RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC Apr. 07, 2003
Dubbed "the worst novel ever published in the English language" by the Washington Post, "The Great American Parade," by retired University of Wisconsin professor Robert Burrows, has nonetheless found a readership via the magic of the Internet. Contributing to the book's growing momentum, online content marketplace Lulu.com has made the book available in both printed and online versions. Lulu is the latest project of entrepreneur Bob Young, an open-source enthusiast known for flouting convention.
The book, mocked at length by a Washington Post writer in a February interview with the author, is a political satire on economic themes. It posits a fictional conflict between an America controlled by wealthy politicians and an idealistic group of college students. The reviewer, Gene Weingarten, unabashedly declared Burrow's novel to be a "wretchedly terrible product that shames the American publishing industry."
While Burrows describes his book as a "novel of ideas," the Post reviewer -- citing the elaborate and formal dialogue -- was prompted to ask the author, "Have you ever heard real human beings speak?" But the review was not entirely negative. "Your book is printed on very white, shiny paper," Weingarten remarked as he concluded the interview.
In recent online remarks, Weingarten expressed surprise that the novel had found a readership. In a publishing market flooded with books both good and bad, "The Great American Parade's" modest success provides a reminder that in a free market for information it is demand, and not the judgments of reviewers (however scathing), that drives publishing success.
Inadvertently, the bad review has created the demand for Burrows' book. Following Weingarten's comments, a number of web sites known as "weblogs" linked to the review and Internet surfers struggled in vain to locate copies of the book. By making his book available on Lulu.com, Burrows has guaranteed that anyone who wants to read his book will always be able to find it.
"Big studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars making and selling movies that bomb," notes Lulu CEO Young, "and then along comes a little low-budget picture like 'The Blair Witch Project' and blows them out of the water. The same thing happens with books, music, and other publishing forms. Lulu puts the tools for distribution in the hands of the creators, giving them direct access to the market for their work if there is one. As it turns out, there's even a market for the worst novel in the world."
Lulu.com provides a marketplace where the creators and owners of content -- including authors, educators, musicians and artists -- can make their work available to sellers at a price, and in the format, of their choosing. Like many writers, Professor Burrows is less concerned with compensation than with distribution. "I'm centrally concerned to get the message of the book out to as many readers as possible," he explains. "I hope that discerning people will discover my book and awaken to the devastating assault on our cherished democracy."
Lulu (www.lulu.com) is the latest endeavor of Red Hat co-founder Bob Young. Lulu provides Internet applications that enable collaborative publishing of digital content, from books to photos, images and music. Lulu.com provides the creators and owners of content -- businesses, instructors, artists, musicians and others -- control over how they use and share their work. The Lulu brand is derived from the concept of a "lulu," which is an old-fashioned term for a remarkable person, object or idea. The enterprise is driven by Young's strong commitment to information access as a foundation for knowledge advancement, whether in education, computer code, or other realms.