Amazon in a Pickle Thanks to AI Books

Talking about books, bots and Indie authors.

Amazon Take Action on AI-Generated Books

It’s slowly becoming common knowledge that if you’re browsing the indie author offerings on online marketplaces, you’d do best to double-check the authors. Chances are, many of the eBooks you were thinking of downloading aren’t written by humans.

Amazon Kindle’s marketplace, in particular, has become a hub in recent months for AI-generated tomes that try to pass off as human-written books. Travel books and self-help works appear to be the favorite, but every genre, style, and subject is subject to AI garbage.

For readers, the result is often more annoying than anything as they hunt through an Alexandria library’s worth of Chat-GPT dribble. But occasionally, these books are even outright dangerous. Take, for instance, the AI volumes that have been trying to pass off as foraging guides and mushroom picking. Needless to say, the information they present is dubious, to say the least, and is liable to make you sick or get you killed if followed.

But the spread of AI books isn’t contained to nameless, faceless entities. Even if you recognize an author’s name on a tome, you might want to take a second look.

Back in August, Author Jane Friedman wrote a blog post titled ‘I Would Rather See My Books Get Pirated Than This,’ where she spoke out on how AI was not only being used to imitate her on Amazon, but someone had added AI books to her official Goodreads profile. Amazon took Action once the story got out, but as Friedman puts herself, this was likely thanks to her “visibility and reputation in the writing and publishing community. What will authors with smaller profiles do when this happens to them?”

But besides readers who think they’re about to read something new from their favorite author, the question arises: who is buying these things? Well, probably no one. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t making money. Most of these books end up on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, where books earn a commission based on clicks.

Author Caitlyn Lynch speculates that the readers of these books might even be more bots. That is to say that people are uploading these books and using click-farming - a process whereby bots automatically read pages from a book to earn their publishers a commission. That’s not entirely implausible. After all, it’s been done before:

I don’t think you need scambots to pull this heist off. I think it’s just people browsing books at random and clicking through whatever catches their eye. In either case, for Amazon, it’s a PR disaster among other things. Or, as Lynch wrote in a recent tweet (are they still tweets?):

“This will absolutely be the death knell for [Kindle Unlimited] if Amazon cannot kill this off. The KENP payout will halve and writers will pull their books in droves”

As reported in the Guardian, Amazon has now taken measures to restrict authors from publishing more than three books daily to stem the flow of AI content (I say “restrict” in the loosest sense here)

Dr Miriam Johnson, a senior lecturer in publishing at Oxford Brookes University, suspects that this will do little to stop the tsunami of AI-generated books:

“It will dent the numbers a bit, but for those who are making money by flooding the market with AI-generated books and publishing more than three a day, they will find a work-around.”

To be clear, I’m sure Amazon will be just fine. Call me a commie, but my sympathies for any dent in their profits are not forthcoming. Kindle Unlimited and the entire Kindle ecosystem haven’t exactly been the guiding light of the literary world or for user freedoms since its inception. I’ll save my criticisms for another time, and I’m not going to admonish independent authors for flocking to the biggest game in town. But there are better options for readers and writers.

That said, I do feel for self-published authors - it’s tough out there as things stand. It also raises some questions about how authors and readers are going to navigate these disruptions to the digital landscape. Right now, the problem appears to mostly be affecting Amazon Kindle services (though that may be an illusion created by a lack of media coverage). After all, it’s the largest and easiest target for grifters. But any online store that puts publishing control in an author’s hands will have this issue, just as all self-publishing blog platforms are already finding.

Put simply, there’s a hell of a lot of noise out there on the web, and this AI publishing party ensures that it’s only going to get louder. And that’s never conducive to good reading.


My essay Welfare Queens and Scroungers: How Media Narratives Demonize the Poor is now up on site:

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