Caveat Emptor! Hephaestus Books

Let the buyer beware! 

The fact that the Romans had such a saying indicates that we are not the first generation of people to have to beware of con-men and rascals.  But we are the first generation to have to deal with electronic ‘pigs in a poke’.

The old saying, “don’t buy a pig in a poke”, meaning don’t buy a piglet sold to you inside a sack is actually related to another old saying, “He let the cat out of the bag,” meaning that he revealed a truth that had been deliberately concealed.  It comes from a time when a man in a market might sell you a pig inside a poke, for a very good price.  But when you got your piglet home and opened the bag, well, that is when you’d let the cat out of the bag, and realized you’d been cheated.

For a time now, people have been self-publishing their works, and making them available on Amazon and other e-book sites.  And I am all for that!  I admire the courage it takes to put your own work out there.  It’s a tremendous amount of work to prepare you own novel or poetry, put it out in a coherent form, and then market it to possible readers.

Unfortunately, with the door to self publishing opened wide, there were scamps and rascals who came in as well. These fellows did things such as making other people’s books available without acquring the e-rights. That’s piracy.  It’s against the law.  Publishers and authors can request that such books be removed, at the very least, from the big marketing sites. 

But what if instead of that, I gathered up a lot of printed public domain material or internet-published material from a wikipedia, packaged it as an e-book, and sold it?  That’s murkier territory.  It’s not against the law, so far as I know, to take wikipedia articles that are in the public domain, package them together and sell them for $1.95.  Even if I publish the same material under six different titles, so that you  unwittingly buy the same  e-book six times, I think I’m still on the legal side of the line.  And yes, that has been happening quite a bit.  Unsuspecting readers who want a book on how to groom a dog may find that they’ve bought an e-book comprised of articles they could have read for free on the internet, articles that the publisher of the e-book did not write nor pay for, because they are public domain.  It’s easy to create such volumes, and cheap.  The publisher doesn’t have to sell thousands or even hundreds of copies to make a profit.  And if he sells you the identical content about dog grooming under three different titles, well, he has tripled his profit. 

Legally.

Let the buyer beware.

Yesterday I discovered a new wrinkle on this, one that offends me mightily.  So I’m going to open the sack and reveal that, in my opinion,  Hephaestus Books seems to be advertising grain-fed piglets that turn out to be stray cats.

If you go to Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk or BarnesandNoble.com and do a search for a book titled  Novels byRobin Hobb, you will find one published by Hephaestus.  In the description it lists my books, and even adds (novel), just like that, in parentheses, after some of the titles. So one might get the impression that for $12.29, you are getting a nice collection of my novels in a paperback format. After all, there is no detailed description to tell you otherwise. The astute buyer will look at the stats on the book and possibly be astonished to discover that all my novels will fit in a 42 page paperback. 

 Or they may immediately discern that this is a deceptive description. These are not my novels at all. These are a selection of  ‘free to read’ articles about my novels gathered from the internet and put into a print on demand format. 

Hephaestus Books is listed as the author.  If you do a search for Hephaestus books, you will find that my readers are not the only ones they are luring to buy. There are ‘novels of’ books for readers of  Ray Feist, Kurt Vonnegut, Diana Gabaldon, E.M. Forster, Sylvia Plath, Lloyd Alexander and, well, you get the idea.  Each 42 pages long, and being sold for $12.29.  Ouch.  $12.29.

So, I’ve done what I can.  I’ve posted a ‘review’ on each of those sites letting people know that Hephaestus is not my publisher, and those publications are not a collection of my novels.  I hope I save a few readers from making a $12.29 plus shipping and handling mistake.

If you have bought one of these books, I urge you to post your own review, and to let Amazon and Barnes And Noble know how you feel about Hephaestus Books.

After all, a cat chop is not a pork chop, and kittens don’t make good sausage.

15 Comments on “Caveat Emptor! Hephaestus Books

  1. Perhaps “a wiki” rather than “a wikipedia”?

    I don’t see an issue with publishing items which are _actually_ in the public domain in such a manner. Every single Shakespeare play and many classics such as Oliver Twist and everything on Project Guttenburg fall into this category.

    I sincerly doubt many articles from the internet would fall into that category, given current copyright law which extends many years after an author passes. For instance, your blog post. It will retain copyright as long as any of your books. Whether that is respected or defended is another matter.

    However I do agree that misleading titles and scams such as these should be exposed and removed.

    Also, the fact that these exist at all really does show you there is a market looking for a product. How many sales do you think an anthology of everything you have written before the Farseers would be worth as an Ebook? Surely you don’t move large volumes of these titles still? The lack of expense may do well to draw a larger audience to your newer works.

    Or even give a gift to society, bring one of your older works into the public domain, so that anyone can experience and distribute it as a new piece of our culture.

    But as you have said, you leave this decision to the publishers…

  2. Wow that’s…naughty. It’s interesting though, how Hephaestus has described themselves:
    “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.”

  3. It’s an interesting description, Leslie, and I wish it were displayed on the Novels of Robin Hobb page. It is on some other pages of the Hephaesus Books publications, and it does help make it a bit clearer at they are selling recycled public domain articles. On the page for the Novels of Robin Hobb, there was no such notice yesterday. I think I may go back tomorrow and see if they have added one.

