Mariia Tsy
July 18, 2023

AI and the Future of Publishing: Friend or Foe? 

The unveiling of ChatGPT in late 2022 sent waves across many sectors, not excluding the publishing industry. Numerous pessimistic articles pondered whether this technology might supersede several job positions; the index predictably encapsulates inventive roles such as writing, editing, and translating, fostering a looming sense of imminent crisis. Should we initiate learning new skills to survive when the industry potentially collapses in half a decade? Is it high time to change our professional paths? Many of us involved in creative work harbour apprehension regarding our vocational futures. Writers and diverse creatives persistently express uncertainty about whether ChatGPT will displace them in certain publishing categories. (For your information, some publishing houses have begun to explore AI-generated narration for their audiobooks.) In other sectors of the media scene, scriptwriters take strike partially due to AI integration in television and cinema production.


Despite extensive discussion about writers and other creators, there is less conversation about potential transformations backstage - the intricate machinery of the publishing industry. What becomes of the individuals involved in book production? ChatGPT exhibits passable proficiency in translating texts and might even outdo Google Translate for translators. Midjourney, DALL-E, and other similar technologies demonstrate improving capabilities in generating illustrations. Certain improvised solutions for ebook developers can now produce ePubs. Should publishing professionals worry about the future of book publishing and book quality? I consulted some experts regarding whether AI indeed poses a threat to publishing.

The Potential Influence of AI on Book Publishing 

In March, a novel iteration of ChatGPT titled GPT4 was introduced. As per reports, the discrepancy between the previous and the new model is substantial, suggesting it is ten times more progressive than its precursor. This single factor already generates significant implications. "Artificial Intelligence could replace approximately 15% of employees, translating to 400 million individuals" globally by 2030, as per a study by McKinsey. Another research by Goldman Sachs claims that "nearly 300 million full-time jobs globally could be mechanized in some manner." In other facets of publishing, like online media, this transformation has already begun. BuzzFeed, a digital publication, recently initiated AI utilization for its travel guides and quizzes, consequently downsizing its workforce.

Looking at these instances, it's only a matter of time before this wave hits the shores of book publishing, but it is premature to predict the severity of the potential repercussions. "We are in the initial stages, and numerous uncertainties remain," stated publishing consultant Jane Friedman. Being a seasoned publishing professional, Friedman has been closely observing the industry and has taken note of the possible influence of AI. Friedman acknowledged the existence of enterprises, along with tech giants like Google and Apple, which offer AI narration for audiobooks. As of now, self-published authors and academic publishers - or publishers that are resource-constrained to handle audiobook production - are considering these options, according to her. "While human narrators may perceive this as a threat, I haven't observed AI replacing jobs currently done by human narrators. This could occur in the future, particularly if popular narrators license their voices for usage," Friedman stated. "This has already taken place with deceased actor Edward Herrmann." The voice of the late actor is being leveraged to generate audiobooks by AI firm DeepZen through old audio clips of him speaking. Having produced an audiobook before, I am personally aware that audiobook production comes with a hefty cost. I understand why such a service would be attractive, particularly to smaller or academic publishers. Simultaneously, the technology is far from flawless, and listeners may not even appreciate the value of AI-assisted production.

Within the visual and illustrative division, Friedman noticed several self-published children's picture books and graphic novels featuring AI-generated artwork, but she hasn't yet seen a traditional publisher market such a product. Nevertheless, it's "only a matter of time." Interestingly, Bloomsbury recently confessed to using AI in the UK cover of Sarah J. Maas's adult fantasy House of Earth and Blood. "I assume that publishers will initially feel more comfortable using AI for minor/spot illustrations. Designers are already employing AI tools to assist with cover designs." In translation, this is where Friedman suggested that translators are "at risk." Given that ChatGPT and DeepL already produce competent translations, translators may find their workload decreasing over time. "It's costly, slow work, and a significant amount of literature isn't translated at all as sales don't justify the expenditure," Friedman remarked. "Hence, it's a mixed blessing. We need more translated literature, and AI is likely to facilitate that, at the cost of human translators." Regarding copyediting and proofreading, there's already software available to aid copyeditors and proofreaders in performing their duties more effectively, and Friedman stated that such work is likely to become increasingly automated over time. In sorting the slush pile, Friedman envisions AI tools aiding editors and literary agents in processing submissions faster, but she doesn't believe they will be replaced. It could, however, possibly replace work typically done by interns. The tools will need to enhance, but this is a matter of years, not decades, she explained. Nevertheless, she feels that some people in the industry will "outright reject such methods no matter what." In marketing, promotion, and publicity areas, Friedman sees only perks of AI involvement. Employees are overwhelmed, and resources are limited; AI can aid in workload reduction in various ways, she stated. Mary Kole, publishing veteran and ex-literary agent who now manages Kidlit.com and Good Story Company, expressed a similar viewpoint. "Marketing departments will be significantly impacted, as generative AI does a commendable job with marketing copy and following familiar sales formulae," she stated. "Copywriting will be affected."

