We live in a digital age where publishing costs have been driven down by tremendous technological advancements such as print-on-demand and an information saturated Internet where anyone who is computer literate can research, write and publish their autobiographies or fiction and non-fiction books.
In one respect this is a great thing, but in another respect it allows for easy plagiarism, third party sourcing of Internet based information and clever marketing via long and short editions of the same title and release of the same book with slightly different titles and/or book covers, to an unwary buying public.
The mega multi-national corporation Amazon which started its journey as an online book store now sells just about every product imaginable, from books, digital entertainment and clothing to groceries, automobile parts and industrial items. At the same it has expanded its corporate claws from the US to Europe and "downunder" to Australia.
One of Amazon’s subsidiary businesses is CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, a self-publishing outlet for anyone and everyone to get their words into print and in front of a global audience.
A worrying trend in the past year or so is the increasing number of books about Elvis which originate through the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform which give the impression that they are something new when in fact they rely on, and repeat word-for-word, a set of previously researched text (probably sourced from the Internet – all in all very similar in concept to Amazon’s series of ‘Internet based’ books by Charles River Editors).
A prime example of this practice is the following set of softcover releases (at least 34 Elvis related titles had been released as of late November 2017 – all titles below are as promoted in the Amazon and Amazon UK listings rather than what actually appears on the book covers):
- Elvis Aaron Presley 40th Anniversary (short edition) (Arthur Miller) (40 pages)
- Elvis Aaron Presley 40th Anniversary (long edition) (Arthur Miller) (72pp)
- Elvis Presley 40 Years On (Christian Boniman) (32pp)
- Ali & Elvis The King & The Greatest! (Joe Foreman) (138pp)
- The King & The Greatest! Elvis Presley & Ali! (Joe Forman) (70pp)
- The King & The Greatest! Elvis Presley & Ali! (Joe Forman) (40pp) – actually features only the Elvis portion of the book!
- Elvis with the Beatles (long edition) (S. Moore) (130pp)
- Elvis with the Beatles (short edition) (S. Moore) (68pp)
- Elvis, the Beatles & the Rolling Stones!: The King with the Fab Four & The Stones! (S. King) (94pp)
- Roy Orbison & Elvis Presley! (Arthur Miller) (70pp)
- Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison & Johnny Cash! Sun Records Stars of ’55! (S. King) (94pp)
- Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley!: The Man in Black & The King! (Arthur Miller) (62 pp)
- Elvis Presley Chuck Berry: American Rock Legends (S. King) (80 pages)
- Fats Domino & Elvis Presley! Have Left The Building (Diane Paterson) (62pp)
- Fats Domino & Elvis Presley! Have Left The Building: Elvis & Friends (Demi-Leigh Paterson) (62pp)
- Little Richard & Elvis Presley! 70th Anniversary ed. (S. King) (62pp)
- Elvis Presley & Frank Sinatra! (S. King) (110pp)
- Humphrey Bogart & Elvis Presley!: Here’s Looking at You Kid! (Arthur Miller) 64pp)
- Humphrey Bogart Elvis Presley & Marilyn Munroe!: The Incredible Threesome! (notice the incorrect spelling of ‘Monroe’ which was repeated in other titles) (Joe Foreman) (106pp)
- Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Elvis Presley & Marilyn Munroe! Only The Good Die Young (Arthur Miller) (96pp)
- Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor & Marilyn Munroe!: The Untold Story of an Incredible Threesome! (R. Burton) (92pp)
- Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, James Dean & Marilyn Monroe: American Legends (Arthur Miller) (152pp) – spelling of ‘Monroe’ corrected by this release
- Elvis Presley, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn: & Steve McQueen! (S. King) (180pp)
- Elvis, James Dean & Marlon Brando: Rebels Without A Cause (S. King) (108pp)
- Marilyn & Elvis the Untold Story! (Arthur Miller) (80pp)
- Marilyn & Elvis!: The Untold Story! (Joe Forman) (80pp)
- Elvis Presley & Sophia Loren! (S. Moore) (84pp)
- Elvis Presley & Audrey Hepburn!: The King of Rock & the Queen of the Silver Screen! (S. King) (60 pages)
- Elvis Presley & Elton John! (Arthur Miller) (64pp)
- Elvis Presley & Michael Jackson! (S. King) (82pp)
- Elvis Presley & Bob Dylan! (S. King) (82pp)
- Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash & Michael Jackson! American Music Legends (S. King) (118pp)
- Glen Campbell & Elvis Presley!: The King & the Rhinestone Cowboy! (S. King) (66pp)
- Elvis Presley, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn: & Steve McQueen! (S. King) (180pp)
The attractiveness of the releases is heightened by combining a number of celebrities in the one book. And as most of the titles are relatively cheap to buy, this makes them an even more attractive proposition for many buyers.
Prices range from US$8.99 (32 page books) to $27.95 (Elvis with the Beatles – long edition). On Amazon UK the prices range from around 4 to 14 pounds.
Minimalist narrative identical in each book
The first thing to note about these releases is that despite any implication in their titles, the narrative on each person is generally independent of the narrative about the other person (despite the Elvis-Ali and Elvis-Beatles releases having an opportunity for cross-over information; for example the August 1965 meeting of Elvis and The Beatles is not included).
The Elvis-Fats Domino and Elvis-Sinatra releases at least include photos of the two stars together. The Elvis-Sinatra release only includes a brief one paragraph account of the 1960 Welcome Home Elvis TV special.
The second thing to note is that the text for each celebrity is either exactly the same in each book or a shortened version of the longer text.
For example, these two paras introduce the Elvis section in all of the books:
Elvis Aaron Presley born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8th, 1935, son of Gladys Love (nee Smith; 1912-1958) and Vernon Elvis Presley (1916-1979). He was one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, often being referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King”.
