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Attack of the robo-authors

Philip M. Parker is the (computer-aided) author of more than 200,000 books. And, thanks to the wonders of print-on-demand, he has yet to lose money on a single one. His work represents the tip of a very long tail.

From the New York Times:

Among the books published under his name are The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea ($24.95 and 168 pages long); Stickler Syndrome: A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients and Genome Researchers ($28.95 for 126 pages); and The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India ($495 for 144 pages).

But these are not conventional books, and it is perhaps more accurate to call Mr. Parker a compiler than an author. Mr. Parker, who is also the chaired professor of management science at Insead (a business school with campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore), has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject ” broad or obscure ” and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.

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.

All we need now is a machine that reads for us, and we’ll finally be free of the oppressive shackles of literate culture.