One of my favorite commerce sites on the Internet is eBay. I have been buying and selling things on eBay since the year 2000. Doing searches for books, used eReaders, and other items has become a daily routine for me. There are amazing deals to be found, and, if you know what you are doing, you can make a little money on the side. Buying and reselling rare books has become a specialty of mine, along with out-of-print music CDs. I bought my first- and second-generation Kindles on eBay for a great discount (in brand new condition), and it is always fun to pick up an older device just to see how the user experience compares with the options of today (I bought a Sony PRS-500 just to see what the first major eReader was like).
Recently, during my searches for interesting books, I have come across a few titles that could definitely not be considered a good deal. An editor named Mariana Georgacarakos has been compiling Wikipedia articles into what appears to be print-on-demand paperback books. A description from one of her listings states:
Project Webster 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 Project Webster 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.
These Project Webster books cover all sorts of subjects from alternative medicine, to Mikhail Gorbachev, to Scientology. Before you get too excited, if you didn’t already know this, Wikipedia has an option available (on the left link bar) on any page to download it as a PDF (they just recently added a “Create Book” feature that can convert Wiki entries into ePub eTexts). All Mariana does is search for every relevant article on a subject (the above screenshot shows a title focusing on Hip Hop culture), and then she downloads them as PDFs. The document formatting is actually quite good, thanks to Wikipedia. It removes the webpage style sheet and creates a nice, book-like document that even includes header/footer borders, page numbers, wrapped images with captions, and a pleasant paragraph layout with bold font subtitles. The editor then combines the PDFs (with a tool like PDF Merge), creates a book cover from a free stock image, and then prints out a few copies of the book. These titles have been showing up on eBay with more frequency as POD printing has become more accessible.
Now, there is nothing wrong with editing together works in the public domain and reselling them, in my view. The original authors should understand that they are donating their content for others to modify or use (especially in Wikipeida’s case). When a customer buys content that is in the public domain, he or she actually pays for the organization and collection of the files/images/works, not the content itself. I have purchased and enjoyed the ridiculously large collections of public domain eBooks that are available on eBay. You can see the value in a 41,000 ePub eBooks DVD as you just saved the trouble of having to go on the Internet, locate all 41,000 eBooks, and individually download them one-by-one. Just like with these Wikipedia books, the collecting, download, and editing service is what is being provided and paid for, not the content. But the eBooks collections I have bought on eBay have always been well under $10.00 (I recently acquired a DVD that has 10,000 classic PDFs and a fully searchable TOC for the paltry sum of $5.98). In Project Webster’s case, some eBay sellers are attempting to charge between $15 and $70 for these POD Wikipedia paperbacks. It’s $24.25 for The Unauthorized Biography of Jesus, $66.67 for A Guide to Addiction, Substance Dependence, and Alcoholism, and up to $62.04 for All About Prince William and Kate Middleton. As essential as these titles may be to any thinking person’s library, over $60.00 for a print-on-demand, paperback book collection of free Wikipedia PDFs doesn’t sound like an honest price to me, no matter what amount of editing effort was involved.
I am hoping that the creator of these collections isn’t the one jacking the price. These might be unique, “lexiconical” books to own, but the simple fact is that you can find all of this information on Wikipedia for free, and now you can even create your own ePub Wiki eBooks for offline reading. Don’t waste money on glorified freeware. I have always wanted to buy a POD book, but I think I’ll wait for a more reasonably priced option.