Printing The Internet And Selling It

The "most published author in the history of the planet" doesn't write much of anything. Philip Parker has "authored" more than 200,000 books, on topics that would seem to be of little interest to the average person. He's done it by developing computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on the Web, and then compiles the information and uses print on demand to produce a copy for an interested reader - and makes money even if only one person buys it. If you're interested in "The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India," you can grab a copy for $495.

If this sounds like cheating to the layman’s ear, it does not to Mr. Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.

And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

Perusing a work like the outlook for bathmat sales in India, a reader would be hard pressed to find an actual sentence that was “written” by the computer. If you were to open a book, you would find a title page, a detailed table of contents, and many, many pages of graphics with introductory boilerplate that is adjusted for the content and genre.

The Internet is great research assistant, isn't it? I suppose I wouldn't mind if Parker's  machines wrote romance novels. After all, they're being written by machines for eating chocolate and buying shoes right now.

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