I haven’t had an intemperate rant for quite a long time now, but I feel a series coming on, of which the first is:
Whilst browsing through Amazon looking for books on a variety of subjects recently I have been stumbling over books published by Hephaestus Books – or at least I presume they are the publisher, Amazon give ‘Hephaestus Books’ as author, and publisher usually as ‘Unknown’, which always looks a little strange when one comes across it on Amazon – how can they not know who the publisher is?
At first I found books about places – I was looking for information about the history and architecture of Cromarty in Scotland, and so trying to find out whether there had been a volume in the Scottish Burgh Survey. One of the first books to show on a title search for ‘Cromarty’ was Scottish County Towns, Including: Stirling, Kirkwall, Dumfries, Wigtown, Stonehaven, Cromarty, Ayr, Forfar, Elgin, Moray, Lerwick, Dornoch, Dumbarton, priced at about £15. Looking for information about the Weald brought up Houses in West Sussex, Including: Arundel Castle, Petworth House, Standen, Uppark, Saint Hill Manor, Goodwood House, Cowdray House, Weald and Downland at £13.99 for 64 pages; also Museums in West Sussex; Charities Based in; Gardens in; and Protected Areas of West Sussex; Railway Stations Opened in 1865; in total, 21 books published by these people.
Only today did I find that they do titles which appear to be fiction as well. I use the words ‘appear to be’ for a reason.
For £13.99 you can buy Dragon Prince Series, Including: Melanie Rawn, Dragon Prince, Sunrunner’s Fire, the Star Scroll, Sunrunner, High Prince, Stronghold (Novel), the Drago. How many people have bought this (& any the many other similarly titled items) thinking they’re getting the set of novels? The book has 100 pages.
Even more surprising: Books by John Lloyd, Including: The Book of General Ignorance, the Book of Animal Ignorance, Advanced Banter, the Qi Book of the Dead, the Second Book. For £12.99 you get 24 pages.
They are honest enough to have this in the description of their books:
Hephaestus Books represents a new publishing paradigm, allowing disparate content sources to be curated into cohesive, relevant, and informative books. To date, this content has been curated from Wikipedia articles and images under Creative Commons licensing, although as Hephaestus Books continues to increase in scope and dimension, more licensed and public domain content is being added. We believe books such as this represent a new and exciting lexicon in the sharing of human knowledge.
Noting that the OED defines ‘paradigm’ as ‘A pattern or model’, one of their definitions of the word ‘model’ is ‘Something which accurately resembles or represents something else’, and therefore isn’t quite what one might be expected to think it was.
Hephaestus Books, when I looked just now, gives 168,251 results for books on Amazon, with prices up to £43.99. What do the people who have given their time and talent freely to Wikipedia think of their work getting used in this way? What are Amazon thinking of in selling this stuff? (Well, profit, obviously.) And what to the buyers think when they get their book? You can guess what are authors’ attitudes to their book titles being used to sell collections of free-to-read articles: Robin Hobb, C J Cherryh, and Jerry Pournelle for three are not happy, and if you enter ‘Hephaestus Books’ into a search engine there’s an awful lot of complaining going on. And I must point out that it’s not only Amazon who are selling them, they’re all over the place.
Even more astonishingly, there appears to be some sort of circularity appearing, as I discovered when I looked up Andrea Solari on Wikipedia. One of the references in the bibliography is Milanese Painters (2011) by Hepaestus Books, and according to the description of this book on Amazon it says, yes, of course: ‘…this content has been curated from Wikipedia articles…’. So it would appear that a Wikipedia article is using as its source a book which contains the article from Wikipedia that is using the book…
Hephaestus is quite a good name for their books, actually. Admittedly he was a god and a smith, but more importantly, he was a bit lame.