In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at the return of the USA Today bestseller list, now partnering with Bookshop.org.
The latest Self-publishing News podcast has just dropped. Howard and I have been talking about the way different governments have responded to the AI and copyright dilemma. We have also been talking about e-readers, and whether the new Sol virtual reality e-reader is some kind of over-engineered hellscape or a return to focusing on products that do one thing well.
USA Today Bestseller List Returns
Bestseller lists are always a source of both interest and controversy. Many authors love to announce they are on a bestseller list. Others love to poke fun at the sub-sub-categories of the backwaters of Amazon that an author may top with a couple of sales in a day only to claim the status. Still others get infuriated at established lists like The Sunday Times bestseller list that uses Nielsen Bookscan’s notoriously incomplete data to furnish lists lacking indie representation.
One of the most popular of such lists, the USA Today bestseller list, went on a hiatus (their term) at the end of last year. Their last list featured a number 1 and further top 5 entry from Colleen Hoover, who dominated lists everywhere last year (and started out self-publishing), alongside bestseller staples Nora Roberts, Jeff Kinney, and Michelle Obama.
Now the USA Today bestseller list is back, thanks in part to pressure from groups including ALLi. And showing the very best of judgement, it will be following my lead and posting each Wednesday. The list doesn’t draw on the limited data from Nielsen Bookscan or other databases. Rather, it combines information from various outlets spanning online and independent bookshops. As our campaigns manager Melissa Addey says, “”Many of our author members will be delighted to hear this news and we are pleased to know that the multiple sources of sales information will benefit the inclusion of indie authors and support bookshops as well.””
It’s good to see that in this incarnation, USA Today is working in collaboration with Bookshop.org, the platform that lets you buy ebooks while benefitting your local store. They are also collaborating with an individual indie store, The Novel Neighbor, and the American Booksellers Association.
Authors Sue Open AI for Training ChatGPT on Their Books Without Permission
Authors are suing OpenAI, claiming the company trained ChatGPT on copyright material without obtaining the rights holder’s permission. The case has some fascinating implications, and could be the clarity-provider many of us have been waiting for.
The authors bringing the case are Mona Awad and Paul Tremblay. They allege they have evidence that ChatGPT’s capabilities show that it must have been trained on their copyright books. This would be contrary to OpenAI’s claim that the only books it used in its training dataset came from corpora of unpublished works.
There are two things that really stand out about the case, which the UK’s Society of Authors has welcomed. The first is the nature of the evidence the authors bring. First is that the evidence of training on books seems to come from ChatGPT’s ability to produce summaries. More detailed and lengthy than could come from anything but reading the books, the authors claim. I’ll just say that this is a bold claim.
Was Smashwords a Mass Source of Training Data?
Second is the involvement of a site with which many of us will be familiar. One of the people who worked on the corpora used to train ChatGPT claims that the training data contained thousands of free books taken from Smashwords. I’ve read some accounts in the mainstream media that claim free books on Smashwords are “unpublished.” That’s certainly not how many of us understand things.
Mark Williams has a typically acerbic and very detailed examination of the case on The New Publishing Standard. I highly recommend it. He makes one point in particular that stands out. And it stems from a statement by the lawyers bringing the case, Joseph Saveri LLP.
“whether they aim to or not, models such as this will eliminate ‘author’ as a viable career path. This case represents a larger fight for preserving ownership rights for all artists and other creators.”
As Williams points out, this is directly from the Luddite playbook. The actual Luddites, that is, not the figurative use of the term we see these days. And it speaks to a wider agenda. Protecting the livelihoods of rights holders is a worthy agenda. As an author, I wholly support the notion that I should be able to make a living should enough people want to buy my work. The assumption that it is the job of the law to protect my living from technology (an industry that provides a living for others, of course) sits less comfortably.
ChatGPT 4 to be Made More Widely Available
While OpenAI faces legal battles over earlier models of ChatGPT, it has announced that the latest version, ChaptGPT 4, will soon be available much more widely. They will first make it available to a wider range of developers, and slowly roll it out over the course of 2024 to general use. Exactly how far and how fast will depend on the capacity of their servers to cope with the demand.
Threads: Twitter Threatens to Sue its New Rival Within Hours of Launching
Having dedicated many column feet to Twitter, it is only fair to dedicate a few inches to his cage fighting combatant’s latest venture. Threads is Facebook parent company Meta’s answer to Twitter. Meta launched it as Twitter finds itself on the ropes yet again after limiting the number of tweets users could see and requiring them to pay for a blue tick to increase that limit 10-fold.
As I type this, the latest figure I can find suggests Threads has amassed 100 million users in just a handful of days. No doubt that number will be long out of date before I go to press. Elon Musk clearly isn't pleased. Twitter has threatened to sue Meta, claiming IP infringement.
Users of the new platform should also be aware that it is very closely tied to Instagram. Once you've signed up, you cannot delete your account without also deleting your Instagram. That's one way of keeping customers, I guess.
TikTok Still Spreading Book Love
Some delightful news to end with. And possibly evidence that TikTok may not be on the way out after all. Young adult author Shawn Warner has hit Amazon's number 1 spot after TikTok user Jerrad Swearenjin saw him looking disheartened at an empty book signing. Notching millions of views and clearly tens of thousands of sales, this shows that TikTok retains its power to connect books with readers.USA Today bestseller list returns, and other top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy #publishingopenup Click To Tweet