Sometime last week I was on the lookout for books on webcomics, searching for covers to inspire a Graphic Design project. Somehow, through liberal use of the keywords “webcomic,” “history,” and “book,” I was led to a book entitled “Webcomics By Year, including: Penny Arcade (webcomic), Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, Child’s Play (charity), Penny Arcade Expo, Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-slick Precipice Of Darkness, Robert Khoo, Poker Night At The Inventory, User Friendly,” the cover of which you can see below.
The first thing you may notice from the cover, after the ridiculous length of the title, is that the book can’t be attributed to any specific author. Instead, the only evidence of there being an origin for the book are the words “Hephaestus Books,” centred and in small print at the bottom of the cover.
Fully intrigued at that point, I checked to see what else Barnes and Noble had to say about this publishing company, and was aghast at my findings. There were tens of thousands of books attributed to Hephaestus Books, each featuring a title just as [if not more] lengthy and list-like as the first I found. They covered topics ranging from Judy Blume novels to the 1950s in British television. It seemed that Barnes and Noble could show me more, but not explain, and so began my investigation.
A social reading site of sorts, Goodreads ‘ page on Hephaestus Books featured a description about the “author” that goes as follows:
“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.”
In other words it publishes print-on-demand compilations of Wikipedia articles not original works. Caveat Emptor
Author Robin Hobb wrote about the series of books on her website early this month, stating that the concept of Hephaestus Books is one that “offends [her] mightily.” Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle wrote on his own site that he was concerned in that he had “never authorized ANYONE to make a compilation of a lot of [his] books and sell them in a single volume.” His confusion is well-founded, but in reality what appears to be a single book containing multiple novels is nothing more than, as mentioned above, Wikipedia articles.
Hephaestus isn’t even the only malefactor out there. Fonte Wikipedia and Book LLC are both “publishing companies” that do the exact same thing. A blog post I found entitled Beware the Wikipedia Scrapers exposed both of those examples, and also has a helpful list on how to “avoid this junk.”
I’m not altogether surprised by this scam; it’s one I stumbled upon years ago but have only recently found again. It sadden me, however, that it’s ongoing, and that there have been people who have fallen for it, as evidenced by the used books on sale on these sites.
As writers have said before me, watch out. Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. Be on your guard. Please mind the gap. This is a swindle that has befallen others, and as much as a book titled “Novels By R. A. Salvatore, including: Vector Prime, The Dark Elf Trilogy, Legacy Of The Drow, The Woods Out Back, The Icewind Dale Trilogy, The Hunter’s Blades Trilogy, Paths Of Darkness, The Cleric Quintet, The Dragon’s Dagger, Dragonslayer’s Return” might catch your eye, it might be better to stop and think about what you’re doing.