Presley moved to Memphis, Tennessee with his family when he was 13 years old, where his career began in 1954, when he recorded a song with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was one of the first stars of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues.
In addition, the Elvis element of the books often includes a poorly formatted listing of his number one albums and singles including chart positions for the US, US Country and UK charts plus a filmography. Several of the titles have only 32 pages and the Chris Boniman release very strangely ends abruptly with a discussion of Elvis’ eating habits (“Elvis sandwich”). The cynic in me suggests the publisher wanted 32 pages of text and they cut exactly that amount from the longer Elvis narrative.
In the case of Ms Paterson's account of Fats Domino there is only a very brief six pages of biographical narrative (padded out with just under 10 pages of Discography and very poorly formatted Chart Placings information).
The text font size varies between releases and can be very small (e.g. Elvis Presley 40 Years On).
While the narrative for each book has genuine passages of interest its minimalist and piecemeal nature means it is often superficial, stilted and precludes a full and proper account of its subject. There is little coverage of formative years or exploration of key themes influencing any of the celebrities.
What about photographs?
A number of the releases include a series of routine and undistinguished b&w photographs printed on routine paper stock. Noticeable exceptions are Elvis Aaron Presley 40th Anniversary (long edition) and Elvis with the Beatles! (long edition) which both feature b&w and color photos printed on higher quality paper stock – the Elvis Aaron Presley 40th Anniversary release includes numerous images of childhood Elvis.
The book cover images range from the prosaic to the cheap and gaudy.
While Amazon listings state the number of pages in each book none of the releases is actually paginated - Elvis Aaron Presley 40th Anniversary (long edition) and Marilyn & Elvis the Untold Story! being exceptions.
Who is writing the books?
The listings on Amazon and Amazon UK state different author names for specific titles - despite the text being identical in all books! The books themselves do not include author names on the cover or inside.
So, are the books all by one enterprising author or an initiative by Amazon?
Author names include:
- S. King
- Arthur Miller
- S. Moore
- Joe Forman/Foreman
- Diane or Demi-Leigh Paterson
- Chris Boniman
- R. Burton
A major clue may be Marilyn & Elvis the Untold Story! and Marilyn & Elvis!: The Untold Story! which are listed as being written by different authors (yet contain identical text and the same 80 pages, albeit with different front covers). They are also being sold at significantly different prices - the Miller authored edition is US$8.99 while the Forman edition is US$19.99 (see Amazon links at top of page).
It may just be my suspicious mind but another clue is that it is not difficult to suggest someone was being playful in using the following author names: S. King; S. Moore; Joe Foreman and R. Burton (think about the subject matter of their books).
The publisher was seemingly conflicted with the two Elvis-Fats Domino releases. The author is listed as Diane Paterson for one book and Demi-Leigh Paterson for the other. The two releases have a slightly different title and different covers but identical text and internal images.
Other issues with the books - low quality control
As for The King & The Greatest! Elvis Presley & Ali! (40 page edition) the text is all Elvis – Ali is nowhere to be found except on the cover!
The common text across all books suggests that one author or an in-house researcher has compiled the narrative and the use of various (actually non-existent) author names is simply an advertising device. Nor has much imagination been shown in the book titles with “untold story” (EIN is still trying to work out what was untold) and “incredible threesome” being used on several occasions.
Also, the titles as listed on Amazon and Amazon UK often differ from the title stated on the book cover. For example, Amazon lists this title Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, James Dean & Marilyn Monroe!: American Legends, while the actual book cover states only Marlon Brando Elvis Presley James Dean Marilyn Monroe. The tag part of other titles is usually missing (e.g. The King with the Fab Four & The Stones! and The King & the Rhinestone Cowboy!) on the actual book cover.
The books do not include any Front Matter or inside Title pages.
For the unsuspecting buyer it is not readily apparent that if you purchase a number of the books you will only be getting the same minimalist Elvis biography in each one. Perhaps not surprisingly, releases featuring three or four celebrities don’t offer a substantively increased reading experience (for example, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, James Dean & Marilyn Monroe!: American Legends – despite a great but cheaply done cover image, totals only 152 pages!)
The final thing to note that all book titles include one or more exclamation marks.
Amazon is publishing other similar biographical books coupling different celebrities (but not including Elvis - for example, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, Roger Moore and Elizabeth Taylor and Taylor Swift & Dolly Parton!). There is unlimited potential with this strategy as long as there are people willing to buy. Amazon even has one book listed as Roy Orbison “The Greatest Singer” (Elvis Presley). With the cover title stating only Roy Orbison and the book only running to 32 pages, EIN suspects there will be little or no Elvis content.
Are any titles worth buying?
The answer to this depends on what the buyer is looking for. If you are interested in generally superficial, minimalist back stories of Elvis and/or other celebrities a few of the releases (those with some sort of, albeit suspect "value add", namely higher quality images), may be worth considering.
The titles with the greatest merit are:
Just as RCA/BMG/Sony have exploited the Elvis legacy by countless reissues of his greatest hits and love songs packages, this series from CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform/Amazon is now doing a similar thing with Elvis in print.
These books with their clever marketing are a cheap means of misleading and ripping off buyers! For those intrigued or interested in buying these releases EIN strongly suggests it is a clear case of caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”)! - exclamation mark intended
The coupling of Elvis with other celebrities in biographical book form is a neat and simple one and inexpensive to implement. For these reasons it is likely there are many more slimline releases to come - stars such as David Bowie, the Monkees, Buddy Holly, Cliff Richard and Neil Diamond spring readily to mind - we are sure you can think of countless others.
Comment on this article