Until recently, Brett Schickler never thought he could become a published author, although he dreamed of becoming one. But after learning about the artificial intelligence program ChatGPT, Schickler thought an opportunity had landed in his lap.
“The idea of writing a book finally seemed possible,” said Schickler, a salesman in Rochester, New York. “I thought, ‘I can do this.'”
Using AI software that can generate blocks of text from simple prompts, Schickler created a 30-page illustrated e-book for children in hours, which went on sale in January through Amazon.com Inc.’s self-publishing unit.
In the issue, Sammy the squirrel, also roughly rendered with AI, learns from his forest friends how to save money after he stumbles upon a gold coin. He makes an acorn-shaped piggy bank, invests in an acorn trading business, and hopes to one day buy an acorn whetstone.
Sammy becomes the richest squirrel in the woods, the envy of his friends, and “the woods started to prosper,” according to the book.
The Wise Little Squirrel: A Tale of Saving and Investing, available on the Amazon Kindle Store for $2.99 – or $9.99 for a printed version — has fetched less than $100 for Schickler, he said. That might not sound like much, but it’s enough to inspire him to create more books using the software.
“I could see people making a whole career out of it,” said Schickler, who used prompts like “Write a story about a father teaching his son financial literacy” on ChatGPT.
Schickler is at the forefront of a movement testing the promise and limits of ChatGPT, which debuted in November and has sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley and beyond for its uncanny ability to create instantly compelling blocks of text.
As of mid-February, Amazon’s Kindle Store had over 200 e-books that featured ChatGPT as an author or co-author, including How to Write and Create Content Using ChatGPT, The Power of Homework, and the poetry collection, Echoes of the universe.” And the number is increasing every day. There’s even a new subgenre on Amazon: books on how to use ChatGPT written entirely by ChatGPT.
But due to the nature of ChatGPT and the failure of many authors to disclose that they have used it, it’s almost impossible to get a full accounting of how many ebooks might be written by AI.
The advent of software has already rattled some of the biggest tech companies, prompting Alphabet Inc and Microsoft Corp to hastily roll out new features in Google and Bing, respectively, that include AI.
Rapid consumer acceptance of ChatGPT has sparked frenetic activity in tech circles as investors pour money into AI-focused startups and tech companies find new purpose amid the gloom of massive layoffs. Microsoft, for example, received sycophantic coverage of its otherwise ailing Bing search engine this month after demonstrating integration with ChatGPT.
But even now there are concerns about authenticity, as ChatGPT learns to type by scanning millions of pages of existing text. An experiment with CNET’s AI resulted in several fixes and apparent plagiarism before the tech news site stopped using it.
Threat for “real” authors?
Now, ChatGPT appears poised to turn the serious book industry on its head, as wannabe novelists and self-help gurus looking to make a quick buck turn to the software to create bot-created e-books and download them via Amazon’s Kindle Publish Direct Publishing branch. Illustrated children’s books are a favorite for such first-time authors. Hundreds of tutorials have surfaced on YouTube, TikTok, and Reddit showing how to create a book in just a few hours. Topics include get-rich-quick programs, diet advice, software coding tips, and recipes.
“That’s something we really have to worry about, these books are going to flood the market and a lot of authors will be out of work,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild authors’ group. Ghostwriting — by humans — has a long history, she said, but AI’s ability to automate it could turn book writing from a craft into a commodity.
“The authors and platforms need to be transparent about how these books are made or you’re going to end up with a lot of low-quality books,” she said.
An author named Frank White showed in a YouTube video how in less than a day he wrote a 119-page novella titled “Galactic Pimp: Vol. 1” about alien factions in a distant galaxy fighting over a human . occupied brothel. The book is available for just $1 from Amazon’s Kindle e-book store. In the video, White says that anyone with the means and time could create 300 such books a year, all using AI.
Many authors, like White, don’t feel obligated to disclose on the Kindle Store that their great American novel was written entirely by a computer, in part because Amazon’s policies don’t require it.
When asked for comment by Reuters, Amazon didn’t elaborate on whether it had plans to change or review its Kindle Store policies regarding authors’ use of AI or other automated writing tools. “All books in store must comply with our content policies, including compliance with intellectual property rights and all other applicable laws,” Amazon spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said via email.
A spokeswoman for ChatGPT developer OpenAI declined to comment.
From conception to publication in just a few hours
Amazon is by far the largest seller of both physical and e-books, accounting for well over half of sales in the United States and, by some estimates, over 80% of the e-book market. Its Kindle Direct Publishing service has nurtured a cottage industry of self-published novelists who have carved specific niches for adult content and self-help book enthusiasts.
Amazon created Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007 to make it possible for anyone to sell and market a book from their couch without the hassle or expense of locating literary agents or publishers. In general, Amazon allows authors to publish immediately through the unit without oversight and share the earnings they generate.
That has attracted new AI-assisted writers like Kamil Banc, whose main job is selling fragrances online and who has bet his wife he could create a book from concept to publication in less than a day. Using ChatGPT, an AI image creator, and prompts like “Write a bedtime story about a pink dolphin that teaches kids to be honest,” Banc published a 27-page illustrated book in December. “Bedtime Stories: Short and Sweet, For a Good Night’s Sleep,” available on Amazon, took Banc about four hours to create, he said.
Admittedly, consumer interest has been drowsy so far: Banc said sales totaled about a dozen copies. But readers gave it five stars, including one praising its “wonderful and unforgettable characters.”
Since then, Banc has released two more AI-generated books, including an adult coloring book, with more in the works. “It’s actually quite simple,” he said. “I was amazed at how quickly it went from concept to release.”
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the software. Mark Dawson, who has reportedly sold millions of books he’s written through Kindle Direct Publishing, was quick to call ChatGPT-powered novels “boring” in an email to Reuters.
“Merit plays a role in how books are recommended to other readers. When a book gets bad reviews because the writing is boring, it quickly sinks to the bottom.”