Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Alphascript books & Wikipedia Scam

Who doesn't like Wikipedia? Sure, sometimes you'll get people who update it with incorrect information on accident or on purpose, but generally it's a great place to go for some quick & easy information on just about any topic you'd like to know about. It's free, it's easy, & most importantly... it's free.

That's what makes the Alphascript books so horrible.

VDM Publishing is the force behind the Alphascript books, taking pages from Wikipedia & putting them into incredibly books that are not only poorly translated into book format but are also obscenely priced. Would you believe that the lowest price for one of these books is about $40? That's the lowest price, mind you. The average price is actually around $50-60, with some books ranging into the $100s. If they only charging $5-10 for the book then I probably wouldn't be as outraged, but with prices these high it's literally robbery.

All for a book that literally contains information you could grab for free off of Wikipedia. The company claims that they are able to sell these books because they're considered "free use" & that they are perfectly within their legal bounds to charge whatever they want.

Critics are already quick to point out that VDM doesn't label the books to reflect where they got the content from. Indeed, many of the amazon entries I looked at said nothing about them gaining all their info from Wikipedia. VDM's reply?

"It is pointed out in every Alphascript book that contents are Wikipedia articles. Do we now have to write in Amazon-books: “Attention! Books contains Wikipedia!”? Then other publishing houses would have to point out in their books: “Attention! Book contains nonsense!”, or: “Attention! Book has only sex-scenario!”

That's all fine & well, but if you only put it inside of the book or in a place where people can't see it until their purchase arrives & not on the amazon description spot or in the title itself, isn't that fraud in some way?

To some degree a bit of "Caveat Emptor" should be applicable, but in this case I can't help but think that the unaware consumer needs to be protected.

1 comment:

  1. Well, as you say, it's completely legal to do. That's part of what makes Wikipedia a "free" encyclopedia: that people may use it for whatever, even commercially. And Wikipedia contributors have to be (and are made) aware of the fact that their work can and will be used for such purposes. I also see a big "content from Wikipedia" badge on all the covers, which are shown at the online store selling them, so I do think it's clearly declared (although I can't vouch for how long they've been doing that, maybe they initially didn't put these on).

    The real problem with this is not even the value-for-money, because the prices would be too high no matter how well the books were made, and in turn the quality is so low that it wouldn't be worth buying no matter the price. Considering what they're doing, they could charge what it costs them to print plus some profit margin, which will be nowhere near those $40, or 2-3 times the price of any other paperback containing *original* work, which therefore also has to pay for the authors.

    And from people who have purchased some of these books, there are reports (and some example scans) that show how sloppily they're put together. It's of course an automated process, but their algorithm to compile related articles is as horrible as you could imagine. It strays from the topic of the main article so far that you get mostly chapters completely unrelated to the book's topic. The pagesetting is also terrible, they have a lot of formatting mistakes, can't robustly handle tables, asides, boxes, Unicode characters, etc.

    So in the end, it isn't a scam. It's just a very bad product for a very lofty price.

    If these guys provided at least some added value over Wikipedia's own "print a book" feature, such as actually editing these titles manually, ensuring their quality and consistency, then it would be an okay business model. By the way, VDM Publishing is known for other weird practices (such as monitoring university thesis databases and offering print-on-demand book versions to every student author). It also speaks volumes that by now, apart from Alphascript and Betascript, they have started over 70 sublabels, all with fake editor names, to try and hide that the books are all from the same company and put together the same way. Check the Wikipedia article on VDM Publishing, they have a list.