AI in the Process of Writing Books

If AI can't learn about a literary form, it can't create it... Fresh and innovative books will always necessitate human imagination. Apart from the myriad roles within the industry, AI is now being deployed to write books. This indicates that authors might face competition from machines. However, Terena Elizabeth Bell, author of Tell Me What You See, an experimental short fiction collection, remains undisturbed. She opines that "experimental and cross-genre work is the one sector of publishing that will always be immune to AI." Before transitioning to writing full-time, Bell was a startup founder and worked with natural language processing and visual recognition, two popular AI domains. She argues that natural language processors, like all AI, necessitate substantial data for learning during the training phase. A sonnet, for instance, would be fairly easy for a computer to compose, she further explained. Since the form has been around since the 13th century, there are ample examples available for AI system training. Hence, she believes that experimental writing is always fresh. "That's something literature hadn't done yet, so there's no existing data for the AI to learn from. If AI can't learn about a literary form, it can't create it... Fresh and innovative books will always necessitate human imagination." According to her, literary presses that specialize in less mainstream works are far less susceptible to AI than the Big 5 publishers. "Consider this: One beach read is pretty much similar to another," she stated, adding that the business model of non-literary presses, such as mainstream publishers, is based on selling books that are alike, which increases their vulnerability.


Publishing consultant Jane Friedman also echoed Bell's perspective, stating, "The best use of AI in writing is assisting writers, not replacing them. It's hard to imagine an AI program able to author something equivalent to an original human masterpiece, which is a blend of many personal experiences, emotions, and cultural influences. The human touch and intuition in writing are irreplaceable."

AI as a Tool, not a Threat 

In addition to being a seasoned publishing consultant, Jane Friedman is a writer and thus comprehends creatives' fears. Nevertheless, she encourages writers and publishing professionals not to dread AI but to consider it a tool that can be beneficial. "There's a lot of fear, but AI should be seen as a tool. It's not going to replace you. It's going to help you do your job better," she stated.

Friedman's thoughts align with the message that OpenAI and ChatGPT share: their technology should "broadly distribute benefits" and be used for the welfare of all. Like every technological advancement, there will be winners and losers, but it's essential to focus on the broader picture: how AI can help us produce better books, engage more readers, and perhaps, extend literature to corners of the world previously left untouched.

Impact on Job Roles and Skills 

Looking forward to the potential transformation of job roles within the publishing industry, one might argue that automation could eventually lead to job displacement. However, as Jane Friedman notes, new opportunities might also arise as the technology improves and becomes integrated into more aspects of the publishing process.

For instance, while AI may take over tasks traditionally done by editors and proofreaders, there may be a growing demand for professionals who can manage, improve, and curate AI systems. Similarly, while traditional translation work may decrease, there will likely be a need for human translators to work alongside AI, checking and improving the output.

The prospect of AI reshaping the publishing industry is certainly real and impending. Yet, like many technological advancements before it, AI presents both challenges and opportunities. Rather than replacing human creativity and judgement entirely, AI is more likely to augment these skills, enabling us to work more efficiently and tackle tasks in new and innovative ways.

Instead of resisting the technology, the key for publishers and professionals within the industry is to understand its potential and to adapt. As AI becomes an increasingly integral part of the publishing landscape, those who can work alongside it and leverage its capabilities are likely to be the ones who thrive.

While it's important to acknowledge the valid concerns and potential job displacements that might occur, it's equally crucial to highlight the potential for growth, innovation, and improvement that AI could bring to the publishing industry. After all, technology, including AI, is merely a tool, and its impact ultimately depends on how we choose to use it.

Embracing AI might mean that the publishing industry will change significantly over the coming years. However, if we approach this change with an open mind, the result could be a publishing industry that's more efficient, inclusive, and creative than ever before.

Mariia Tsy

Greetings, fellow bibliophiles! My name is Mariia, and I'm a passionate copywriter who has a profound love affair with the written word. From an early age, books have been my constant companions, transporting me to magical worlds, evoking deep emotions, and sparking my imagination. My bookshelves are a testament to my insatiable appetite for diverse genres, from timeless classics to contemporary works.

In this blog, I endeavor to curate a treasure trove of literary gems, featuring the best recommended books across various genres. Whether you're an avid reader or a casual bookworm looking to embark on a new literary adventure, my carefully crafted reviews and insightful analyses aim to guide you towards literary masterpieces that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

When I'm not lost in the pages of a gripping novel, you'll find me exploring quaint bookstores, attending literary festivals, and engaging in spirited discussions with fellow book enthusiasts. My ultimate goal is to foster a community of like-minded readers who can bond over their shared love for literature.

So, join me on this enriching journey as we traverse through the literary landscape together. Let's discover, discuss, and celebrate the power of books, one page at a time. Happy reading!