Today on the Self-Publishing News podcast: Governments respond to AI and copyright. The UK, EU, US, and Japan formulate policy on protecting creators. Also, will books soon come with a carbon-content label? And a new VR eReader helps you focus on nothing but the book. News Editor Dan Holloway and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy discuss these and other stories making the news this month in indie publishing.
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About the Hosts
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: AI and Copyright
Howard Lovy: Hello, and welcome to the June 2023 edition of Self-Publishing News from the Alliance of Independent Authors. I'm Howard Lovy, ALLi's news and podcast producer, and book editor at howardlovy.com. Joining me is ALLi News editor Dan Holloway. Hello Dan, how are you?
Dan Holloway: Hi Howard, happy summer.
Howard Lovy: Thank you. I'm in northern Michigan and the weather is in the eighties here, and I'm feeling good about that. I'm more of a hot weather person. Professionally, I guess I finished the final draft of my first novel and now I'm trying to figure out what to do with it next. The problem is I don't currently have a platform for fiction, since I focused most of my career on journalism, but I'll figure that part out next. Easy right?
Should books come with carbon content labels?
All right, well, let's go right into the news. First, we're going to turn our attention to the environmental impact of the publishing industry, and a thought-provoking proposal that suggests books might soon come with carbon content labels.
Dan, you'll talk more about this idea, its implications, and the numerous variables that must be considered to fully understand a book's carbon footprint.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, this is a really interesting thing. It came from Rachel Martin from Elsevier, so from an academic publisher. She suggests that, almost as a matter of course, that books will come with, I guess it's an equivalent to what we have on food.
So, it's the equivalent of food labelling but for carbon, so I guess the equivalent of nutritional information. Or maybe, I don't know what you have in the US, or in other countries, but we have labels, such as on eggs we have the red tractor label and other things that mean that if something's got that label, you've got certain assurances about the point of origin of the product and the way it's being produced. So, it's part of giving consumers the ability to make ethical choices about what they produce.
Obviously, it's not without controversy because certainly again, I don't know what it's like in the US, but when it comes to the UK these things are great, but they're also used as ways to increase prices. So, the more assurances something comes with the higher the price will generally be, whether something is organic, whether it's a certified place of origin, or whether it's certain standards of welfare that have been met. These things all tend to add to the price.
It's not certain what would happen with, I guess, high carbon output versus low carbon output books. We know that some ways of producing things are more expensive, but would that be used as a way of, not just passing on the costs or maybe explaining the additional costs, but of having an extra slice of costs. So, I'm not a hundred percent sure about that.
Howard Lovy: And it's not all cut and dry because it's no guarantee that even an eBook has less of a carbon footprint than a physical book.
Dan Holloway: No, it's a really complicated set of calculations. I think one of the things, and maybe this is the time to talk a little bit about paper, one of the things we know is that there is substantial cost in terms of paper, and carbon cost of producing physical books.
There are lots of, in addition to environmental concerns, there are lots of problems with the paper supply at the moment, and so that's a little aside to the fact that, on June the 23rd, Amazon KDP Print is going to be increasing its print prices.
So, I would recommend everyone goes and checks their bookshelf on KDP, because it will give you a, this is how much it will cost to print your book before the June the 23rd and this is how much it will cost to print afterwards calculation.
So, different types of paper have different carbon footprints. So, I know one of the things I've often said about print on demand is that it's very good from a carbon miles point of view, because things tend to be printed locally. You don't get returns, and global shipping and returns are two of the big problem factors for publishing.
On the other hand, it tends to use a more virgin wood pulp. So, you cut down more trees in general to print on demand then you do a really big offset print.
Howard Lovy: Oh, really? I didn't know that.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I mean, that's why if you look at the, I guess, the paper quality in a print on demand book it looks and feels different, and one of the things that makes it look and feel different is the paper it's printed on because of the kind of digital printing involved; it needs a different paper stock for the ink to take.
Howard Lovy: Interesting. So, right now this is just in the idea phase. People are running this idea of flag ball, but so far there are no warning labels on books yet.
Dan Holloway: It's just an idea at the moment. In the UK, the Society of Authors recently launched its Tree to Me campaign, which I covered in the column, which is encouraging consumers to ask questions of their publishers about where their books come from, and what the what the carbon costs of the books they are selling actually is. So, it ties in with that. So, there's clearly a direction of travel.
As I say, publishers know they have a problem, but as you said earlier, they tend to associate that problem with print largely because it's much harder to work things out with digital. It's a much harder calculation. Then when you come to streaming, so I guess the equivalent of KDP Select, and we know if you stream film and so on the size of the files involved, this involves massive data servers. It's a little bit like blockchain in that it's really energy intensive.
