In April, data-driven publisher Inkitt announced that it is partnering with Tor Books to release the first novel selected by an algorithm for publishing. Here, Inkitt’s founder and c.e.o Ali Alibazaz explains why he believes that AI is reaching a tipping point in the industry – but not in the way you might think.
In March a novel co-authored by an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm moved into the second round of submissions for a national literary contest in Japan. What may have seemed like momentary buzz suddenly gave the publishing industry pause. Is technology capable of replicating the human process involved in creating something as powerful as the written word?
While a world where robots rank on the New York Times bestseller list is still light years away, the industry is starting to acknowledge the impact that AI is having on publishing.
AI may summon images of robots and false humanoid consciousnesses, but its influence will in fact prove both less glamorous and more pervasive. Technology is often accused of decentralizing systems currently in place, but with publishing, the opposite is true. In the next five years the use of aggregated data will empower the publishing pipeline to allow industry authorities to make more informed and fairer decisions based on what readers want.
Ultimately a data-driven process, rather than producing works of inhuman genius (although that may of course happen too…) will change the industry by empowering readers to drive what type of literature is chosen and released to market in an unprecedented way.
It’s a difficult task determining what readers want. Traditionally literary agents and publishers selected novels that they perceived would resonate with readers as it wasn’t possible to track reader preference at scale. The popularity of book clubs and the use of focus groups have provided insight and direction over the years, but the numbers in these pools are not large enough to determine a broad range of reader preferences.
Everything changed with the introduction of e-readers and online reading forums. Suddenly people were not only reading, but engaging online, critiquing and discussing literature in group settings. Authors had a direct line of communication to readers and vice versa.
And with connected devices it finally became possible to track reader behavior at scale – allowing parties involved in the publishing industry to make more informed and smarter decisions.
For the last 400 years the publishing process has been built on the knowledge, experience, and instincts of editors and literary agents globally who diligently sift through millions of manuscripts to determine which one has the potential to become the world’s next best seller.
But this traditional system is by no means infallible, as those who work inside it would be the first to admit. The first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times and Twilight14 times; Stephen King’s Carrie received 30 rejections before being published.