Monday, November 4, 2013

Bestsellers are not always what they seem.

Americans spend $6 billion a year on books. And this industry goes largely unregulated by the government. There is no Agency like the FDA or the FCC to test books for adherence to  purity or national standards in publishing.

But using a method called DNA encoding, Canadian researchers have uncovered literary fraud in one-third of the New York Times bestsellers for fiction.

Consumer advocates say that the public has fallen victim to questionable and even unsafe practices whereby popular novels are nothing more than filler and falsified ingredients. Of the 44 novels tested, many showed outright substitution from materials created from the minds of others and not of the stated author whose name is printed on the cover.

Using a test called DNA barcoding, a kind of genetic fingerprinting that has also been used to help uncover labeling fraud in the commercial seafood industry, researchers tested popular novels from over a dozen large publishers.

For example, of one unnamed novel sampled, a current legal thriller on multiple bestseller lists, was not written by the well-known author, but actually penned by Tito Wagner, a much lesser-known thriller author who makes his home in Switzerland. The novel bares no resemblance to the claimed author's work other than for locations set in Mississippi. But the DNA testing showed that often Swiss place names appeared in the work, such as the location of the story's courthouse as being listed in B├╝ttenhardt, Mississippi.

The test also showed that other sections of the novel contained almost no portion of the original story and others were only a sprinkling of source material diluted with Project Gutenberg content from a public domain title, mostly Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

An example:
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Jake said in an altered tone, "You know the reason Lettie proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don't," and Jake shook his head, as he thought regretfully of all the pretty things he wanted.

Sure it doesn't make much sense as a legal thriller, but so far no one has seemed to notice, heaping immeasurable praise upon this fraud.

Representatives of the publishing industry said that while mislabeling of novels was a legitimate concern, they did not believe it reached the extent suggested by the new research, stating, "Meg (from Little Women) is one hell of a character."

But because the latest findings are backed by DNA testing, they offer perhaps the most credible evidence to date of adulteration, contamination and mislabeling in the publishing industry. And given the explosive growth of ebooks, an area where demands for new books are continuing to rise, the need for fresh content has encouraged this unacceptable behavior. Critics say this blatant misuse of older texts to create new works is either being created from ignorance, incompetence or outright dishonesty.

All agree that more oversight is needed.


story idea ripped off from this NYT story about herbal supplements with some sections stolen outright and left unchanged. because it's funnier that way.

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