Amazon to sell world's largest book

If you've got US$10,000 to spare and know someone with an extremely large bookshelf, you may be in for some interesting holiday shopping this December on Amazon.com.

The online retailer plans to sell a massive 100 page book printed on seven foot by five foot pages, according to Michael Hawley, a director of special projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who is publishing the book as fund raising exercise for a non-profit company he founded called Friendly Planet.

Speaking last Friday at the Usenix association's BSDCon Conference in San Mateo, California, Hawley said he had signed up Amazon to "promote the hell" out of the book by contacting the company's chief executive himself. "I called Jeff Bezos at Amazon and said, 'You really can be the world's largest bookseller,'" Hawley said.

Hawley has led MIT research projects exploring the ways that digital technology can affect every day objects like coffee makers, refrigerators, and even fruits and vegetables.

The book, which will be called "Growing up in Bhutan," will be published using Hewlett-Packard Co.'s DesignJet 5500, a large format printer sometimes used for fine art projects. It will feature photographs of the country and people of Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan nation of 600,000 that may be best known for waiting until 1999 to officially adopt television.

The book's photographs were taken by teams of MIT and Friendly Planet photographers who visited Bhutan in 2001 and 2002 while experimenting with ways to combine digital imaging and global positioning system technology.

Each book will be made from four 100-foot long rolls of 5-foot wide paper which are then folded like an accordion. Tabs will be inserted into the rolls at seven foot intervals and those tabs will then be stitched into the book's binding. Just printing the images on the four rolls of paper will take about 25 hours, according to Hawley.

The book was partially inspired by John James Audubon's "The Birds of America," which at two and one half foot square is the largest book in the U.S. Library of Congress. Only 175 copies of the book were published between 1826 and 1838, but it was sold for US$1,000, according to Hawley -- a princely sum at the time.

"I thought, well, maybe we could sell copies of the world's largest book for US$10,000 per copy," Hawley said. "If we were to sell 500 copies, that would raise more than US$4 million."

Another inspiration was an episode of the TV show "Seinfeld," where the character Kramer publishes a coffee table book about coffee tables, packaged in the shape of a coffee table, said Hawley.

Hawley has contacted HIT Entertainment PLC, the publishers of the Guinness Book of World Records, and confirmed that his book will, in fact, be the largest book in the world, a finding that seems to have pleased the book's binding company, Charlestown, Massachusetts' Acme Bookbinding.

"I walked in with this huge thing and they just about peed in their pants," Hawley said. "They'd never seen anything like it."

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Robert McMillan

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