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Self-publishing News: Journalism In The News As Authors Guild Backs Google Antitrust Suit And Substack Increases Its Offering

Self-publishing News: Journalism in the News as Authors Guild Backs Google Antitrust Suit and Substack Increases Its Offering

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at the Authors Guild's support for an antitrust case against Google based on its dominance of ad revenue driving cuts in journalism.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

In this month's podcast, Howard and I dedicate the whole show to the latest developments in AI. We talk everything from Apple and Google's AI narration, through Midjourney and AI art, to what ChatGPT and similar tools mean for us as writers. We also talk about our own experiences of using these tools.

Journalism: Authors Guild backs antitrust case against Google and Substack offers private subscriptions

I am always interested in reporting on stories that affect those of us who do some or all of our writing in the capacity of, well, reporting. And this week sees two stories of interest in this area.

First up is an antitrust case that the Department of Justice in the US has filed against Google. Big tech is, of course, no stranger to antitrust cases. The claim here relates to Google’s dominance within the ad market. The case claims Google receives, in the US, over 90% of advertising market share. This, it alleges, has had disastrous consequences for journalism, devastating publications and, in turn, leading to huge staff layoffs. The Authors’ Guild of America has issued a statement welcoming the action. It claims those industry layoffs amount to 60% of the workforce.

One of the consequences of the collapse of ad revenues has been the number of journalists looking to make a living from their writing by going direct to readers. Many of them have turned to newsletter platforms like Substack to find a direct audience. Substack has just announced that it’s launching a new tool for its creators. You will now be able to create private accounts. People can ask to subscribe, but you will need to accept them. It’s a way, Substack suggests, of testing a market or building an audience quietly before reaching out more widely. 

Substack's new approach may be welcomed by authors wanting to manage their own audience more closely, given recent concerns about author safety. Rather than having to put up with the vagaries of platform algorithms, trolling and threats, authors may well choose to curate their own audiences – from selling direct on their websites (higher royalties) to using the Substack approach to send content to a receptive audience (with the ability to entirely remove trolls from their lists). Don't forget that all authors are welcome to access our free guide to author safety and pass it along to other authors. You can download it on this page.

Battle of the Book stats

The latest figures from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) report a 6% fall in book revenues. The figures include ebook revenues of $83.1m. That’s a fall of more than 10% compared to the equivalent figures from a year earlier in November 2021. But industry figures are notoriously slippery. And Mark Williams, who regularly points out their inadequacies, has done a great job of unpicking them. Williams’ calculations, which he outlines, suggest a figure of double that, at $170m. 

What’s really interesting is Williams’ commentary on the comparison of audiobooks and ebooks. The AAP figures show audiobook revenues almost catching ebooks. But the hole in the AAP figures comes from us as indies. And right now, we make up a tiny proportion of audiobook sales but half of ebook sales. Which means that audiobooks are both a long way behind ebooks still, and a largely untapped opportunity.

On that note, ACX has done nothing to increase their popularity with indies by announcing last week a cut to the prices of all books on Audible. This will mean a lower royalty for everyone. Indie author M K Williams lays things out succinctly in a YouTube video here with an outline of the possible pros as well as cons of this.

AI and Copyright: Getty Images and Shutterstock tell a tale of two approaches

Last week I took a break from reporting on AI. But AI seems not to be taking too many breaks these days, so this week there are some very interesting things to catch up on. Before I raise too many alarms, though, you might be comforted by this essay on TechCrunch. It reassures readers that there really is nothing new under the sun and the alarm and excitement around AI are probably both somewhat exaggerated (largely by companies with something to sell).

AI news in recent weeks has focused on text, and writing is still making headlines. This week, it’s a piece in nature about how AI-written scientific abstracts have been fooling academic journals.

But the really interesting stories are about artwork. They centre on two of the biggest sources of stock images there are. Many of us will regularly turn to Getty Images or Shutterstock. And if we don’t, our cover designers quite possibly will.

And the approaches of the two sites illustrate opposing camps in the AI debate. Getty Images has taken out a lawsuit against Stability AI. It claims the platform has used images from Getty without payment or permission for training its AI. Shutterstock, meanwhile, has partnered with Open AI's DALL-E 2 to produce a kit that helps people find the best prompts to create the images they want.

CNET Scandal Shows Using ChatGPT Instead of Journalists May Bite You

I’ll sign off with a cautionary tale that pulls together two of this week’s stories. Publications struggling to make ends meet as a result of decreasing ad revenue might be tempted to turn to AI as a cheap alternative to paying journalists. Indeed, many have already done so. 

One of those is the media giant CNET. In 2008, the tech publisher CNET sold for $1.8bn. That’s not far short of what Penguin Random House tried to pay for Simon and Schuster. CNET tried publishing AI-generated stories without telling anyone. It came clean when it was found out. But then it became clear the stories might sound convincing but were riddled with holes. And worse still, they had been plagiarised from other, more human, journalists. Whom CNET weren’t paying for their trouble. That one story encapsulates so much of what’s happening right now!

ALLi's Melissa Addey at Fictionary

Our Campaigns Manager, Melissa Addey, will be speaking at the Fictionary from 12-14 February. You can find all the details for the event here.


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Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and 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 for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


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