I saw this thread on the AbsoluteWrite.com forum discussing my Newsweek article, and thought it was worth bookmarking here, along with capturing both some good points and some items worth responding to.
As forum threads so, it kind of wobbles all over the map, before apparently getting shut down by moderators for generating too much controversy.
One user there, Schaun, has a lot of strong arguments that I mostly agree with. He proposes there is one catch in my plan though, and foresees this as one of several outcomes:
Most other people can easily replicate his approach, in which case he’s going to see his market flooded and will have to put more and more time and effort into making less and less money, and may see the bottom drop out entirely once his very niche audience diminishes to only those who weren’t in it for the novelty effect alone.
I agree that anyone can do what I’m doing. The AI tools are accessible to all. I think however there are a few things I’m doing well, and a few other things that are somewhat unique in my approach.
Things I’m doing well:
- Consistent quality product – different people might have different opinions on whether that quality is good or bad, but the key thing is that it is consistent from book to book. What you get in one as far as a product offering is what you get more or less in another. If you like (or dislike) one, you will probably feel similarly about others in the series.
- Good tooling – Using Vellum for ebooks is awesome. It’s part of how I can get such consistent results in presentation. Though I’ve tried a lot of other combinations, I’m now also quite content with using Claude & Midjourney for producing text & images.
- Direct sales – I don’t sell on Amazon. I only sell direct through Gumroad, which means buyers are fully in control of the files they download from me, and they can use how they want (within applicable copyright law) the EPUB & MOBI files they get.
- The contents are cool – Some critics might disagree, but for readers into a very pulpy sci-fi aesthetic, and a lot of world-building, the contents of my books are genuinely cool, both in images and text. Some are better than others, for sure, but they are overall really fun.
Things I’m doing that are somewhat unique:
- Primarily focused on lore & world-building – There’s an oft-repeated dictum among writers that I think is over-used: “Show don’t tell.” As I’ve written about, telling is perfectly fine. Readers even – gasp! – like it. Don’t let people turn you off from paths that actually work.
- Networked narratives – My stories are good examples of networked narratives, and transmedia storytelling, where the classical narrative unities have by and large been dissolved. The stories and lore are split up among many volumes, and heavily cross-reference one another, letting users explore as many or as few rabbit holes as they want.
- Hyperreality angle – Seamlessly blending reality with fiction, conspiracy with sci-fi, and AI with human (Uncanny Valley)
- AI lets me scale up production – With AI, I can generate text and images very quickly to rapidly flesh out ideas, and then use Vellum & Gumroad to get them out the door and up for sale within hours rather than weeks or months.
- Format mixing images & text – It can be hard to sell books that are only text if you’re not a well-known author. Incorporating lots of good-looking images into a book brings a lot of added value that shouldn’t be overlooked. It also lets me get away with selling works that are shorter on the word count, and longer on the image count.
There’s probably more to add to both parts of that list, but that is enough of a trailhead for right now.
All of that is to say, I recognize that I have no real “moat” apart from the speed of production, the quality of my products, and the volume of items already on the market place. Anyone else can (and will) come along and do more, faster. Of that I have no doubt. But I have little fear that they will compete in my space, because the space I’ve carved out narratively is very well colonized. It’s a brand, a niche, and an established fan base. If people want my stuff, they will come to my channels to get it.
Even if other people start adopting a similar approach, that’s fine. It won’t impact the time it takes me to make the books, nor will it impact the amount of enjoyment I get from the process. My sales are small, but steady. So there’s not really any big cliff for them to drop off from.
Incidentally, later on someone in the thread named Chase proposes, regarding the bottom dropping out, “He’ll just make someone in the Philippines or Columbia or Nigeria do it for him.” This wouldn’t make any sense for my situation, because the process is a creative one that I love. If I farmed it out to someone else, it wouldn’t be fun anymore, and they wouldn’t be able to produce the quality I am able to produce.
