KDP limits titles, and we learn how tricky it can be to legislate technology. Welcome to Self-Publishing News with ALLi News editor Dan Holloway, bringing you the latest in indie publishing news and commentary.
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About the Host
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.
Read the Transcripts: KDP Limits Titles
Dan Holloway: Hello and welcome to another week of Self-Publishing News.
This is the third week of this new format, and it's the first week that we're actually settling into what's going to be our long-term pattern, which is that I will be discussing the first two stories in this week's news, and the last story from the previous week's news, so that everything lines up nicely with the new schedule we have here at the ALLi website.
So, this week the three stories we're going to be looking at are the announcement from KDP that they are decreasing the existing limit on the number of titles you are allowed to publish per day, the new author lawsuit against ChatGPT's OpenAI, and the new Online Safety Act which has just come into force in the UK.
So, let's start with KDP, and the news that the terms and conditions have changed. This is obviously the second big change that's happened in the last few weeks.
Just a couple of weeks ago things changed so that we now have to fully declare our use of generative AI in producing our books. That was part of Amazon's attempt to crack down on what they see as fake content.
The second part of what's clearly the same move, this attempt to crack down on fake content, on manipulation of the system, in particular, I'm guessing manipulation of KDP Select and page reads, is the announcement that there will be now a cap on the number of books you can publish per day.
So, ALLi have been in touch with KDP over this to try and find out the full details. They didn't tell us a number, but the Guardian is reporting confidently that Amazon has told them that this cap is three books per day. What we do know is that anyone who bumps up against that cap will be contacted about it; they will have the chance to argue for an exemption, and those cases for exemptions will be treated on a case-by-case basis.
So, if there is a reason why you're publishing more than three books a day, it may be you are batching all your publishing together in one day for efficiency, or maybe you publish low-content books like journals where it might make sense to publish them in batches of more than three, or maybe you just write an awful lot, quite possibly of very short stories.
There are all sorts of legitimate reasons why you might be publishing more than the allowed limit, and Amazon will talk to you about that, so they say, if that happens.
It's not clear what their next step is going to be. It is clear that they are worried about AI-generated content. We know that anything like KDP is subject to manipulation. One of the things that makes it great is the fact that anyone can publish; the barriers to entry are really low. All you have to have is a document that you put on there, create a title, you don't even technically need a cover. Just put it up there and see what happens, and that's absolutely fantastic for us as authors. It means that, as I say, the barriers to entry are really low. It also means the barriers to entry are really low for scammers.
That's a real problem when it comes to page reads. So, in particular on KDP Select the kind of problems this leads to are where you get click farms, for example. So, groups of people all setting up fake accounts. The kind of thing that we looked at with Spotify the other week, that Spotify say you can't do there. So, everyone It creates fake accounts and then reads each other's books, and those books may or may not be actual books, but nonetheless, the page reads count.
What makes this matter, of course, for the Kindle Unlimited scheme is that there is a limited pot of money to go around. So, every page read that is taken by a scammer, that's money that can't go into the pockets of genuine authors. So, this is an issue that they have to tackle. You can't blame them for taking it seriously.
Quite how they're going to enforce this is going to be interesting. One of the dangers of, even if you're not being really open about your limits, one of the dangers of being open about the limits that you're placing is that just tells the scammers what to do in order to get around it. One of the reasons they didn't want to release the limit per day initially they explained was that they wanted to maintain the freedom to be flexible.
I think that probably sums up what's going to be an ongoing battle. Amazon on the one hand, scammers on the other; inevitably there are going to be authors caught in the middle of this, both losing money because of scammers, but also sadly, there are going to be genuine authors who are caught out in the attempt to crack down because there always are.
It would be really great if when that happens Amazon was really transparent about it and kept open its lines of communication with authors. I think that's all we can hope for, and I hope that they do that with us at ALLi.
That brings me to the next story, another sort of AI story. This is the biggest of the lawsuits that's come so far. So, over the summer we had a little flurry of authors taking action against OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. Now we have a class action lawsuit that's come from the Authors Guild, and it's got some really big names behind it.
So, award winning authors like George Sanders and Jonathan Franzen, and probably the highest-profile author of them all, even though he doesn't actually seem to be doing much writing at the moment, which is George R.R. Martin, who has put his name to this lawsuit.
Basically, the lawsuit is a copyright lawsuit, it argues that OpenAI has breached copyright by training its generative AI, ChatGPT, on copyrighted works without the author's consent.
