Today on the Self-Publishing News podcast: A new ALLi income survey finds that self-publishing authors can earn more than writers with publishers if it's done properly. Also, what does Amazon's closing of its Book Depository mean for the future of its book business? And can ChatGPT be sued for libel? News Editor Dan Holloway and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy discuss these and other stories making the news this month in indie publishing.
Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.
And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.
Listen to Self-Publishing News: ALLi Income Survey and MoreA new ALLi income survey finds that self-publishing authors can earn more than writers with publishers. Also, can ChatGPT be sued for libel? Listen to the Self-Publishing News #podcast with @agnieszkasshoes and @howard_lovy Click To Tweet
Don't Miss an #AskALLi Broadcast
Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Spotify.
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: ALLi Income Survey and More
Howard Lovy: Hello, and welcome to the April 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. I'm here in Oxford and looking forward to going to London Book Fair tomorrow and catching up with lots of people.
Howard Lovy: Yes, I'm jealous. I was there last year, and I wish I could be there this year.
Dan Holloway: Yes, and I gather though that you have some sort of news/progress on your fiction?
Howard Lovy: Oh, right, yeah. I think I mentioned last month that that I wrote my first novel after a career spent writing non-fiction. So, a literary magazine ran an excerpt from it last week, and so far my beta readers are coming back with good reviews. So, one more draft to go, and then I'll decide how I want to publish it.
My problem is that I've developed a social media following from my non-fiction and not so much my fiction. So, I'm starting from scratch when it comes to visibility.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, that's always an issue. I write poetry, non-fiction, fiction in various genres, and it makes life tricky.
Howard Lovy: Cool. So, I'll use this podcast to plug my fiction. Go to howardlovy.com to find a link to my fiction excerpt.
Survey Says Indie Authors Earn More
Howard Lovy: But enough about me, let's move on to the news, and let's start with something brief. This is ALLi itself, making the news. A recent survey of more than 2000 authors, commissioned by ALLi, found that self-publishing authors earn more than writers with publishers, if they do it properly. Is there anything more we can say about that now?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, so some interesting figures. So yes, if you go with literally the results of the survey, which I think we plugged last week, the actual results came out at the start of this week and some very interesting things that, of the 2000 respondents, it says here, almost a fifth of them had around a six-figure publishing business. So, that's 20%, that's around 400, if my maths is right, out of 2000 samples. That's not bad going.
And it looks like we've got an average, which I think is calculated as a mean, rather than a median. Yes, definitely calculated as a mean rather than the median, looking at the figures here, of 80,000, which is nonetheless a large sum.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, that's a nice living.
Dan Holloway: Yes, the median is over 12,000, so, yeah.
Howard Lovy: Okay, that's good news. So, aside from the stigma going away with self-publishing, we can also actually earn a living, if done properly, and we'll have more details on this whole thing next month. Literally, the results of the survey just came out about an hour ago.
Dan Holloway: Yes. So, yeah, very exciting.
Open Library Breaches US Copyright Act
Howard Lovy: Great, and in other news, in a recent judgment, the internet archives Open Library was found to have breached the US Copyright Act with its controlled digital lending. Dan, can you give us more of a background on this story and more details on the, I guess, the International Publisher's Association express approval of the ruling, and what it means for the future of digital lending?
Dan Holloway: This is a really interesting one, because it's an angle that I haven't seen mentioned, other than me, which suggests that maybe it's me going off on a wrong tangent, is that this is a similar issue to what we had with the, if you remember, the Audible captions debate a couple of years ago.
What it gets to the heart of is the question of, when we buy a book, what are we buying?
So, controlled digital lending is the principle that, if the Open Library buys a physical copy of a book, what they were doing was they were then turning that into a digital copy. So, they were scanning it, and they were saying, okay, we've bought the physical book, we haven't bought the digital book, but we are going to lend it in either physical or digital format, provided we only lend one copy at a time.
So, we bought the physical book, obviously there are implications for this because turning something from physical into digital means that you have a much more global reach. So, I think this is one of the issues that publishers were concerned about. So, we have the issue of territorial rights. So, I bought a book in America, I am going to now lend it digitally to anyone all over the world. But it's also this question of, if I buy a print book, what am I getting the rights to?
And this was, as I say, it was the question at the heart of the Audible captions row, where Audible wanted to introduce a system whereby they fully captioned audiobooks and publishers said, this is not acceptable because what that amounts to is turning an audiobook into an eBook without paying for the separate rights to the eBook.
Howard Lovy: Oh, I see, right.
