SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 21 (Reuters) – Until recently, Brett Schickler never imagined he could become a published author, although he had dreamed of it. But after learning about the ChatGPT AI program, Schickler realized 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 the AI software, which can generate blocks of text from simple questions, Schickler created a 30-page illustrated children’s e-book in a matter of hours and offered it for sale in January through Amazon.com Incs ( AMZN.O own publishing unit.
In the issue, Sammy the Squirrel, roughly rendered also using AI, learns from his forest friends about saving money after coming across a gold coin. He makes an acorn-shaped piggy bank, invests in an acorn trade and hopes to one day buy an acorn grinding stone.
Sammy becomes the richest squirrel in the forest, the envy of his friends and “the forest began to bloom,” according to the book.
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“The Wise Little Squirrel: A Tale of Saving and Investing,” available in the Amazon Kindle store for $2.99 — or $9.99 for a print version — has made Schickler less than $100, he said. While that might not sound like much, it’s enough to inspire him to compose other books using the software.
“I could see people making a career out of this,” said Schickler, who used questions on ChatGPT to “write a story about a father teaching his son about financial literacy.”
Schickler is at the forefront of a movement testing the promises and limitations of ChatGPT, which debuted in November and has sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley and beyond for its uncanny ability to create compelling blocks of text instantly.
There were over 200 e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store as of mid-February with 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 daily. There’s even a new subgenre on Amazon: Books about using ChatGPT, written exclusively by ChatGPT.
However, due to the nature of ChatGPT and the failure of many authors to disclose that they have used it, it is almost impossible to get a complete overview of how many e-books may have been written by AI.
The software’s rise has already disrupted some of the biggest tech companies, prompting Alphabet Inc ( GOOGL.O ) and Microsoft Corp ( MSFT.O ) to quickly debut new features in Google and Bing, respectively, that include AI.
The rapid consumer adoption of ChatGPT has spurred frenetic activity in tech circles as investors pour money into AI-focused startups and given tech companies new purpose amid the gloom of mass layoffs. Microsoft, for one, received confusing coverage this month over its otherwise moribund Bing search engine after demonstrating an integration with ChatGPT.
But there are already concerns about authenticity, because ChatGPT learns to type by scanning millions of pages of existing text. An experiment with AI by CNET resulted in several corrections and apparent plagiarism before the tech news site stopped using it.
THREAT TO ‘REAL’ AUTHORS?
Now, ChatGPT appears poised to upend the staid book industry, as would-be novelists and self-help gurus looking to make a quick buck turn to the software to help create bot-created e-books and publish them through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing arm. Illustrated children’s books are a favorite for such first-time authors. On YouTube, TikTok and Reddit, hundreds of tutorials have appeared showing how to make a book in just a few hours. Topics include get-rich-quick schemes, diet advice, software coding tips and recipes.
“This is something we really need to be concerned about, these books will flood the market and many authors will be out of work,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the authors’ group The Authors Guild. Ghostwriting – by humans – has a long tradition, she said, but the ability to automate through AI could turn book writing from a craft to a commodity.
“There needs to be transparency from the authors and the platforms about how these books are made, otherwise you’re going to end up with a lot of low-quality books,” she said.
An author, who goes by the name Frank White, showed in a YouTube video how in less than a day he created a 119-page novel called “Galactic Pimp: Vol. 1” about alien factions in a distant galaxy fighting over a brothel with human beings. The book can be purchased for just $1 on Amazon’s Kindle e-book store. In the video, White says that anyone with the money and time can make 300 such books a year, all with the help of artificial intelligence.
Many authors, like White, feel no obligation to disclose in the Kindle store that their Great American Novel was written wholesale by a computer, in part because Amazon’s policies don’t require it.
Asked by Reuters for comment, Amazon did not say whether it planned to change or review its Kindle store policies around authors’ use of AI or other automated writing tools. “All books in the store must comply with our content guidelines, including by complying 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 HOURS
Amazon is by far the largest seller of both physical books and e-books, accounting for well over half of US sales and, by some estimates, over 80% of the e-book market. The Kindle Direct Publishing service has created a cottage industry of self-published novelists, who have created special niches for enthusiasts of erotic content and self-help books.
Amazon created Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007 to allow anyone to sell and market a book from the comfort of their couch without the hassle or expense of seeking out literary agents or publishers. In general, Amazon allows authors to publish immediately through the device without any oversight, and split the revenue they generate.
It has attracted new AI-assisted writers like Kamil Banc, whose primary job is selling fragrances online, who bet his wife could create a book from conception 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 children how to be honest,” Banc released an illustrated 27-page book in December. Available on Amazon, “Bedtime Stories: Short and Sweet, For a Good Night’s Sleep” took Banc about four hours to create, he said.
Admittedly, consumer interest so far has been sleepy: Banc said total sales have been about a dozen copies. But readers rated it worthy of five stars, including one who praised its “wonderful and memorable characters.”
Banc has since released two more AI-generated books, including a coloring book for adults, with more in the works. “It’s actually very simple,” he said. “I was amazed at how quickly it went from concept to publication.”
Not everyone is impressed with the software. Mark Dawson, who has reportedly sold millions of copies of books he wrote himself through Kindle Direct Publishing, was quick to call ChatGPT-assisted novels “boring” in an email to Reuters.
“Profit plays a role in how books are recommended to other readers. If a book gets bad reviews because the writing is boring, it will quickly sink to the bottom.”
Reporting by Greg Bensinger in San Francisco Editing by Kenneth Li and Matthew Lewis
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