So, there are all sorts of issues, again, about streaming content rather than just selling a copy of a file to someone. So, it's really hard to put a cost on digital products. Maybe this is something that people are going to be looking at more. We will see.
Governments Respond to AI and Copyright
Howard Lovy: Interesting. Well, we'll keep following that here, and in your column too.
So, let's move on to our new topic, and of course it wouldn't be a news program without some news about AI. So, today our topic is government responses to AI and copyright issues with recent actions in the UK, the US and Japan. The UK, let me see if I get this right, is planning an AI safety summit. The US is navigating these complex debates in their judiciary committee, and Japan has taken some action favouring creators. Can you shed more light on what's happening?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, and to add to that, this week the European Parliament is actually starting to set in motion an AI act, which will regulate the use of AI, and generative AI in particular, in all kinds of ways including looking at potential ways to protect creator's rights.
So, that's quite an interesting move. That's the first sort of formal big piece of legislation that's going through anywhere in the world.
In Japan, what we've got is not a piece of legislation, but it's a statement of intent, and the intent there is that AI has great educational potential, but it shouldn't be used for commercial purposes that infringe copyright, and there's even a suggestion that where things do infringe copyright, there needs to be a way of ensuring damages for creators. So, it's a real statement that tech shouldn't be untrammelled, I guess is a way of putting it, and creators don't just deserve to be paid, but if they're not paid upfront, then they need to be paid through the damages system, which is something I can't see coming in the US or the UK.
Howard Lovy: Well, in the US there would have to be a lawsuit first. What I'm not getting in all of this is how do you know when your content is being scraped by AI?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, and that leads to, really handily, that probably isn't even a plug because I don't think you've seen the draft of my column for this week, to a group of authors who are trolling AI.
So, it's a set of fandoms that I know very little about called the Omegaverse, and these are all a group of fanfiction authors who have noticed that phrases unique to their world building have started appearing in AI-generated text, thereby offering proof that it must have been scraping their work, otherwise it couldn't have come across these phrases and ways of putting things.
So, what they decided to do is to use the, let's get such and such trending, sort of meme to try and flood AI with all sorts of obscure references to their phrases and memes and so on, the idea being that all generative AI text everywhere is basically a set of quotes from them if they can do that.
It's an interesting idea. It's equivalent to what I call the purple dye test, where if you want to find out if water goes underground and you want to find out where it comes out, you put purple dye into the hole and look along the coast and see where the purple dye comes out.
So, that's one way of finding it, and finding if things have been trained on your work.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, interesting. I don't know, there's this mysterious, they call it a black box in the middle where AI does its AI thing, and does it actually repeat verbatim, or does it do any changing or interpretation?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, no one seems to really know. That's one of the issues I think around it is that people don't really quite know. It's like they've created this thing and they don't really know what it does.
Howard Lovy: Right, and not even the experts know what know exactly what it does.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, and I think that that's what scares people, I think, is not necessarily what it does, but the fact that no one really knows what it does.
Howard Lovy: Meanwhile in the UK they're planning a Safety Summit. I don't know if any decisions will actually come from that?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, the Safety Summit seems to be code for, let's find a way for companies to make a lot of money out of AI. You'll remember that the UK government wanted to produce a text and data mining exception for commercial AI, whereby if you wanted to train your AI on anything that could be legally bought, you didn't have to pay a license fee or you would be given an ability not to pay a license fee, you would simply just buy the thing once and that would be it.
So, if your books were available somewhere to buy, then all that someone would need to do would be to pay 2.99 to buy a copy of your books, and then they could feed them into the AI. You'd have no licensing rights and no say. It was considered fair game.
There was pushback on this. ALLi was one of the groups that sent feedback into the consultation on it, and that was withdrawn, but that's clearly the direction the government wants to go in. They want to be seen as the friend of technology, and by and large being seen as the friend of technology means being seen as the friend of AI and finding ways to get around awkward little things like people who actually do creative stuff.
Howard Lovy: Let's right now assure our listeners that we are real people, that this is not an AI version of my voice, and as far as I know, this is not an AI version of your voice.
Dan Holloway: It's not, no. Again, a really interesting thing in this week's news that you probably won't have seen yet is StoryTel have partnered with an AI voice narration company to enable readers to customize their reading experience.
So, you can choose whatever voice you want to have your audiobook read in, and you'll even be able to do things like choose different voices for different characters. So, the book will never sound the same to two people, is the idea. Everyone can do it in the way that works for them.