Dan Holloway: So, it's this whole question of, how many formats are we entitled, as producers of our books, to charge people for?
So, it's a really interesting debate for me, because it cuts across territorial rights, because obviously if you're turning from physical to digital, and then lending it out all over the world, then publishers are being denied of the income in all those other territories, but there's also this question of format. Because if I buy the physical book, then I can lend out the physical book, and they weren't saying they were going to lend out two copies, so we were just saying there's only one copy, but in any format. So, it's really interesting that the Copyright Office decided that this wasn't fair use.
So, that's what the ruling in essence was. They were claiming this was fair use to take a physical copy of a book, digitize it, and then lend it in either format, and the Copyright Office have said, no, it's not.
So, that will almost certainly have implications for things like Audible captions, if such a scheme were to be resurrected later down the line.
Howard Lovy: Right. So, it's mixed news for indie authors, or would you say this is more good news?
Dan Holloway: I'm not going to comment on that. I think people who've read my columns, other than the news column, know what my feelings on the internet archive and Open Library are. They probably don't align with the majority of people in the industry. So, I will keep quiet.
Howard Lovy: Well, come on, let's get some angry letters going on here.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, no, I'm very much part of the Creative Commons open-source community, that's where my home is as well as being a writer. But I am aware that there are all sorts of other issues, which make that very complicated, and that the infrastructure to copyright is essentially about paying people, and the infrastructure to pay people isn't there at the moment without copyright. It's one of the problems with the whole copyright debate is that it hasn't caught up.
Howard Lovy: So, you're with the information wants to be free. However, there's an asterisk next to that.
Dan Holloway: Well, the saying with that is it's free as in free speech, not free as in free beer, isn't it? That's the open source saying. I'm for free speech and for free beer, or free coffee.
The War on Libraries – An Update
Howard Lovy: Exactly. Well, the next story is the Protect the Creative Economy Coalition, and this all started, I guess, before the pandemic, but it's still an issue. This again, it involves ongoing disputes between publishers and libraries over eBook lending. Can you give us a rundown of what the controversy is and what the news is?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, so this isn't just Open Library, this is all libraries, and where do I start? I think we've covered the dispute between publishers and libraries a lot, and people know what the issues are; publishers essentially, in 2019, started changing the terms on which they licensed eBooks to libraries so that libraries would have to pay much more per lend, because publishers felt that library lending was eating into their profits because people were going to libraries to get eBooks rather than buying them.
There's all sorts of debate about whether this is true or not, what the figures actually are. Lots of debate, very little in the way of actual figures to back up either side, but various state legislatures.
Most prominently, it started when Maryland started introducing bills that would've meant that libraries had the right to purchase licenses to eBooks on what was seemed to be reasonable terms, that was the phrase used, which meant that publishers couldn't charge, essentially, what they wanted to charge for the rights to eBooks, and publishers took this to court.
They won a ruling that this actually was a breach of the Copyright Act. So, state legislation wasn't allowed to override the Copyright Act, and the Copyright Act said publishers essentially have the right to charge what they want, or to decide the terms of the license.
These legislations would've meant that they couldn't decide the terms of the license, because they would have to give favourable terms to libraries. It went away for a little while and now it's come back with a series of new laws that are being proposed, which aren't saying that publishers have to give reasonable terms, but what it's saying is that you can't charge so much for a license that it stops the library carrying out its core business, which is to make books available to readers.
And publishers have got, so they're not happy still, they don't think this is that different from what has already been ruled against, they think it's still a breach of the Copyright Act, that's telling them what to do. So, a group of writers and publishers’ organizations in the US has started this, Protect the Creative Economy Coalition in order to fight this series of proposed bills.
Howard Lovy: Oh, proposed bills in favour of the publishers rather than the libraries?
Dan Holloway: Yes, in favour of the publishers.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, which is part of the war on libraries, I don't know if it's going on in England too, but in the United States it's very frustrating to read, between banning books and now this.
Dan Holloway: It's not as bad over here as it is over there, that sounds positive in the large part, but it's because we already had a huge amount of our public funding to libraries cut already, so there's not much more left to cut. So, it sounds better than it is but yeah, libraries have been under fire for quite some time.
A lot of local libraries in the UK went into, I guess what you would call management buyout. So, funding was cut, they were unable to pay for staff, so staff ended up running them on a voluntary basis. It's still not really resolved.
