Saturday, October 08, 2011

The books of Lambert M. Surhone

Is Lambert M. Surhone the most prolific writer in the world? A search of his name on Amazon reveals 154, 428 results (though the amount seems to change daily), mostly in Books, but also eight in Clothing and one in Large Appliances (a book about washing machines). But he'd better watch out. Miriam T. Tennoe is catching up: she's written some 119, 525 titles and Susan F. Henssonow, coincidentally, also has 119, 525. Mostly, it seems, they write books together. Between them they write on an extraordinary diverse range of subjects, from Tandem Mass Spectrometry to One More Chance (Pet Shop Boys Song). Their catchy titles range from the short, such as Talacre, to the extremely long, such as U.S.District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia: Lewis F. Powell, Jr. United States Courthouse, United States District Court for the District of Virginia, Project Safe Neighborhoods. Or my personal favourite, Poi: Performing Arts, Mori, New Zealand, Juggling, Object Manipulation, Poi Tricks, Fire Dancing, Glowsticking, Circus Skills: Performing Arts. Some have great subtitles, like Patch Adams: Comedy-Drama, Patch Adams, Health Insurance, Myopia, Conformism, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel London.

And these books are expensive. Tandem Mass Spectrometry, for example, is £30 yet less than 100 pages long. So what's going on? Well, closer examination reveals the 'authors', if they exist at all, are actually editors and all the content comes entirely from Wikipedia. Yes, that Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia. The books are printed on demand, and anyone can do so, if they want. It's quite legal under Creative Commons. Indeed, it can actually be done within Wikipedia: there's a Print/Edit button on the left hand side of Wikipedia, with a section called Create a Book. Other websites provide the same service, such as PediaPress.

There are also articles within Wikipedia all about Wikipedia content duplication, so in theory, though it may be pointless (yet surreal), you could create your book in Wikipedia about creating your book in Wikipedia.

But is anyone stupid enough to buy these books? It's possible they're not selling in their millions, but probably only a minimum amount needs to be sold to make a substantial profit. After all, print on demand means books are only printed when ordered, so there's no extra costs.

So, should we just dismiss it and figure Amazon sell all kinds of dodgy stuff and anyone can self-publish a book and put it on there? Perhaps, but other websites also sell the books, including 'reputable' bookseller sites AbeBooks and Waterstones, who admittedly only have 24,698 titles by Mr Surhone, a small percentage of his output to date.

Surhone may have out-written the original Wiki writer, Philip M Parker, who according to Wikipedia is the world's most prolific author and has the advantage of actually existing. Wikipedia say he has over 200,000 books on (though I could 'only' find just over 110,000, and a 'mere' 103,411 titles on, including such titles as The 2007 Import and Export Market for Industrial Refrigerators, Freezers, and Other Refrigeration and Freezing Equipment and Parts in United States, which sells for a whopping £298.30 and has 158 pages.


David Dailey said...

One of Mr. Surhone's books is "Ranger Bill", a 1950s era radio program. I author three Ranger Bill web sites and have for almost 10 years. There virtually no other source for Ranger Bill information othe than Moody Broadcasting. I am sure that the bulk of his "Ranger Bill" is material from my three web sites. I consider his work, 204 pages long, plagiarism.

Barnaby said...

You should sue.

Ned said...

You should publish on Kindle - ye've loads of stuff you could publish - it costs nowt to "publish" - and you might make the odd bob or two.


Andrew Blackman said...

Wow, how bizarre! Thanks for writing about this. I'd actually come across that name a few times and was wondering about it - seemed a bit dodgy/unbelievable. He'd "written" books on two very different obscure topics I was researching! Glad I didn't buy either of them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info, avoided purchasing what appeared to be the lone specialist book on a particular type of fish.

Anonymous said...

I am doing a project for school on the little albert experiment, is there any way to contact Lambert Surhone? Thanks.

isomorphismes said...

Thanks for writing this up.