I’ll start off by saying I’m just not that interested in the copyright/plagiarism conversations around AI art & text. My philosophy here is: let people who are better informed and care more about those make the proper arguments. Same thing for the questions around how humans learn to do x versus how AIs “learn.” I’ve personally got other fish to fry than those.
I’m also just not interested in the “but is it art?” questions, because those to me are a moot point. I think it is what it is. A lot of work goes into it, but your mileage may vary as to whether you “like” it or think it’s “art.” I’ll leave people to form their own opinions on that.
While I appreciate to no end Newsweek running the story, it’s unfortunate that the framing of it comes off as a “look how much money I’m making,” because to me that’s neither the most interesting nor important point of my experiment in AI world-building. And frankly, I’m not making that much money. But from what I’ve seen of sales in other types of “normal” fiction I’ve tried, these books are blowing those all away. And I also get that this framing drives feelings of urgency and provokes people into having conversations to think through all these related issues. So I support that in the end. It’s just not what I’m after.
I also disagree with comments I saw somewhere I forget now about AI writing flooding markets or taking away something from human writers. The things I’m offering are so weird and niche and unique and of such a specific vibe and quality that I’m pretty sure nobody else is offering. It’s just something that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
There is one particular comment over on Newsweek that I want to address specifically though, because it touches on many things that are closer to my heart & within the space of my intent. Username “whosonfirst” writes:
Back in the 50’s there were short story sci-fi magazines in abundance. They were longer than comic books and shorter than novels. The magazines typically had a set of stories for the cost of a small book. A lot of the science fiction writers got their start in them. Heinlein for one.
I’m thinking he is reviving a niche market for small collections of stories that the book publishers eventually found not viable economically. Delivery as e-books cuts down the dead tree costs and the cost of the type setting.
The trick will be getting around the supplier wanting a cut that pushes the price past what someone might pay to read over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine before bed.
I’m actually reading Stranger in a Strange Land, and enjoying it very much so far (about 2/3 of the way through), so I appreciate the Heinlein call-out. I believe some other writers in this category might have been Asimov, Bradbury, Vonnegut, and Philip K. Dick, never mind tons of others.
One might argue, okay but they were WRITERS not “prompters” or whatever I am (curators/provacateurs). But then look at somebody like (no relation) Anthony Boucher (which oddly was a chosen pen name, though I haven’t determined why he landed on Boucher – see also Bouchercon). He was a writer of some renown himself, but he also edited many of those old magazines that ‘golden era’ sci-fi writers appeared in. Is there not a great deal of art in that too?
Further, I appreciate this reader is tapping into the pulp sci-fi roots and context I want to draw from in my AI Lore books series. The types of stories I want to tell. The kinds of imagery and tropes I’m employing. The types of winding, loosely connected stories spread out across many volumes. There’s still space and still appetite for these kinds of works. My sales are not insane compared to “regular famous writers,” but considering I’m basically a nobody, with no marketing, and next to no social media presence, they are absolutely proof of a nascent product-market fit, as they say in tech.
Yes, I look at it to some degree as an art experiment, but I also look at these as products. They may not be perfect or be what every random person wants, but they most definitely must meet my standards of quality and “publishability.” And they are consistent from volumes to volume as a product. And they all hang together quite well and in interesting and intricate ways when taken as an entire set.
I’ve probably said this somewhere, but ironically as a mostly but not only ebook publisher, I don’t actually consume ebooks myself. I don’t have a smart phone, and never use my iPad Pro because the battery life is so shitty. Reading books on a desktop makes me feel like a jerk. So I really only read books as printed matter.
From a sales perspective though, ebooks are where it’s at because it costs you basically nothing. Canadians can get free ISBNs, but since I don’t publish on Amazon, I don’t even bother to do that. And using Vellum for ebooks makes the chore of design/type so simple that I barely even notice it anymore. It’s what I mean by no overhead. Newsweek also cut this part of the original piece, but Gumroad just takes a flat 10% of sales. So it’s not that onerous there either.
Lastly, my unit price of generally $1.99 to $3.99, adequately drives the cost down to something which as this reader said makes it an acceptably-priced diversion to look at while you drink a cup of wine or coffee, or want to look at some cool AI pictures and read a couple of weird stories when you’re high. If these books can land right in the sweet spot of all that, I don’t really care if anybody thinks its “Art” with a capital A or not.