So, I guess if you have got a really strong ego, you could have book narrators in your own voice and every audiobook you ever listen to will come back at you in your own dulcet tones. What could be more fabulous than that?
Tech Corner: New VR eReader Helps You Focus on Nothing but the Book
Howard Lovy: Well, I can hear from our background music now that it is time for our tech corner, and for a change, we're not talking about artificial intelligence. Instead, we're diving into the world of virtual reality with Sol's upcoming VR reader. It's a new gadget promising immersive reading experiences, and it's interesting because it reflects a wider trend of returning to dedicated devices to reduce your distractions. So, tell us more about this, Dan.
Dan Holloway: It's hard to describe it without making it sound like a glorified pair of glasses. So, let's face it, it's a glorified pair of glasses, but then most VR is just that. It's glasses only with things to stop you seeing anything other than what's in the glasses. So, maybe more like swimming goggles.
Each lens on your glass projects text at you, and you don't need to wear glasses or contact lenses, it's got image adjustments so that it can account for any vision prescription you might have.
It will turn the page for you, do all sorts of things, which interestingly is controlled by a remote control. It's not done by eye tracking, which I quite like because I'm not keen on these things that try and predict how you are reading by following your eye movements. So, I'd much rather just click something, and it turns the page, so that's good to me.
Howard Lovy: Right, and you're a speed reader too?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I'm a speed reader, but I like to be in control of the speed I'm reading at rather than having it trying to predict what I'm doing. So, I like to be able to turn the page when I want to turn the page.
Howard Lovy: But the idea is you're surrounded, I don't know if surrounded, but you're doing nothing but reading. This isn't hooked up to your phone, so you're not distracted.
Dan Holloway: You're not distracted. So, there's nothing in your peripheral vision, there's no notifications. You can't even see the phone by the side of you, because you're literally locked into your book.
For a digital thing, it's quite analogue. It's not what we might think of as VR, which is as something that gives you this sort of immersive visual experience or a 3D world-building of some kind. It's just a book, but it's a book that shuts everything else out.
As I said in the column, and as you mentioned, it feels like it's a move away from these multifunctional devices.
So, there was a time when people got really excited because you could do everything you want on a smartphone or everything you want on a tablet, and the advantage of that is simplicity and portability. One of the other advantages of course, turned out to be that big hardware producing companies could do antitrust things, for want of a better way of putting it, by controlling all the software that went on their products. Regulators don't like this, so that's one reason why we're seeing a move away from this.
So, there's also a recognition that sometimes, rather than having one device that can do everything reasonably well, it's good to have lots of devices that can all do their specialist thing really well.
The other example I can think of is the Remarkable Tablet which is, I don't know, you must be familiar with the Remarkable tablet?
Remarkable with a capital R.
Howard Lovy: Oh no, I've never heard of this.
Dan Holloway: It's a tablet. It was designed by architects as a way of replicating the paper experience in a digital format, and it's literally just a tablet that you write on and then you can upload the files that you create by writing on it. It's getting a few more extra features in the later versions, but that is all it does, and it does it exceptionally well.
The stylus is fantastic. The sensitivity and the experience is fantastic. People who like drawing and who like writing absolutely love it, and it is simply designed to do that thing.
Slightly more weirdly, I'm sure you'll have seen this, there's an increase in low-tech typewriter things, like we used to have back in the day, we'd actually just have a typewriter.
Howard Lovy: I remember.
Dan Holloway: Nowadays you pay a premium for something that only does word processing, and they're heralded as these high-tech things that will enable you to do less and therefore focus on the things that you are doing, and it's all coming full circle in that sort of way.
This feels like a part of that movement. That rather than having a VR headset that can do everything, we might have several different ones, each of them that do a different thing.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, it's interesting. My son is in art school now, he's home for the summer, and he's learning all these high-tech, including AI, programs, but what he often does is just walk around with pen and paper and a notepad and just draw.
I'm like, what are you doing? He says, I'm in art school, I draw, this is what I do.
And he's not as distracted as I am by his phone. So, it gives me hope for the future.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I like the sound of it, and the beta copies have started to ship. I think the sort of prices that they're talking about, it's in the hundreds of dollars, not the thousands of dollars. So, the price of VR seems to have started off quite much lower than I would've imagined it would do a few years ago when I started reporting on it. So, it's a feasible alternative to a Kindle.
Howard Lovy: Okay. Well, we'll keep an eye on this and of course, everything else, and we can always read your column on our website. Thank you, Dan, and I'll talk to you again next month.
Thanks a lot, Howard.