ChatGPT Books Are Flooding Amazon. Should Writers Worry?
Apparently Amazon has no requirement to disclose the use of AI.
Last week there were over 200 books on Amazon listing ChatGPT as either the author or co-author. That’s just the ones that chose to “credit” ChatGPT because apparently Amazon has no requirement to disclose the use of AI.
I stumbled across the story of a fellow who wanted to write a children’s book explaining AI to kids. So he did. Wrote the book in a weekend using AI.
His Twitter thread is full of people on both sides. Some praising while others lambaste him for calling himself an author in the first place.
It’s a super polarizing conversation. Half the comments are positive, the other half equally negative. His reviews are that way, too. Half 5-star and half 1-star.
One review says “very poor writing and art work” and gives the book 1 star. Right underneath that, another review says “Simple and beautiful” and gives it 5 stars.
Most of them seem to be children’s books…
I read snippets of an interview with the author of one such book. He said he never dreamed he could be an author, but with the help of AI, he wrote a book for kids about saving money featuring a little squirrel who finds a coin in the woods.
The book earned less than $100, he said, but he could see making a career out of it. Because it only took him a few hours.
“I could see people making a whole career out of this,” said Schickler (source)
When I checked this morning, the book is no longer for sale. The Amazon page says it’s out of print. It only ever got one review, a 1-star bashing.
A lot of the AI books seem to be kids books. Which makes a convoluted kind of sense. AI does much better with small snippets of text. Writing a full novel with an interesting plot and characters might require a lot more work on the part of the “writers” entering the prompts into ChatGPT.
If I was being cynical, I might say kids are an easier mark than adults. But maybe it’s simply that it’s a lot less work to guide a robot through creating a child’s book than an entire novel. Faster and easier is always better, right? #sarcasm
So what does Amazon think of these books?
Here’s what Amazon has to say about ChatGPT…
Reuters reached out to ask Amazon about their policies on AI. Apparently, they weren’t too forthright. They just said all books must adhere to content guidelines, including complying with intellectual property rights.
“When asked for comment by Reuters, Amazon did not address whether it had plans to change or review its Kindle store policies around authors’ use of AI or other automated writing tools. “All books in the store must adhere to our content guidelines, including by complying with intellectual property rights and all other applicable laws,” Amazon spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said via email.” (source)
It’s pretty easy to bash Amazon on that one.
A lot of people want clearer guidelines for use of AI. But really, how much clearer can it get than to say writers have to comply with intellectual property rights?
Therein lies the rub.
We’re still arguing about how AI fits into intellectual property rights. Artists and writers are screaming that they were not asked if it’s okay to feed their work to the AI engine while the AI overlords are saying it’s fine.
The court cases are still making headlines.
For now, if you go create a piece of “work” the AI site will tell you it' is automatically in the public domain. Sure, you can sell it. But does that mean anyone else can, too? Good question. There’s another one for the courts.
Should writers be worried?
Some people think writers need to be worried. Mary Rasenberger, director of a writers group, says these books are going to “flood” the market and put writers out of work.
“This is something we really need to be worried about, these books will flood the market and a lot of authors are going to be out of work,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of writers’ group the Authors Guild. (source)
Sure ChatGPT books are going to flood the market. Of course they are. How would we think any different? I mean, Christ, we live in a world where some people see plagiarism as a viable method of profit. Why write when you can steal?
Several years ago, I published an SEO book. It was promptly bought, ripped and sold under the same title with my name still on the cover. I couldn’t do a damn thing because the guy selling it was in a country that didn’t care about plagiarism. He sold it for a fraction of the price of mine and probably sold more copies than I did.
And is anyone else old enough to remember when public domain books from Gutenberg first flooded the market? They still do. Every time another old classic flips from private rights to public domain, copies of the book flood Amazon.
Some people selling public domain books at least do a little work. They make a new cover, generally a butt ugly one. Others just upload straight from Gutenberg.
Simple fact is that there has always been people who will upload anything Amazon lets them upload, whether it’s public domain or ChatGPT. And that’s before we mention the people who upload their NANOWRIMO drafts and people who write fan fiction that’s never seen a proofread much less the eyes of an editor.
So in that context, should writers worry?
An open letter to the man whose book is dying on Amazon
The whole mess reminds me of a post I wrote on Medium back in 2021.
I wrote an open letter to a man whose book was dying on Amazon. He made the same mistake too many writers make and the post is as valid today as it was when I wrote it.
He did all the “right” stuff. Wrote his book. Got a professional cover. Hired editors. Etc., Etc. What he didn’t do was think about how to find his readers. He just uploaded the book and hoped Amazon would make the magic happen.
His results were tragic. Doubly so because his book was truly a work of art.
Problem is, writers simply cannot put out a book and hope it will magically find an audience. That’s not even remotely how Amazon works.
If you’re worried about ChatGPT books flooding Amazon best suggestion I can make it to go read that post. As I write this, it has over 8400 claps and over 100 comments. A lot of writers learned a lot about Amazon from that post. Sure as hell can’t count on Medium to “boost” the post (lol) but if you’re concerned about Amazon getting even harder for actual authors thanks to ChatGPT, maybe it will help.
Also? I’d love to know what you think of ChatGPT books on Amazon.
Are you for or against—and why?
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My daughter complained, last year, about a book she bought for my grandson. It was human-written, had a cute cover and premise, but was very poorly written. She was livid. "THIS got published by a real publisher!" she cried. I checked. That "real publisher" bore the same name as the author. I'm not sure whether AI-generated writing will make things better or worse, for writers. I'm not sure that returning to the old model - submitting to the gatekeepers of the Big 5 and hoping the publishing gods smile down upon us is quite the answer, either.
What I do know is that readers - especially children, since they are still learning what constitutes good writing - deserve better than this. They don't deserve to personally LIKE every story they read. I've read many I didn't enjoy. I wouldn't return them for a refund; I don't deserve that. But I do deserve to be respected enough that the writer put some effort into writing a coherent story using proper spelling and grammar. And sometimes, much as I hate to say it, AI can do it better than some of these folks who just thought writing was an easy way to make a buck on the internet. THEY deserve to be put out of business by AI.
But THIS is what's actually happening "out there" - https://fortune.com/2023/02/22/flood-chatgpt-ai-generated-content-science-fiction-writing-clarkesworld-stops-submissions - and much as SOME writers absolutely deserve this, they are ruining it for those who have always played by the rules. (Not that there was all that much to "ruin" honestly - it's always been an awful landscape out there. Almost as if people love the mythos of the starving artist more than they will ever love the artist while the artist lives.)
Ah, well. Here’s the thing. My initial response to AI writing was “hell to the no!” But now, I’m not so sure. At the moment, we have a multitude of “content creators” producing a mountain of what amounts to the same thing. They don’t have an original thought in their heads. They copy other people’s article ideas and outright plagiarize. Cooking blogs are a great example. Every New York Times recipe with legs has been redone ad infinitum. I once googled “10 job interview tips” and got over 2 billion nearly identical hits. So let the real robots write the stuff people are just phoning in anyway. Talented writers who can produce what the computer can’t may suddenly be in demand. Maybe we can in turn demand higher pay. We can dream, right?