Is AI burning non-fiction books at the stake?

Ritva Laakso-Manninen 1.5.2024

What is the future of non-fiction books in the era of AI? The sales of printed books have been declining for years in Finland, and the sales of non-fiction books decreased by 8% last year (HS 23.4.2024 & Suomen Kustannusyhdistys). This phenomenon raises considerations about the role of artificial intelligence in the transformation of publishing.

From the information user's perspective, AI enables quick and real-time access to information. Why would we need non-fiction books if the answers to our questions are just a few clicks away? However, the unique value of non-fiction books is highlighted as they are based on the authors' deep expertise and careful handling of information, offering a reliable and verified source of information.

From the perspective of the content creator, the author, AI is often seen as a potential threat. It can break copyright laws and diminish authors' earning possibilities. These highlight the concerns of authors, questions like: can you protect your identity and brand? On the other hand, yes, it is granted that AI also has beneficial aspects. These questions were recently discussed in a very interesting webinar "AI in Book Publishing: What’s Going on & What to Do Now" by @Andrea Guevara, @Jane Friedman, and @ Rebecca Ackermann.

In the US, there are going on several lawsuits on the copyright questions, just to mention one: New York Times v. Microsoft. The New York Times alleged that millions of its copyrighted works were used to create the LLMs of Microsoft’s Copilot and OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

In Finland, as a small language area, these challenges are not yet as visible. In the EU, the use of AI will be regulated by the EU AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Read more:

The role of the publisher in this changing environment raises questions: can AI replace the traditional information mediator? The success of non-fiction literature publishing in the future may require new thinking, like combining theory and practice, emphasizing a personal touch, storytelling, and entertainment, which exceed AI's current capabilities to create narratives based on its own experiences.

Digitalization changed the publishing industry, and AI is opening doors to more versatile and user-oriented product service systems. One example is the textbook sector, where multi-format digital information packages are already in use. These include informational materials, linked additional reading lists, gamification elements, podcasts, various tasks, and assessments of learning outcomes.

How do you envision the future: what opportunities and challenges does AI present for non-fiction authors and publishers?

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