NYT Confuses Authors, Computers, Insults Women

April 14th, 2008 · 6 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Philip Parker has won today’s “Worst Person in Publishing” award. I wanted to give him the “Worst Person in the World” title, but, well, I’m fairly certain that’s been copyrighted. Hmm, maybe the ”’New York Times”’ will share the honors, if only due to its continued lack of critical thinking when it comes to covering books and publishing.

I do not take exception with Parker’s book authoring process — it’s merely an algorithmic process for generating, and I do hate this term, information products. Scrubbing the Internet for source material yields a text on a particular subject matter. Put this collected material together, bind it, and, magic!, book.

Or, if you will, 200,000 books. Parker believes he’s the “…most published author in the history of the planet.” And this is what makes Parker eligible for today’s award: his belief that he is an author. I will accept that he compiles information. I will not accept that he has “authored” books (and, to remind y’all that the ”’NYT”’ remains in the running, the sheer lack of questioning this astounds even the most jaded soul).

I mean, let’s get real:

Perusing a work like the outlook for bathmat sales in India, a reader would be hard pressed to find an actual sentence that was “written” by the computer. If you were to open a book, you would find a title page, a detailed table of contents, and many, many pages of graphics with introductory boilerplate that is adjusted for the content and genre.

Assuming that the computer truly “writes” the sentences contained in these books, then Parker is not an author, he’s a programmer. Since the complexity that makes good writing, well, good, comes from the ability to generate sentences of varying length and style together with just right word choice and the all-important voice, then I am amazed that these computers aren’t up for book awards.

The article does not mention how or when Parker credits his sources. It merely buys into his assertions without question. It buys into Parker’s world-view of authorship.

Parker’s hubris does not remain confined to the non-fiction information he’s repurposing. Oh no. His disdain for the craft of writing shines through with this gem:

And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

That is true — and clearly Parker is missing his brain. Naturally, Noam Cohen of the ”’New York Times”’ cannot be bothered to call Parker out on this nonsense. You know, this sort of ridiculousness simply isn’t funny in the 21st century. I challenge Parker — and Cohen — to write real romance novels. To sit down and develop characters and stories and dialogue. And, yes, to put those body parts together in a way that doesn’t get them nominated for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Bet those fine men can’t do it, but I’m willing to let them use their computers to help.

Parker puts together a lot of material in book form. Parker doesn’t author books. I am not sure that he’s capable of authoring books. Likewise, I am not sure that the ”’NYT”’, as close an industry-town publication as possible, is capable of writing about the publishing business with clear-eyed intelligence.

Nor am I sure that the paper is capable of writing even the most passing of references to romance fiction without denigrating the work of a very large, very profitable business composed of highly educated men and women — you know, the kinds of readers you’d think a struggling paper might want to court.

File Under: Square Pegs

6 responses so far ↓

  • Sam Wilson // Apr 14, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Doesn’t Robert Parker use a similar technique in his hard boiled fiction sited in Boston ? Maybe Tom Clancy too ?

    I have a question that is off topic for you. I have always written in my books. How can you do that with ebooks ? What do I need to annotate Adobe PDF ?

  • Melissa // Apr 14, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    I can’t believe they really published that – or that there is actually someone DOING that. It’s one thing for the industry to decide to make the move towards electronic publishing – but this is another matter entirely. Who is publishing his books? Or is he self-published? Is there really a publishing company, a ‘gate keeper,’ letting someone submit massive amounts of knowingly stolen information simply be compiled and re-published? I completely agree with your opinion that this is utterly ridiculous.

  • Clive Warner // Apr 14, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    What about copyright? How can he be certain that Internet crawlers know what is in the public domain and what isn’t?

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 14, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Clive, I love you! As you know, I alluded to the copyright issue in my post; thank you for bringing it all home. This is aggregation. Now, I happen to believe that content aggregation on a paid level will become a booming service industry very soon ( we’re already seeing signs of it), but, man, you gotta respect copyright. That the NYT didn’t bring it up just furthers my theories about their coverage of these issues.

    I miss Edward Wyatt.

    Melissa — these are pure POD. Which leads to an interesting question about how he’s working with Amazon given their recent BookSurge push. There is no gatekeeper, nor, I suspect, serious quality control. As we all know, the Internet is filled with as misinformation as information.

    Again, I think there’s going to be a huge market for businesses that do this and do this well.

    Sam — ha, ha, no. There is structure then there is complete lack of knowledge about writing books. This dude doesn’t know.

    As for your off-topic question, you can annotate in Adobe Acrobate using the comments function (maybe there are other ways, but this is what I use). That’s not really answering your question because the book you’re reading needs to allow for annotation *and* has to be in PDF format. I think Kindle books can also have notes, but, alas, still waiting for my Kindle sample…

  • Sherry // Apr 14, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Does this remind anyone of the theory that you can get chimps to write music with a computer? Isn’t that just putting notes together? After all, there are only so many notes!!

    A few years ago, I was taking a Writing Romance class at our local community college. There were two young men in the class, 20-ish. When the instructor brought up creating characters, getting to know your hero/heroine, one of the young men raised his hand. He didn’t see the point of having to do this. He planned on just writing a romance. (I could see $$$ in his eyes)

    When the very tactful teacher asked his experience in reading romances he replied he’d already read one. ??? The rest of us kept quiet but the silent snickering was palpable!
    He did not complete the course.
    Sherry

  • Speakeasy » Blog Archive » Books by Computer // May 28, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    [...] Booksquare (again) raises some interesting points, and doesn’t seem to think much of the NYT coverage of the whole thing. The bit about authorship – how can this guy consider himself an author when he hasn’t written a paragraph? – smacks of modern questions of creativity and authorship. If an artist makes a collage, is he an artist, or just a guy who glues lots of other images together? [...]