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How AI-Generated Books Could Hurt Self-Publishing Authors

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How AI-Generated Books Could Hurt Self-Publishing Authors

from jane friedman


Just two days after the Maui wildfires began, on Aug. 10, a new book was self-published, Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change by “Dr. Miles Stones” (no such person seems to exist). I learned about the book from this Forbes article, but by then, am*zon had removed the book from sale. am*zon had no comment for Forbes on the situation.

Curious about how far the book might have spread, I did a Google search for the book’s ISBN number (9798856899343). To my surprise, I saw the book was also for sale at Bookshop and Barnes & Noble. I tweeted about the situation, noting that IngramSpark, a division of Ingram, must be distributing these books to the broader retail market. My assumption was that retailers, in particular Bookshop, would not accept self-published books coming out of am*zon’s KDP. (am*zon KDP authors can choose to enable am*zon’s Expanded Distribution at no cost, to reach retail markets outside of am*zon.)

It turns out my assumption was wrong. Bookshop does accept self-published books distributed by am*zon, and here things get a little convoluted. am*zon Expanded Distribution uses Ingram to distribute; Ingram is the biggest book distributor and there isn’t really any other service to use for distribution as far as the US/UK.

However, Bookshop’s policy is not to sell AI-generated books unless they are clearly labeled as such, so Fire and Fury was removed from sale after they were alerted to its presence. Bookshop’s founder Andy Hunter tweeted: “We will pull them from @Bookshop_Org when we find them, but it’s always going to be a challenge to support self-published authors while trying to NOT support AI fakes.”

And now we come to why self-publishing authors have reason to be seriously concerned about the rising tide of AI-generated books.

am*zon KDP is unlikely to ever prohibit AI-generated content. Even if it did create such a policy, there are no surefire detection methods for AI-generated material today.

am*zon KDP authors can easily enable expanded distribution to the broader retail market at no cost to them. It’s basically a checkbox.

am*zon uses Ingram to distribute, and Ingram reaches everyone who matters—bookstores, libraries, and all kinds of retailers. Ingram does have a policy, however, that they may not accept “books created using artificial intelligence or automated processes.”

Based on what happened with Fire and Fury, am*zon’s expanded distribution can make a book available for sale at Barnes & Noble and Bookshop in a matter of days.

If the rising tide of AI-generated material keeps producing such questionable books—along with embarrassing and unwanted publicity—one has to ask if Barnes & Noble and Bookshop might decide to stop accepting self-published books altogether from Ingram or otherwise limit their acceptance. Obviously not good news for self-published authors, or Ingram either.

What are some potential remedies?

Ingram is an important waypoint here. They’ve put stronger quality control measures in place before. Perhaps they can be strengthened to prevent the worst material from reaching the market outside of am*zon.

am*zon’s Expanded Distribution requires that authors use am*zon’s free ISBNs. Would it be possible for retailers to block any title with an am*zon ISBN? (ISBNs identify the publisher or where the material originated from.) While that may be unfair to honest people who prefer to use am*zon’s Expanded Distribution, such authors/publishers would still have the option of setting up their own IngramSpark account. IngramSpark has no upfront fees and also provides free ISBNs.

Maybe IngramSpark or other retailers put a delay on making am*zon’s Expanded Distribution titles available for sale. am*zon already states it can take up to eight weeks for the book to go on sale. So why not make such titles wait?

Free ISBNs unfortunately contribute to this problem

ISBNs are a basic requirement to sell a print book through retail channels today. In the US, it is expensive to purchase ISBNs—it’s nearly $300 for ten. am*zon KDP does not require authors to purchase ISBNs and will give you ISBNs for free all day if you need them. Over time, others like IngramSpark and Draft2Digital have also made ISBNs free to make it easier for self-publishing authors to distribute their work.

While it’s admirable to lower the barriers for authors who have limited funds, free ISBNs are supercharging the distribution of AI-generated materials to the wider retail market. An immediate way to stem this tide of garbage in the US market? Stop giving out free ISBNs. Make authors purchase their own.

