Should IngramSpark ban AI-generated books along with other trash titles?

IngramSpark, a self-publishing service, has now defined a set of trash book categories that it will no longer feature or distribute, including AI-generated books. As AI books get better, though, they might want to reconsider.

IngramSpark is a print-on-demand and ebook distribution service offered by Ingram, a major book distributor. It delivers the same features as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing — print on-demand books (mostly paperbacks) and ebooks — with the option for bookstores to buy as well, through Ingram’s traditional book distribution channels. (You’ll still have to persuade bookstores to buy, which is the hard part, but this can be useful if, for example, you want to work with a local bookstore as a part of a book buying program.)

While IngramSpark is neither a traditional publisher nor a hybrid publisher, it’s still a useful option if you’re trying to get into print. But according to an email to authors sent yesterday, Ingram will no longer allow itself to be exploited for content of marginal value. Here’s the email:

Important: Maintaining Catalog Integrity

IngramSpark Service Alert

IngramSpark is taking a necessary stand to uphold the integrity of and reduce bias against independently published works. To align with our industry’s needs for content integrity, we will actively remove print content from our catalog that does harm to buyers and affects the reputations of our publishers and retail and library partners.

As of April 27, 2020, the below criteria describes the types of content that may not be accepted going forward:

1. Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar type content without permission from the original author.

2. Books containing blank pages exceeding ten percent, notepads, scratchpads, journals, or similar type content.

3. Books or content that mirror/mimic popular titles, including without limiting, similar covers, cover design, title, author names, or similar type content.

4. Books that are misleading or likely to cause confusion by the buyer, including without limiting, inaccurate descriptions and cover art.

5. Books listed at prices not reflective of the book’s market value.

6. Books scanned from original versions where all or parts contain illegible content to the detriment of the buyer.

7. Books created using artificial intelligence or automated processes.

We reserve the right to remove content that fits the above criteria without prior notice to the publisher. Any fees paid on behalf of publishers for titles removed due to the above criteria will not be refunded. This change of service is effective April 27, 2020 and is reflected in our IngramSpark User Guide V4.

You can find more information about what kinds of titles will be under review here.

We are committed to supporting authors and publishers for the quality content they’ve produced and continuing to provide our retail and library partners with high quality, trusted catalog feeds.

This is a list of trash categories — with one exception

Let’s take a look at what IngramSpark has banned:

Four of the categories are just garbage: unauthorized workbooks and summaries (category 1), deceptive copies (3), fakes (4) and poor quality scans (6). Such books either rip off authors or dupe readers, and don’t belong on any reasonable publishing service.

Category 2 includes blank books. Those sorts of “books” are rampant on Amazon. They’re not a ripoff, but they offer little original value, exploit Ingram’s publishing service, and clutter its electronic catalog. IngramSpark is focusing on actual content, which is appropriate.

Category 5 includes pricing scams. For reasons I don’t understand, there are plenty of books at insane prices (hundreds of dollars) on these platforms. Orders of such books are likely either buyer error or represent some sort of money laundering activity. In any case, the don’t belong on a legitimate platform. (The problem is not likely to be prices that are too low, because IngramSpark automatically prevents you from pricing a title at or below the cost of print-on-demand manufacturing.)

Why ban AI and automated books?

It’s the last category that puzzles me. Here’s a little more detail from IngramSpark’s FAQ on the topic:

Q. Content created using artificial intelligence or automated processes: What does this mean?

A. Also referred to as Mass Uploads and Mass Production content–an example is:

Content created via automated customization such as using scripted or coded processes and/or “templatized” content with little to no variation from title to title. Content created in this manner for the purpose of selling via the internet or publisher’s website will most likely not be permitted. Content created with identical or nearly identical interiors, but varying cover designs in mass will most likely not be permitted as well.

I can imagine quite a few crappy books that could be created this way. But I can imagine others that might actually be useful.

How about a list of all words on the Internet, sorted alphabetically and by frequency?

Or a list of 10-year stock performance charts for all stocks in the S&P 500?

How about a story collection of the winners of an AI-generated horror story contest?

Or a set of AI-generated Sudoku or crossword puzzles?

AI already generates lots of prose delivered on Web pages. Sure, many of the applications of AI-generated text are better suited to online delivery, but in some settings, it makes more sense to see them in print. And as AI writing gets better, I could certainly see AI-generated murder mysteries for beach reading.

I can see the reason behind this policy — Ingram needs a way to ban awful machine-generated trash.

But once the AIs get wind of this, they’re likely to claim bias. And Ingram had better listen, because they are coming, and their content is getting better all the time.

2 responses to “Should IngramSpark ban AI-generated books along with other trash titles?

  1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful post in response to the IngramSpark alert. Think the reference to AI generated content was more about mass produced and bogus content which may be problematic in our distribution feeds rather than creative AI. We’re primarily after bad actors on a mass scale rather than indie author using AI to create content. I hope this helps to calm and reassures everyone.

  2. There are a lot of KDP authors who understand why IngramSpark is doing this and fully agree. (Ingram takes care of the extended distribution of KDP books)
    Self-Publishing with Dale made two great video’s about it.
    The Death of No Content Publishing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i82Q_4Ocxmo
    And No Content Publishing: An Open Letter to Amazon KDP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lW4VLnSWH34
    As you can see in the comment section of the second video a lot of authors would like to see KDP make some changes as well.

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