Howard Lovy: It's an awful trend. I mean, it's probably the same way when you were a kid, when I was a kid the library was where I hung out. It was wonderful for me. I'd come home with stacks and stacks of books, maybe I didn't have as many friends as I should have, I don't know, but books were my friends, so.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, no, I don't know about you, but we had cardboard library cards, and they were like magic because they were these tokens that you swapped for stories, which was this sort of weekly ritual that you'd go down and you'd take your books back, you'd get your cardboard things back, and then you would hand them over again, and in return you'd get another stack of books. It was a real rite of passage.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, we'll be telling our grandchildren about the good old days of libraries, I suppose.
Amazon Closes Book Depository
Howard Lovy: Well, moving to the private sector, let's go into Amazon closing its Book Depository to new orders, beginning April 26th. So, let's talk about what this means. Is this a part of a wider move of Amazon to stop selling books, or what's happening?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, it is really interesting because I had a couple of people drop me a line about this, but I actually first heard it when I was in a bookshop, and it's rare that you actually hear booksellers talking about things that are in the book news, rather than just talking about books. But there were a couple of people in the, I probably shouldn't, because it's quite a small shop, it's one of the Blackwell's local shops. They were stacking the tables together and saying how worried they were about, have you heard what's happened to Book Depository? Then the other one is saying, isn't that the Amazon thing? And the other was like, yeah, it's Amazon. Oh god, Amazon are doing Amazon's thing, are they?
So, there's clearly this sense amongst the wider book population that this is Amazon being Amazon and trying to double down on making it hard to get hold of books.
Yeah, like you said, they're showing an increasing lack of interest in bookselling.
Howard Lovy: Which is, I don't know if it's ironic, but it's strange because that's how they first made their name.
Dan Holloway: It is how they first made their name, and bookshops have been thinking of Amazon as the one who's going to take away their business and take away their livelihoods. So, if Amazon suddenly stop selling books, then it's not clear what that would mean for the wider landscape, or for us as authors.
Mark Williams has some very strong thoughts about this, as he always does. He has a wonderful take on the news, he's not beholden to this sort of impartiality, which is great.
Howard Lovy: I was reading that, he said that they only have themselves to blame for putting Amazon in a dominant position in the first place, but that's Monday morning quarterbacking as they say in the United States. That horse is already out of the barn, so what do we do now?
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I don't know. Amazon is very clearly not as invested in books as it was. What that's going to mean for us isn't clear. I think the wider feeling is that they will almost certainly go to an ‘eat as much as you like' subscription model for audiobooks and for digital.
Howard Lovy: Oh, really?
Dan Holloway: That's not going to make, people who remember the introduction of KDP Select and when we started getting paid per page read, there was a lot of frustration that royalties went down considerably as a result of this. If this is something that happens across the board, it's not going to make it easier for us to make money. Put it like that.
Howard Lovy: Right. Well, as always, you'll be keeping close tabs on it at selfpublishingadvice.org, and we'll keep reading about it in your column.
Can AI Commit Libel?
Howard Lovy: Meanwhile, I hear in the background our technology theme music, which means we're going to talk about AI, because that's pretty much all there is to technology news these days.
The first one is, can AI commit libel?
Like every egomaniac, I've put my own name in a ChatGPT, and boy, it really flatterers me sometimes, giving me credit for things I've never done, and education degrees I don't have. So, obviously it's not completely accurate, and I guess that runs the other way where it actually libels people.
Dan Holloway: Yeah. So, there have been a couple of cases of people who are trying to seek redress, because AI has said things about them that has got them into hot water. So, in one case it was someone, and AI made up a complaint against them that had never happened. There was another one that made up a fake Washington, yes, it was a fake Washington Post article that had some pretty unsavoury things to say about a person.
It's not clear what you can do if this happens, because obviously this can have big real-world consequences if people are relying on AI searches before hiring people, for example, or deciding where to send their kids to school. If AI says something that's not true and you don't and you don't get the post or you get sacked as a result of it, clearly what has been said would meet all the standards of defamation law, but what can you do?
So, this is the big question at the heart of these legal cases is, who do you seek redress against, and what redress can you seek, because it's not clear that you can stop AI doing this, given how it's trained.
So, it is not the case that you can say, oh, this has done something terrible, we can stop it doing so in future.
Howard Lovy: So, there's going to need to be some more case laws to who exactly is responsible for something an AI came up with.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, if someone is responsible, what can you do about the fact that they're responsible?
Howard Lovy: Right, if it's scraping things off the internet, what exactly do you take down and how do you prevent it from happening again?
Like you say in your column, as writers we just have to remember that we always have to check our sources and not depend on ChatGPT for all our information.
