Amazon.com allows the selling of Wikipedia articles

If the title on this Amazon.com book (Culture of Pakistan: Culture of Pakistan. Pakistani literature, Urdu, Books and publishing in Pakistan, Pakistani poetry, List of Urdu language poets, Music of Pakistan) seems suspicious to you, you’re just one of many customers bewildered at Amazon.com’s decision to sell books from publisher VDM. Under the aliases Alphascript and Betascript, VDM is simply copying Wikipedia articles, binding them in fancy covers, and selling them on Amazon.com and on their website.

When the Internet , the blogosphere, and Amazon.com customers started calling fraud, they were politely reminded that there is nothing illegal about the operation. Under the Creative Commons licensing and copyright framework, as long as the author is properly attributed, Wikipedia is open game for publishers around the globe. Each one of the books is clearly labeled, making it very clear where the information is coming from, and thereby easily deflecting complaints to the publisher.

Aside from the legitimacy of the publisher, many are more irked by the behavior of Amazon.com. if it’s obvious that the books are just copies of readily-accessible, free, online, content, why would Amazon.com participate in a pitch that is clearly all about taking money from unaware and ignorant customers? Amazon.com has replied to complaints with the following:

“As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking.”

Amazon.com lists 39,827 books in a search for Alphascript publishing, and the number seems to be growing. In this new wave of so-called “book spam”, the publishers and the retailers seem to be ready to dupe customers into purchasing Wikipedia articles. Only time will tell if customers have the aptitude to know when they’re paying for something original, or paying for a free Wikipedia article. 

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

The iPad's USB charging caveat

Next Story

HP Techday wrap up: pics, slides, and a live blog

39 Comments

View more comments

splur said,
Anyone dumb enough to buy this deserves to be scammed anyways.

...but not by Amazon, which is meant to be a reputable company, and "looks out for it's customers".

Edited by acnpt, Apr 5 2010, 12:04pm :

splur said,
Anyone dumb enough to buy this deserves to be scammed anyways.
The whole scamming thing isn't what annoys me, this is really just another type of spam. I mean, say you wanna buy an actual book from Amazon but only have a subject that you want to read up on and not an actual title (say you need to read up on a subject for Uni), these scam books make the search engine nigh-on useless due to the shear amounts of useless results.

Well it's legal, and yields money, so why not? I don't see the problem with it. (Although you'd have to be stupid to buy those books)

I guess if it's legal..buyer beware. That's what the reviews and comments are for, to further 'democratize' the internet. It's intellectually disingenuous of this publisher, but they could rationalize that customers are paying for the materials and packaging, not content. It's complete rubbish of course, but it's a one way to look at it. The internet is full of products that are re=packaged and re-sourced free stuff, but Amazon should indicate somewhere that this publisher is just re-packaging Wiki's material.

I'm not sure why people are so upset about this... No laws are being violated and they are telling you it is from Wikipedia. If you want it from Wikipedia then get it from there and call it a day. If you prefer to buy the product then you can do that too. No one is getting hurt.

Well then change the Wikipedia copyright if they want this stopped.

Simply make it against copyright to sell for profit.

war said,
Well then change the Wikipedia copyright if they want this stopped.

Simply make it against copyright to sell for profit.

I don't think they can simply do that at this point.

Magallanes said,
"Stealing from one source is plagiarism, but stealing from many sources is research"

I am working on a research paper at this moment...I don't think it takes much intellect, just a waste of my time collecting other people's work.

Magallanes said,
"Stealing from one source is plagiarism, but stealing from many sources is research"
Fun quote... except the former doesn't cite and is basically verbatim, and the second does cite and isn't verbatim.

DClark said,
I am working on a research paper at this moment...I don't think it takes much intellect, just a waste of my time collecting other people's work.
I don't wish to be rude, but it doesn't sound like it's going to be a very interesting/useful paper if that's your approach.

Kirkburn said,
I don't wish to be rude, but it doesn't sound like it's going to be a very interesting/useful paper if that's your approach.
This is what education is like at the moment. On an early draft of my dissertation, I was told off for not sourcing enough, even when I wasn't referencing anyone else's work (which is when they told me to reference lots more previous works in my subject area). It got to the point where I felt I was being punished for doing to much original thought.

Edited by Uhyve, Apr 6 2010, 7:09am :

So what happens when AlphaScript pulls a vandalized article, and somebody is duped into buying a "book" whose exact contents are "Bite my ass."?

I'd be all for this if it was actually wikipedia selling the hard copies to raise funds for the foundation or something. Amazon should step up and stop being so hard headed about the matter and just remove them. They're not violating any rights by denying someone the right to sell something. Can no one just do the right thing anymore? I would think it would be better PR to remove the books and keep customers happy than to make a measly 3$ on some crappy books.

qwexor said,
I'd be all for this if it was actually wikipedia selling the hard copies to raise funds for the foundation or something. Amazon should step up and stop being so hard headed about the matter and just remove them. They're not violating any rights by denying someone the right to sell something. Can no one just do the right thing anymore? I would think it would be better PR to remove the books and keep customers happy than to make a measly 3$ on some crappy books.
I think that one of this issues is that Amazon like to boast about the size of their library and according to another article about this (on Slashdot I think), VDM currently makes up approximately 1/35 of Amazons entire library, which is actually a pretty huge amount.

tuxplorer said
Blame Wikipedia for not rewarding its contributors and not putting some sort of strong copyright on articles. It's a free lunch for everyone.
Blame Wikipedia for doing exactly what Wikipedia sets out to do?

It is wrong and buyer's are paying for what's already free, but as long as it is legal and the publisher states that the content comes from Wikipedia, the buyer is at fault here.

However, Amazon should remove those books to make the "right" thing. Also, Wikipedia should prohibit commercial use of their articles to prevent this kind of thing.

ajua said,
However, Amazon should remove those books to make the "right" thing.
How is it the "right" thing to deprive people of this convenience?

Not everyone has the resources to print nice copies of these articles themselves.

The right thing is, as Amazon says, making the most available to their customers.

Personally, I don't think this is a scam at all. Some people like things printed out and would prefer to have it nicely bound with a nice cover and everything. It says right there on the cover "high quality content from Wikipedia articles." They're not hiding the source of the content. The use of the content is not illegal. In fact, I'd say it helps promote Wikipedia as a legitimate source of accurate information (which is often a criticism of Wikipedia in the academic world).

Sure the publisher is making a profit, but what's wrong with that? I don't think they're earning a profit by being deceptive. Things are worth whatever people are willing to pay for them. Book publishers need to feed their families, too. And let's remember that printing a book is more than just the cost of paper. Also, contributers to Wikipedia should not feel used--they should know the licensing of the content they contribute.

Neowin is misleading but not exactly wrong to say "Each one of the books is clearly labeled, making it very clear where the information is coming from"

The books are clearly labeled but the Amazon page is not, so it is not "very clear" to the Amazon customers where the information is coming from.

roadwarrior said,
How is this any different that people that sell copies of Linux distros? Answer: It's no different.
Don't many of them also offer support contracts and help?

Kirkburn said,
How is it misleading?

Amazon is selling a legally published work, not printing pages off of Wikipedia and charging for them.

Commenting is disabled on this article.