If robots write one of these biographies about you, will you purchase it?
Its crazy stuff like this that makes my senior colleagues so dubious about the internet in general and the changing publications landscape in particular.
I follow a twitter feed called Anthropology Books. I have never investigated who put it together and I do not know anything about it except that it has been useful to me. Using some kind of automated approach, the person or software behind Anthropology Books has been very usefully telling me (and about 1000 other folks) about “All new anthropology books posted on their publication day.” If a title seems interesting, there is a link that takes one to the book’s Amazon.com page.
Today, books with the names of famous and not-so-famous anthropologists (and folklorists) started showing up in the stream today. Alan Dundes was one that caught my eye first. He is very important figure in folklore studies and a very good candidate for a proper biography. Other names started showing up, including those of active colleagues who are basically my own age! They all had unfamiliar to me authors and publishers. There was a flood of them today.
Looking at the books on Amazon.com, one is (sometimes) confronted with the information that “the content of this book primarily consists of articles available from Wikipedia or other free sources online.” I took this quote from the book on Dorothy Eggan. This 84 page book is selling for $47.00 and has been published by Lect Publishing. The book is credited to the editorship of Nuadha Trev. This editor shows up in Amazon.com as the person behind about 3000 books. Lect Publishing is only one of several names associated with the same basic project and Nuadha Trev is only one of several editors.
I know that others have been writing a lot recently about Amazon’s publishing toolkit. Also at issue here is the CC licensing of Wikipedia etc. content. The student publishing group that I work with here at Indiana–Trickster Press–makes great use of CreateSpace+Amazon for the publication of real peer-reviewed monographs and I am certainly appreciative of, and in debt to, the Creative Commons. These resources are not to blame for the creation of this kind of spam-like books, but I think that they represent a problem on several fronts. Perhaps it is enough to say that they give the Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Amazon, remix, and scholarly communications reform a bad name.
I would love to know who would purchase one of these books. Maybe some of them are traps designed to extract cash out of their living subjects. Here is an example. The publisher “Fedel” has just published a 108 page/$54 book on ethnomusicologist/linguist/anthropologist Aaron Fox. (He and I know people in common but are not yet acquainted.) Would Professor Fox feel like he had no choice but to purchase this book to see what it said about him? Would I feel similarly compelled if one were published on me? His is one of about 3000 titles edited by “Christabel Donatienne Ruby”, but does Christabel Donatienne Ruby actually exist?
I would also love to know about the technical infrastructure that automatically (?) assembles these books and feeds them into Amazon. Anybody understand this stuff?
Update: Thankfully the people behind the wikipedia article for VDM Publishing seem to understand it pretty well. For background, see the entry here. See also the discussion on slashdot here.