Unless you're plugged into certain corners of fandom, you may not be aware of the "mockbuster"--straight-to-video movies that exist just to trick people into seeing a ripoff of a vastly more popular film with a similar name. A lot of these turn up on SyFy on Saturday nights and are largely the domain of one studio, The Asylum.
Vaguely aware of some movie about reptiles on some mode of transportation but not 100% sure what the title is? You may wind up with Snakes on a Train instead of Snakes on a Plane (though I'm not sure how much worse off you'd be, come to think of it). Your local video store out of the Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes? Well, wouldn't you be just as happy as the knockoff version where Sherlock battles a dinosaur? (Hey, that could even be better!)
But until I was alerted by concerned reader Prof. Longnose, I was unaware of the book mockbuster:
Until recently, if you had typed "Steve Jobs Isaac" into the online retailer's search box, the first choice that popped up wasn't the best-selling book by Walter Isaacson, but instead one with the same name and a similarly sounding author, Isaac Worthington. The book appears to be selling, even though Amazon's one reviewer gives the book a single star and calls it a "poorly produced pamphlet." Presumably, Worthington's book is based on exclusive interviews with Jeve Stobs.
Not only are Amazon's customers being plagued with sound-alike titles, but it's happening with Amazon's help:
It's perhaps more shocking that Amazon not only sells the books, it's also helping their authors create them. All of the apparent copycat books that Fortune found on Amazon were made through CreateSpace, which is a division of Amazon. Authors can use CreateSpace's system to design and self-publish their own books. The books then go on sale on Amazon and other sites. Amazon splits the proceeds with authors.
Yes, it's possible to make money doing this:
Karen Peebles, who is the author of I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, says she has self-published around 10,000 books though CreateSpace, not all of which are in her own name. "I am a single mother who home schools her children," says Peebles, who says she sells "thousands and thousands" of books a month. "Self-publishing is a great way for me to make income. I receive a pretty nice royalty every month."
You read that correctly: 10,000 books. (That's slightly more than Isaac Asimov published in his lifetime.) I decided to check out Ms. Peebles' output to see how satisfied her customers are. Turns out: Aside from one book, which got three good reviews, not so much.
From a review of Beyond the Other Side of Suicide:
I had purchased by the same author the book called "The bridge that Spans are World" [sic] and found out it was the same book as this book with another title. I have returned that kindle edition.
I figured, oh, she rereleased it after some some time had passed, perhaps with an update? Nope. The two editions appear to be the same and were published about a week apart.
From a review of Total Facial Exercise and Conditioning - a 9 Week Course in Beauty:
I advise you not to waste your money. This purported "book" (read pamphlet) is excruciatingly repetitive: how many times does the reader need to read that "This is a complete 9 step program and you will gain the most benefit by doing the exercises in sequence"? It's extremely poorly formatted: there are no illustrations of any of the exercises, and, as an added bonus, it's outrageously priced. This cut and paste job looked like it had been put together without any thought for how it would appear on a page. It was not at all what I expected. If I could return a Kindle "book", I would certainly return this one.
The feedback on I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems especially pissed off:
No matter how much you polish this work you are still going to be left with garbage that an unmotivated 2nd grader might turn out in a hurry so they could catch the new Spongebob Squarepants.
My favorite comment, though, is:
Perhaps I'll enjoy the author's next book, "I am the Girl who Played With Fire."
A Kindle edition of Ms. Peebles' Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 52 Methods of Russian Torture: In The Gulag Archipelago sells for $2.99. A used copy of a print edition: $999.99.
This reader, who gave it one star, wasn't so keen on it:
I bought this book expecting a scholarly analysis of soviet prisoner abuse - it is instead a small list with a rudimentary and oddly emotional description for each item. It is in NO WAY a scholarly work and should be priced much lower. Each torture is named without citation and briefly described. This review has more substance than this "book". Amazon should be ashamed for selling this at this price.
On the other hand, another reader gave it five stars, commenting:
Karen Peebles suggests that upon closer examination of Solzenitsin's work(s) there are not only 52 torture methods but suggests that there are as many as 200 methods. The Patriot Act was not designed to prevent Al-Qaida terrorism, but to prevent an American insurgency against the implementation of the genocidal New World Order (see the content of the Copenhagen Summit 2009 - that leaves only 1.5 billion of the current 7 billion world population.)
I guess there's an audience for everything.
PS: Other titles by Ms. Peebles include:
--Butchering Chickens on Your Own Farm
--How the Black Enslaved Himself and How the Civil War Set Him Free (Editor's note: !!!)
--Facial Exercise #5 Advanced Eye Toning (Don't attempt this without first mastering Basic Eye Toning. You've been warned.)
--Chicken Farming in Your Backyard for Food, Eggs and Profits
--How to Tattoo With Ink & Needles
--How to Cut Up a Chicken in Two Minutes (Sensing a theme?)
--Training and Experimenting with Tarantulas (Positive reader comment: "The simple experiments she attempted over the years may seem a little cruel to some, but to keepers and enthusiasts the world over, this information opens up a whole new avenue for experimenting with Tarantulas")
--Scientific Link Between Tick Bites and Allergy to Beef
--O Little Bright Soul Adolf Hitler (Editor's note: GAH!!! Description: "Two souls meet in the heavenly realm and make a promise to recognize one another while on planet Earth. Each becomes the facilitator of the other's longing. Yet it is the recognition of each other while in the physical world that proves to be the most difficult part of the journey. This awesome book will change everything you have ever thought about life, death, and our stop at each along our journey.")
--Tarantula Fighting (Editor's note: ugh)
--The Naked Alaskan Bird Watcher (Sadly, I couldn't find any books on frostbite)
--Pendulum Swinging for Beginners
--Swinging for Beginners (Co-written with "The Love Tutor," so I'm assuming pendulums were not involved)
--Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About the Pet Rock
-- and The Complete New Testament. Yes, really. And it's "out of stock."
UPDATE: She isn't credited, but I suspect Ms. Peebles is behind Everybody Poops, a ripoff of Taro Gomi's Everyone Poops. Read the reviews from customers. They are not a happy bunch. (Well, that was a crappy thing to do.)
I've reported this one to Amazon--we'll see if it does the right thing and takes this down. It's out of print, but has no business even being listed.