Hephaestus Books: A Different Kind of Ripoff

Jerry Pournelle and C. J. Cherryh have been among the first to report on the nefarious activities of Hephaestus Books, which seems to be publishing omnibus editions of hundreds or thousands of books which they haven’t bothered to obtain the rights for. I say “seems,” because a closer look shows that Hephaestus Books does seen to be ripping people off, but it’s the readers and buyers rather than the authors.

Since Jerry helped sound the alarm, let’s take this collection, titled Novels By Jerry Pournelle, including: The Legacy Of Heorot, The Mote In God’s Eye, The Gripping Hand, Footfall, Inferno (novel), Fallen Angels … Starswarm, Higher Education over at Amazon as an example. The text description reads:

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. This particular book is a collaboration focused on Novels by Jerry Pournelle.

The fact that the book length is a mere 82 pages should confirm that all the novels listed in the title are not in fact present.

So: They’re content scrapers, grabbing anything they can grab off the Internet (it looks like most of their content is scrapped off Wikipedia) and slapping it between two covers as a print-on-demand (POD) book. This is bad and dubiously legal practice, but their primary sin seems to be false advertising, since their “book” titles deceptively suggest that you’re buying an omnibus edition of fiction rather than a collection of stuff you can read for free on the Internet.

Personally, if I were in charge of Amazon or Barnes & Noble, I’d pull all the Hephaestus Books titles due to their dishonest tactics and customer dissatisfaction anyway. (I don’t think even my insane Jack Vance collector friends will be picking up this.) But from my cursory glance, it’s readers, not authors, who are the ones being ripped off.

(Hat tip: Instapundit.)

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34 Responses to “Hephaestus Books: A Different Kind of Ripoff”

  1. Shane says:

    I had just seen this today as I was doing some Christmas shopping and was a bit suspicious about the page disparity.

    I’m glad I found your post! This is ridiculous!

  2. Thanks for the heads up.

    However, without the misleading advertising and in this case, probably fairly useless content, I would quite happily buy $0.99 collections of otherwise free content in ebook (kindle for me) form, as long as it was properly formatted. Collections of articles, related / connected blog posts etc. I generally enjoy reading the kindle rather than a screen for anything over 1 or 2k words. Something in the vein of 40k books (though I haven’t been very impressed with their non fiction “essays” to date, or at least the small amount that I have read), put together by the authors themselves or a collaborative effort with other writers or micro publishers.

  3. [...] others seem to be shouting scam I’m not sure that’s the case here. While the titles they have do list several works by [...]

  4. [...] Dominique le Roux has comments from South Africa. Jeff Duntermann wrote on November 4th, as did Lawrence Person. [...]

  5. Paul says:

    These guys are definitely offering a scam and they are not the only ones. Now whenever you search a subject on Amazon you need to troll through pages of this rubbish. It is extremely disappointing that Amazon permits these the con artists permits this.

  6. Jo says:

    I have e-mailed Amazon asking if they will consider at least allowing users to exclude this kind of ‘book’ from their search results – not sure if it will do any good, but I can only suggest that if enough people do it, they might take note…

  7. Carol Jackson says:

    I wish I’d read your article before I bought their cobbled together book. I agree that booksellers should be discouraged from supplying this kind of rubbish. I’m sending it back and hope I can get a refund from AA Boks without any fuss.

  8. Carol Jackson says:

    I hope I can get a refund from AA Books without any fuss
    . I wish I’d read your comments before I ordered this book – it’s just wikipaedia pages cobbled together. Carol

  9. Anthony Coulls says:

    Just found this in time to cancel my order with Amazon. Something told me to check out the publisher, and thus having done so came here – so thank you!

  10. Appreciate the warning…its a late night at an end of another long semester. I was consider rewarding myself w/ the series of “Malazan, Book of the Fallen” on Amazon. Hephaestus had it for a mere $13+ (10 books). Something didn’t feel right, and I came across your website….thx again, you prevented a very pissed of individual from taking form!

  11. Ivi Grupp says:

    I first found their “Economic Simulation Board Games, Including: Acquire, Java (Board Game), Monopoly (Game), Pay Day (Board Game), Anti-Monopoly, Cashflow 101, Ghettopoly [Paperback]”

    (I’d searched Amazon for “Cashflow 101″ and this came back, along with more relavent hits).

    Amazon offered NO page count, or any idea of what one might (or might not get) by ordering this book.

    Is is a set of summaries of each game? Is it the rules of each one? What?

    Only Amazon & their suppliers knows… :-/

  12. mike procter says:

    Amazon is full of these – are they aware of what they are advertising? However, a mere glimpse ought to dissuade any would-be purchaser, I’m surprised anyone was caught out.

  13. Mua sach says:

    Mua sach…

    [...]Hephaestus Books: A Different Kind of Ripoff « Lawrence Person's Futuramen[...]…

  14. In my post “The Trouble with Amazon” I stated:

    6. Amazon enables trash publishers

    I’ve written to Amazon, as have others, to ask why, for example, it offers for sale 421,014 titles from Kessinger Publishing, one of several companies accused of copyfraud. Or why it offers George Andersen’s classic work, Steve Jobs, purloined, if that is not too harsh a term, directly from Wikipedia, and available for $1.99, of which I assume Amazon earns 59 cents.

    http://thefutureofpublishing.com/2011/10/the-trouble-with-amazon/

    We have to just keep the pressure on Amazon. It’s completely shameful.

