Brett Schickler, a salesman from the US, dreamed of being published, but had no idea it was possible. But after he learned about ChatGPT chatbot, Schickler realized that he had a great opportunity.
“The idea of writing a book finally seemed possible,” said Schickler, a salesman in Rochester, New York. “I thought ‘I can do this.’
Using the AI software, which can generate blocks of text from simple prompts, Schickler created a 30-page illustrated children’s e-book in a matter of hours, offering it for sale in January through Amazon.com’s self-publishing division, writes Reuters.
In the edition, Sammy the squirrel, also crudely rendered with artificial intelligence, learns from her forest friends how to save money after he stumbles upon a gold coin. Sammy crafts an acorn-shaped piggy bank, invests in an acorn trading business, and hopes to one day buy an acorn grinding stone.
He becomes the richest squirrel in the forest, to the envy of his friends, and “the forest started prospering,” the book says.
The Wise Little Squirrel: A Tale of Saving and Investing, available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99 – or $9.99 for the print version – brought Schickler less than $100, he says. While that may seem like a small amount, it’s enough to inspire him to write other books using the software.
“I could see people making a whole career out of this,” said Schickler, who used prompts on ChatGPT like “write a story about a dad teaching his son about financial literacy.”
Schickler is at the forefront of a movement testing the capabilities and limitations of ChatGPT, which debuted in November and sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley and beyond with its amazing ability to instantly generate human-language texts.
As of mid-February, there were over 200 e-books in the Amazon Kindle store that list ChatGPT as an author or co-author, and the number is growing daily. But due to the nature of ChatGPT and the fact that many authors do not disclose that they have used it, it is almost impossible to get a complete picture of how many e-books can be written with AI.
The software’s arrival has already unnerved some of the biggest tech companies, prompting Alphabet and Microsoft to rush new features to Google and Bing that incorporate AI.
ChatGPT’s rapid user adoption has sparked a frenzy of activity in tech circles as investors pour money into AI-focused startups and given tech companies new purpose amid mass layoffs.
But there are already concerns about authenticity, because ChatGPT learns to write by scanning millions of pages of existing text. CNET’s AI experiment led to multiple fixes and apparent plagiarism before the tech news site suspended its use.
Now, ChatGPT looks ready to upend the conventional book industry, as would-be writers looking for a quick buck are outsourcing their e-book creation to the chatbot and publishing them through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Illustrated children’s books are a favorite for such budding authors.
Hundreds of tutorials have appeared on YouTube, TikTok, and Reddit that demonstrate how to make a book in just a few hours. Topics include get-rich-quick schemes, diet tips, software coding tips, and recipes.
“This is something we really need to be worried about, these books will flood the market and a lot of authors are going to be out of work,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of writers’ group the Authors Guild.
Ghostwriting has a long tradition, she says, but the possibility of automation through artificial intelligence could transform book writing from a craft to a commodity.
“There needs to be transparency from the authors and the platforms about how these books are created or you’re going to end up with a lot of low-quality books,” she said.
One of the authors, Frank White, showed in a YouTube video how in less than a day he created the 119-page novel Galactic Pimp: Vol. 1” about alien factions in a far-off galaxy warring over a human-staffed brothel. The book can be had for just $1 on Amazon’s Kindle e-book store. In the video, White says anyone with the wherewithal and time could create 300 such books a year, all using AI.
Many authors, like White, don’t feel it’s their duty to tell the Kindle store that their novel was written by an AI, in part because Amazon’s policy doesn’t require it.
“All books in the store must adhere to our content guidelines, including by complying with intellectual property rights and all other applicable laws,” Amazon spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said.
Amazon is today the largest seller of both print and e-books, accounting for more than half of all sales in the United States and, by some estimates, more than 80% of the e-book market. Kindle Direct Publishing has spawned a cottage industry of self-published writers, carving out niches for erotic content and self-help book enthusiasts.
Amazon created Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007 to allow anyone to sell and promote a book from the comfort of their own home, without the hassle and expense of finding literary agents or publishers. In general, Amazon allows authors to instantly publish their books through the service without any oversight, and receive a portion of the sales revenue.
This is attracting new AI-assisted authors, such as Kamil Banc, who sells fragrances online, and who made a bet with his wife that he could write a book from concept to publication in less than a day. Using ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence imaging program, and prompts such as “write a bedtime story about a pink dolphin that teaches children how to be honest,”,” Bank published a 27-page illustrated book in December.
“Bedtime Stories: Short and Sweet, For a Good Night’s Sleep,” according to him, took Banc about four hours.
Consumer interest has so far been admittedly “sleepy”: according to the Banc, sales have amounted to about a dozen copies. But readers gave it five stars, including one praising the “wonderful, memorable characters.”
Since then, Banc has published two more books created by artificial intelligence, including a coloring book for adults, and plans to publish more.
“It actually is really simple,” he said. “I was surprised at how fast it went from concept to publishing.”