The Most Prolific Author in the World

atkins-bookshelf-booksLegendary science fiction author Isaac Asimov published more than 506 works during his lifetime; British romance novelist Barbara Cartland published an even more impressive 722 novels in her career. She also set the record for most novels written in a year: 23. But those numbers pale in comparison to the world’s most prolific author, Philip M. Parker who has written a truly astonishing 200,000 books! So why haven’t we heard of Parker? Certainly he hasn’t made the rounds on the talk show circuit, nor has he been profiled in any of the major literary magazines.

The main reason that Parker keeps such a low profile as an author is that he really isn’t an author — he is more like an editor, or to be more specific, a compiler of data. Parker is the chaired professor of management sciences at Insead, a business school with campuses located in France and Singapore. His contribution to the world of publishing is the development of a powerful computer algorithm that searches and collects information on the internet that is in the public domain, formats the data, and quickly creates an ebook or print-on-demand book. Working with a team of six to seven programmers utilizing 60-70 computers, Parker is able to create a book within 13 minutes that would take a team of researchers several months to complete. Interestingly, Parker does not go for low-hanging fruit — he pursues rather esoteric or obscure topics. Type his name in Amazon’s search field and you get a very long list of books with soporific titles like: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients, and Genome Researchers (for $28.95), and The 2007 Import and Export Market for Stripped and Stemmed Tobacco in Spain (for $629.86). Needless to say, none of Parker’s books have ever made any of the established best-seller lists.

In an interview with the New York Times, Parker compares himself to Henry Ford, who automated car manufacturing. Parker elaborates on his book publishing system: “[Our team deconstructed] the process of getting books into people’s hands; every single step we could think of, we automated. My goal isn’t to have the computer write sentences, but to do the repetitive tasks that are too costly to do otherwise… Using a little bit of artificial intelligence, a computer program has been created that mimics the thought process of someone who would be responsible for doing such a study [of a particular subject].” Ford would be very impressed with Parker’s efficiency — each book costs Parker about 12 cents in electricity (and zero cents in creativity).

Parker and his team have also published thousands of crossword puzzles written in many languages, as well as scripts for computer animated game shows, and acrostic poems. Next on the horizon for Parker is creating romance novels: “I’ve already set it up,” he announces proudly. “There are only so many body parts.” Is the world ready for a monumental book series titled, 10,000 Gradations of Gray?

Read related posts: The Most Expensive Book in the World
How Many People Read Books?
The Benefits of Reading
Daily Rituals of Writers: Isaac Asimov

For further reading:

3 thoughts on “The Most Prolific Author in the World

  1. Fascinating – I had no idea about Parker. But it’s also quite worrying! I agree with Mandy: computers can collate data but it takes humans to create it and find what’s truly meaningful and interesting in it. Good to know about this, though. Thanks for writing about this, Alex: it’s a real eye-opener.

    • Yes, technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to publishing. The rise of self-publishing has redefined what constitutes a book. Caveat emptor is the buyer’s key defense.

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