In 2008, I wrote about how Bertelsmann AG was planning to publish annual yearbooks derived from . Now, another German publishing company is exploiting the contents of Wikipedia for commercial ends, but this time, it’s flooding Amazon with titles aggregating related topics.
The company in question is VDM Verlag. Its book arms — Alphascript and Betascript publishing — use print-on-demand (POD) technologies and Wikipedia content. (Click on the links to see their catalogs on Amazon.) According to Slashdot, these publishers have added 57,000 titles to Amazon, more than 10,000 in the last month alone.
The price points for these books are amazing — many over $50 each — apparently to make them seem more scholarly and specialized. Reviews on Amazon appear to be uniformly low, as buyers note the basic level of content, the source, and the free and up-to-date online version.
Print-on-demand technologies used in this manner create a new thing — a “print” (quote marks intentional) catalog. That is, the books in the catalog appear to be printed when they’re only listed until they’re ordered, when they’re in fact printed. This allows catalogs on sites like Amazon to be filled with listings of “printed” books.
So, while the barriers of inventory, warehousing, press time, paper costs, and bindery could be relied upon to limit the supply of books, now there is no true limit. Books can be printed or “printed,” and both are listed.
Combined with the limitless amount of content online, the alchemy can make a strange brew.
This is not a condemnation of POD by any means. Print-on-demand technologies have been a helpful and necessary step in the evolution of print. But to abuse it is still abuse. And that’s what these publishers could be accused of doing.
While it’s an appalling bulk-publishing approach, it combines with the Bertelsmann example to invite the question — what is it about German publishing that makes things like this seem OK?