Cara Swisher among authors rejecting AI-generated books on Amazon

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Weeks before the release of his new memoir, recalls tech journalist Kara Swisher, his wife noticed something odd while searching for the book on Amazon. “She was like, ‘What’s that picture of you? That’s weird!'” Swisher said.

Swisher looked at the screen and saw a book claiming to be a new biography of him, with a picture on the cover that he immediately recognized as an AI-generated fake. While the book promised the inside story of Swisher’s life, the author was someone she had never heard of. A closer look reveals that the book itself may be largely or entirely AI-generated, substituting Swisher’s general descriptions for factual details or anecdotes. He said Swisher was angry but he got over it.

But when he checked Amazon again this week, he saw that his spammy clone biography had gone viral. As first reported by tech blog 404 Media. Each had a slightly different title, author, and fake picture on its cover. “There were dozens and dozens,” Swisher said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on here, and why aren’t they stopping it?'”

Swisher is just the latest author to discover that selling a new book on Amazon these days often means competing head-to-head for readers’ attention, largely or entirely with artificial intelligence. are created by means of Nearly 10 months after The Washington Post reported on one of the first known examples of these counterfeiters, the authors say the problem appears to be getting worse.

“It’s getting easier and easier to create books with AI, and we’re seeing more of them,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild, an authors’ trade group. “I think we’re going to have an explosion of AI-generated books before we even get close to solving this problem.”

The list of affected authors is long, and the rip-offs are wide open. Some falsely claim to have been written by a real author, as was the case with five books that publishing industry analyst Jane Friedman found on Amazon under her own name last August. Some share the same title as an actual book, as tech writer Chris Cowell flagged to The Washington Post last May.

Some use the same surname as the actual author but change the first name, as happened recently with jazz writer Ted Gioia. Some are billed as “companion” books or “workbooks” to actual bestsellers, as “Today” host Savannah Guthrie found out when she published her latest. Others are works of fiction, like the apparently AI-generated novels that flooded Amazon’s ebook bestseller list for “Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Romance” last summer.

While it’s hard to prove for sure that any book was generated by AI, knockoffs are self-published using Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing service. They often have unknown author names, sport cover art that resembles the outputs of AI image tools, and appear on Amazon shortly before the release of the actual book they’re trying to capitalize on. . (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)

Amazon said it is taking the issue seriously, has already taken steps to address it and is working on additional measures. The company does not prohibit users from selling books generated by AI tools on its platform. But it prohibits content that infringes intellectual property, as well as books whose descriptions are misleading or whose content is “generally frustrating” to consumers.

“We want to provide the best possible shopping, reading and publishing experience, and we’re constantly evaluating developments that impact that experience, including the rapid evolution of generative AI tools,” said Amazon spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton. And expansion included.”

Weird AI-generated products are in stores. Here’s how to avoid them.

Amazon has tried to stem the tide by limiting self-publishers to three books a day. And the need for it started last year. Ebook authors have to disclose AI-generated work to Amazon, though the company doesn’t require them to disclose it to customers.

In the company’s latest move to limit spammy books, Hamilton said, it recently began restricting the publication of “summaries” and “workbooks” that accompany genuine, human-authored books. They claim

When press reports of AI knockoffs surface — an increasingly common occurrence — Amazon often removes the books in question from its site, and sometimes others along with them. Hamilton said the company also has “a robust set of methods that help us proactively find content that violates our guidelines, whether generated by AI or not,” though it did not specify what those methods were.

Some writers wondered why such a powerful tech company was having such a hard time overcoming the problem.

On Wednesday, a search for “Kara Swisher book” on Amazon showed Swisher’s original memoir, “Burn Book,” as the first result. But the next 16 results were all books about Swisher published by other authors in the previous three months. Most shared some common characteristics of AI imitators: self-published, often short in length, with no trace of original reporting or insight in their descriptions or the sample pages Amazon made available.

Book Review: Kara Swisher punctures Silicon Valley’s puffed-up ego once again

The second book on the list, written by one Cheryl D. Stackhouse and Brotherhood Press, was titled “The Kara Swisher Book.” The sample text alternates between describing Swisher in the third person and writing in his voice, and includes nonsensical quotes such as, “If you don’t have any confidence, you probably don’t.” Could be.”

Swisher said that when he saw the proliferation of knockoffs, he emailed Amazon CEO Andy Jessee — whose company he has covered several times over the years. Complaints By Thursday, several people had been taken down, including one at a steakhouse. Swisher said he appreciated the response, but pointed out that most writers don’t have that kind of access to top officials.

“My point was, ‘Well, you did it for me, and you’re keeping an eye on my book, but why don’t you do it for everyone?'” (Swisher’s wife, Amanda Katz, is a columnist for The Washington Post.)

It’s unclear how deeply Amazon investigates the customers behind its removed books. While Stackhouse’s book about Swisher was out of print Thursday, a search of Stackhouse’s name on Amazon’s site revealed dozens of other books still for sale. Most are intended to be biographies of celebrities, and all have been published in the past few months.

Attempts by a Post reporter to locate and contact a writer by that name were unsuccessful. Amazon declined to provide any information about Steakhouse, citing the privacy of its customers’ data.

Often, books that appear to be AI knockoffs have very few if any customer reviews — at least, a sign that they haven’t fooled a large number of readers. But the author of one of the Swisher books, Max Thorne, is also listed as the author of a book about convicted murderer Gypsy Rose Blanchard that has 26 reviews, with an average of 2.2 stars.

One reviewer calls it “not even a book,” “I want my 12 bucks back!!” Another says, “It’s robbery!” Other reviews titled, “Beware,” “Waste of money,” “Disappointing” and “Not good at all.” That book also remained available on Amazon as of Thursday. Attempts to locate the author’s online presence, Max Thorne, were unsuccessful.

Amazon’s Hamilton said the company suspends publisher accounts “when patterns of abuse warrant it.” He added that the company’s “processes and guidelines will continue to evolve as we see changes in AI-powered publishing to ensure we maintain the best possible experience for users and readers alike.” “

Friedman, a publishing industry analyst who published fake books under her own name last year, said she has since received calls and emails from other authors who have had similar experiences. She said she understood that Amazon might not want the books on its site, but questioned why one of the world’s biggest tech companies didn’t do more to stop them.

Rasenberger said the Authors Guild has been pushing Amazon to start disclosing on its site which books have been produced with AI, and that the company has been “responsible.” He said the guild also supports a bill introduced in Congress last year by Sen. Brian Sheetz (D-Hawaii) that would require AI companies to include marks on the content their tools produce. so that their identity is generated by AI.

In the meantime, fake books continue to spread. On Thursday, journalist Byron Tao was alerted to an e-book on Amazon claiming to be his autobiography when a friend found Tao’s new book, “Men of ControlThe transcript, titled “Byron Tau Biography,” was only 17 pages long, and the sample text contained glaring factual errors. Tao said he emailed Amazon’s press office, and the title was soon removed.

“I hope Amazon finds a way to end this practice, because it devalues ​​the work of people who actually spend years researching and writing books,” Tao said. “It’s just a sign that these systems we all depend on are too vulnerable to gamification.”

Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

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