A couple weeks ago I visited a Barnes & Noble that was much larger (and farther away) than my local one. I visited the Writing/Reference section and was pleased to find a few books by The Self-Publishing Manual, 15th edition. It looked much nicer than the 8th edition sitting on my bookshelf. It was thicker too and contained much more Web-useful information (to be expected). I didn’t see anything so compelling that I needed to buy it. After all, most of my questions have been answered by this point and I’ve discovered that what questions I still need answered can’t be found in a book. But, a good resource all the same. (I also noticed that the meat of most of his chapters hadn’t changed much.)

Then I opened Writing Nonfiction. It wasn’t a thick book. I’d considered buying it several times over the past couple years but I never did. Mr. Poynter has made a very good living by writing nonfiction and that alone was enough to make me want to buy this particular book.

This was the first time I got to see the book in-hand, noticing that it was large-print in a large-sized format. As I flipped through the chapters, the words started looking very familiar. When I compared them to Chapter 2 of The Self-Publishing Manual, they looked totally familiar (Chapter 2 is “Writing Your Book”). Writing Nonfiction also has a few chapters dealing with the traditional and self- publishing industries, sort of a quick summary of what The Self-Publishing Manual covers.

My understanding is that marketers (at least what I’ve read online), exhort their clients to “repackage” information. I’m sure I’ve consumed repackaged information but this example was surprisingly blatant. My reaction was disgust and disappointment. For someone who’s been so successful, I would’ve thought he’d have more to say on the subject, something new. Being sold the same thing in two different formats feels a bit like a rip-off to me.

This happens all the time in article-writing but that doesn’t bother me. Not everyone reads the same magazines and the articles are paid for by the magazine, instead of directly by the consumer. I’ve seen evidence of re-worked articles in magazines, but I haven’t been aware of reading the exact same article. Book readers tend to buy multiple books from authors they like, which would lead a fan of Poynter’s to a disappointing surprise. (One pen-pal of mine bought a few of Poynter’s books at once, only to discover she really only needed to buy The Self-Publishing Manual. She isn’t a happy customer.)

These made me more aware of following marketers’ advice. How would my readers feel to discover I’d “repackaged” information? Probably like I did. Is that the reaction I want? No. (But I’m ethically fine with repackaging on my blog(s) because they’re free to read.) I’ve seen some companies sell information a chapter at a time (interesting concept) while also offering the whole book. To me, that’s ethical repackaging because it leaves the burden of choice on the consumer.

It probably sounds idealistic, but I won’t do that to my readers. I’m sure I’ll transfer the same ideas from place to place (and perhaps some favorite phrases), but I swear that I will not copy entire blocks of text from one book to another and sell both. (Article-writing is a somewhat different proposition). As with blogging, if I have nothing new to add, I won’t write it.

I am curious about what any business-people/marketers who are reading this blog have to say about the concept. I’m curious about any consumers who have had a similar experience with a purchase. Am I the only one who finds repackaging on the sly to be an underhanded way of parting me with my money?

3 thoughts on “repackaging information

  1. You’re not the only one. Years before the internet and easy research on books and authors, I bought a few non-fiction books that were very suspicious: ambitious or controversial subject, large font, no discernable style, little original content (but many, many quotations).
    I eventually realized that some authors were nothing but mercenaries hired by publishers to do quick and nasty jobs on hot topics (the industry phrase escapes me right now). Those books read like digests of previous works, so while they could fool the unsuspecting, the vacuity of the work was blatant to anyone familiar with the subject.

    Repackaging is another type of recycling, and I’ve been taken that way too on a few impulse buys. Only once you open the book do you realize that you’ve already read it, or most of it.

    I’m sure that publishing houses can defend the practice by saying that they’re just tailoring the product to various markets, but I think they’re being dishonest and trying to “maximize” their investment by selling it over and over.

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