Writers and publishers face an existential threat from AI: time to embrace the true fans model

Walled Culture has written several times about the major impact that generative AI will have on the copyright landscape. More specifically, these systems, which can create quickly and cheaply written material on any topic and in any style, are likely to threaten the publishing industry in profound ways. Exactly how is spelled out in this great post by Suw Charman-Anderson on her Word Count blog. The key point is that large language models (LLMs) are able to generate huge quantities of material. The fact that much of it is poorly written makes things worse, because it becomes harder to find the good stuff:

In the short term, we’ll see more literary magazines struggling to find a way to deal with LLM spam. If there’s no easy solution, they’ll be forced to restrict their author pool in some way which, as Neil Clarke says, will damage the flow of new talent into the industry. Some magazines may even close, unable to effectively filter the wheat from the LLM chaff. These magazines are already run on a shoestring. They can’t afford to either employ more readers or pay for whatever LLM detection software arises.

Similarly, Charman-Anderson warns, we will see Amazon stuffed with LLM-generated books that are pretty bad. But that’s not a problem for Amazon, which is only interested in sales throughput – quantity – not quality.

Depressing though it may be, it seems to me that Charman-Anderson’s analysis is correct. We are about to see a flood of sub-standard written material that will represent a huge challenge to publishing and writing as we have known it for hundreds of years. The question is: how to respond?

One obvious approach is to try to use AI against AI. That is, to employ automated vetting systems to weed out the obvious rubbish. That will lead to an expensive arms race between competing AI software, with unsatisfactory results for publishers and creators. If anything, it will only cause LLMs to become better and to produce material even faster in an attempt to fool or simply overwhelm the vetting AIs.

The real solution is to move to an entirely different business model, which is based on the unique connection between human creators and their fans. The true fans approach has been discussed here many times in other contexts, and once more reveals itself as resilient in the face of change brought about by rapidly-advancing digital technologies.

True fans are not interested in the flood of AI-generated material: they want authenticity from the writers they know and whose works they love. True fans don’t care if LLMs can churn out pale imitations of their favourite creators for almost zero cost. They are happy to support the future work of traditional creators by paying a decent price for material. They understand that LLMs may be able to produce at an ever-cheaper cost, but that humans can’t.

There’s a place for publishers (and literary magazines) in this world, helping writers connect with their readers, and turning writing that fans support into publications offered in a variety of formats, both digital and physical. But for that to happen publishers must accept that they serve creators. That’s unlike today, where many writers are little more than hired labourers churning out work for the larger publishing houses to exploit.

In today’s new world of slick, practically cost-free LLMs, even the pittance of royalties will no longer be on offer to most creators. It’s time for the latter to move on to where they are deeply appreciated, fairly paid, and really belong: among their true fans.

Feature image by Jean Le Tavernier.

Follow me @glynmoody on Mastodon.

Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner