundle of money and time. In the meantime, if you consider this review helpful, please let amazon know by clicking "yes" below - Wikipedia may be powerless to stop these charlatans, and amazon might keep selling these books despite complaints, but as consumers, we can show our disapproval and let our voices be heard.
Amazon, to date you are not doing enough to stop this practice. Shame on you.