More than a few bestsellers have been written by computer—in the opinion of more than a few literary critics.

A joke, yes. But what if computers could really do a good part of the writing?

In fact, tomorrow’s New York Times tells of an entrepreneur named Philip M. Parker who, with cyber help, has authored, er, spewed out, 200,000 books on topics ranging from acne rosacea to a guide to a certain niche within the rug market in India.

No lit threat—yet

Future F. Scott Fitzgeralds needn’t fear—yet, anyway—since “My goal isn’t to have the computer write sentences, but to do the repetitive tasks that are too costly to do otherwise.” But issues arise anyway, and not just because Parker has his eye on algorithm-generated romances and notes, “There are only so many body parts.” Will robo- or semi-robo-written books crowd out old-fashioned research works? Clutter up Amazon searches? Yes, Parker may be the ultimate POD champ on Amazon, with help from 60-70 computers and around half a dozen researchers. This human-machine team strives to replicate the logic behind research processes and the actual writing, sort of, and lengths often reach 150 pages, with prices all the way up to $495 (for the rug book) and, for all I know, even more.

The right medium?

Perhaps the biggest issue, when it comes to Parker’s fact-based books, is whether this is the right medium. One reviewer dissected the rosacea guide and observed: “The book is more of a template for ‘generic health researching’ than anything specific to rosacea. The information is of such a generic level that a sourcebook on the next medical topic is just a search and replace away.” And that’s the point here. Could Parker really be offering repackaged Google searches, or the equivalents, rather than real books?

Actually Parker is providing a rather useful service for those who understand the limits of his “books.” I just hope that the “Make Money Fast” crowd doesn’t catch on too quickly to the possibilities here and come up with yet another product category to push through e-mail and blog comment spams. As for Amazon, I wouldn’t mind a filter to separate Parker-style books from the purely human-done variety. Meanwhile perhaps Parker and his machine-aided crew can go on to write a coping guide to for victims of technology.

The Kindle angle: Will Amazon eventually include at least some Parker-style books to inflate the the number of Kindle books listed? Might a little of this already be happening? I don’t know, one way or another. I’m just curious. At least some of the books, according to the Times, are “delivered electronically.” You never know. Still, when I tried the Times-mentioned titles on the Kindle store search engine, none showed up within the store itself. Let’s just keep an eye on this in the future.

Related: A YouTube video where Parker uses a sample book—a projection of the demand for psychotic drugs—to explain the robo-book creation process. Also see TechMeme roundup.


  1. This exact topic was the plot of a SciFi story. The story was entitled “This One’s For You, Henry James”. The story was actually quite good. I won’t spoil the ending, but Mr. Parker may want to be careful :-)

    Last year, I downloaded it for free from Fictionwise. Every year, they provide the current Nebula Award nominees for download. I don’t know if that story is still available on Fictionwise or not. There is a new crop of Nebula nominees for download, now.

  2. I just read that NY Times article. It convinces me that I should never buy a book from Icon Group International. David, your use of the term “spam” is appropriate. This guy is just pumping out huge quantities of generic drivel and hoping that enough people will be either foolish enough or unaware enough to buy an occasional copy. Just like a spammer–put out enough junk and someone’s bound to fall for it and part with their cash.

  3. Joseph’s last comment is right on this money. If POD publishers don’t crack down on this hard it’s going to kill the market.

    How about this as a service – want to have your name on a book cover but don’t want to get bogged down in actual writing? Let this guy run you off a “unique” book and slap your name on the front. With a generic dustjacket it could be done for maybe 1 or 2 hundred bucks.

  4. Only so many body parts to make a romance. Only so many rooms in the mansion to make a murder in. Only so many planets to have a SF story. He’s onto something.

    Seriously, though, I can only think the romance comment is designed to gain attention to him. Romance authors tend to be more than a little protective of their genre and mass like piranna when they think it’s under attack.

    Rob Preece

  5. Some of the techniques used in the video reminded me of my statistics class and how strictly they were teaching us about how to describe data. I made a comment out of repressed creativity frustration that they should just have the stats programs write up all the graph and chart descriptions, seeing as how there was virtually no room for me to do anything original with them. Seeing this makes me regret that comment. I could see this easily being adapted to writing essays for students with money, and that’s depressing.

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