Lastly, I don’t think there are probably any buyers in it for “the novelty effect alone,” because I get the impression most buyers didn’t come to my books because of my incorporation of AI technology. They came because the stories sound cool, and they come back because of the consistent quality of the product.
Moving on to other topics…
I see a lot of probably wrong information on copyright in this thread. It’s not worth trying to correct all of it, but a few items do jump out at me.
I see it as an ethical deficit on the part of those who decided to scrape the internet without seeking permission.
I understand why people feel this way, but US Appeals Court in wherever decided that scraping the web is legal. I think if people want to more meaningfully engage in the “ethics” side of that (apart from legality), then it needs to be made more clear which code of ethics ought to apply.
Personally, I voluntarily try to follow more or less the AI ethical guidelines of the Alliance for Independent Authors – even though I am not a member. Their primary requirement simply seems to be disclosing the use of AI, which I do both within the books, and at the publisher/account level.
Again regarding copyright, user Helix writes:
It’s closer to sampling IMO in the sense of taking elements of other people’s work and using it elsewhere.
Here are my thoughts as to why is actually not like sampling at all. To recap them in brief, sampling makes use of whole cloth excerpts from the works of someone else. Generative AI does not. It instead measures attributes (dimensions) of data and relationships from many works in aggregate, and then uses that to develop entirely new works. There is no use of any other work’s specific contents that are identifiable in any of my books.
User CMBright states:
It has been mentioned repeatedly in other threads here that no one owns the rights to AI produced work.
This is wrong. My understanding is that the US Copyright Office, which is not a law-making body, made a statement that a single AI-generated image cannot be copyrighted (in its non-binding opinion), because it has no human author. I think even that is a probably flawed and wrong opinion which will certainly be legally challenged in the near term. They did, however, I believe state that the entire contents of the AI comic book at issue could be copyrighted, because of the unique arrangement of parts.
More importantly, my books are not copyrighted in the US. They are copyrighted in Canada. (Canada also has different rules around Fair Use btw, which is called here Fair Dealing.) People in the United States often mistakenly believe their country is the only one, and that its laws apply everywhere.
User Brigid writes:
I wonder when whatever program he used will be knocking on his door looking for a cut of the proceeds, seeing that it was co-written by whatever program.
In general, my understanding is that most of the services use to generate AI content do not claim ownership or exclusive rights over the contents generated. It varies a little from service to service how it is worded, but by and large their licenses permit these kinds of uses. So no, I don’t think this will be the case.
Dipping back out of the copyright questions again, a couple more bits I wanted to capture from Schaun’s replies. First, I think the comparison to synthesizer music is spot on:
I was saying the guy was producing something. He used a tool to do it. I don’t personally have a taste for the kind of thing he produces, but I’m not going to say it was wrong for him to produce it. I’m not saying synthesizer or any other music isn’t real music. I’m saying it is real music, even if I don’t personally prefer it. I’m saying the books the guy wrote are real books – not copying or stealing from other people – even if they aren’t books that I would personally enjoy reading.
Many people in that thread are bent out of shape that the ebooks are only 2-5k words in length. Not a single commenter anywhere or in the coverage I got, however, mentions the large image sets which go into these books to add value. Not to be overlooked from a marketing and from a sheer “fun-ness” perspective.
Schaun also brings up an excellent point here, regarding the better quality AI works we see popping up across the web:
Those remarkably good examples aren’t the product of just throwing a prompt into an AI. They’re the product of hours and hours – and probably days and days – of human intervention, reworking, and hand-editing. […]
When we see amazing results, we shouldn’t say “wow, a computer did that. ” We should say “wow, a computer plus an insane amount of human micromanagement and prompt massaging did that.”
Anyway, that’s enough beating of this particular horse. I’m happy to see people talking about the work, but I’d much prefer they talk about the actual contents & structure of the work, because to me that is about 1000x more interesting than all these secondary issues around the technology. But if this is the doorway to get people to talk about the work at all, then okay!