There’s a huge advantage to making authors purchase their own ISBNs: it creates an identifiable publisher of record with Bowker (the ISBN-issuing agency in the United States). The publisher of record would be listed at retailers. Currently, fraudsters using am*zon KDP are able to hide behind am*zon-owned ISBNs; their books are simply listed as “independently published.” It would be marvelous to take away that fig leaf. Sure, fraudsters could create sham entities that mean nothing and are unfindable in the end, but at least you could connect the dots on all the titles they’re releasing—plus Bowker would see who’s doing the purchasing and possibly put their own guardrails in place. My hope is these entities would choose not to buy ISBNs at all and this activity would become limited to the backwaters of am*zon.

Professional self-publishing authors who distribute widely outside of am*zon are buying their own ISBNs already. Those who aren’t? I would consider it, because if nothing changes about the current situation, we may be entering a period where a book without an identifiable publisher (or author) is immediately considered suspect. And that’s another problem for self-publishing authors.

As of this writing, Barnes & Noble still has Fire and Fury listed, with a sales rank of #24. But it is “temporarily out of stock,” which makes sense if am*zon is the distributor and it took down the book. How long will the ghost of it linger?




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Jane is a recognized authority in publishing and knows a lot, but on this subject, I completely disagree with her analysis and conclusions.


This is not a self-published authors' problem.  I would not couch it as a "problem" at all.


Banning AI generated books is a flawed strategy, and not sustainable (all people want to do is ban books nowadays). The market will sort this out.  Interestingly, the quality of the book, or lack thereof, wasn't addressed.  That should be the primary consideration when evaluating the merits of a book -- especially when you are calling for its banning.


B&N flagged the book as a bestseller.  How did that happen?  We should be more concerned about the signals B&N and Amazon sending regarding the books they sell and how potentially misleading this is to the reader. 


How many indie brick and mortars bookstores stores did not book show up in?  I'll tell you, zero.  It is highly unlikely a book like this would ever have appeared on my site, because I familiar with each author's work. I'm also not hell-bend on having every book ever written on the site. This is why curated book websites and stores will become increasingly important in the age of AI. 


There will come a time when AI generated books will exceed the quality of the majority of human written books -- should they be banned too? We have to think more long term when it comes to AI generated content. 


Also, “temporarily out of stock” does not mean that Amazon "took down" the book. You can still plop these titles into your shopping cart and it will be sent when they have it.  You see this all the time with indie books not printed with Amazon.  


fire and fury.jpg

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Good comment @Troy



all people want to do is ban books nowadays

Of course, the usa has a growing ban book culture,  it is inevitable. Maybe my dislike, extreme dislike,  for the USA makes it easy for me. But of course Troy. 

IS the usa the government which has never figured out how to govern a multiracial populace where all of its races are positively growing?  yes. Communities that don't like each other ban each other. Outside enslavement of black people from anywhere, all other immigration policies from the usa government have always been against the voting majority. This is historical fact. Most people in the usa didn't want ellis island. Most people in the usa didn't want the immigration act in the 1960s. Fiscally wealthy white europeans initially, later in all phenotypes or other racial categories,  have always been the true engine to immigration to the usa , not the fiscally common folk, thus the banning. Anyone trying to get into government knows full well most people in the usa can't stand the stranger. They tolerate because of a complex mix of legal system /military power/complex heritage in the usa. 


The market will sort this out.

Do you say that as an affirmation of fiscal capitalism or just in this case? 


 the quality of the book, or lack thereof, wasn't addressed.  That should be the primary consideration when evaluating the merits of a book -

Who determines the qualities of a book ?  What are the qualities of a book? 

You mentioned the market before.  The market determines the quality? The market determines the qualities that are valuable? 

In my mind, all art has a creative side commercial existence. The creative side is in my mind beyond judgements cause its creative. 

Commercially I think judgmental elements exist based on commerce results being revenue. but when people speak of qualities in the arts I think too often , the creative is mixed side the commercial nonchalantly or factly and that is dysfunctional for me. 


 How did that happen?  

I thought she said she didn't know. I have to reread I may have gotten confused to another article.


There will come a time when AI generated books will exceed the quality of the majority of human written books

The tragedy of the internet and the tools it gives access to is most in humanity aren't connected to it while the populace that is, embraces it almost like a drug. 



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3 hours ago, richardmurray said:

Do you say that as an affirmation of fiscal capitalism or just in this case? 


