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.