Friday, March 23, 2012

"Is automated publishing the future?" (Meet the man who's authored 1,050,000 books)

From American Public Media's Marketplace:
Kai Ryssdal: Reading just ain't what it used to be. Not only is there just soooooo much more out there to read -- online, in particular -- but also on your iPad or e-reader. Buying real books with actual pages is becoming a thing of the past. Bookstores are disappearing too. And now, in perhaps the most futuristic development, authors themselves may be on the way out.
From San Diego, Caitlan Carroll reports.

Caitlan Carroll: You'd think if someone published 1,050,000 books, you'd know his name.
Phil Parker: Hi my name is Phil Parker. I am a professor at INSEAD, and I am involved in automated publishing.
If Philip Parker doesn't ring a bell, don't worry. The business professor publishes books on esoteric topics. How esoteric? Here's the title of one book: "The 2007 to 2012 Outlook for Consumer Non-Riding Dual-Stage Snow Throwers and Snow Blowers Excluding Attachment Type in India."
Parker: OK, I'll give you a little tour here.
We're at Parker's business -- ICON publishing in San Diego. It's basically two rooms with a bunch of computers and about a dozen computer programmers. ICON specializes in trade reports, language learning materials, and medical guides -- all on very niche topics.
Parker: There might be only 10 people in the entire world who would care about one particular report or topic, but because our incremental costs of producing a title or report is so low, we might as well serve that segment of the market.
Parker's production costs are only 23 cents per book because they're made by computers.
Algorithms search through incredible amounts of data from published research and government reports. That info is then plugged into a book format. It's kind of like a very high tech form of Mad Libs. Parker came up with the idea in the '90s when he was writing economic reports.
Parker: A lot of people in corporate America spend a lot of time writing reports that kind of look like the report last year. Basically, they're doing the same thing over and over again.
He thought a computer could do it just as easily. Now Parker sells his trade reports for between $400-700. But he's also created works of fiction, even poetry. But the problem is books made by computers aren't always so people friendly. A review on Amazon says one of Parker's medical guides "had a jumpy and pasted together feeling" and that most of the information seemed really generic....MORE
HT: Improbable Research (Parker surges with the authorship lead: 1,050,000 and rising) who introduced us to Professor Parker back in 2008:

How to Write 85,000 Books
A literary-technical tour de force, and the man behind it
by Marc Abrahams, Improbable Research staff

Philip M. Parker is the world’s fastest book author, and given that he has been at it only for about five years and already has more than 85,000 books to his name, he is likely the most prolific.

Philip M. Parker is also the most wide-ranging of authors. The phrase “shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings” is not the half a percent of it. He has authored some 188 books related to shoes, ten about ships, 219 books about wax, six about sour red cabbage pickles, and six about royal jelly supplements.

To begin somewhere, let’s note that Philip M. Parker is the author of the book The 2007-2012 Outlook for Bathroom Toilet Brushes and Holders in the United States. This book is 677 pages long, sells for $495 and is described by the publisher as a “study [that] covers the latent demand outlook for bathroom toilet brushes and holders across the states and cities of the United States.”

Philip M. Parker titles include the following (this is a hastily chosen few, so they are probably not his most colorful):
The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Rotary Pumps with Designed Pressure of 100 P.s.i. or Less and Designed Capacity of 10 G.p.m. or Less
Avocados: A Medical Dictionary, Bibliography, and Annotated Research Guide
Webster’s English to Romanian Crossword Puzzles: Level 2
The 2007-2012 Outlook for Golf Bags in India