There are a couple of disturbing developments in the book world today. Despite all the upside that the burgeoning print-on-demand publishing business has brought to those who enjoy books, and to those who otherwise would not be able to write them, there comes along with it a bit of a seedy element that can cost you money if you fall prey.
The first is the “information harvester” publication, which is often no more than an electronically-produced compilation of info taken from public domain sources (most notably, Wikipedia). Wikipedia has no real rights of control over the information it distributes, so it is not illegal for the data to be reproduced, even for profit, by anyone who wishes to do so, as long as the source (Wikipedia) is credited somewhere in the publication. The resulting “book” is usually nothing more than what shows up in an automated “mining” operation performed on the pages of Wikipedia, wherein every reference mentioning the word “aikido”, for example, is pulled out and compiled in book form, usually unedited, and certainly produced by people who don’t know diddly about aikido. Not only that, but the source of any quotation is usually listed by name as an author, even if they’ve never written anything in their life! Not only that, but Wikipedia is user edited, so the information there may not even be correct. The result is often a book which you will usually pay too much for, that is a mass of disjointed, irrelevant, redundant, misquoted and basically useless information, sitting on your bookshelf gathering dust.
We have an example of such a book right here in our Bibliography (had to put it in there, because the book does exist). It is called, simply, “Aikido”, and is published offshore by Alphascript Publishing. The AJ listing is located at the following web address: (http://www.aikidojournal.com/bibliography_details?id=321). This same company also has a daito-ryu title created in the same way.
The second emerging type of book requiring “caveat emptor” is the “thesis mill”. Certain publishing companies send form letters out to graduating college students offering to publish their college papers in book form free of charge, in exchange for the rights to distribute and profit from the book. This is often done with little or no regard for the contents. The college kid often gets little in the way of compensation, beyond the ego boost of seeing his paper published with his byline, and maybe a small honorarium from the publisher on a per-copy basis. While there may indeed be some value to the contents of these books (and I’m not saying there isn’t), the buyer must remember that the material is entirely subjective, and almost certainly from someone they have never heard of before. And the cost can be considerable; the title I am going to cite from our Bibliography goes for a hefty $85US a copy, plus overseas shipping! That’s a lot of cheese for what may be a “pig-in-a-poke”. The pricing would lead one to believe that the publisher doesn’t expect to sell many copies, but they don’t really care, because their speculative costs are minuscule (no advance to the author, printed only to order, no advertising expense, fat return on any sale, etc.). The Bibliography listing that contains an example of this type of product is for “Aikido and Spirituality”, published by VDM Verlag (http://www.aikidojournal.com/bibliography_details?id=336).
Both the publishing companies listed above specialize in producing the type of product indicated here, and they are entirely within their rights to conduct their business as they see fit, but I think a better-informed consumer is the key to whether or not they are successful, and whether or not you end up feeling you have wasted your money needlessly, so watch out for more of this type of thing, and try to know what you’re buying…