Frankenjacked Books in Purgatory

In “Spam clogging Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing”–a Reuters article out of San Francisco– Alistair Barr says, “Spam has hit the Kindle, clogging the online bookstore of the top-selling eReader with material that is far from being book worthy and threatening to undermine Amazon.com Inc’s publishing foray.” According to the article, rather than actually go to the bother and work of writing a book, these b-spammers ‘assemble’ the text by simply copying other people’s work, pushing a button and publishing it online as what passes for an ebook. My wife calls this ‘frankenjacking’ — like assembling a monster by jacking all the parts that you don’t own, claiming it’s a living book and then selling it when you have no ownership at all in the text. As we have often said before, traditional publishing used to be the arbiter of quality. They took care of tossing such atrocities as a ‘frankenjacked’ book out on its ear before it ever went before the public eye. But now, with self-publishing at such places as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, the proliferation of these frankenjacked texts has taken on many aspects of a zombie invasion.

In 2010, almost 2.8 million nontraditional books, including ebooks, were published in the United States, while just more than 316,000 traditional books came out. That compares with 1.33 million nontraditional books and 302,000 conventional books in 2009, according to Albert Greco, a publishing-industry expert at Fordham University’s business school. In 2002, fewer than 33,000 nontraditional books were published, while over 215,000 traditional books came out in the United States, Greco noted.

Hooray for self-publishing, unless most of these books are frankenjacks because this means that your legitimate book that you have labored over for years to get right and to tell a story that is meaningful is now buried under an ocean of these zombie monstrosities that exist only to cheat some poor, misguided living soul into paying them for dead words that the B-spammer never wrote in the first place.

Some of these books appear to be outright copies of other work. Earlier this year, Shayne Parkinson, a New Zealander who writes historical novels, discovered her debut “Sentence of Marriage” was on sale on Amazon under another author’s name.

Ebay had a similar problem some time back with their antique and collectables category. People were posting items to these categories all the time that had no legitimate right to be called either ‘antique’ or ‘collectable.’ Ebay cracked down — and a lot of people complained at first — but they established a relatively self-regulating reporting system where people could complain about listings that were not legitimately antique or collectable. These items were immediately ‘moved’ out of these prestige areas. Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Smashwords.com all need to move to a similar system. I believe all these providers need to step up and become legitimate publishers in the sense of arbitrating the quality of their product or, at a minimum, differentiating for the public between legitimate authorship and b-spammer frankenjacked texts. New publishers on these providers should have their royalties withheld for a period of time while the legitimacy of their texts is evaluated by the readers themselves — who should be able to mark works both of questionable quality and dubious ownership. Publishers should be vetted more than they are at least so that the public can know whether a book is by someone who had demonstrated legitimate authorship as opposed to a b-spammer. My wife suggests that all books which are self-published be at least required to provide a Library of Congress Catalog number … easily obtained by legitimate authors. Frankenjacked books — when discovered for the lifeless zombies that they are — should at the very least be consigned to the ebook equivalent of purgatory, far from the front sales pages of Amazon.com and never presented as being legitimate. Frankenjacked books represent a real danger to the newborn ebook industry — trying to choke the life out of legitimate publications by quick, let’s make a buck theft. Such monstrosities need to be sent to the regions of the internet that most resemble hell.

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