  15. Elizabeth Curran says:

    I would like to know who wrote this book they have for sale.

    Yemeni Sunni Muslims, including: Ramzi Binalshibh, Jamal Ahmad Mohammad Al Badawi, Fawaz Al-rabeiee, Abu Ali Al-harithi, Jaber A. El-baneh, Haitham … Al-makhlafi, Ahmad Al-akhader Nasser Albidani

    It supposedly talks about a yet to be captured FBI Most Wanted Terrorist fugitive for masterminding the USS Cole terrorist act.

  16. ronit lentin says:

    Clearly a new sort of ripoff – anyone knows how one can object and how to do it? Just found myself included in a collection of ‘Israeli sociologists’ without permission – preposterous

  17. Mike Moorcock says:

    They’re doing it with my stuff, too. Taschen’s name is on mine as well (presumably the distributor). They’ve always done a lot of public domain stuff. As you say, this is ripping off readers but it also attacks the normal trust between authors and readers who don’t necessarily know this is being done without anyone’s permission. I think the more we publicise what’s happening, the more we show that it’s done without our involvement and against our wishes.

  18. Chris says:

    Their book on “Railway Museums in Bavaria, …” has all the footnotes missing, rendering no use to me. £10 down the drain.

  19. Chris says:

    Further to my last. All the articles in the book are lifted from Wikipaedia and attributed. Some images are present and others have been dropped implying that in some cases permission has not been given to use them. References (footnotes) seem to be missing for all articles. I have complained to my supplier.

    Although sources are all cited I was wondering if permissions had been give so I had a go at contacting Wikipaedia to query whether these articles were being used with permission but gave up. “Contact us” seems to be anything other that what is says.

    I have to admit that, given the references in the book, it would have been useful. I guess I will have to look them up every time I access an article. Bit of an expensive index though.

  20. [...] others seem to be shouting scam (see here, here and here) I’m not sure that’s the case. While the titles they have do list several works by [...]

  21. CTobojka says:

    I am concerned about the books on medical issues that the sell. They are a compilation of articles from Wikipedia. Medical advice from Wikipedia?

  22. Jos Simon says:

    I just wish I’d seen this before ordering the book – I could have got all the contents off Wikipedia for nothing. If it’s not illegal to do this sort of thing, it really should be.

  23. Paul Hjelmstad says:

    The book on mathematics I bought is literally just missing all the Latex based equations (they didn’t bother to print them) In other words, they don’t even edit their own books.

    PGH

  24. Malcolm SCRUFF lewty says:

    Hello all, I just found that HEPHAESTUS ‘books’ included my band “HELLBASTARD” in a so-called ‘book’ about UK THRASH METAL GROUPS. I have since discovered it is all information gathered from WIKIPEDIA. THE RIPOFF BASTARDS, I hope they get SUED or at least TAKEN DOWN hard.

  25. Davidka says:

    Their book, “Articles on Spanking, Including Erotic Spanking, Rattan, Berkley Horse Birching, … Slippering, Strapping, Figging… is available for $17.95 on Sears.com. Unbelievable. “Sears: Where America shops!”

  26. LindaN says:

    Agree with all mentioned above. Just purchased the People in Knitting “book” which is indeed a collection of Wikipedia articles. But they even got that wrong – well known knitter Kaffe Fassett whom I spoke to in person only a month ago, is definitely not dead!!! Hephaestus book lists him as having died in 2010. It is shocking they are allowed to get away with this fiction.

  27. I saw my name on one of their books with a load of other recognisable names on the subject and used the look inside feature to see what it was about. It was just an old Wikipedia entry!

    I wouldn’t mind so much except that Wikipedia never manages to get their information right.

    What a rip off.

  28. Don Webb says:

    I’m in two of their titles. If you send me a buck fifty I’ll print out my Wikipedai artciles and mail them to you. Seesh I’m in “Articles on Cthulhu Mythos Writers:” and “Famous Setians” Seesh!

  29. Glad to see this page. Recently, I was trying to research a topic and the only informaton I could find on the internet was on Wikipedia, and most of that info was not properly sourced. So I went to Amazon to see if there were any books I could get hold of and was delighted to find two books that had just the information I needed.

    Until I got the books and realised that they contained nothing but the Wikipedia articles that I refused to use in the first place.

    To LindaN: Wikipedia is constantly being reviewed and updated so that mistakes will be corrected and the information in it is updated. You can’t do that with a printed book.

  30. [...] Person on Hephaestus Books: A Different Kind of Ripoff 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is out – Haven’t read it but there is no doubt I will do as [...]

  31. [...] may remember my piece on Hephaestus Books, the “publisher” who automatically packages up free digital content (like Wikipedia [...]

  32. Ken Justan says:

    I have to scroll through hundreds of pages of these rip off compendium books when I am searching on ABEBOOKS.com as well. The cover stock photos don’t even match the descriptions!

  33. [...] remember Hephaestus Press, they were the ones who published “books” that were just articles scrapped from Wikipedia, many of which looked like omnibus editions of several [...]

  34. E says:

    My boss bought a copy of a book on Hong Kong from these ‘publishers’ which I tried to catalogue in a library… Lo and behold, there’s no publishing information to be found ANYWHERE in the book. Upon flicking through the pages I thought it looked like a Wikipedia article, then found that all the ‘sources and contributors’ were actually Wikipedia. Printing something into a book does not legitimize your information.

    Lesson learned: these people print Wikipedia pages and make people pay for them.

    AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE.

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