One of the proofs that it has that OpenAI is doing this is the ability that fans have had to generate their own copies of putative final books in the long-awaited, yet to be finished, Song of Ice and Fire series.
So, the argument goes that, unlike George R.R. Martin, fans have been able to create their own final book to the series, and it does a pretty good job of making sense of what's gone before, and that shows that those books must have been used to train ChatGPT, otherwise it wouldn't be able to do such a good job of creating a book in an existing series.
What's really interesting about this, it ties in with what we looked at last week about shadow libraries, which are these libraries of pirated content that exist on the web. Those libraries are clearly in breach of copyright. They are clearly taking works and copying them without the author's permission.
What's less clear and what's going to be really interesting is whether it's ruled that the use of those shadow libraries is in and of itself a breach of specifically copyright law. It's something for those of you who read The Passive Guy, which is a fantastic book blog which is run by a copyright lawyer. He always has a really interesting take on this kind of thing, and he is always keen to point out that using shadow libraries isn't necessarily, in and of itself, a breach of copyright law, and it might be really quite hard to prove that it is.
So, it'll be really interesting to see what happens in this case, and one of the things that all of these lawsuits make clear is the need for the law to catch up with technology.
That brings us neatly on to the final story of the week, which isn't an AI story but is a story about the law and technology, and specifically about government trying to legislate around technology and not really understanding what that means, not really understanding the technology well enough to understand what it would mean to legislate around it.
So, the Online Safety Act, as it's now known, started life as the Online Harms Bill. As I said in this week's column, I'm not quite sure which sounds more Orwellian, online harms or online safety. Either way, it's a very troubled piece of legislation that has been bouncing around the UK government for many years now in various forms. It's constantly had pushback from the technology industry, but it's largely been driven by a very large media and social media campaign following some very high-profile cases of tragic events around teenagers losing their lives to eating disorders which revealed to those who weren't already familiar with social media, the extent of some really harmful things that are shared on social media quite commonly among teenagers.
This led, as anyone my age will have seen many times before, to calls of, we have to do something, and that something is always legislation, and that legislation always tends to try and do something about technology that it doesn't quite understand.
So, what the Online Safety Act does is it places a requirement on websites that host content to ensure that anyone viewing content that may be harmful is of a suitable age. That sounds like a very noble aim. To some people it sounds like a noble aim. There are obviously quite a lot of worried voices about censorship, because this is specifically, it's not illegal content, this is content that is deemed harmful, which is something that sounds rather like those, sort of, I'll know it when I see it, obscenity laws that we thought we got rid of in the 1960s.
The other thing it's going to do is it's going to place a massive burden on, not just large platforms like Instagram and YouTube, but on anyone who hosts content, and this is something I've written about in the news column a lot, is that this has consequences for all of us who host content of any kind on our website, especially writers, for example, a lot of non-fiction writers. So, anyone who writes non-fiction about issues that might be considered harmful, so that might be anything from self-help to LGBTQ issues, to writing about drugs or crime, or a lot of current affairs and psychology. It might be people who write horror, it might be people who write erotica.
A lot of writers are going to be affected, simply because of the kind of writing they have, that if you start posting extracts of your work on your website or hosting other writers who post extracts of their work on your website, then you may be under pressure to basically put your website behind an age verification wall, and that is going to be a lot of work, it's not going to do much for your sales figures, and if you don't follow it, it could see writers facing fines. It's the kind of thing that could cause all sorts of problems.
There are other issues that the Act tries to deal with around encryption, which really show how limited the Government's understanding of technology is, that it wants absolutely safe and secure private encryption until such time as it thinks that someone might have sent something in an encrypted way that it doesn't like, at which point it reserves the right to tell technology companies to invent a technology to help them decrypt it.
It boggles the mind that such a thing has come into law; it has. That bit probably affects us as writers less, but the issues around age verification are things that we are going to have to keep an eye on.
It might become one of those pieces of almost instantly obsolescent law that everyone realizes was a mistake and no one actually acts on, or it might be something that starts causing absolute chaos if the same pressure groups that led to the law being enacted in the first place start discovering author websites where we post snippets of our work that they consider unsuitable and start raising the alarm, or blowing the whistle as they would see it, on us.
So, very much a case of watch this space, and I'm sure at some point I will be reporting on the first lawsuit that is brought around the Online Safety Act involving an author, and who knows where that might lead.
I look forward to seeing you all and speaking to you all next week, and in the meanwhile, happy ‘publishing only three books a day' week.