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
The 2007-2012 Outlook for Chinese Prawn Crackers in Japan
The 2002 Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Cataract Surgery
The 2007 Report on Wood Toilet Seats: World Market Segmentation by City
The 2007-2012 Outlook for Frozen Asparagus in India
Professor Philip M. Parker, author of more than 300,000 books. Photo courtesy of INSEAD.
Philip M. Parker is the INSEAD Chair Professor of Management Science at INSEAD, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France.
Professor Parker is no dilettante. When he turns to a new subject, he seizes and shakes it till several books, or several hundred, emerge. About the outlook for bathroom toilet brushes and holders, Professor Parker has authored at least six books. There is his The 2007-2012 Outlook for Bathroom Toilet Brushes and Holders in Japan, and also The 2007-2012 Outlook for Bathroom Toilet Brushes and Holders in Greater China, and also The 2007-2012 Outlook for Bathroom Toilet Brushes and Holders in India, and also The 2007 Report on Bathroom Toilet Brushes and Holders: World Market Segmentation by City.
Amazon.com offers (on the day I am writing this) 85,761 books authored by Philip M. Parker. Professor Parker himself says the total is well over 200,000.
How is this all possible? How does one man do so much?
Professor Parker created the secret to his own success. He invented a machine that writes books. He says it takes about twenty minutes to write one.
There arises the question, “Why?” The patent (U.S. #7266767), which describes a “method and apparatus for automated authoring and marketing” and which Professor Parker wrote in the traditional, pre-Parker, non-computerized way, answers this question.
The answer appears on page 16. Professor Parker quotes a 1999 complaint by the magazine The Economist that publishing “has continued essentially unchanged since Gutenberg. Letters are still written, books bound, newspapers mostly printed and distributed much as they ever were.”
“Therefore,” says Professor Parker in this patent document, “there is a need for a method and apparatus for authoring, marketing and/or distributing title materials automatically by a computer.” He explains that “Further, there is a need for an automated system that eliminates or substantially reduces the costs associated with human labor, such as authors, editors, graphic artists, data analysts, translators, distributors, and marketing personnel.”
We asked Professor Parker how he manages this Herculean output. He replied:
I started back in 1992 with the idea. Had a lot of failures, then succeeded in 2000 when I filed the patent. I have amassed huge linguistics databases (I am an avid dictionary collector, since I was 18), and have a background in mathematics, and computer programming, so I have approached this from a management science perspective. Everything is organized by genre, and within genre by topic, and within topic by sub-topic, etc., for all languages. It is a matter of organization.
The book-writing machine works simply, at least in principle. First, one feeds it a recipe for writing a particular genre of book — a tome about crossword puzzles, say, or a market outlook for products, or maybe a patient’s guide to medical maladies. Then one hooks the computer up to a big database full of info about crossword puzzles or market information or maladies. The computer uses the recipe to select data from the database and write and format it into book form.
Professor Parker estimates that it costs him about 23 cents to write a new book, with perhaps not much difference in quality from what a competent wordsmith or an MBA or a physician might produce.
Nothing but the title need actually exist until somebody orders a copy, typically via an online automated bookseller. At that point, a computer assembles the book’s content and prints up a single copy.
Professor Parker’s patent document includes this schematic overview of the automatic authoring process.
Among Professor Parker’s best-selling books (as ranked by Amazon.co.uk) one finds surprises.
His fifth-best seller is Webster’s Albanian to English Crossword Puzzles: Level 1.
No. 6: The 2007 Import and Export Market for Ferrous Metal Waste and Scrap Excluding Waste and Scrap of Cast Iron and Alloy Steel in United Kingdom.
No. 21: The 2007 Import and Export Market for Seaweeds and Other Algae in France.
No. 25: Oculocutaneous Albinism—A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients, and Genome Researchers.
No. 44: The 2007 Import and Export Market for Fresh or Chilled Whole Fish in Lithuania.
The 2007-2012 Outlook for Chinese Prawn Crackers in Japan, mentioned above, is Professor Parker’s 66th-best seller.
This graphic overview shows
In the 93rd spot comes The 2007 Report on Cat Food: World Market Segmentation by City.
Rounding out the list, at number 100, is The 2007-2012 Outlook for Edible Tallow and Stearin Made in Slaughtering Plants in Greater China.
Professor Parker is also enthusiastic about books authored the old-fashioned way. He has already written three of them.
The books are in a way just the beginning. Professor Parker also plans to use the same method to produce video programs—thousands upon thousands of them—and video games. He tells us:
If I am lucky, this will allow the creation of content (educational material, books, software, etc.) for languages (or for subject areas) that simply do not have enough speakers, or economies that can support traditional publishing or content creation. For example, in health care, some diseases have fewer than 1,000 people who get the disease worldwide per year. Of those, only 1 or 2 might want a reference book. Using this method, the break even for a book is 1 copy, with no inventory cost (all books are either printed on demand, or distributed via ebook). Some languages have only 100,000 speakers, so no “Hollywood” producer would envisage creating programming to such a narrow audience, etc. This approach allows for this level of production (I am starting with an educational game show, and 3D personal computer games).
This flowchart, part of the patent document, discloses
For More Parker
For a vivid introduction to Professor Parker and some of his works, see the video he has put online.
For a few more of Professor Parker’s memorable books, see the article “May We Recommend: Parker Titles,” elsewhere in this issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. Also elsewhere in this issue is “Dr. Parker’s Latent Library and the Death of the Author,” a discussion of the philosophical implications of Professor Parker’s accomplishments.
(Thanks to Peter Carboni for bringing the first toilet brush outlook book to our attention, and to Chris McManus for alerting us to the several hundred medical books.)
_____________________The article above is from the March/April 2008 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!
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