It was affirmation of "capitalism." However in an, environment, like the one we have now, where a monopoly like Amazon can dominate the book industry free of government regulation is not what I'm affirming,


What I am affirming is that if people don't like Amazon promoting AI generated books -- then they should stop buying book from Amazon.  There are plenty of great alternatives at least for now, but if we keep plowing our money into Amazon those alternatives will become far fewer.


3 hours ago, richardmurray said:

Who determines the qualities of a book ? 


The read does.  Readers have a wide variety of tools to help them find good books.  A good bookseller can made recommendations and sites like AALBC do a lot of curation to help readers more easily find good books.  


My "how did this happen" question was an inquiry into how the AI book became a B&N bestseller.  Presumably it sold a lot of copies.  How was the book discovered by readers, was it B&N's algorithm, did the publisher buy advertising?  Amazon also showed the book ranked highly.  This does not happen by magic.



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@richardmurray Jane replied to my comment saying that she did not call for a “ban” of AI generated books. That stuck me as being disingenuous as she applauded those who took the book down.

Basically Jane wants more barriers to entry to getting a book published and distributed to prevent AI books this is why she feels it will adversely impact self- published authors. 

of course she can’t see how these limitations would hurt black books disproportionately. 


Well my reply follows…

Jane Friedman
Guest Contributor
 Reply to  Troy Johnson
 22 hours ago

Nowhere in this post did I suggest banning AI books or that banning books was a workable strategy. I called for better systems to avoid distributing low-quality work.

The book in question was taken down from Amazon long before it disappeared from B&N. That’s why it was out of stock. You can no longer purchase it anywhere.

Troy Johnson
 Reply to  Jane Friedman
 2 minutes ago

“ …stem this tide of garbage in the US market?”

“…prevent the worst material from reaching the market outside of Amazon.”

Do you want AI generated books in the market or not?

Do you feel low quality work is synonymous with AI generated work?

Why conflate “low quality work” with self-published authors in the context of AI generated books?

In an environment where virtually anyone can publish anything and have it sold by the Earth’s biggest bookseller, low quality work (however you are define it) work will emerge.

The publication and distribution of low quality work is nothing new or even the core problem. In the right hands AI can actually help improve the quality of books being published.

The real problem is how it is becoming increasingly difficult for readers to discover the books they will most likely enjoy and minimize wasted time and money.



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@Troy :) fair enough to the industry


but do readers determine the commercial or creative quality in your opinion? to me readers can only determine the commercial quality

@Troy I see, yeah, restrictions are a form of bans. That is first and foremost. 

But the word usage goes back to why I am verbose.  A restriction isn't a complete ban but a restriction is any incomplete ban.

In the same way, age recommendations on a book is a open restriction , or a form of banning. As well as readers taste or publishers taste being a restriction or a form of ban. 



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31 minutes ago, richardmurray said:

but do readers determine the commercial or creative quality in your opinion?


Yes to both.


Readers include the professional book reviewers, few booksellers you can go to and get a decent recommendation, entitles that bestow awards, places like AALBC that curate a collection of books based upon a variety of sources etc.


Of course, all of the above is in jeopardy as people strengthen Amazon's near monopoly by increasingly publishing with them and buying their books from them.


Look, there will always be those like Amazon that will publish virtually anything they are paid to publish. 


As to your other comment on my use of the word "ban" to describe what Jane was calling for.  I think it is valid description based upon what she wrote. I posed a couple of questions for her if she chooses to answer them, she can clarify.  


There will always be books that people don't want to see in print and that others will find ways to produce.  I'm sure the word "ban" rubbed Jane the wrong way as she probably sees herself as strongly against the banning of books.  However, when you call for restrictions to a category of books the way she did that is tantamount to calling for ban.  Book banners see themselves as virtuous.  I'm sure she believes the "restrictions" she is calling for is a good thing, albeit damaging to indie authors.


Verbosity is something I try to avoid (I often fail) 🙂


It the context of a comment to an article, I'm not going to take the time to write a verbose response. I make assumptions about what the person knows and assume that they believe my intentions are good.  Plus, I have no idea if anyone will read my response or if it will be approved -- which is why I posted my response here.


Thanks for sharing Janes article @richardmurray and sparking my interest in the subject.

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