  4. Oh, yes, I should have used the word ‘wiki’. You are correct.

    And I have no quibble at all about republishing items in the public domain, though I do wish people would make sure they are offering good cleaned up scans. When I first got my e-reader, I was duped more than once into buying a copy of a public domain book for twor or three dollars, only to discover that it was nearly unreadable due to OCR errors. Sad. It is still true, I’m afraid, that you get what you pay for.

    The items for sale by Hephaestus were actually print on demand rather than e-books. And I don’t have any objection to their contents, if they were clearly labeled ‘essays and articles on the Novels of Robin Hobb.’ That, of course, would be completely acceptable.

    But in answer to your question about collections of my previous work as Lindholm, actually those rights are quite valuable still to me. For most writers, what we call our ‘back list’ is what may well support us when we are past our writing years. The e-books of the Lindholm works do well in the UK and Australia, and I’m currently cleaning up scans of those old manuscripts to prepare US e-books from them. So, yes, my hope is that they will be available again as e-books and print on demand paperbacks.

    Robin

  5. Interesting article from Seth Godin. He isn’t the only writer commenting. Here is John Scalzi mulling the matter: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/11/04/beware-the-wikipedia-scrapers/
    Jerry Pournelle was one of the people alerting writers: http://jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?p=3057
    And you’ll see a note there from CJ Cherryh also.

    Why are writers reacting so strongly to this? Well, ultimately, our names are all we have to use to bring readers back to us. Titles change book by book, cover artists change, publishers, editors . . . in the end, the only way we have of luring you back is by your recognition of our names. And if that becomes tainted . . . well. Let’s just say that no writer wants to disappoint his reader!

    The idea of rating publishers is one I’d support. Often I see Amazon reviews that are ‘one star’ even though the reader liked the book. The one star applies to the price or the cover art or a late delivery of an order. It would be nice if those reviews could be separated from the actual reviews of the book!

  6. Thanks alot. I almost bought a collection of books by Peter Temple for $17.49 from Barnes and Noble. Man, would I have been surprised.
    Regards

  7. I received a bit of a jolt when I read your final paragraph, Robin:

    “Often I see Amazon reviews that are ‘one star’ even though the reader liked the book. The one star applies to the price or the cover art or a late delivery of an order.”

    Although I prefer to find out what a book is like for myself, I had never thought of it before…and such a simple thing to overlook! :oops: Maybe we should amend the old saying and make it ‘Never judge a book by its cover, or its number of stars’!

  8. I’m going to have to ruin a great analogy here in the interest of history and useless information. The “cat” in the bag is actually a cat o’ nine tails, referring to a type of whip used for discipline on a sailing ship. It was kept in a bag to keep it dry. The saying “not enough room to swing a cat” also derives from this era

  9. Oh, I still have to disagree, I’m afraid. Here’s one reference for my source.
    I love word and phrase origins. I’d heard the ‘cat o nine tails’ reference before, but I have to say that it doesn’t seem to follow the concept of betraying a secret as well as the ‘cat instead of a piglet’ in a bag one. I don’t know if it’s possible to say for certain, however.
    Maritime slang gives us many of our colorful phrases. ‘Over a barrel’ is definitely one of them. To be ‘over a barrel’ now is to be in deep trouble. Then it was to be stretched over a barrel to receive punishment in the form of a flogging. Yet again, this is one where someone might disagree with me, and say that it applies to resuscitating a drowning victim by putting him over a barrel.
    Somewhere lost in my book case is a really neat little book that is a compendium of idiomatic phrases and their meanings. I should go on a quest today and find it again. I confess that I love old dictionaries and books that look into word origins.

  10. Pingback: Corporate Copyright Scofflaws 0011a – Hephaestus Books | Wayne Borean

  11. Just a quick response to Christoper D regarding print-on-demand

    There is not a huge market for print-on-demand. Most volume booksellers download titles from a database and don’t even know what they’re selling in regards to print-on-demand. Order one in Australia and you’ll be told it’s not in stock. I suspect a great deal of them infringe copyright, as do the majority of e-book anthologies.

    Robin most retail companies I have found will ignore you if you complain about that sort of content. I sent a link to the publisher instead.

  12. Good Morning, Robin. I’m really sorry this has happened to you, and I fully support your doing what you can to undermine the sneak-thieves.

    Your predicament, and that of the other authors whom you listed, reminds me of Cory Doctorow’s practice of publishing all of his work in open-source format with Creative Commons licensing online. As I’m sure you know, he also publishes his works for purchase physically and claims that the free versions actually boost his print sales.

    What do you think about this approach? Would it make a difference to this situation?

  13. The Hephaestus trickery was NOT a piracy of my books.

    What Hephaestus is doing is technically legal, but a rip off of the reading public. The title makes it appear to be a collection of my works. Instead, it is nothing but a collection of articles about my works. The articles are public domain essays that are available for free on line. The business model relies on catching buyers who make assumptions from the generic book description. They send in their $12.95 and get no real value for their money. NOTHING between the covers of those books was written by me. Not one word. That’s the rip off.

    What they are doing is the opposite of what Cory Doctorow does. He gives valuable materal (i.e., his stories) away for free. It’s a business model that works well for him.

    These people are taking free material and charging unsuspecting readers for it! Please don’t compare these rip-off artists to Doctorow!