It's very useful in some areas, but not a replacement for good old fashioned real research.
Calls to Pause AI Development
Howard Lovy: As part of that, well, not so much it's potential for libel, but it's potential for all kinds of mischief in society, last month or maybe a couple months ago, senior tech experts called for a pause on AI development.
I'm not sure where that went, if anywhere, and to me I can't think of any other time in history when something like this has actually happened, people have called for the end of the development of a technology, but that hasn't really worked.
20 years ago, I used to write about nanotechnology, and people were worried about grey goo, and the world being taken over by nanobots, and it never happened, and there were calls for a freeze on its development.
Dan Holloway: Yes. Interesting, the Future of Humanity Institute still thinks that nanotechnology is the largest existential threat to human beings.
Howard Lovy: That's old news.
Dan Holloway: Or it's still, that it hasn't changed.
Howard Lovy: Well, maybe AI enhanced nanobots might destroy the world. So, has this gone anywhere? Has anybody taken it seriously?
Dan Holloway: I don't know that it was ever going to. It's like you say, it's positioning, a lot of it. I guess it's part of CSR or whatever, I don't know what you call it in the States, do you call it CSR?
Howard Lovy: I don't know what that is.
Dan Holloway: Corporate Social Responsibility. This sort of, we're not the evil ones here, tech giants pretending they're on everyone's side, wanting to present the warm and fuzzy face of tech. So, I think it's much more of that than actually expecting anything to be paused.
Howard Lovy: Yeah. One of the people who signed that document, I guess, was Elon Musk, who early in AI's development wanted to actually take over ChatGPT, and we can all be thankful that he didn't.
Dan Holloway: I think if Elon Musk really cared about the future of humanity, there are all sorts of things he wouldn't be doing.
Howard Lovy: Exactly. So, that's a whole other can of worms.
Dan Holloway: It's interesting, because I've just watched, I'm sure you were to, the live non-launch of Starship. The latest SpaceX venture, which they stalled the launch of that a few moments ago.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, I won't be going on the first trip to Mars. Maybe the second or third trip.
Dan Holloway: I will wait until, yes, I think this is the standard thing, this is where we sound like proper publishers; we always want to be the second or third to do something.
Howard Lovy: Exactly right. Meanwhile, Italy took that step further a few weeks ago, it totally banned ChatGPT. Recently, I think just today, they announced, well, they'll unban it if they meet certain criteria. So, I'm not sure where Italy stands on that. I think what they're citing is data privacy concerns.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I think it's an interesting angle, because a lot of what we hear is about either things being fake or about copyright. So, going for GDPR, which is, I don't know if you have anything equivalent to GDPR in the us?
Howard Lovy: No, but we have to comply if anybody in Europe reads our stuff.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, it's a really interesting one, because it's a different way of coming at the same problem, through data processing and the issue of consent, because it's been one of the big disputes between artists and tech companies, is whether or not people have consented to have their words used to train AI.
Full Novel Written Using ChatGPT 4
Howard Lovy: Exactly, yeah. All right, and I guess our last mini-AI news is, finally a whole length fiction novel was authored by AI. You report that a Reddit poster says that the title is, Echoes of Atlantis, and it's the work of ChatGPT 4. Have you read any excerpts from the book?
Dan Holloway: I haven't, no. It is a nice title though.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, it sounds cool. It sounds like a sci-fi kind of thing.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I think it is. It's a science fiction fantasy novel, and they are very popular. I can imagine it being very, certainly a year or so down the line, I can imagine AI producing books that I would be really interested in reading, just as a reader rather than just as a reporter. It's one of those interesting things that I think there's a lot of hands held up in horror saying it could never be the same as.
Howard Lovy: Right, the prompt isn't just, write a science fiction book, it's, write a science fiction book about this, that, and the other thing, and these characters.
Dan Holloway: And it's an ongoing process, isn't it? You don't just prompt and let it get on with it. You prompt and you get something back, and then you chisel it. It's a Michelangelo type procedure. It can be that you start with something very generic, and then you fine tune it and say, well, no, can you do it more like this? Or can you go more into that? Can you expand this bit? Can you cut that bit down?
Howard Lovy: Right. So, people compare it to Photoshop, you get help from the computer, but there's still a human being guiding what the computer does. So, I'm not clutching my pearls yet on an AI written book.
All right, well, we'll keep an eye on this story and others. Again, everybody can go to selfpublishingadvice.org for the latest news and interviews and podcasts from ALLi, and I will talk to you again next month.
Speak to you again soon. Take care, bye.