Of Questionable Value


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Feb 24, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

Since I buy a lot of books through an on-line reseller, I normally receive some emails from them with "suggestions" of "books of interest" based on books that I have ordered in the past.

Recently I have started receiving suggestions about books bearing a title that is very long and sort of a combination of a series of topics, for example:

"OpenSSL: Open Source, Transport Layer Security, C (Programming Language), Cryptography, Unix-Like, Solaris (Operating System), Linux, Mac OS X, RSA Security (Paperback)"

"edited" by three editors, and published by "Betascript publishing".

Curious, I looked at the description of the book, which was advertised as "High Quality Content by WIKIPEDIA articles", but was confusing otherwise as to what it actually contained. It was listed as a paperback of 120 pages, but was selling for 56 US dollars (although it did get free shipping at that price).

I clicked on each of the editor's names, and found out that each of them had edited exactly 10,959 titles, with topics ranging from:

"Sun Valley, Idaho: Sawtooth National Recreation Area" (108 pages, 53 USD) to "Smoothing: Statistics, Image Processing.." (108 pages, 57 USD)


"Phloem: Vascular Plant, Sucrose, Bark, Parenchyma, Cell Nucleus..." (104 pages, 57 USD).

I must admit that "Phloem..." was my favorite book description, not only because in the description of the book were the words "derived from the Greek word ????? (phloos) 'bark'", showing that the "editors" had not taken the time to find out if "Phloos" was indeed Greek, but because "Phloem" comes close to rhyming with another word approaching what I thought of this "editing", that word meaning a "viscid mucus secreted in abnormal quantity"....Phlem.

Another set of books, apparently from the same publisher, had a different set of three "editors". Again, each one of the editors had edited the same number of books, in this case 17,567!

Another customer of this online reseller, and a reviewer of one of the books, had done a little investigation and found that the "publisher" in Mauritius seems to have discovered that scraping together Wikipedia articles, binding them into a sheaf of dead trees and selling them for about fifty cents a page was a good business.

The publisher seems to feel that they are bringing Wikipedia to people who do not have good Internet access. I find this a bit hard to understand when the books are being sold through online reselling services, for data which is constantly being updated, and for prices that would enable people to buy a laptop computer and a DVD of Wikipedia after purchasing only three or four books.

Or they could have purchased a WikiReader and gotten all three million articles, able to be electronically searched and updated at low or no cost.

What I really find hard to believe is that these major on-line resellers carrying these books would be willing to face customer disappointment to find that the book the customer just paid 50 USD or more was just a collection of (now out-of-date) Wikipedia articles that most customers could have accessed online themselves. This disappointment should reflect back not only on the actual purchase, but the vendor carrying that purchase.

Is this illegal? No. Is it deceiving? In my opinion whether it was deceiving or not would depend on your definition of "editing".

By at least one strict definition, the "editors" of these books are "editing". Whether they are doing a good job of it is something for the book's customer to decide.

For me, an editor of a book or article brings additional value to that information. The editor has knowledge of, and often a passion for, the subject. The editor often gathers up a set of authors and material and organizes the material in a systematic, presentable way. The editor adds real value to the information. I find it difficult to believe that a group of six editors who have edited a total of over 28,000 books on diverse subjects can lend that type of value.

We have "editors" and "publishers" in the Free Software space. People, groups or companies that gather the software that is created and put them into distributions. These entities add real value to the software by integrating and updating the software when necessary. I applaud them.

In any case, this blog goes out as a warning to my readers to carefully look at the description of the books that you are considering for purchase. Make sure the publisher is one you know as having high quality, and the editors are people that might add value and content to what you are purchasing, not just "formatters".

Otherwise you are probably just killing more trees.

Caveat emptor

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